SXSW Interview: Director Riley Stearns strikes truth in dark comedy ‘THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE’


Preston Barta // Features Editor

AUSTIN – One of the best films that screened at the South by Southwest Film Festival this year, THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE (our review), is the latest film written and directed by Riley Stearns (FAULTS). It’s a story about an insecure man named Casey Davies (Jesse Eisenberg) who is savagely beaten on the street by a biker gang and decides to enlist in a loco dojo to take back his dignity.

What could best be described as a bloody cocktail mix of THE LOBSTER and THE KARATE KID, but sent through the filter of a Jody Hill film (OBSERVE AND REPORT), THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE is a downright side-splitting knock-out from Stearns. It pulls no punches and delivers a darkly funny film about a man wrestling with his own masculinity.

The film premiered on March 10, but if you have a SXSW badge (or are in the Austin, TX, area), you can catch the encore screening of THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE on March 15 at the Stateside Theatre at the Paramount at 7:45 p.m. Bleecker Street is to release the film later this year (likely summer), but it warrants the trip to see it early amongst fellow movie lovers.

Fresh Fiction sat down with Stearns to discuss his film. We talk about how the worst day of your life can also be the best, the matter-of-fact dialogue and dark humor, and Jesse Eisenberg not being able to keep himself from cracking up during a hilarious monologue.

Our SXSW interview with writer-director Riley Stearns

(The interview above is shot and edited by Chance Maggard.)

The official teaser trailer for THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE

For more information on the film’s screening at SXSW, visit

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.