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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Film portion of SXSW 2016 kicks off with a moving start

SXSW Film has already been a whirlwind. I touched down in Austin, Texas, on Friday night, and I've been completely blown away by the amount of life resonating throughout the city. The people are expressive, the presentations are insightful and the films are true spectacles.

That night, I headed to the Paramount Theater to attend the screening of "Gleason." The theater has a romantic, classical aura about it that reminded me of the Overture Center in Madison and put me in the right frame of mind to view the film. "Gleason" was a heartbreaking documentary about former NFL player Steve Gleason and his journey after getting diagnosed with ALS. What I appreciated about this documentary was the rich spectrum of emotion it conveyed. I watched this man rise and fall, laugh and cry and hope and fear. He, his wife Michel and their son Rivers are the emotional strongholds throughout this journey, and left me questioning what it is I value in life. Steve and Michel were in attendance that night, which made the whole experience that much more impactful.

As an added surprise, there were two other notable figures in the audience that night. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki of "Supernatural" were sitting mere rows in front of me. After the screening had finished, I made sure to catch them outside for a quick photo!

On Saturday, Ellen Page and Ian Daniel took to the stage to discuss their new series "Gaycation." Page and Daniel were so genuine in their talk, describing their journey across the globe to hear the stories from people of LGBTQ communities. They emphasized the importance of inclusivity and respect for each other's differences, a topic that is both relevant to the current state of the entertainment industry and among UW-Madison students, given recent discussions and events that have taken place among diverse groups. 

Following this, I sat in on “A Conversation With Jake Gyllenhaal," to promote his movie "Demolition." To hear the actor speak in person was kind of surreal. He was funny and charming—as expected—but there was complete passion in his voice as he discussed his character Davis, a man struggling with apathy following the sudden death of his wife. Gyllenhaal spoke about the various personalities he has had to take on over the years for films like "Donnie Darko," "Southpaw" and "Night Crawler." For him, the characters, as well as the narrative, can be true spectacles of a film. 

The talk was incredibly engaging, which was helpful to keep in mind when "Demolition" premiered in Paramount later that night. Gyllenhaal gave what I considered to be an Oscar-worthy performance. As Davis, he carries the film, and through that journey, we see him cope with his apathy by literally taking a sledgehammer to the walls of his home in order to try and symbolically feel something.

Other notable events were "A Conversation With Joel Edgerton," wherein the actor discussed his work in "The Gift" and "Midnight Special," and the screening of "In a Valley of Violence," starring Ethan Hawke. There are more screenings to come in the next few days, and I'm more than excited to see what else is in store at SXSW.

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