South By Southwest Film is younger than many of the other big festivals, having begun in 1994 as an offshoot of the SXSW Music fest (which had launched in 1987). That makes 2013 the 20th edition of SXSW Film, which means the fest isn't even old enough to drink yet. Appropriately, not a single alcoholic beverage has ever been consumed during the festival (note to self: fact check this later).
But despite its relative youth, SXSW Film has grown to be a significant force in the movie world, serving as launchpad for indie projects as well as studio-backed crowd-pleasers. Here are eight of the most noteworthy films to have had their world premieres at SXSW. Some were big-name productions already scheduled for theatrical release that gained momentum by playing to SXSW crowds; others were completely unknown before taking Austin by storm. All of them taste better with chips and queso.
"A Mighty Wind" (2003)
Christopher Guest and company's followup to their mockumentary classics "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best in Show" first saw the light of day, fittingly enough, at a festival primarily known for its music. Unfortunately, The Folksmen (aka Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean) didn't make it to the Paramount Theatre for a live performance, so the movie itself had to suffice.
"Knocked Up" (2007)
The world premiere of Judd Apatow's raunch-com went over like gangbusters, and was followed by a party -- open to all badge-holders -- at which Loudon Wainwright III performed and several cast members (including Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, and Adam Scott) mingled with us common folk. It was a perfect encapsulation of what makes SXSW great: Fun movie, lively party, unpretentious crowd, Loudon Wainwright III.
"Super High Me" (2008)
Full-time pot-smoker and part-time comedian Doug Benson wasn't on many people's radar yet when his documentary -- in which he spends 30 days not smoking, followed by a month of constant highness -- premiered at SXSW (a festival where he could count on the audience to be, shall we say, receptive). "Super High Me" didn't set the world on fire, but it did increase Benson's profile, as well as the profile of his "Doug Loves Movies" podcast, which continues to thrive in a mellow, relaxed manner.
"Drag Me to Hell" (2009)
SXSW crowds love their horror, and horror aficionados love their Sam Raimi. So when the dapper-dressed auteur took a break from his Spider-Man duties to make an old-school straight-up scarefest, Austin was the place to premiere it. At midnight, of course. The Paramount Theatre was filled with the sound of shrieks, laughter, and wet pants.
"Winnebago Man" (2009)
A pre-YouTube VHS tape of profane outtakes from an RV commercial had been circulated for many years when Austin filmmaker Ben Steinbauer decided to track down the angry man who appears in it. The resulting documentary -- about the man himself, Jack Rebney, and more broadly about Internet fame and cultural memes -- went on to be a minor hit on the festival circuit.
Another high-profile film that seemed tailor-made for the laid-back, geeky-cool SXSW crowd. If "Kick-Ass" had done as well with general audiences as it did in Austin, it would have been a $200 million blockbuster.
"Conan O'Brien Can't Stop" (2011)
Team Coco was out in full force when this chronicle of the gangly redhead's post-"Tonight Show"/pre-TBS adventures made its debut, and O'Brien himself was on hand to amuse the people of Austin. Less than 24 hours after its first screening, the film had landed a distribution deal. You can't keep a good man down!
"Kill List" (2011)
SXSW's midnight section is always good for some creepiness, some violence, and some WTF?, but rarely have those three key elements been gathered into one film as effectively as they were in this deeply unsettling thriller about a pair of hit men who fall down the rabbit hole. Ben Wheatley's twisted vision went on to be a cult hit when it was released theatrically and on VOD, but it was here, late one March night in Austin, that it first gave an audience the heebie-jeebies.