If there was a theme to this year’s SXSW it was pushing through failures to find self actualization and success. Again and again, the film selection showed this theme to varying degrees of success.
Take the story of “Sylvio,” a quirky indie comedy about a gorilla searching for friendship and acceptance through his puppetry. To add to Sylvio’s feelings of isolation, not only does he look different, but he also isn’t able to communicate verbally like the people around him. This leads to others viewing him as a mix of things: pushover, angry animal, and circus sideshow. Even those closest to him take time to understand Sylvio and appreciate him for who he really is.
Similar to “Sylvio,” “The Disaster Artist” also explores a misunderstood visionary seeking acceptance. James Franco’s take on Tommy Wiseau story and the making of “The Room” is a beautiful and funny take on one of the most bizarre film releases of all time. While “The Room” has gained cult status for being one of the worst films of all time, Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” shows that the film is anything but a failure. Rather than laughing at the filmmakers, Franco seeks to show another side to “The Room” – he shows it as a story of friendship and self understanding. He demonstrates success and failure are all in the eyes of the beholder. It’s one of the most layered dramatic comedies that the Franco-Rogen team have ever put together.
In addition to the films, even the television previews echoed this theme. Melissa McCarthy/Ben Falcone-produced “Nobodies” follows three of their best friends as their friends try to find success in Hollywood while also living in the shadows of their much more famous friends. In the first few episodes, you watch these three comedic writers try to launch a script on their own merit, but dig themselves holes when they seek more famous talent to support them. As funny as their situation is when their over-zealousness leads to jokes about McCarthy in the bathroom or Jason Bateman with a busted knee, I imagine the rest of the season will see them growing into their own and discovering that maybe fame wasn’t all they expected it to be.
Finally, even the speakers and keynotes echoed the theme of pushing through failure to find success. In one of the most empowering and inspirational speeches at the festival, Gareth Edwards (director of “Godzilla” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) talked about how he struggled to become a director. His whole life he wanted to be a director, but he couldn’t get anyone to give him a chance – shocking considering how much praise he’s now garnered simply for “Rogue One.” Edwards discussed how he first tried to break into the industry working in visual effects at the BBC. After building partnerships there, he asked for a chance to direct, but was repeatedly turned down. Finally, he offered to do visual effects for free in exchange for a chance to direct. And he finally got the chance on some middle of the night unnoticed program. It was a disaster and the BBC didn’t give him another break. Finally, a friend told him to take things into his own hands and produce, direct and write something of his own. So he did and he made “Monsters.” But nobody wanted to take a chance on it except for one little festival — SXSW. At SXSW, it was well-received and led to him getting signed with an agent and finally getting the big break he needed. Thank you, SXSW! Without you, we woudn’t have had “Rogue One” and these words to live by from Edwards:
“Never, ever, ever listen to someone who tells you something is impossible. Because if you never give up, you can end up joining the Rebel Alliance and saving Princess Leia from the Death Star.”
Hearing Edwards’ story of SXSW giving him a chance and watching so many films and panels of aspiring filmmakers each hoping for their big break really was a great reminder of what this festival means and it why it is so important. Not every movie is going to have a sold out crowd. Not every review will be 100% positive. But it’s putting yourself out there and being ready to fail that is the first step of finding success. Any artist willing to show a piece of themselves is a success, even if it’s not obvious to the world the first time around. So here’s to SXSW 2017 and the countless successes.