Park City has Sundance. Cannes has, well, Cannes. Fine places in and of themselves, but it's their associated film festivals that really put them on the map.

Then there's this place called Austin. Home to South by Southwest, it's a city with a killer festival that happens to be killer all on its own.

It's a city that thrives on music, technology and art, contained in an impossible-to-explain bubble smack dab in the middle of Texas. SXSW, or "South-by," smartly celebrates all three, with 10 days of films, panels, parties and bands that make for some of the most fun you can have anywhere, anytime.

Now why should you care?
By now, it goes without saying that South-by has grown to be one of the best film fests around. It launched local boys the Duplass brothers ('Baghead,' last year's 'Cyrus') with their indie hit 'The Puffy Chair.' It helped make Greta Gerwig ('Greenberg') one of Hollywood's brightest new "It" girls. And last year it saw Bill Murray tending bar at local watering hole Shangri-La.

But consider this -- while the festival was slowly growing into the juggernaut it is today, a guy named Richard Linklater made a film called 'Slacker,' and a whole new generation of independent filmmaking was born. Linklater's movie is Austin: rambling and eclectic, southern yet modern. Jack-of-all-trades director Robert Rodriguez makes most of his movies here. And Mike Judge was doing his Beavis voice to friends over barbecue when MTV still showed videos. The impossible-to-explain bubble gave birth to its own ecosystem of friends-helping-friends style moviemaking. Even stuffy old Hollywood is quick to say how experienced and gosh darn nice the film crews are here.

Nowadays, the art of cinema is as embedded in the culture as are breakfast tacos and bats (Austin's Congress street bridge houses the largest population of Mexican fruit bats in all of North America -- go figure). The Alamo Drafthouse, a South-by venue, brings in cinephiles from all over the world for its funky exhibitions that pair movies with food, drink and interactive events. Tarantino occasionally brings reels from his personal 35 and 16mm film collection to screen around town (dubbed "QT Fest" when it happens). And Oscar winner Sandra Bullock is a semi-resident: Her restaurant BESS Bistro is guaranteed to be a revolving door of activity as festival-goers descend upon the city.

Yes, SXSW always boasts some amazing premieres -- this year brings the highly anticipated 'The Beaver' with Mel Gibson and Billy Bob Thornton's document of icon Willy Nelson, 'The King of Luck' -- as well as festival hits that will just melt your face off with awesomeness (film lovers simply cannot miss Takashi Miike's '13 Assassins'). But underneath it all is Austin itself: a movie fan's oasis; cool and inviting, vibrant and offbeat. It's a city that makes its festival great, not the other way around.

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categories Sxsw Film Festival