SXSW: Terrence Malick's 'Song to Song' Premieres as the Opening-Night Film

Song to Song Still SXSW - Publicity - H 2017
Van Redin / Broad Green Pictures

Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling introduced the film, set against the Austin, Texas, music scene.

Stars Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling were all on hand to introduce their new film Song to Song as it kicked off the film portion of the annual SXSW Conference & Festivals at the historic Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas, on Friday.

Taking their seats among the sold-out crowd were festival supporters including directors Richard Linklater and Jeff Nichols and Mud actor Tye Sheridan. Noticeably absent from the festivities were co-star Natalie Portman — who just gave birth to a daughter on Feb. 22 — and the film’s reclusive director, Terrence Malick.

Malick, who’s known for his cerebral art house style in films such as The Tree of Life, kept to his trademark style in his new film, and in so doing, he created a unique environment for his cast, they reported.

“It’s like working with no one else. It’s intense, it’s challenging, it’s rewarding, it’s fun,” said Fassbender. He described Malick as “one of the great poets of this country” and “an absolute dream” to work with, feelings Gosling echoed. “We all wanted to have this experience of working with Terrence Malick — it’s like nothing else. He’s one of the few filmmakers where you could watch a few seconds of his movies and you know that he made it,” explained Gosling.

The film, which both takes place in and was shot in Austin, follows two intersecting love triangles between a music executive (Fassbender), his business partner (Gosling), a budding musician (Mara) and an ex-teacher (Portman). It’s short on traditional dialogue and heavy on voiceovers and improvisation, something that created a unique challenge for the cast.

Fassbender, who is also scheduled to plug his upcoming film Alien: Covenant at the fest, said the improvisation made it hard for him to prepare. “It’s a lot of improvisation. You read the sides, they’re very dense. For me, it’s hard to learn lines quickly, so it’s about getting a feel or flavor of what is happening in the scene and then improvising it,” he said.

Mara agreed, saying, “It was kind of hard to know how to prepare because everything was so vague.” For her role as an up-and-coming musician, she said she tried a few guitar lessons. “I just tried to immerse myself in the world as much as I could,” she added.

Cate Blanchett, Val Kilmer and French actress Berenice Marlohe round out the cast, while scenes with Benicio Del Toro, Haley Bennett and Christian Bale apparently didn’t make the final cut. (Previously, they all had been listed as castmembers.) The film also features appearances by musicians Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and more.

Song to Song, which is being released by Broad Green Pictures, opens in theaters March 17. SXSW runs through March 19.