Of the myriad things to do in Austin, film festivals are near the top of the list. And a new kid on the block, RxSM: The Self-Medicated Film Festival, is trying to give SXSW a run for its money.
What better way to respond to rejection from a film festival than to create your own? How about one that takes place the very same weekend? This isn’t a new concept, of course—it’s one Slamdance made famous years ago (when their founders didn’t get into Sundance), but the founders of RxSM have made some unique innovations.
Anthony Pedone organized RxSM after his first film, The Why, failed to make the program at SXSW. Determined to screen his film somewhere—anywhere—Pedone reached out to his friends at Phillips Distilling, who helped him secure a spot to screen for nine continuous hours after a Ludacris and Samuel L. Jackson private party (a hard act to follow, but one followed nonetheless). And the rest is history. Currently in its fourth year, RxSM has expanded from a single night of screening to an expansive, seven-day festival in Austin. More impressively, the festival continues to grow with its own Film ExChange program involving six other festivals on two continents.
So how does a festival end up with such a strange name? As it turns out, many of the first year’s films had to do with brain damage, strange behavior, and—of course—drugs. Hence, the “Rx” in RxSM. Interestingly, it was not Pedone and company’s intention to keep their eye-catching title for more than a year—in fact, it wasn’t their intention to make RxSM into an annual event at all. But they decided not to mess with something that worked. Perhaps the title is appropriate: The medical allusion seems to connect to their existence as an alternative cure for the often pretentious, pricey, celebrity-worshipping film festivals saturating the circuit. This is not to say that RxSM is the only festival out there fighting the system, but they’re providing an opportunity for filmmakers who don’t have the chance to screen at big-name festivals like SXSW.
“I sometimes ask myself why I do it, but the answer is always the same: Because I’m a filmmaker and I like to collaborate and support other people who love the same things that I love,” says Pedone when asked why he fights to put on RxSM every year. Every festival claims to be the filmmakers’ festival, but RxSM truly endeavors to embody that vision. Their goal is to create a free event with free drinks and a spectacular program for filmmakers who don’t make it into SXSW, but whose artistic efforts are every bit as worthwhile as those who do.
Adding on to RxSM’s opportunity to screen somewhere else in Austin, Pedone and team have developed their own Film ExChange program with six other festivals. Their aim is to globalize and share. By sharing programming, something festivals do all the time without ever cross-promoting each other, the festivals in the Film ExChange are able to create a mini-theatrical release for certain films while also continuing to draw attention to their festival after it ends each year. To put it simply, they can extend their festival lifespan while simultaneously doing the same for the films they program.
So how does it work? The program consists of an Inbound and Outbound ExChange. In order to qualify for the Inbound ExChange, you must win one of the following categories: Best Feature, Best Documentary, or Best Short. In doing this at any of the seven festivals, filmmakers then travel to Austin to screen at RxSM. RxSM winners move on to compete at the Victoria TX Independent Film Festival for the Crossroads Award, and split a prize of $5,000. To qualify for the Outbound ExChange program, filmmakers submit their work directly to Victoria TX, where the Best Feature, Documentary and Short will travel to all the other festivals in the network: Seven festivals for the price of one.
As Pedone remarks, “We don’t care if you screened yesterday in Austin. If we love the film, we will screen it regardless. We do what we do to support the filmmaker.” This, of course, is a breath of fresh air in the notoriously—and often unnecessarily—competitive festival system. RxSM, he continues, “is a celebration of the DIY spirit, of our punk rock roots, and a chance for filmmakers and lovers to come together: No badges, no rules, no velvet ropes.”
RxSM: The Self Medicated Film Festival takes place March 8-14, 2013 www.rxsm.org
The Victoria, TX Independent Film Festival takes place April 4-7, 2013 www.vtxiff.com
For more information on the Film ExChange, visit www.filmexchange.org