Interview: Jarod Neece

SXSW Festival Programmer Jarod Neece

I met Jarod Neece back in September, where he was the incredibly gracious host of a really swell SXSW party at TIFF. He was so gracious that he also agreed to an interview, right in the midst of the pre-SXSW maelstrom.

The 2011 edition of the South by Southwest Film Festival takes place in Austin, Texas, from March 11th through the 20th. If you’re going to be there, say Howdy!

James McNally (JM): You have a formidable-sounding title. Can you explain exactly what you do before, during, and after SXSW each year?

Jarod Neece (JN): Yes, after working for SXSW for 10 years my title has grown to be Film Production & Conference Manager / Feature Film & Genre Programmer.

Before the festival I manage the film conference programming, the film festival production, while also working to program the Narrative Feature and Midnight sections, running the daily operations of the film festival and traveling to several fests each year to watch films and consider them for SXSW.

During SXSW I oversee the film festival and conference operations, intro films, do Q&As and try to fit in at least a few parties and a couple hours of sleep a night.

After the festival, I rest for a few weeks, hang out with my wife and daughter full time and then start all over again.

JM: According to your statistics, there were 1,800 feature submissions and 3,000 shorts submissions this year, an increase of 25% over 2010. How does a festival cope with that kind of growth? It’s wonderful that filmmaking tools have become more accessible but do you sometimes feel like there are just too many films being made these days?

JN: We have definitely seen more and more films each year. We handle the growth with more screeners, more staff and more hours personally watching films before the festival. I would never say there are too many films being made, I think it’s great that anyone can have access to filmmaking tools. I never know when I put in a DVD if that film will be the next discovery. It keeps you going through the long screening process.

JM: Do you feel that festival programmers are now bearing the burden of responsibility for weeding out bad films that previously would have been the job of studio slush pile script readers? Is it just too easy to make a film now?

JN: Festival programmers have always weeded down submissions to create their programs each year. We just have many more films to choose from these days. I’ve made a few short films in my day and I know how hard it is to make a film, regardless of changing technology. I’d never call it easy.

JM: I’ve been attending SXSW Interactive since 2001, and over the years the overlap between Interactive and Film has grown. In what particular ways do you see the two streams of the conference converging this year?

JN: We are increasing the size of the room of our crossover panels to allow more film and interactive registrants access to each other’s programming. We have several crossover events, including the panels in 18ABCD, the Film/IA fusion party and out IA@The Movie films.

JM: What films, panels, parties and special events are you most excited about this year?

JN: It would be impossible to narrow it down to only a few, but the first films off the top of my head – Ti West’s The Innkeepers, Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block, Xavier Gens’ The Divide, and so many other premieres. Some of my favourite films I saw while attending other festivals include Phase 7, Insidious, Our Day Will Come, Bellflower, Being Elmo, and tons of others.

On the panels side we have Todd Phillips, Paul Reubens, and the casts of Source Code and Super. Our Opening Night Party is always a blast and we are really excited about the second year of the Opening Title Sequence and Film Poster Design Competition.

JM: I know that in your increasingly scarce free time, you are the author of a blog about the best taco places in Austin. Do you care to share any secrets for visitors this year?

JN: Go east! If you want good breakfast tacos crossover (or under) I-35 to get real tacos at Porfirio’s or Joe’s or good lunch tacos at Rosita’s Al Pastor on E. Riverside. Or show up to our Taco Journalism Meet Up at 9am on Sunday, March 13 in Brush Square Park and eat some tacos with us!

JM: I’m sure your work won’t suddenly end on March 20th, but what’s the first thing you’re going to do when the festival winds down and you have some time to yourself?

JN: Put down my computer and phone, tell my wife Happy Birthday, and just hang out with my family.

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