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South by Southwest attracts big films

South by Southwest attracts big films — ”Harold & Kumar,” ”Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and ”Run Fat Boy, Run” premiere at the SXSW festival

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A year ago, Knocked Up premiered to roaring approval at the SXSW film festival and went on to make $148.8 million. Now Hollywood is starting to notice the once-sleepy Austin fest, which seems to be growing into a launchpad for left-of-center comedies. This year’s gathering (held March 7-15) featured Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, the Judd Apatow-produced Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the David Schwimmer-directed Run Fat Boy Run, and workplace comedy The Promotion, starring John C. Reilly and Seann William Scott. But even though the films are getting bigger, the festival still has the same quirky vibe as the more famous SXSW music conference, which kicked off March 12. ”These may be mainstream films, but they have a subversive, independent spirit about them,” says festival producer Matt Dentler. ”And the screenings really embody the spirit of a rock show. It’s about the audience experience — how’s it going to play in a packed theater?”

For a raucous crowd-pleaser like Harold & Kumar, that makes a lot of sense. ”I thought, If we can win over this crowd in a liberal town in the South, then we have a chance with the rest of the country,” says John Cho, who plays Harold opposite Kal Penn’s Kumar and saw the full movie for the first time on the festival’s opening night. ”The audience was rowdy and nuts. I don’t even know what happened for 25 percent of the movie because the laughter was really intense. I’ve never been to a screening that went off like that. It felt more like a concert.” And the party atmosphere only intensified after the credits rolled. ”We all thought, Our reception in Austin has to be matched by some serious drinking,” says Cho a few days later. ”It was like we had to do some damage to ourselves as a thank-you.”

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