Though embattled FBI Director James Comey couldn’t take the heat, canceling his talk last-minute amid increased calls for an independent probe into Trump-Russia ties, this year’s 31st edition of South by Southwest (SXSW) continues last year’s political bent—which included a keynote talk by then President Barack Obama on the convergence of tech and politics.
SXSW 2017 brings with it talks by FBI General Counsel James Baker (filling in for Comey), CNN’s resident truth-slinger Jake Tapper, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet (in a talk called “Covering POTUS”), and a conversation with former vice president Joe Biden.But that’s just a slice of the brisket. Ever since Bridesmaids and HBO’s Girls premiered during the music/interactive/film megafest, SXSW has become a marquee destination for comedy films and TV shows. Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer's Trainwreck, AMC’s Preacher, and Sausage Party made their debuts there, and this year’s lineup boasts 125 feature films, from studio to batshit fare, numerous TV shows, and plenty of artist talks—on top of all the concerts, of course.So without further ado, here are the most anticipated events of SXSW 2017.
SONG TO SONG
Acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick has been remarkably prolific of late, given how 20 years passed between his brilliant Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line. But his recent output has been a bit of a mixed bag: a mélange of eye-catching cinematography, vexing voiceover narration, and choppy editing. I still haven’t fully forgiven him for To the Wonder, but this self-described “modern love story set against the Austin, Texas, music scene” seems enticing, featuring Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara as a pair of indie rockers, Michael Fassbender as a music mogul, and Natalie Portman as a waitress Fassy sets his sights on. The film also features Cate Blanchett, Benicio del Toro, and Val Kilmer, as well as cameos by a host of musicians, including Lykke Li, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Florence Welch, Arcade Fire, and Flea.
With Samsung sitting out this year, the hottest showcase comes courtesy of YouTube at the Coppertank, three nights of concerts that will feature the likes of Solange, Rae Sremmurd, Migos, and many more performing to a packed house. But we are most excited for Solange, whose recent album A Seat at the Table was not only one of the best of 2016, but established the singer-songwriter as a bona fide R&B goddess.
GAME OF THRONES
There always seems to be a significant Game of Thrones presence at SXSW, and this year is no different. On the afternoon of March 12 there will be a feature talk with the creators and cast of the HBO smash hit, including showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss, as well as cast members Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) and Maisie Williams (Arya Strak). That’s not all. According to HBO, there will also be an interactive “escape-the-room style experience” on hand featuring a Game of Thrones-themed room. The show, however, won’t return until July 16, 2017.
While the film, television, and tech portions of SXSW have stolen some of the music section’s thunder, there are still plenty of must-see music showcases. The Fader Fort, a three-day outdoor music fest, is always a hot ticket, and last year boasted a closing-night performance by Drake (the year before was Miley Cyrus, Future, and Rae Sremmurd in unison). The Mass Appeal show at Stubb’s BBQ on the night of March 16 has Lil Wayne commanding the mic; StubHub’s annual three-day showcase—this year Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden on Rainey Street—is always a fun stop-by, feat. Sleigh Bells, D.R.A.M., Hamilton Leithauser, and Talib Kweli; and Vibe’s Epic Showcase on the evening of March 16 has Rick Ross, Yo Gotti, and a special guest. The House of Vans at the Mohawk is also an annual go-to, and this year’s got a Tumblr/Planned Parenthood bash on March 12 with Sleigh Bells, as well as a number of other showcases. There are also appealing day parties from the likes of Spin, Pandora, Pitchfork, and a host of others. Oh, and The Wu-Tang Clan headlines Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater on March 14.
It’s no Obama, but Uncle Joe is taking an Amtrak into town to give a talk on March 12 that will “outline his plans for a Biden cancer initiative, calling on attendees at SXSW to join him in taking on the disease.” It will also, we hope, include his thoughts on the Trump administration, Trump-Russia ties, and the choo-choos.
Now that the smoke has cleared from all the Ant-Man drama—he left the much-ballyhooed Marvel project after creative disagreements—celebrated filmmaker Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) will unveil his latest film at SXSW. The crime-comedy follows a well-meaning getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) who, along with his girlfriend (Lily James), must dodge a group of dangerous criminals following a job gone awry. The criminals on his tail are played by Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Hamm, and Wright’s film also reportedly features a cameo from THE Meryl Streep.
Adapted from the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name, this big-budget Starz TV series comes from the minds of showrunners Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and Michael Green, one of the hottest screenwriters in Hollywood (Logan, Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049). The show follows a shadowy man named Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), who is really the god Odin, who hires a felon named Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) to help him round up all the gods—who’ve been assimilated into American life—to confront a batch of nefarious new gods. Humanity, naturally, hangs in the balance.
THE DISASTER ARTIST
If you haven’t seen The Room, a 2003 disasterpiece produced, written, directed by, and starring the oddball Tommy Wiseau, you should. It’s not only considered one of the worst films of all time but is so amazingly bad it’s hilarious. This comedy film, from the writing team behind (500) Days of Summer and director James Franco, is about the chaotic making of The Room. It features Franco as Wiseau and boasts an all-star cast including Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Alison Brie, Sharon Stone, and Bryan Cranston. Expect plenty of laughs—and football catches.
Imagine John Wick but starring a duster-clad Charlize Theron and you have Atomic Blonde, an action flick from Wick filmmaker David Leitch that stars the Oscar-winning actress as an ass-kicking MI6 agent taking down a spy ring in 1989 Berlin, just before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Expect a very high body count, balletic action sequences, and loads of bullets. The film also stars James McAvoy, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, and John Goodman.
There are a variety of other cool events at SXSW, from a presentation of the original 1979 Alien by director Ridley Scott and his Alien: Covenant star Michael Fassbender; a screening of the original anime masterpiece Ghost in the Shell, followed by a talk with filmmaker Mamoru Oshii; some genuinely weird-sounding shit, including the movie Game of Death (about people who must go on a murder spree lest their heads explode) and PIG: The Final Screenings, already touted as a total gross-out; and some enticing documentaries, such as the behind-the-scenes Muppets flick Muppet Guys Talking, the XXX doc Pornocracy, the West Coast hip-hop doc G-Funk, and Becoming Bond, a doc on the life and times of unlikely 007 George Lazenby.
In addition to keynote talks courtesy of filmmaker and Empire creator Lee Daniels (Precious), musician Nile Rodgers, Transparent creator Jill Soloway, and Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, there are chats with CNN’s Jake Tapper, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, pop star Kesha, rapper T.I., and Sen. Cory Booker. Actress Kristen Bell will also host a talk on the power of women at Hormel’s Create + Cultivate event, which features a packed day of prominent female speakers.