SXSW: Festival's Producer Helps Showcase Unique Films
"To see a filmmaker mature is always fun," Dentler said.
South by Southwest is a film festival that feels small, even as it gets bigger. Though it has a number of high-profile films with big stars, the festival has never drifted from its laid-back, down-home feel, Dentler said.
"Numbers-wise, it's our biggest ever," he said. "But we've been able to maintain that intimate spirit. It's crowded, but it's not too crowded. It's busy, but it's not too busy."
Dentler is a tall, genial guy with who speaks quickly and enthusiastically. He's also nearly ubiquitous at the festival's film screenings, introducing a movie and then running across town to another theater to do the same.
Part of the appeal of South by Southwest is Austin itself, a bastion of hipness and local quirks far from major media centers.
"People love Austin," he said. "It's a great place for the festival to thrive. I think people have a good time."
The scheduling doesn't hurt, either, as the weather is mild in March, and the fest is right between some other key film events.
"The time of the year helps us a lot," he said. "It's six weeks after Sundance, and six weeks before Cannes. Audiences and the industry are looking to fill the gap."
The emphasis is different from other festivals; it's more of a showcase for films and younger talent than a market for buyers, Dentler said.
"It's not a competitive market feeding frenzy," he said. "We want films to get some sort of exposure."
Programming the festival is not an easy task, as a selection committee of 30 people and a programming staff of five sifted through more than 2,800 submissions, of which only 230 films (150 features and 130 shorts) were selected into this year's festival.
And Dentler said the films that are chosen are the ones that are different.
"More than anything, we look for ingenuity," he said. "We look for a story that hasn't been told before, or, if it has been told, it's being told in a unique way."
A native Texan, Dentler went to the University of Texas to study film. But he found that he could have a bigger impact not as a man behind the camera, but as the man behind a festival.
"I realized very early on that I sucked as a filmmaker," he said. "[But] I wanted to work in film. And now, I've realized [the festival] is my passion."
Now, Dentler oversees everything from organizing the panel discussions to helping with publicity.
"We've got a great staff," he said. "My job is to be the coach, to keep everyone's spirits up."
And he hopes that for those in attendance, the films screened at South by Southwest will lift their spirits as well.
"If we can bring films and audiences together and make a memorable experience, that's a great thing," he said.