photo by Nicholas Branda

The first full day of the 2006 SXSW Film Festival got off to perplexing start this morning, as AP film critic Christy Lemire's Conversation with Peter Bart produced far too many "WTF?" moments to parse on a Saturday before noon. The venerable Variety editor/cable TV personality/former Paramount chief drew about a 3/4 capacity crowd for his musings on new technology, the culture of celebrity, and the future of filmmaking. It was a frustrating panel; as much as Bart is known (and clearly likes to think of himself) as a "straight shooter", there were at least two incidences this morning where he seemed to directly contradict himself. All throughout, Bart (not unrightfully) glorified his role in Hollywood's most exciting historical moment, but very early on, Bart warned us not to look for a repeat of the American New Wave which he and Robert Evans helped usher and mold. Gesturing somewhere over his shoulder, he said, "All those people over there, the interactive ... with the digital, and the blogging ... [in the 70s], studios were wide open to people at that end of the hall. That surely will never happen again." By the end of the talk, Bart was drawing parallels between the new breed of tech savvy, indie filmmakers and the 70s vanguard, and predicted that the former will soon take over Hollywood the way the latter did so many decades ago. So to recap: young, indie filmmakers are never going to have it as good as they did in the 70s. Also, young, indie filmmakers are about to take over Hollywood, just like they did in the 70s. At some point, prompted by a question by Lemire, Bart praised blogs for allowing new voices to get into the media criticism game. To that, Lemire scrunched up her face and said, "Blogs scare me!" She and Bart then conferred for a while on the "unreliable" nature of blogs; by the time Lemire was shaking her head back and forth and increduously exclaiming, "Nobody is fact checking these things!", I lost the ability to keep my mouth shut. I raised my hand, and when teacher called on me, I introduced myself, and told her that I work for a blog that is, in fact, fact-checked – in real time, by our readers. "If we get something wrong," I said, "Our commenters tell us so, and they make sure we correct it. We have a direct dialogue with our readers that allows for a kind of instantaneous error correction that – I'm sorry – print media doesn't really have." Lemire then apologized to me personally, but held firm on her conviction that bloggers traffic in lies. To that, I said, "There's a whole genre of blog out there that exists to spread rumors about celebrities. That's very different from what we do, and what a lot of film blogs do." I immediately chastised myself for coming off as cringe-worthily self-righteous, but this is an issue that persistently bugs me: film blogging is given a bad name by the mainstream film media, based on the antics of blogs that are generally not about film at all. On a semi-related tangent: at one point, Lemire said something about how she and Bart are both "old school", and have "250 years of experience between [them]". Estimating that Lemire is something like 40, and Bart, no more than 25 years her senior, by any kind of math it seems like perhaps a fact checker could have come in handy when formulating that quip.

More gems from the talk:

Peter Bart on Robert Evans' weddings: "They're very well produced."

On the birth of Evans' egomania: "Since people kept casting him in movies – and most recently they cast him as (wiz kid head of Paramount) Irving Thalberg – he started to think he WAS Thalberg."

On Hollywood's solipsism: "Just as so many people at this festival are asking, 'Why are so many lousy movies being made?', the people making the movies are asking the same thing."

On producing The Godfather: "It was such an extraordinarily unpleasant experience that I've shied away from talking or thinking about it for 30 years."

On Bubble, the latest from Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh: "As student films go, it was just fine."

Movie of his that he'd most like to see remade: Harold and Maude

Who he'd cast as Maude: Shirley MacLaine

Who Shirley MacLaine would cast as Harold: Jude Law (don't ask me, I'm just the messenger).

Why Catholics should stop protesting The Da Vinci Code: "It's not scary in any way – other than the fact that Tom Hanks should cut his hair."