"Drinking Buddies" costars, from left, Jake Johnson, Olivia… (Michael Buckner / Getty…)
AUSTIN, Texas -- The long-standing reputation of South by Southwest as something of a party festival may be part of its appeal to visiting media and guests. The hubs around the Convention Center and the Paramount Theater mean festivalgoers spend an awful lot of time crossing paths with the long stretch of large bars on s 6th Street. As director Ti West, in town to support acting roles in two festival films, recently posted to Twitter, “It’s spring break for filmmakers.”
Saturday night was especially hopping, with multiple parties all over town. With the movie portion of the festival in full swing, different film teams competed for attendees’ attention. So it seemed only right that two films concerned with drinking, the feature “Drinking Buddies” and the documentary “Hey Bartender,” would both be premiering that night.
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After the screening of “Hey Bartender,” an insightful look at the explosion of craft cocktail culture around the country, the filmmaking team admitted feeling a certain pressure to throw a good party. They succeeded, with a relaxed event near the main center of festival activity, serving different upscale cocktails at stations around the party -- a mai tai here, a gin fizz there, or maybe try this whiskey smash.
Some of the subjects of the film, including noted bartenders Dushan Zaric, Steve Schneider and Steve Carpentieri, milled around the room, looking content to let somebody else handle the drinks for once. Director Douglas Tirola received people at the door.
Because some guests started leaving as word filtered through of an impending thunderstorm, the party may have suffered from actually being too low-key and high-class.
Meanwhile, over at the party for the romantic comedy “Drinking Buddies,” which is set amid a small Chicago brewery and explores the slightly glassy decision-making of being maybe a beer-and-a-half too deep, things really got jumping as a heavy rain started to pour. A small crowd huddled near the door, partly trying to get in, partly to share umbrellas and stay dry.
Sunday was costar Olivia Wilde’s 29th birthday, so at midnight there was cake and a round of “Happy Birthday.” Wilde then bopped off to the dance floor for a bit, as costars Ron Livingston and Jake Johnson continued to circulate around the room. Talent from other films started to show up as well, with Clark Gregg from “Much Ado About Nothing,” Adam Brody from “Some Girl(s)” and Christopher Abbott from “Burma” all passing through. “Drinking Buddies” director Joe Swanberg, sweaty from dancing, received well-wishers with a drink in each hand.
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As the night wore on and the dance floor filled up, it started to seem as if not everyone was there with the “Drinking Buddies” party. As a petit brunet started to lead a soul clap and chant-along to the Killers song “All These Things That I’ve Done” amid a small group onstage in front of the DJ, it was hard to tell whether everyone quite recognized that it was “Pitch Perfect’s” Anna Kendrick, another “Drinking Buddies” costar. And when the music switched to Tupac’s “California Love,” Kendrick shifted gears to whatever the current parlance's equivalent of getting crunk is.
Folks were staying late, in part hoping to wait out the rain, but as closing time came (as well as the shift ahead to daylight savings time), people spilled out into the downpour. As many bar-hoppers from the 6th Street scene now found themselves dashing from awning to awning, others simply gave up, walking slowly in the rain with a zombie-like dejection, having already gotten their party clothes soaked. Just another Saturday night in Austin.
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Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocus