12 Not-to-Miss Film Panels at SXSW

Barry Jenkins SXSW
Barry Jenkins, Spike Lee, top TV execs and more will drop knowledge in Austin.

We’ve scoured through the hundreds of panels coming up at SXSW and picked out some sure winners for filmmakers. But if you’re not in Austin, don’t worry, we’ll bring you coverage from these and many more films and events throughout the week, so be sure to check back. Here are the panels we're most excited to attend.

Film Keynote: Barry Jenkins

How do you go from premiering your very first film at SXSW to winning the Academy Award for Best Picture? If anyone knows, it’s Barry Jenkins. He started his career with a debut film called Medicine for Melancholy that premiered at SXSW in 2008. Nine years later, he made history with Oscar-winning Moonlight. That’s one hell of a rise, in one short period of time. If only we could get some insight into the mind of Jenkins. Oh wait, we can! Don't miss his Film Keynote, which is sure to inspire and enlighten fellow filmmakers and fans alike.

Going Episodic: Indie TV from Concept to Sale

A still from the webseries 'Doomsday', created by panelist and actor Sonja O'Hara.

TV is undoubtedly experiencing an explosion (or Renaissance, depending on your point-of-view) of interesting storytelling. Cool, cool. But how the heck does a no-name filmmaker take advantage of this moment of time? Someone like Dan Braun of the well-regarded film sales rep, Submarine, has the ultimate inside look at this process, and he’s one of four interesting panelists who might make this panel worth sitting in on. Let’s hope some talented nobodies can use a panel like this to get some information on how to get a new indie TV gem off the ground.

Blockchain & the Impact of a Decentralized World

If you’re glancing through the SXSW program, you’re likely to see blah blah blockchain—the buzz word barreling through nearly all SXSW sessions. Who isn’t intrigued by a technology that allows for cryptocurrencies and peer-to-peer regulatory bodies over centralized authorities? Whether historic or hype, a panel on the topic featuring filmmakers like Alex Winter and Kim Jackson should be able to break down the big ideas behind blockchain to you with a special filmmaker perspective.

Informal & Candid Conversation with Female Leaders in Television

The Alienist
Luke Evans, Dakota Fanning and Daniel Bruhl in 'The Alienist', an original series from TNT.Credit: TNT

The SXSW Film Festival is one of the best places in the country to meet exciting, little-known, up-and-coming indie filmmakers, but the conference portion also gives you access to some industry power players in a more intimate setting than most of us would normally get. This panel offers just such a group, including Sarah Aubrey, EVP of TNT Original Programming at Turner Entertainment; Amy Powell, President of Paramount Television; and Susan Rovner, EVP Creative Affairs of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Oh, and Dakota Fanning, just because. The panel topics center around female leadership in Hollywood, but the breadth of experience represented here should be valuable to anyone interested in making TV.

The Female Voices of Film Twitter

Depending on how far down the rabbit hole your Twitter timeline goes, there's a good chance that you're aware of Film Twitter, a catch-all name meant to describe critics, journalists, and programmers within the film community. Quite a number of Film Twitter's participants are negative men, and, well, they're not all great. The phrase, "well, actually...," meant as the beginning of a public correcting of someone's inaccurate tweet about something film-related, is quite well known within the twitterverse, and this panel, celebrating the women of Film Twitter, feels like a fresh change of pace (and voice).

How Documentaries Can Rise in the Webseries World

If you're a fan of Op-Docs and other digital venues for short form, made-for-the-web documentaries, this panel sounds pretty nifty. As the demand for online content continues to grow (and the quality continues to vary), how does a distributor determine and meet expectations, not to mention curate accordingly? Forget a need to go viral, how do nonfiction filmmakers make sure their work is healthily streamed at all? And in the age of Youtube, where the definition of nonfiction video ranges from silly cat videos to heavily artistic beacons of the form, how do the best examples of nonfiction filmmaking get singled out and praised? Representatives from ITVS and Killer Films dive in.

Doc Filmmakers on How to Tell a True Crime Story

Mommy Dead and Dearest
'Mommy Dead and Dearest', a documentary by panelist Erin Lee Carr that was featured at SXSW 2017.

It's no secret that the nonfiction "true crime" genre is pretty hot right now—one need only hop on Netflix for a moment to see the numerous examples currently being offered to them, including The Keepers and Making a Murderer—and the trend appears to be rising upward. Luckily, they're a good number of them that are neither sensationalist nor cheaply produced tabloid snuff, and this panel features some of the very best filmmakers working in the genre today (including Erin Lee Carr, whose 2017 SXSW entry Mommy Dead and Dearest was effectively creepy). One thing's for certain: by the conclusion of this panel, making a great "true crime" doc will no longer be an unsolved mystery.

Featured Session: Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman

Ram Bergman and Rian Johnson
Producer Ram Bergman and writer/director Rian Johnson.

Ever wondered what it’s like to make one of the most highly anticipated movies of all time? Rian Johnson is one of the few people who knows, and he’ll be at SXSW to share. Earlier in the day, the fest will show a behind-the-scenes film about the making of The Last Jedi, Johnson’s entry into the Star Wars canon. Then, Johnson himself will give a behind-the-scenes of the behind-the-scenes in this live discussion with producer Ram Bergman. Bergman and Johnson have collaborated on four films, which usually proves for a fruitful conversation that reveals more intimate details than if the moderator were a relative stranger. (We loved this on-stage discussion between longtime collaborators Alfonso Cuarón and Emmanuel Lubezki at Tribeca, for example.)

The Bleeding Edge: A New Generation of Horror

Get Out
'Get Out', produced by panelist Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions.Credit: Universal Pictures

Horror has always been popular, but for whatever reason over the past couple of years we’ve seen not only an uptick of entries in the genre, but in quality as well. One production company that can certainly claim responsibility for this push is Blumhouse and their founder Jason Blum. Need evidence? A little horror film they released called Get Out was nominated for four Oscars this year. Blumhouse has also produced the highly profitable The Purge, Insidious, Sinister and Paranormal Activity franchises which together have grossed more than $1.7 billion at the global box office. This panel features Blum and some other members of the production company talking about the future of horror as creators begin to branch out into new mediums like VR/AR and streaming platforms.

Short Films: To Stream or Not to Stream

That is the question. You’ve made your short, you’re proud of it, now do you need to wait before you start showing it online so that festivals can have first dibs? These days it seems like festivals may not be as concerned if your short is floating around on the internet. But there’s only one way to know for sure: go to this panel featuring programmers from Vimeo, Sundance and even The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. It should clear up a few things on how to navigate the tricky post=post-production landscape.

Dan Deacon, Infinite Musical Possibilities: Composing Time Trial

Dan Deacon composer
Composer Dan Deacon.Credit: Break Thru Radio

Here’s one panel that’s guaranteed to be anything but boring. If you don’t know Dan Deacon, just know that he makes insane music. SXSW would describe him as “experimental,” but his compositions are more heart-pounding, adrenaline grooves that shoot straight up your spine after they assault your ear-holes. Deacon’s going to be at the festival with a documentary he scored about bicycle racing and also playing a few shows around Austin. This conversation features Deacon and the director of his documentary, talking about the intricacies of collaborating on a score and what it takes to maintain the delicate balance of a filmmakers vision with the ideas of a mad-man musician.

Spike Lee Master Class

Spike Lee
Spike Lee will present a Master Class at SXSW 2018.

Do we really need to say more? Spike. Lee. Master. Class. After a screening of the prolific director’s She’s Gotta Have It Netflix series finale (a remake of his own 1986 film), he will share insights from his groundbreaking career that has spanned every format, garnered two Oscar noms, and inspired countless filmmakers around the world. Just do it.

For more, see our complete coverage of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival.

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