SXSW Film Fest 2008: Day One

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By: Tim Basham

I made the trip to South by Southwest 2008 without incident. Of course, this is because I live in Austin and my drive was a mere 20 minutes. The registration lines were surprisingly short—partly a testament to the incredibly well-oiled machine SXSW organizers have created and partly because I arrived at 12:30 p.m. The first films weren’t showing until late in the day. I later heard that by then the lines were wrapping extensively through the halls of the convention center.

My first SXSW film was actually shown earlier in the week at a press screening. 21 is based on the true story of how some M.I.T. students made a fortune beating blackjack in Las Vegas with a card-counting system. It was fairly predictable, but there were some great performances from Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Spacey and Jim Sturgess. I had a chance to speak with Sturgess (Across the Universe, The Other Boleyn Girl) and director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde). We’ll post the interviews on shortly following SXSW.

Later, I saw comedian Doug Benson’s cannabis-toking Super High Me. Modeled after Morgan Spurlock McDonald’s-bashing flick, Super Size Me, Benson, an admitted stoner, first spent 30 days of abstaining before smoking every day and maintaining a continuous high for an entire month. The results, not surprisingly, were pretty humorous as the camera followed him on his comedy-club tour. And though there was no real redeeming value in the experiment, it did make for a thoroughly enjoyable film.

Unfortunately, I can’t really say the same for my next screening, The Upsetter: The Life & Music of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Using old stock footage with more recent interviews, filmmakers chronicled the career of reggae producer and recording artist Perry. His place in the early history of Jamaica’s wonderful gift to popular music makes for an interesting story, but for the average music fan, it could have been in told in half the time. Seeing it in the Alamo Drafthouse’s new location in the old, downtown Ritz theater did make for a better viewing experience, however. It’s still the best place to see a movie in the country.

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