By Christopher Rosen
March 11, 2017 at 12:18 PM EST
2012 Fun Fun Fun Fest - Day 1
Credit: Rick Kern/WireImage

One night after Terrence Malick's Song to Song debuted at the South by Southwest Film Festival (and divided audiences, but not critics, in the process), the reclusive director made a rare public appearance to support the project.

Malick, who remains an elusive figure in the film world, was a surprise attendee during a panel discussion about Song to Song with costar Michael Fassbender and filmmaker Richard Linklater. <iframe src=";show_text=1&amp;width=560" width="315" height="560" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" class="" allowfullscreen="" resize="0" replace_attributes="1" name=""></iframe>

During the chat, Malick revealed the original title of Song to Song was Weightless (based on a quote from Virginia Woolf) and discussed his process as a filmmaker. "I have trouble working off things that are too preconceived, like storyboards. When things become too prepared the life comes out of it," he said.

Set in Austin, Texas, Song to Song stars Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara as a pair of musicians who fall in love, and Fassbender as the shady executive and producer who threatens to tear them both apart. Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Holly Hunter, Val Kilmer, Patti Smith, and Iggy Pop costar. The film, which arrives in limited release next week, split critics after its debut on Friday, with some slamming Malick for his ethereal excess.

"In terms of content and meaningfulness, Terrence Malick's Song to Song is the cinematic equivalent of a Trump press conference," Joe McGovern wrote in his D-grade review of Malick's film for EW. "Incoherent, disconnected, self-interrupting, obsessed with pointless minutiae and crammed full of odd, limp stabs at profundity from a closed-off man in his 70s who has apparently has no ability to edit or accept constructive criticism."

Malick has been a borderline prolific filmmaker since 2011, releasing five films in that time frame: Tree of Life, To the Wonder, Knight of Cups, the documentary Voyage of Time, and now Song to Song. Prior to this stretch, Malick was known for his lack of activity: Between 1978's Days of Heaven and 2011's Tree of Life, the director released just two films, 1998's The Thin Red Line and 2005's The New World.