MATT DENTLER: I was going to film school at UT and was looking for opportunities in Austin to work in film and started volunteering for SXSW. After volunteering for SXSW I became an intern and then the internship became a part-time job, the part-time job became a full-time job, the full-time job became what I do now, which is kind of running the day to day for the film festival.
AD: When you see a movie are you always critical of the elements or are you able to switch that on and off? Does watching a film feel like work for you?
MD: You kind of have to look at films in a different way. The way I watch a film in a movie theater on a Saturday night with my fiancé is very different from the way I watch a movie for the festival, because obviously for the festival I have to be a lot more objective and also opinionated. And also, I have to think, is it a movie that works for SXSW and also Austin? Whereas when I’m watching a movie just for fun the question is, is it a movie that works for me? It’s definitely part of the job, being able to balance between doing SXSW and just being a movie fan at heart.
AD: Do you have reviews that you regret writing?
MD: For me it’s really important to have as many second opinions as you can about something. It’s also important to know that you are watching something in the right environment. That you know that if you’re not in the mood at that one particular moment to watch a certain kind of movie that you remember that and don’t pass judgment automatically. But yeah, I like to give most films the benefit of the doubt. It’s more appealing to me to like something than to not like something so I try to give a film every chance it has before I dismiss it or say I’m not a fan of it.
AD: Some films turn me off the first time I see them, but the second time I like them. Does that ever happen to you?
MD: Sure. I can’t think of anything specifically but there were times when I thought I was too quick to judge. But when you are watching so many films a year it’s hard. Sometimes things do slip through the cracks.
AD: What are you looking forward to at SXSW Film Festival this year?
MD: I think that there are a lot of great documentaries this year. We are doing a lot of really fun midnight movies at Alamo Drafthouse-a lot of horror stuff; a lot of fun comedies. If anything, some of the stuff I’m looking forward to is being able to showcase a lot of the work by a lot of the local filmmakers. To me that is always exciting. You can bring an international film audience to Austin to see some of the best filmmakers from Austin. Just bringing films and audiences together is something I look forward to every year. It’s great when an audience can discover a film and they are seeing it because you thought it was worth their time-that’s always fun.
AD: What is your favorite part of the festival?
MD: I think it’s really the movie screenings because that’s where everyone lets down their guard. You come together, hundreds of people at a time, sit in the dark together and wait for an experience and hope to get an experience. For me that’s a really gratifying thing when people can come together and do that. I love that. I love the idea that hundreds and hundreds of strangers are united by just a love of film. When you get that at a movie screening it’s always great.
AD: Do you watch all the movies that are in the festival?
MD: All the ones that play the festival. We get about three thousand films submitted to us and we narrow that down to about two hundred total. We have a whole team of people that watch and watch and watch. But yeah, once everything is decided for the festival that’s when I watch everything.
AD: How long has that been?
MD: Ten years. Fall of ’97 is when I started working with them.
AD: What would you say is special about an Austin film audience?
MD: I think Austin film audiences are some of the most interactive audiences in the sense that you know that if you are screening for an Austin audience they are not going to hold back. Whether they love the film or hate the film, they are going to give you their real, raw, honest opinion. But at the same time I think Austin audiences are really generous. They are really hospitable and I think that is why Austin is such a great place for people that love art and film and music and everything because it is an environment where people love sharing ideas about all of those things. I think what is great about screenings at the festival is that you have that-there is that community vibe. I think you get that in Austin where you don’t get that as much in other places.
AD: Tell us about the other festivals you are involved in. What do you think about the progress of those?
MD: We just had our 2nd Fantastic Fest this fall and really in only two short years we’ve been able to create a really strong foothold in the Austin movie world which is really great-really surprising. They asked me to get involved with them at the very beginning because they were looking for some input from somebody who had done the festivals before because it was the Alamo and Harry Knowles and people who hadn’t really done festivals of that size. It’s been going really smooth and it’s great to have the Alamo Drafhouse as a home base. It’s been exciting. The fact that so many people are coming in from all over the world for Fantastic Fest now is really, really gratifying-especially with it only being in its second year.
AD: Well from a fan standpoint it was a great success.
MD: Thank you.