After a standout 2019 that saw the world premieres of major studio hit “Us” and breakout indie “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” among others, the South by Southwest Film Festival’s 2020 edition will be headlined by such boldface names as Judd Apatow, Kumail Nanjiani, Tiffany Haddish and Spike Jonze.
The festival, which runs March 13-22 in Austin, Texas, will open with the world premiere of Apatow’s “The King of Staten Island.” Co-written by Apatow, Pete Davidson and Dave Sirus, the movie stars “Saturday Night Live” comedian Davidson as a burnout living with his mother (Marisa Tomei) on Staten Island.
Apatow has a long history with SXSW, having premiered his directorial efforts “Knocked Up” and “Trainwreck” there, as well as “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Bridesmaids” and “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” all of which he produced.
In a statement, Apatow said, “I am excited to return to XSXW. In fact I just made this movie so I had a reason to return to SXSW.”
Janet Pierson, director of film at South by Southwest, noted in an interview this week that the film contains Apatow’s signature comedy but carries a deeper emotional resonance as well.
“When you think of Judd Apatow, you’re thinking it’s going to be funny, it’s going to be loose,” Pierson said, “and this film just ripped our hearts out. There’s something raw about it and, yes, there’s humor but it’s tender.
“You just fall in love with Pete Davidson in a way that you just feel so much compassion for him,” she added. “He’s us, he’s a flawed human being, and you just love him. And so starting (the festival) with that, it really sets a tone in an important way. It’s an exciting evolution for Apatow. And we were all really, really touched by it.”
This is Pierson’s 12th year as head of the festival. She recalled that after the 2018 edition, which featured “A Quiet Place,” “Blockers,” “Ready Player One” and “Thunder Road,” she was nervous about the following year. Then in 2019 the festival premiered “Us,” the recent Oscar nominee “For Sama,” “Booksmart,” “Long Shot” and “The Peanut Butter Falcon.”
“So at this point I’m not trying to top last year,” said Pierson. “Every year it’s beginner’s mind. You start with how can we present the best program that we can present. We just dig into the films. And this year there’s just so much talent, there’s so many really strong films.”
This year’s announcement listed 103 feature films and episodic projects, with more titles to come in an additional release on Feb. 5. More than 2,300 feature-length films were submitted to the festival this year.
Among the other high-profile premieres at the festival are the documentary “Beastie Boys Story,” directed by Spike Jonze, an adaptation of the recent live performances by surviving members of the group timed to the publication of a book on the band.
Kitao Sakuri’s “Bad Trip,” a prank-filled road trip comedy starring Eric Andre, Lil Rel Howery and Tiffany Haddish, also should get audiences talking. “L.A. Originals,” directed by Estevan Oriol, is an exploration of the street-art movement. Michael Showalter’s “The Lovebirds” stars Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani as a couple who find themselves caught up in a murder mystery. RZA will premiere his heist drama “Cut Throat City,” starring Shameik Moore.
Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar, recently nominated for an Academy Award for “American Factory,” will world premiere their “9to5: The Story of a Movement,” a documentary on American secretaries organizing in the 1970s that proved to be the inspiration for the movie and song of the same name.
Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney will world premiere “Crazy, Not Insane,” a look at a psychiatrist who has spent her career examining violent people. “A Secret Love,” directed by Chris Bolan, is a look at the triumphant love story between two women as they come out to their conservative families and face the difficulties of aging. Frank Oz will premiere his new film, “In & Of Itself,” about storyteller and conceptual magician Derek DelGaudio.
Amy Seimetz, who was at SXSW last year as an actress in “Pet Sematary” and has a long relationship with the festival, will be back with her latest directing effort, “She Dies Tomorrow, “ with a cast that includes Kate Lyn Sheil and Jane Adams. “I Used to Go Here” is directed by another SXSW alum, Kris Rey, and stars Gillian Jacobs, Jemaine Clement and Jorma Taccone in the story of a novelist invited to speak at her alma matter.
Rod Lurie’s “The Outpost,” starring Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones and Orlando Bloom, is based on the battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan, where a small group of U.S. soldiers held off a large cadre of Taliban fighters.
South by Southwest was among the first film festivals to feature new television work. This year’s episodic premieres will include “Chad,” from showrunner Nasim Pedrad; “Snowpiercer,” from showrunner Graeme Manson; animated series “Solar Opposites,” from showrunners Justin Roiland and Mick McMahan; “Tales From the Loop,” from showrunner Nathaniel Halpern; and “Upload” from showrunner Greg Daniels.
The announcement also included 10 films for the narrative feature competition, including Kelly Oxford’s “Pink Skies Ahead” and Justine Bateman’s “Violet,” starring Olivia Munn. The 10 films in the documentary feature competition include Heather Ross’ “For Madmen Only,”“ Todd Chandler’s “Bulletproof” and Alice Gu’s “The Donut King.”
Pierson noted that this year’s SXSW program was just being finalized and remains difficult to sum up but observed, “There’s a gravitas to a lot of the films. We want to be moved, and there are so many of them this year that are about people’s obsessions and dreams and grief and how do you live in the world.
“Across every section we’re looking for new voices and talent and just things that stir us. This year has got a very different flavor to it than last year.”
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