Celebrating 25 Years of SXSW Film Festival

Retrace some of the memorable milestones and highlights from over two decades of premieres, panels and special appearances.

The film festival is known for a high caliber and diverse film lineup with programming ranging from world premieres, independent films by new filmmakers, including top documentaries, narratives, Hollywood comedies and genre standouts. The festival is uniquely able to help both established and emerging storytellers achieve their goals. Whether by launching a film or episodic on the global stage in front of press, industry and smart, enthusiastic audiences, or by providing unparalleled opportunities for creative and business connections and learning at our concurrent SXSW Conference. There is simply nowhere else in the world where the film, music, and tech industries cross – pollinate like at SXSW.

Dive deeper with the 25 Years Blog Series, special posts which take a look back at the past 25 years of the SXSW Film Festival, and feature numerous milestones to commemorate this important moment in our history. Scroll through the curated SXSWorld Timeline below for a snapshot of all the SXSW Film Festival highlights from the past 25 years.

At A Glance

1994
And so it begins

Modeled after SXSW Music, Louis Black, Nick Barbaro and Nancy Shafer constructed the first film event in under 3 months. The inaugural offering features eight panel sessions with 36 total speakers and two world premieres and is called the SXSW Film and Media Conference (SFMC)

Richard Linklater at SXSW
Richard Linklater at SXSW in 1994.

photo by Michael Crawford

1995
They can’t contain us

The SXSW Film and Media Conference splits into two separate events, “SXSW Film” and “SXSW Multimedia.” SXSW Multimedia will become SXSW Interactive in 1997. World premiere films included The Return Of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A More Perfect Union, The Man With The Perfect Swing and The Underneath, while conference programming was highlighted by speakers Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater.

1996
Sterling’s gold

In Dante Harper’s Delicate Art of the Rifle, Bruce Sterling plays a “Non-Linear Weatherman” who tries to impart the complex, unpredictable and chaotic nature of weather, while John Sayles treats SXSW Film to a sneak preview/world premiere of Lone Star.

1997
Build it and they will come

The original Alamo Drafthouse on Colorado Street opens just in time for the screening of Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men.

Kevin Smith, Mike Judge & Steven Soderbergh
Kevin Smith, Mike Judge & Steven Soderbergh at SXSW Film 1997
Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino & Richard Linklater
Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino & Richard Linklater at SXSW Film 1997

George Huang, Mike Judge, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino – all on the same panel!

1998
Double trouble

Total film submissions grow from 638 to 1015. Notable Talent: Sandra Bullock, Mike Judge, Matthew McConaughey, Michael Moore

The Newton Boys
The Newton Boys

Richard Linklater, Julianna Margulies, Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, and Dwight Yoakam

1999
The stars at night are big and bright

The day after its L.A. premiere, Ron Howard, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson attend SXSW with EDtv.

2000
Shifting perceptions

The New York Times notes, “SXSW crowd filling theaters this year rather than going to the panels is of course, a very good sign for the filmmakers with movies playing here.”

2001
It’s good to be high

Highly anticipated U.S. premiere of Ron Mann's Grass.

2002
Logorrhea!

Documentary premiere Spellbound (Jeff Blitz) is the first breakout film for SXSW.

2003
Viva la Revolución

Controversial documentary on Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, sells out the Paramount Theatre on Closing Night.

2004
And they say nothing good happens after Midnight

Guillermo Del Toro brings down the house with a rambunctious screening of Hellboy.

Paramount Theatre
Paramount Theatre marquee at SXSW Film 2004
2005
And then there was Mumblecore

The Duplass Brothers (The Puffy Chair), Joe Swanberg (Kissing on the Mouth) and Andrew Bujalski (Mutual Appreciation) come together for the first time.

Film Festival Highlights
Film Festival Highlights

Wold Premiere of The Comedians of Comedy (Michael Blieden)

2006
News from Lake Wobegon
News from Lake Wobegon

The North American premiere of A Prairie Home Companion, the final film from legendary director Robert Altman, opens the festival.

Doyle Bramhall II & Erykah Badu
Doyle Bramhall II & Erykah Badu

World Premiere Film Festival Highlight: Before the Music Dies (Andrew Shapter)

Ray Romano, Tom Caltabiano & Brad Garrett
Ray Romano, Tom Caltabiano & Brad Garrett

World Premiere Film Festival Highlight: 95 Miles to Go (Tom Caltabiano)

2007
Birth of a blockbuster

The audience could barely hear the dialog through the laughter at the work-in-progress screening of Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Joseph Gordon-Levitt

World Premiere Film Festival Highlight: The Lookout (Scott Frank)

Itty Bitty Titty Comittee Creators
Itty Bitty Titty Comittee Creators

World Premiere Film Festival Highlight: Itty Bitty Titty Committee (Jamie Babbit)

2008
Doug Benson
Doug Benson

Doug Benson premieres his pot doc Super High Me at 4:20pm.

Keepin’ Austin Weird

Doug Benson premieres his pot doc Super High Me. Meanwhile, Barry Jenkins’ first feature Medicine For Melancholy has a great world premiere.

Barry Jenkins
Barry Jenkins

World Premiere Film Festival Highlight: Medicine For Melancholy (Barry Jenkins)

2009
A Girl is born

Joe Swanberg’s Alexander the Last has first ever day-and-date release at festival & on VOD. Lena Dunham debuts with Creative Nonfiction and meets future collaborators for 2010’s Award Winning Tiny Furniture.

Paul Rudd & Jason Segel
Paul Rudd & Jason Segel

World Premiere Film Festival Highlight: I Love You, Man (John Hamburg)

Alexander the Last Cast
Alexander the Last Cast
2010
M is for Movies

Monsters, Marwencol and Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture, three very different world premieres, wow SXSW audiences and then the world.

Scoot McNair & Whitney Able
Scoot McNair & Whitney Able

World Premiere Film Festival Highlight: Monsters (Gareth Edwards)

Jemima Kirke, David Call, Lena Dunham & Alex Karpovsky
Jemima Kirke, David Call, Lena Dunham & Alex Karpovsky

World Premiere Film Festival Highlight: Tiny Furniture (Lena Dunham)

2011
Bet on the little guy
Bet on the little guy

2011 world premiere Undefeated goes on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards.

Paul Feig, Barry Mendel & Kristen Wiig
Paul Feig, Barry Mendel & Kristen Wiig

World Premiere Film Festival Highlight: Bridesmaids (work-in-progress) (Paul Feig)

2012
Raise the roof

The Paramount Theatre goes wild for the world premiere of HBO’s series’ Girls, followed by the world premiere of 21 Jump Street and a raucous Q&A with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.

Mark Wahlberg & Seth Macfarlane
Mark Wahlberg & Seth Macfarlane

Featured Conversation session where the debut clips of Ted

Channing Tatum & Jonah Hill
Channing Tatum & Jonah Hill

World Premiere Film Festival Highlight: 21 Jump Street

2013
High-brow hedonism

Spring Breakers, Cheap Thrills, Drinking Buddies and Good Ol’ Freda running the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again.

Ti West, Anna Kendrick, Joe Swanberg, Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson & Ron Livingston
Ti West, Anna Kendrick, Joe Swanberg, Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson & Ron Livingston

World Premiere Film Festival Highlight: Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg)

Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, Ashley Benson & James Franco
Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, Ashley Benson & James Franco

U.S. Premiere Film Festival Highlight: Spring Breakers

2014
Fingers on the pulse

Episodics launch to recognize innovative films/stories told episodically. Plus, SXSports® goes live to address convergence between the entertainment, creative and sporting worlds.

Seth Rogen & Zac Efron
Seth Rogen & Zac Efron

World Premiere Film Festival Highlights: Neighbors (Nicholas Stoller)

Cast and Creators of Silicon Valley
Cast and Creators of Silicon Valley

World Premiere Film Festival Highlight: Silicon Valley HBO series (Mike Judge & Alec Berg)

Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson & Jason Schwartzman
Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson & Jason Schwartzman

Memorable Film Festival Screening: Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

2015
Rising up

Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck and Trey Edward Shults’ KRISHA represent two fresh talents on the ascent, along with the world premiere of Hello My Name is Doris, the North American Premiere of Ex Machina, and the 30th Anniversary Screening of The Breakfast Club. Episodics continue to reign supreme with the world premiere of Mr. Robot and Unreal. SXSW also presented a last minute surprise World Premiere of Furious 7.

Ava DuVernay
Ava DuVernay

Keynotes: Mark Duplass, Ava DuVernay, RZA, Christine Vachon

Max Greenfield & Sally Fields
Max Greenfield & Sally Fields

World Premiere Film Festival Highlights: Hello, My Name is Doris (Michael Showalter)

Domhnall Gleeson & Oscar Isaac
Domhnall Gleeson & Oscar Isaac

North American Premiere of Ex Machina

2016
Funny people rule

SXSW cements its reputation as a launching pad for comedic content in film, TV, and beyond, while an innovative documentary on the 1966 UT Tower shootings (TOWER) captivates audiences to win both the Jury and Audience Awards. Work-in-progress screenings of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s Keanu and Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s R rated animated Sausage Party.

Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele
Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele

Work-in-progress screening of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s Keanu

Keith Maitland
Keith Maitland

World Premiere Film Festival Highlight: TOWER (Keith Maitland)

J.J. Abrams
J.J. Abrams

Notable Speaker: J.J. Abrams

2017
The Stars at Night are Big and Bright!

SXSW 2017 launched a number of this year’s soon-to-be-most loved films. Audiences got a first look at Edgar Wright’s electric, Baby Driver, James Franco’s comedy masterclass, The Disaster Artist, and the Charlize Theron stunner, Atomic Blonde. SXSW Feature Film Jury Award Winners, Most Beautiful Island and The Work continue to wow audiences around the world and can both be found in theaters this Fall. Also launched this year was the Festival’s Virtual Cinema, which presented 38 VR/AR projects to more than 10,000 participants.

James Franco & Seth Rogen
James Franco & Seth Rogen

Notable 2017 work-in-progress screening: The Disaster Artist

Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron

Notable 2017 World Premiere: Atomic Blonde

Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani & Judd Apatow
Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani & Judd Apatow

Judd and Kumail met in 2012 post Girls screening where they decided to work together, resulting in this notable 2017 screening: The Big Sick.

Unified Conference

For the first time the SXSW Conference was a unified event with 24 tracks, open to all badgeholders in primary or secondary lines. The Film Tracks included Entertainment Influencers, Film & TV Industry and Making Film & Episodics, plus Convergence Tracks including Experiential Storytelling, VR/AR, News & Journalism, Social Impact, and more.

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