Thursday, March 24, 2011

South by Southwest 2011: Photos, Videos and a Few Random Observations

NEW YORK—

Hello, Austin!

I'm press-accredited! Alas, even though having a Gold badge allowed me access into Film and Interactive events, I ended up pretty much doing only Film events. I have a feeling that if I tried to apply for a Gold badge next year, I'd be rejected as a result of my not covering any portion of the Interactive conference.

A view of downtown Austin from the so-called "Smoking Deck" of the fourth floor of the Austin Convention Center. No, I was not smoking. Yes, it was this beautiful—and warm!—most of the time I was there.

Lady Bird Lake. Supposedly, at dusk every night, bats fly en masse from below the North Congress Ave. bridge. Alas, I didn't get a chance to see this potentially awesome sight for myself; too busy watching movies, I guess. (This is my default excuse for a lot of the things I missed in Austin; more on those regrets below.) Next time, I hope!

A sign posted at the Austin Convention Center. I'm not sure if this was meant to promote a start-up promoting their online product at SXSW Interactive...but, you know, this is a certainly a sentiment I echo.


This was the scene on Saturday, March 12, at around 2 a.m. on 6th Street. Apparently, for Austin bars, last call is at around 2 a.m., not 4 a.m. as I'm used to here in New York. Thus, as I walked down 6th Street that night, I felt like I was back in college, walking along Rutgers's College Ave. campus on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, with a slew of drunken college kids populating the street. The scene only got crazier once the music conference got underway; a video I shot that's posted below gives you an idea just how crazy it got..

Star sighting! Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock—whose latest film The Greatest Movie Ever Sold played at South by Southwest this year (I, alas, was not able to fit it into my screening schedule)—is seen here at a screening of Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein's (so-so) new documentary Fightville.

On Sunday, March 13, while munching on a brisket sandwich from a food truck, from a distance I started to hear big-band music coming down East Cesar Chavez Boulevard. I looked behind me and saw a parade of bands marching down the street, one of them holding a big sign saying "HONK TEXAS." Apparently, on that particular weekend, Austin held a "festival of community street bands" that culminated in a public parade that Sunday. (See here for more info.) This wasn't really related to SXSW...but it was still fun—an exuberant cacophony Charles Ives might have loved.

Parties are apparently as big at South by Southwest as the films, the bands and the up-and-coming online start-ups. I didn't really go to many of the parties this year; the one party I did go to was held at the Seaholm Power Plant, which was lit up with this seductive blue light. I might have had more fun at the party had the person I was expecting to meet there shown up before I gave up and went back home.

In addition to the many independent features screened, there were many world premieres of bigger studio fare. Among the latter was Win Win, the latest film from writer-director Thomas McCarthy (he of The Station Agent and The Visitor, though many others may know him as the unprincipled journalist in the final season of the HBO series The Wire). Here he is along with (from left to right) Alex Shaffer, Amy Ryan, Paul Giamatti and the film's co-scenarist Joe Tiboni. The movie's currently in limited release...and it's not bad.

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the website Ain't It Cool News, founder Harry Knowles (left) hosted a special screening on Monday, March 14, of a film that remained unknown to all of us until that night, with a special guest that he didn't reveal until that night. The special guest turned out to be Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (right), and the film turned out to be Matthew Robbins's 1981 fantasy film Dragonslayer—which I had never seen before, and which turned out to be quite enjoyable. If nothing else, the unveiling of the film's big bad dragon is totally worth the build-up; I daresay that I don't think even CGI would touch how realistic the dragon looks and moves! (Both this photo and the one above, by the way, were taken at Austin's lovely Paramount Theatre.)

As the music conference got underway, 6th Street became even more lively during the day than I had seen it during the first few days of SXSW. I tried to capture some of that sense of bustle here in this short video. (I guess you can consider my shakycam style an expression of said sense...if it doesn't make you nauseous first. Sorry about that; obviously, I was walking as I shot this with my iPhone 4.)

Featured in one of my favorite films at SXSW this year, Bellflower (which I reviewed for The House Next Door here) is a vehicle invented by its two main characters, one that has a flamethrower built into it. At its Thursday, March 17, screening at the Alamo Drafthouse Lamar, director/star Evan Glodell and co-star Tyler Dawson brought a real-life version of the Medusa and gave us all a demonstration. It truly is awesome. If you don't believe me, see for yourself above!

***

As I have mentioned before, this year's South by Southwest represented my first time going to a film festival outside of New York...and, as I expected, it proved to be quite a different experience than my four weeks attending press screenings last year for the New York Film Festival. The most important difference is that, at SXSW, everyone is considered an equal: civilians, press members, filmmakers. For that reason, everyone had to wait on line in order to see films at the festival; there was no special access for us members of the press (except for those who woke up early enough to line up for special "SXXpress" passes that would make gaining access into screenings much easier; I was successful only once at rousing myself that early to wait on said line).

But you know what? No big deal! This just forced me to do something I normally don't do while waiting on long lines for anything: try to engage with the people standing around me, if those people were willing to reciprocate. For the most part, the people I interacted with while waiting on those long lines were friendly and receptive to the time-passing conversation. Some of them turned out to be filmmakers; others were just SXSW employees and film fans. I got into a fairly deep conversation with one filmmaker before The Beaver, for instance, in which I found myself trying to defend the idea of taking film critics and criticism seriously. (On a less serious note, he also turned out to be a Renny Harlin fan—though he cited The Long Kiss Goodnight as his favorite Harlin film rather than Die Hard 2 or Cliffhanger.) I got so bitten by the social bug at SXSW that, on a couple occasions, I found myself looking forward to actually waiting on line, just to see who I'd meet next. (Has this newfound gregariousness carried over back in New York? The jury is still out on that one...)

So I may not have necessarily networked with the right people—fellow film critics and such—quite as much as I had planned before going to Austin. (I especially regret not taking golden opportunities to introducing myself to, say, Scott Weinberg and veteran film journalist Anne Thompson when I had chances to do so. I still have my shy moments after all, I guess.) But I managed to forge other personal connections and possibly lay the groundwork for other lasting friendships; it's just up to me, now, to follow up on them!

Speaking of regrets: Yeah, I have a few. Of course, there were plenty of films I ended up missing as a result of scheduling conflicts. Remember all those movies that had generated buzz from previous festivals that I was so excited to finally catch at SXSW? Stuff like Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Miranda July's The Future? I ended up missing more of them, including those two, than I would have liked; in trying to figure out my schedule every day, I often found myself having to choose between films that didn't currently have a distributor versus films that I knew were going to be released eventually. But those kind of regrets, I imagine, haunt every film-festival-goer's experience, especially one covering the festival for a website and trying to keep up with what's generating fresh buzz. A more serious (relatively speaking) regret, though: I didn't have a proper authentic Texas barbecue meal! Everyone was telling me that BBQ was one of the main attractions of being in Texas, but, except for a couple of brisket sandwiches, I ended up not having any! REGIONAL CUISINE FAIL! TOURIST FAIL!

And, as I mentioned earlier, I didn't really partake much in the festival's active party scene—and apparently the parties are considered just as much a part of a well-rounded SXSW experience as the individual conferences. (As a member of the press, I got many invites to film-premiere after-parties and such, but I ended up not RSVPing to any of them, due mostly to this nagging sense that there's just something about film journalists socializing with filmmakers that seems...I dunno...a bit ethically problematic?)

All in all, though, I had a good time. And I'm sure next year, if I return to Austin for SXSW 2012, I'll be more prepared for possibly a fuller, more wide-ranging experience!

Until then, though...well there were a bunch of SXSW promotional bumpers that showed before each film screening. Some of them are available on YouTube...like this one...



...this one...



...and perhaps, best of all, this one:



It's been real, Austin and South by Southwest! 'Til next year, perhaps!

1 comment:

Mark said...

I've seen the bats fly out from under the bridge. The number of them is astonishing.