My first South By Southwest was actually my second film festival ever. But I had my festival partner (Erik Childress!) there, as well as a bunch of movies to watch, so it's not like I was worried or miserable or anything. The year was 2003, and I was just about to meet Matt Dentler. Only a few weeks removed from my first Sundance, I simply wasn't prepared for the Austin hospitality. Once Mr. Dentler knew who Erik and I were (online film critics, big woop) he never stopped being a prince. Thanks to Matt and his awesome girlfriend Jarren, Erik and I became SXSW superheroes almost overnight. So it only took about six years for me to come up with the idea, but here's an interview with my friend Matt Dentler, powerfully good guy and ridiculously hard-working producer of the South By Southwest Film Festival.
Cinematical: You've been the producer of South By Southwest for the better part of a decade now, and the festival has seen huge growth in that time. How'd you score such a sweet gig, and (more importantly) how do you keep the festival chugging along year after year?
Matt: I've only been the producer since 2003, but I did start working at SXSW in 1997 as an office intern. I've seen the festival go through various stages of growth and it's really exciting. I guess I got the gig because I worked my way up the food chain and was just relentless about doing a great job. I dunno what it is, but something about this place and this job fit really well with me. The great thing about each festival, year to year, is that there are always new films and new filmmakers and new audiences. That keeps things fresh all the time, and you never feel like you're just doing the same job over and over. It really does feel like a new challenge each year, especially as we've grown.
Cine: How important is it for a festival producer to be a hardcore movie freak? Does your love for cinema ever start to wane when you're faced with 45 brand-new screener discs?
Matt: A programmer at another festival once used this analogy and I think it's appropriate: To do this job, you have to love movies like it's a marriage. You have to love it through thick and thin, sickness and health, richer or poorer. You have to be ready to embrace it during the good times and bad. And, that's very true. It can be a daunting gig, but I don't take it for granted. I love the idea of discovering great new films or a great new voice. That keeps it constantly interesting and usually entertaining.