The SXSW 2010 festival starts tomorrow in Austin, Texas, with its film component featuring a large assortment of doc screenings and panels geared towards non-fiction filmmakers. Jim Kolmar (pictured), in his first year as film conference coordinator & SXGlobal programmer, spoke with realscreen about seeking out docs for the international program and giving audiences the unexpected.
What are you looking for when you’re choosing documentaries for SXSW’s international film program, SXGlobal?
I try to cast my net quite wide initially in the very early stages. Once you start doing that you find certain things begin to emerge. I was quite surprised that there’s a lot of interesting work coming out of Estonia, for example.
I wouldn’t say it’s about each film representing its specific country, but you do find when you see a bunch of films from a certain country, characteristics emerge. You try to account for that when you program, try to find a way to articulate a national mood. Certain things emerge as a result of contemporary politics or an economic climate issue or particular concerns of a country.I feel like it’s part of my responsibility to introduce American audiences to things that happen on the other side of the pond.
What are some of the highlights for the doc community at this year’s fest?
I have a few U.S. premieres that I’m presenting. [There's] The Living Room of the Nation [from Finland], and Phantom of Liberty II from the Czech Republic, which is a really exciting film. It’s an experimental film in a way, [with] a lot of strange temporal shifts and it could almost belong in the interactive program; it has that kind of feel.
[As for] DocLab [a SXSW session presented by IDFA focusing on interactive and web-oriented doc projects], the interesting thing about it is it’s never the same. There is no repeat screening because it’s an interactive event. It’s a live presentation that’s different depending on how and where they present it.
Most of the [SXGlobal] program is a premiere in one form or another. We had a lot of international submissions this year. We had 4,000 submissions and a lot of those were international, so a few of the things I programmed ended up coming to us through the regular submissions process.
Looking at the panels and workshops, Ripping Reality is clearly one for the doc audience. Can you tell me about that session, and any others you would recommend for doc-makers?
Ripping Reality is [presented by Hot Docs' director of programming] Sean Farnel; he had written an article about the idea of creativity in documentary. It’s a sort of a call to arms to bring back artistic documentaries. He has Michael Tucker [How to Fold a Flag] on the panel and Monteith McCollum, whose A Different Path is really a fascinating, artful documentary that also has a lot of animation elements. It’s very enigmatic but it [presents] a very clear social concern in an artistic way.
ARTE and the NFB are going to be talking about the role of interactive documentary and the way that’s affecting how people view non-fiction film. We [also] have [Center for Social Media director] Pat Aufderheide talking about remixing [during Remix Goes Mainsteam: Making Mashups Pay].
What are your expectations for the festival?
I’d like someone to come and see things that are unexpected and stumble across things. That’s part of the fun of the festival. That’s how I see SXGlobal’s role in all of this. People probably don’t know about a lot of these films. I had to go out and look for them; sometimes they found me and sometimes I found them. It sounds very much like a love-in but that’s how we see it – it’s about communication and sharing information.
Other key doc-related events at this year’s SXSW include the panel The Two Taqwacores, which examines the different storytelling methods between a doc and a narrative film covering the same subject; Cash Flow Workflow: Funding Docs From Start to Finish and What Does Documentary History Look Like in an Interactive World?: From Nanook to @Nanook. IDFA’s DocLab takes place Saturday, March 13. SXSW runs from March 12 to 21.