SXSW’s head of film and TV reveals her three-beverage start to the day and why the Daniels — or Gaspar Noé — would be the perfect directors to depict her life

Claudette Godfrey Headshot

Source: Screen file

Claudette Godfrey

Texas-born vice president of film and TV at SXSW Claudette Godfrey has spent her entire career so far at the Austin festival. Formerly director of programming by way of short films and operations manager, Godfrey was appointed to her current role in October 2022 when Janet Pierson transitioned to director emeritus. Godfrey presides over her second SXSW this year. The festival runs March 8-16.

What is your office like?
I work between home and our office in downtown Austin. My offices are like Minority Report meets a greenhouse — I have a million plants and as many screens as possible.

What is the first thing you do when arriving in your office each day?
I have ADHD so I come in and out of it about 20 times. I assemble my three different drinks — tea, a huge container of water and a wild card which could be a smoothie, protein shake or a soda. I take a sip of tea, say a little prayer, and then lock in.

Who helped you most when you first started out?
I’ve never worked anywhere besides South By. I was 19 and too young to intern but Jason Tobias gave me that opportunity to be print traffic co-ordinator. Matt Dentler was the head of the festival then and they welcomed me in. Festival contract workers have also helped me out.

Who do you look up to in the industry and why?
The community that I’m in. I watch and get inspired by the film­makers, producers and everyone who is working this ecosystem to make crazy, amazing stories for me to watch. They’re my heroes.

What do you like best about your job?
Working with my amazing team. I would trust them with my life. I also love that we built a platform for filmmakers to come in and show their work to our audience. 

What are you most proud of on a professional level?
I’ve worked at South By for a long time and when I pivoted into my new role as the head of the festival, the rest of the team happened to pivot as well. Achieving success was a transformational moment for all of us. 

What is the biggest professional mistake you have made?
I’m a talker, I’m a doer, and I’m a ‘let’s-get-to-work’ type of personality. The lesson learned is that I wasn’t a great listener when I started out. These days I try to make sure people know that I value what they’re doing and see their great work.

What is your favourite festival?
My first love was South By. I was a kid in Austin who would come here to watch movies. There’s something to love about every festival.

What do you think the festival sector will look like five years from now? 
In the festival world there’s always going to be a need for a community and to come together and see new work. The artist’s urge to make movies will never go away and there will always be a place for curation.

What excites you about the future?
Every year there’s a more diverse group of filmmakers compared to when I was starting out. There’s just more space and room for people to play and be creative.

What is the biggest challenge facing the industry today?
There’s been a lot of disruption in recent years and maybe now things are sorting themselves out in terms of how much content people can watch and how many people can be filmmakers. There’s probably more consolidation coming… but after the storm comes the sun, so I’m feeling hopeful. 

What was your favourite film growing up?
Top Gun. I’ve held that film in my heart forever. We didn’t have cable and I had a VHS tape of Top Gun and our family watched it almost every weekend. The others are Tommy Boy and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

What job would you do if you didn’t work in this industry?
I would probably go to work at some huge corporation and reorganise and optimise for a really huge salary. I’m a fixer.

Who would play you in the biopic of your life and who would direct it?
I have no idea who would play me because I can be multitudes. For director, I’d say Gaspar Noé for his energy and because he’s unafraid to do what he wants. Also the Daniels: they could represent my neuro­divergent brain and make something people would want to watch.