By Brian Hieggelke

My final day at the festival was one of brass tacks. The panel entitled “How NOT to Produce Movies” drew a standing-room-only crowd to hear Matthew Mills, Amy Lo, Kim Sherman and Michael Tully share bits of knowledge about how to choose projects (“No one ever feels confident with a script,” said Mills), how to nip bad days on the set in the bud and nuances of casting decisions (casting directors can open the door to agents who might take the film more seriously, said Tully, who landed Susan Sarandon for his upcoming “Ping Pong Summer,” but turned to casting agents to fill out the “name” roles and then cast Ocean City, Maryland locals for the rest).

The panel “In the Lion’s Den,” with director Bob Byington, actors Jason Schwartzman and Tunde Adebimpe, and producer Seana Flanagan, promised frontline insight into a film currently in production (“7 Chinese Brothers”) but turned into a whimsical blowing off of steam for the creative team, it seemed. At least it was funny.

My big event of the day was a private party being thrown by the city of Chicago at a venue called Chicago House just off Sixth Street. With Mayor Rahm Emanuel, DCASE Commissioner Michelle Boone, and a long list of Chicago’s arts and technology players in attendance, it was a culmination of the city’s concerted effort to shove ourselves to the front lines of “maker” culture, whether in the arts (especially music, film and fashion) or in technology startups. It lived up to its billing, with a social whirlwind of two hours consisting of catching up with old friends and making the acquaintance of all kinds of creative folks from Chicago and elsewhere.

As the party wound down, I reconnected with David Dastmalchian and Collin Schiffli of the made-in-Chicago film “Animals,” which was competing for the Grand Jury Award an hour hence, and walked to the ceremony with them, along with Dastmalchian’s very pregnant wife, who made the trip in spite of her imminent due date. This was a very important culmination of an amazing journey by her husband, from heroin-addict living in his car to an actor and screenwriter at the peak of his craft, and this was not an occasion to be missed. As we waited outside Austin’s majestic Paramount Theatre (originally built as an opera house, a cab driver would later tell me, before recommending I check out the proto-Austin indie film, “The Whole Shootin’ Match”), Oliver Platt gave Dastmalchian a friendly nod as he walked by.

Festival co-founder Louis Black (who also co-founded and edits the alt-weekly Austin Chronicle) delivered a brief but rousing introduction championing the quality of the work, proclaiming “I don’t want South by Southwest to be a market; I don’t want to be Sundance,” and the audience roared appreciatively. In the end, “Fort Tilden” won the Grand Jury prize (awarded by juror Platt), but “Animals” and Dastmalchian were singled out for an award for “Special Jury Recognition for Courage in Storytelling.” The fairy tale had come full circle.

On the way out, I ran into Richelle Fatheree, producer of “Arlo & Julie,” one last time. Back to Chicago tomorrow.

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