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Heating Up: SF Filmmakers Head to SXSW

Still from This Ain't No Mouse Music, one of the films premiering at this year's SXSW with Bay Area ties.

For two weeks (March 8th-18th), a strange sort of gravity created by SXSW brings Texas and San Francisco a whole lot closer. We lose some of our best musicians, filmmakers and party people (with expense accounts, naturally) to a head-spinning array of screenings, parties, and–if they play their cards right–some of the best barbecue they'll ever have. 

Once a mere speed bump in the film festival road, Austin's SXSW has evolved over the past decade into a prestigious location for film, as well as music–with tech following hot on their heels. In previous years, the festival has hosted its share of premieres, but the presence of more mainstream films at this year's event, including Steve Carrell's The Incredible Burt Wunderstone and Joss Wheaton's Much Ado About Nothing, alongside nearly 140 other films, is a sure sign of its rising clout. Though she "can’t imagine leaving [the bay], at this point," locally-based documentarian Maureen Gosling will be making the pilgrimage down south with her film this year.

For the moment, Maureen, one of the directors behind This Ain't No Mouse Music, has come full circle. Having moved to the Bay over 30 years ago to work with documentarian Les Blank on Chulas Fronteras, a documentary featuring roots music champion Chris Strachwitz, she's traveling to SXSW with another film about the Arhoolie Records head honcho. Gosling touted SXSW's new station as a celluloid paragon: "SXSW has become such an important film festival, particularly for music films." Her and Chris Simon's film will premiere as part of a special music section of the fest, on what seems likely will be the beginning of a worldwide tour. "We want to take it to film festivals in the US and abroad, to see if it can be picked for public television or cable, or select theatrical releases."

Another local film making its debut at the Austin festival is Licks, the debut film of first-time director and Berkeley grad Jonathan Singer-Vine (twin brother of one member of local-turned-national hip-hop producers The Cataracs), who enthused that the film's selection for SXSW was "a dream come true." An urban tale about a young man returning from prison to his Oakland neighborhood, Licks was shot almost entirely on location, but the setting of his story was more than a matter of convenience. "Authenticity and realism mean a lot to me when it comes to storytelling, so the Bay Area was an appealing environment to work in," said Singer-Vine. 

"I feel SXSW is the perfect place for our film premiere," wrote Sini Anderson, one of the directors The Punk Singer. She's also banking on SXSW's music/film connection to jumpstart interest in her doc on Bikini Kill's head riot grrrl, Kathleen Hannah. With a huge following amassed through word of mouth and a fantastically successful Kickstarter, prospects after Austin look bright as well: "We have a long list of interested festivals and I'm really excited to see where we will end up taking it." Though she now lives in New York, Anderson remembers San Francisco fondly as the place she learned the beginnings of film craft. "The thing that was so amazing about working on films in SF is that it felt like we were in some kind of community filmmaking collective, all working on each other's projects," she said. "I was a young, queer, broken hearted artist. Where else on earth would I have gone? It was the best choice I ever made." 

Some other films from the Bay premiering at SXSW are Spark: A Burning Man Story from directors Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter (producer of Who Killed the Electric Car), ¡Cuatro!, Timothy Wheeler's dossier of Green Day's exploits recording and performing their recent trilogy (with key moments in their Oakland studio) and an entry by (an unrelated) Timothy Wheeler, The Other Shore, a chronicle of legendary swimmer Diana Nyad's attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida–at age 60.