SXSW’s Pierson steps down after 15 years leading film fest

Oct 5, 2022, 11:10 AM | Updated: 11:50 am

NEW YORK (AP) — After 15 years running SXSW’s film festival, director Janet Pierson is stepping down. Her longtime deputy, Claudette Godfrey, will take over leading the annual Austin, Texas, gathering, one of America’s premier film festivals.

SXSW announced the change Wednesday, saying that Pierson, a longtime champion of independent film, will shift to a director emeritus role. That will include serving as a programmer at the next SXSW Film & TV Festival in March 2023. In a statement, Pierson called her years at SXSW “a wonderful and quite unexpected adventure.”

“It’s been glorious to present so much great work at our unique event, yielding so many transformative experiences for creators and audience alike,” said Pierson. “I’m intensely proud of the work our small and very mighty team has accomplished.”

Since taking the reins of film at SXSW in 2008, Pierson had helped develop the festival as a major destination for independent film and genre movies. Films like “Bridesmaids,” “The Cabin in the Woods” and, earlier this year, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” have debuted at SXSW. Filmmakers like Lena Dunham, Joe Swanberg and Paul Feig have been regularly celebrated at the festival.

In the last few years, Pierson helped steer the festival through the pandemic, including a canceled 2020 edition, a virtual 2021 festival and an in-person comeback SXSW earlier this year.

Godfrey has been with the festival since first serving as a volunteer crew manager in 2006. Three years later, she became coordinator of the festival.

“Janet is an incredible leader and mentor, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to watch and learn from her example,” Godfrey said in a statement. “I’m a hype woman at heart, and it’s a great joy in my life to discover and elevate new talent by curating and evolving an event that celebrates film, TV, and creativity. I started from the bottom and the journey has been exceptional — it’s an immense honor to continue to build on the legacy of SXSW Film & TV and take it into the future.”

The SXSW change in leadership follows some musical chairs at other top U.S. film festivals. In June, Tabitha Jackson stepped down as director of Utah’s Sundance Film Festival. Last month, Eugene Hernandez, director of the New York Film Festival, was announced as Sundance’s new leader.

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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SXSW’s Pierson steps down after 15 years leading film fest