On March 6th, 2020, Austin city officials determined South by Southwest couldn’t go on as scheduled. The renowned Austin-based festival was canceled due to the concerns around the evolving Coronavirus (COVID-19). Since then, multiple film festivals and entertainment events have followed SXSW’s lead in postponing their gatherings for the foreseeable future. With this, many anticipated films and their talented filmmakers won’t be able to showcase their work to eager audiences. While a loss for the entire film community, it doesn’t mean we can’t reminisce on SXSW’s past.
An almost 30-year institution, SXSW began as a small music festival to showcase Texas local artists. But as its popularity grew, so did the scope of the festival, with the film portion added in 1994. The goal was and still is to provide audiences a mix of homegrown discoveries with big Hollywood premieres. Directors like Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith, and Steven Soderbergh bestowed legitimacy with their projects’ presence at the film festival’s inception. Early in the 2000s, big hits like Stephen Fears’s “High Fidelity” and Guillermo del Toro’s “Blade II” broke out of Austin.
Throughout the decades, trends started to form at SXSW. Studio comedies like “Knocked Up” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” made director-producer Judd Apatow the king of comedy. Apatow or his collaborators usually has one or two premieres each year. Action and horror movies became another staple with selections like “Kick-Ass,” “The Cabin in the Woods,” “Source Code,” and “A Quiet Place.” Surprisingly, even Steven Spielberg came to SXSW in 2018 with “Ready Player One.“
As for the smaller offerings, “The Pleasure of Being Robbed” and “Medicine for Melancholy” introduced audiences to directors Josh Safdie and Barry Jenkins. “Spring Breakers” and “Short Term 12” broke out just as big at SXSW as they would’ve at Sundance. Furthermore, indie filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Jeff Nichols joined the festivities with “Isle of Dogs” and “Midnight Special.“
If you want to look at a successfully balanced slate at SXSW, look at 2019. With Jordan Peele’s “Us,” Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart,” and the heartwarming debut of “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” the lineup brought audiences just about everything you’d want to see. So with no 2020 festival, we will all have to wait till next year to see what will be the next great film to premiere at SXSW.