Previewing SXSW 2024

Jake Gyllenhaal in Doug Limon’s Road House (2024)

Dreamed up in the offices of the Austin Chronicle, SXSW launched in the spring of 1987 as a music festival. Ten years later, not long after the the SXSW Film and Media Conference was introduced in 1994 and then split in 1995—Media became Interactive—George Huang, Mike Judge, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Steven Soderbergh, and Quentin Tarantino appeared together on a single SXSW Film panel.

By 2007, SXSW had become a hub for a cluster of filmmakers shooting rapid-fire, low-budget features and shrugging off interviewers’ questions about whether or not mumblecore was an actual thing. It’s a long way from Sacramento to Barbieland, and for Greta Gerwig, Austin was a crucial pit stop. In 2024, Austin is the nation’s tenth-most-populous city and the gleaming glass-and-steel skyline is threatening to swallow up the Texas State Capitol.

The sights and sounds lined up for the Headliner program at this year’s SXSW Film & TV Festival promise to reflect and echo the city’s ongoing boom. Jake Gyllenhaal, the face of Vulture’s big new Action Edition, stars in the opening night film. Road House, which will have its world premiere on Friday, is Doug Limon’s reimagining of the 1989 Patrick Swayze vehicle.

Director David Leitch and producer Kelly McCormick’s The Fall Guy, a revamp of the 1980s TV series, stars Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt and will be the centerpiece presentation. And SXSW 2024 will close on March 16 with Michael Showalter’s The Idea of You, starring Anne Hathaway as a divorced mother who falls for the lead singer of a boy band (Nicholas Galitzine).

Dev Patel’s directorial debut, Monkey Man, has been described as “John Wick in Mumbai.” Some may find the near-future of Alex Garland’s Civil War, depicting an armed conflict between the U.S. government and the separatist Western Forces led by Texas and California, to be a little too near.

Sydney Sweeney stars in Michael Mohan’s Immaculate as an American nun in an Italian convent harboring spooky secrets. Saturday Night Live veteran Kyle Mooney directs the disaster comedy Y2K, and Babes, starring Ilana Glazer as a woman who seeks help from a friend when she becomes pregnant, is the first feature directed by Pamela Adlon (Better Things).

3 Body Problem—an adaptation of Remembrance of Earth’s Past, Liu Cixin’s esteemed trilogy of science-fiction novels—will open the TV Premiere program. David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the cocreators of HBO’s Game of Thrones, have teamed up with Alexander Woo (True Blood) to oversee the Netflix series. Interviewing the three showrunners for the Hollywood Reporter, James Hibberd notes that “the drama has a sprawling ensemble cast, locations around the globe, sequences set in a mind-bending virtual reality world, and enough physics to fill a season of Cosmos.

SXSW programmers introduce promising new talents in the narrative and documentary competitions, where all the contenders are world premieres. The Spotlight programs showcase filmmakers who may have already made a mark and are now shooting higher. Alice Lowe’s first feature, Prevenge, screened at SXSW in 2016, and now she’s back with Timestalker, which the Austin Chronicle’s Richard Whittaker describes as an “inversion of the old trope of lovers divided across oceans of time. Lowe plays Agnes, who feels she is immortally bound to her eternal paramour (Aneurin Barnard). The only problem is that every time she gets close to getting her man, she gets killed. Again. And again. And again, across reincarnations, until she finally starts to get the clue that maybe the problem is her. ‘She’s quite thick,’ Lowe said.”

Cuckoo is a “highly enjoyable, unashamedly convoluted creepfest,” wrote Jessica Kiang for Variety a couple of weeks ago in Berlin. Director Tilman Singer “expands on the scope of his impressive 2018 debut (the demonic-possession-meets-therapeutic-improv exercise Luz) while retaining that film’s bird-flipping attitude toward unnecessary niceties like coherent plotting or narrative logic.”

When Greg Jardin’s It’s What’s Inside premiered at Sundance, publicists insisted that the central premise be kept secret, but somehow, Guy Lodge (Variety) and David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter) found ways to recommend it—with reservations. Netflix spent $17 million to pick it up, and now it’s slated for the SXSW Midnighter program. One of the “most experimental” films here promises to be Azrael, suggests J. Hurtado at ScreenAnarchy. “Silence is terrifying in director E. L. Katz's (Cheap Thrills) post-apocalyptic survival horror,” he writes.

Music documentaries are a SXSW speciality, and the one in the 24 Beats Per Second program that Filmmaker’s Scott Macaulay is most looking forward to is Antony Crook’s If the Stars Had a Sound, a portrait of the Glasgow-based band Mogwai. Festival Favorite is the program presenting “acclaimed standouts” from around the world, including Black Box Diaries, which the New Yorker’s Richard Brody calls “an anguished and urgent personal documentary—a film of investigation, confrontation, and action.” Journalist Shiori Ito was sexually assaulted in 2017 by a famous television personality, and she “unstintingly records the enormous emotional toll that the assault, the legal cases, and her pursuit of justice took on her, and she does so with an unsparingly candid cinematic sensibility.”

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