From "Bridesmaids" to "Baby Driver," the South by Southwest Film Festival has become known as a launching pad for broad comedies and out-there genre fare often disregarded by other fests. But that reputation overlooks the way in which South by Southwest has long been a vital platform for the discovery of new talent, unknowns about to become somebodies.
The 25th edition of the Austin, Texas-based film festival, which kicks off Friday and runs through March 17, also marks the 10th year for the festival's director of film, Janet Pierson.
The festival has introduced such notable filmmakers as Barry Jenkins, Gareth Edwards, Andrew Haigh and Joe Swanberg but has arguably been even more influential by creating a space for female auteurs, including Greta Gerwig, Lena Dunham, Stella Meghie, Amy Seimetz and Ry Russo-Young.
Eight out of 10 of the films in the festival's narrative competition this year are directed by women, from debuts such as Nijila Mu'min's "Jinn" and Olivia Newman's "First Watch" to the return of veteran Stacy Cochran ("Boys," "My New Gun") with "Write When You Get Work."
"I'm certainly proud of the work, but it hasn't been our talking point," Pierson said of the festival's ongoing support of female filmmakers. "Of course it's women and it's also everybody who doesn't have an easier seat at the table. You've got gender, you have race, you have privilege and geography, and you have age.
"Those kinds of distinctions are part of the puzzle," she added, "It's also very important for us to think about films that are made for no money, to take a chance on emerging talent as well as films that are fully realized and made with stars and support."
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The festival opens with the world premiere of "A Quiet Place," directed and co-written by John Krasinski making a step into genre thriller territory after the dramedy tone of his previous directing efforts. The film, which Paramount will release nationwide on April 6, stars Krasinski, Emily Blunt and "Wonderstruck" breakout Millicent Simmonds in the story of a family forced to live in silence by mysterious creatures that hunt by sound.
Saturday night's headliner is the world premiere of "Blockers," the feature directing debut of Kay Cannon, who wrote all three "Pitch Perfect" films and was a producer on "30 Rock." "Blockers," which Universal will also open on April 6, stars Leslie Mann and John Cena in a story of a group of parents determined to stop their teenage daughters from following through on a pact to lose their virginity on prom night.
"Blockers" comes from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's production company Point Grey Pictures, which was behind previous SXSW premieres "The Disaster Artist," "Sausage Party" and "Neighbors." Cannon acknowledged that she was excited to have an R-rated commercial comedy, which might seem an unlikely selection for a prime spot at most other festivals, have its premiere at SXSW.
"Although I would have never have thought this movie would play at a festival, I'm glad it is because the intention behind it is to show what the movie really is and hope that when people see it they'll spread the word," said Cannon. "It's not just this raunchy sex romp. It's really about parents letting go of their kids and young women having agency over their sexuality and making decisions for themselves as they enter adulthood. It's got some heavier issues at play."