Saturday, March 23, 2013

SXSW: Initial Experience of a First Time Festival Attendee

     South by Southwest Festival 2013 has come and gone, and what an experience it was for me. This was my first film festival of any kind and I enjoyed every minute of it. Yeah, the lines were long to get in to the Paramount Theatre, although I was behind the theatre, half way down Brazos Street a couple of times and I still got in with good seats. Yes, having a badge is the way to go. No problems, just waiting, but I got in to all the screenings I wanted to attend. The excitement really revolved around seeing films with a group of filmgoers that truly love the medium. Every screening I attended, I had wonderful, engaging conversations with fellow festival attendees from Austin and around the world. The experience really left me with a smile on my face and a feeling of satisfaction in my heart.
     Austin, Texas puts on South by Southwest (just "South by" is what the locals and repeat attendees call it) every year in March and this was the 20th anniversary of the festival. It involves film, my personal favorite and main focus, music and interactive exhibits, conversations, premieres and panels. The music probably gets the most attention since there are over 120 venues across the city that have constant music shows from all genres of music from around the world. Thousands upon thousands of bands come to the Texas capitol to play gig after gig after gig. You can just drive around downtown or on Lamar or Congress and hear bands and performers playing all day. It is a scene. There is also the interactive part of the festival which displays new technology, business and entrepreneurial campaigns and strategies, as well as video game introductions and advancements, just to name a few. The Austin Convention Center and Palmer Events Center are jam packed with industry leaders involved in all stages of technology, film, music and business. They are all focusing on how the world is changing and how technology is continually advancing. Panel after panel, expressing and discussing what is new and what is changing. It is a madhouse and exciting scene, but for me, it is all about the film part of the festival.
     I had the chance to see eight films. For me, that was everything. The ability to see films that have not been theatrically released with a group of film lovers, critics and the actually producers, directors, writers and actors was everything. It was exciting and an experience I will never forget. That chance to be at the center of the film world for just one week was thoroughly engrossing. The films did not disappoint either. I saw one that was far and away the best, Jeff Nichols Mud. The other two I saw that really stood out to me was a local Austin film Good Night about a party over the course of one night with a bunch of friends, and the documentary Milius, about the zen anarchist screenwriter and director John Milius. Reviews of all these films are in the works but I really enjoyed the feeling of seeing films without any preconceived notions. Just word of mouth and an ambition to see to something that felt and sounded intriguing.
     One of the most exciting moments of the film festival was hearing from fellow festival goers about what they have recently seen and the various opinions, good or bad, about these films. I went into the screening of Good Night, directed by University of Texas graduate Sean Gallagher, knowing nothing about the film or production and was blown away by the storytelling, editing and acting. It was a fascinating piece of filmmaking and contained one of the best performances, even though they were all great, I've seen in awhile from Austin actor Adriene Mishler. A beautiful young actress with so much soul and depth in movements and emotions. Great stuff.
     The other wonderful, ecstatic moment of the festival was sitting in the second row for the Danny Boyle conversation. Conducted by David Carr, it was surreal to be that close to a filmmaker I truly admire. He has directed some wonder films, from Trainspotting to 28 Days Later to Slumdog Millionaire. It was engaging to hear him talk about his process, his appreciation for writers that can create character and the desire to try new things and challenge himself at all costs. He mentioned how music is very important and it needs to go with the film and not just be something that stands alone. It needs to flow with the picture and the feel your attempting to tell and convey. He went from making the Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire and then basically lied to get financing for a movie about a man that becomes trapped under a boulder all alone in 127 Hours. Follow your passion and do not let NO get in the way. I also loved hearing him speak about the drug culture behind Trainspotting and how they made a movie that reveled in the scene that was going on in England and how Shallow Grave, his first and best film in my opinion, was trial and error, and started the career of Ewan McGregor. It was very absorbing and the man has as much energy on stage as his films contain.
     Finally, South by Southwest was an introduction for myself, not only in to the local Austin film community, but the overall film festival series. I got to talk to people, film lovers, bloggers and critics from San Francisco to New York City and Europe. I like that. No, I love that. I have a passionate love for film and film history. One guy I talk to gave me some great advice. He reminded me to write, write, write and watch, watch, watch. Work on your writing every day and how you watch and deconstruct a film. Never stop following your dream, your passion, your desires. South by Southwest was a wonderful experience and it has definitely opened my mind up to the enjoyment of film and film culture.

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