It seems like only yesterday I stepped off the train after a grueling 29 hour Amtrak from LA and arrived in Austin for my very first SXSW. In reality it’s been over a week ago and I feel like Geoff Marslett in that How Not Be Lame @ SXSW bumper trailer, where he transforms over the course of the Festival from entitled hollywood suit outsider pretentious douche into an entitled keep-it-wierd converted local douche. My attempt of recapping the ruckus that has led up to my current dazed and confused state has proven a bit tricky. Luckily the remnants of fliers, postcards, and business cards in my swagbag, plus scrolling through the week’s sloppy texts, tweets and photos have helped jog my muggy memory of what was an Epic first South By.
The Films – Hard and edgy on the outside, sweet and tender on the inside.
All in, I averaged about 3 films a day. I feel bad for not having seen more, but the nonstop lounges, panels, parties and street grub posed serious detours on my way to see films. The first movie I saw here was the divisive satire comedy, Los Chidos, by Omar Rodriguez Lopez. Having seen a rough cut before, I knew exactly what Janet Pierson, Festival Director who introduced the film, meant when she said with a smirk “ I can’t wait to get your reactions to this”. Los Chidos is by far one of my favorite films so far in 2012. I’m thrilled that SXSW had the balls to put it in competition. The progressive music prodigy and son of a psychiatrist, Rodriguez Lopez has a fierce voice and much to say. At the Q&A he was asked why he chose to portray Mexicans like the mysogynist, homophobic sloths. I wish everyone who saw the film had the opportunity to hear his A because he really provides rich context to the swirling grotesque images that shock your senses, all of which are well thought out subversive analogies about the male psyche.
I also loved Bob Byington’s third feature, Somebody Up There Likes Me in the Narrative Spotlight section. Anyone who knows Bob knows he’s an odd egg and a cynical yet charming singularity infuses his romantic comedies. The film inhabits this non sequitur, pseudo reality yet for all the quirky fancy, the actual moments and feelings of bitterness, regret, heart, and self-deprecating humor couldn’t be more genuine and relatable. I like filmmakers who defy film conventions for story effect. Much like Omar plays with Los Chidos with the obvious dubbing dialogue effect as a throwback tribute to shlocky Mexican 70s movies, here Bob forgoes the phoniness of putting on makeup to show his characters age throughout the thirty years span of the movie. Everyone pretty much looks the same at the end. Because really who likes to see themselves age.
Leave me Like You Found Me, Ms. Adele Romanski’s directing debut really affected me and is also one of my faves. A perceptive, earnestly written and well acted film about when to call a relationship quits and how the nostalgia of a lost love washes over the ugliness of how it actually went down. David Nordstrom (Sawdust City) and Megan Boone give some awesome naturalistic performances. (How many times have you asked or been asked in a relationship, Why do you love me?). I thanked Adele for making the film, and she said many others have, because its one of those films where one gets to entertain the illusion of trying to get back together with the ex and what that might look like. Also worth mentioning and not just for diversity sake is Wolf, a first feature by Ya’Ke Smith. An all black cast film about a teen who protects the preacher with whom he had an illicit relationship. It’s a nuanced storyline that was just shy of gripping because the script and acting were a tad uneven.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Crazy Eyes by Adam Sherman which Strand picked up for a summer release. I tend to be culturally sensitive to the myriad of American films about rich white people’s problems (who cares) but once in a while the filmmaker successfully makes its rich white character relative and poignant, and I would be guilty of dismissing it just because (The Comedy for instance, which I also found tragic brilliant and premiered at Sundance and also played here). That girl from Californication, Madeline Zima and Lukas Haas who plays a Hollywood millionaire have a year long drunken relationship where she refuses to have sex with him. They smoke, do drugs, drink and fight like decadent zealots. She accuses him of not having real problems, when ultimately we find run he is way more dysfunctional than she. Thanks to the Tugg Buzz screenings, where the festival adds a screening of films with the most buzz, I caught King Kelly by Andrew Neel about a self-centered internet sex star brat who does not live a second of her life not filming her navel and drama on her iPhone. Titillating social commentary about our fucked up millenial generation.
The Panels – All you can panel buffet
The number of panels, speakers, and sessions is overwhelming and diverse. And most of them come with cute brand title names. No doubt its due to their panel picker process in which you can vote on what panels you want to see. Yours truly participated in a Mentor session about reaching international audiences. It’s a speed dating style format where registrants sign up and get 15 minutes with you. I took it a bit personal and was disappointed that there was not a line of people waiting to see me (ego anyone?)but I heard from other much more established industry players that overall this was the case perhaps because of the competing multitude of events. In a crazy twist of events and much to my surprise one of the four registrants that met me was a cousin I never met! She had recognized my name and surprised the heck out of me when she said “Hi, I’m Myrna. I’m your cousin”. We had an impromptu reunion and started to piece together our estranged family – most of whom I found out are in Texas or Oklahoma. I caught a little bit of the Have Latin American Media become Social, where the main takeaway is that there is not much overall internet penetration in Mexico and even less in Central America. The big broadcasters like Azteca and Univision are dominating with interactive sports and telenovelas forums. But that said, there’s lots of room growth. I sat through “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love VOD, moderated by Orly Ravid and included, Nolan Gallagher/Gravitas, Eamon Bowles/Magnolia, Dylan Marchetti/Variance films and Matt Harlok who shared his successful case study of his documentary, American: The Bill Hicks Story. Read the PDF presentation here. The last few pages offer some good takeaways by the experts. What I mostly absorbed was that every film needs a ‘specialist’ or a savvy business producer filmmaker to exploit the wild west and not yet tested opportunities out there as its all on a very case to case basis. Second is “Know your windows”. My last panel of the fest was Indiewire’s Eric Kohn asking some very straight to the point questions to Caveh Zahedi, filmmaker of SXSW doc, The Sheik And I, which has some controversy surrounding the filmmaker’s take on Islamic Society and what constitutes as a mockumentary. I think – as I did not see it but I wonder if its as duplicitously brilliant like a Mads Brugger film (Red Chapel, The Ambassador). I also caught the final Indiewire panel in which Dana Harris and Eric talked with a gruffy voiced Festival Director, Janet Pierson and Senior Programmer/Operations Manager Jared Neece about this year’s festival. Its hard to recap an event that is still going but I applaud their programming, spirit, and most of all knowing their audiences.
The Music – where it all began and where it all goes to hell
There was a noticeable shift of crowds – larger and rowdier when the Music portion of
SXSW began on Tuesday. Suddenly it was green badges galore. 6th street blew up with armies of transient musicians, marketing hulu hoop ploys, and impromptu drum circles. I happened across one of the Music pocket guides which lists each venue and the 2000+ bands and got excited at the prospects. Plus there had to have been at least another another hundred of performers in the unofficial and so called “anti-sxsw” vein. If it was difficult to adhere to a screening schedule, it was nearly impossible to try to keep a music schedule. After Wednesday, it was very go with the flow, but I got to see a lot more movies since most film folks had left. Wednesday night I had the pleasure of experiencing Filastine, an international world-like dubstep hard to categorize explosion of sound whose maestro is Greg Filastine an Oklahoma native now living in Barcelona who drums everything including a shopping cart. And right next door at the Speakeasy were the fine firecracker ladies, Lila Downs and Cucu Diamantes who had a documentary, called Amor Cronico in the festival. I also danced my ass off to electro cumbia mixer DJ Mr. Pauer.
The Parties – Messin’ with Texas
I missed the first couple days of parties since I felt the need to see the Midnight flicks but I got up to speed pretty quickly on Monday night with the Gayby/Wholphin party at Cheer Up Charlies. A great Texas joint where I was happy to see all my LA and NY friends. The Film Awards ceremony on Tuesday was thankfully brief and I found a seat next to my homey Trevor Anderson, short filmmaker of High Level Bridge and The Man That Got Away and Sundance pal, David Courier. I also met Louis Black the founder of this here shindig, an old G who was praising Janet Pierson’s helming. Before the actual party at Stage opened, I grabbed a slice and hung out with the Los Chidos posse. By Thursday, I turned into a film zombie fueled by Doritos and Tito’s vodka. I would get downtown by 1030am just in time to go to the lounge for some breakfast tacos to-go and start my day off with an 11am screening. My new Russian friend Selena from St. Petersburg and I became fest buddies this way; we’d go see a movie then go back then to the lounge for drinks. Repeat. After four films on Friday I skipped the downtown melee and went over to the East side, to this rustic but mod spot called Hillside Pharmacy, then later to a rowdy place called Yellow Jacket also on the East side where there was no badge in sight. I seriously thought I was done for by Saturday. That is, until I heard there was a Converse Thrasher party at Scoot Inn where there’d be hot skaters. We rolled up and met up with pro-skaters and derelicts, plus got to see Kreayshawn do her Gucci Gucci, and trip-hop, The Cool Kids from my hometown Chicago perform. I have never seen so many dirty skaters and hot girls in one place. 500 Pabst Blue Ribbons later we went to The Grackle where we heard a pretty cool all girl punk Japanese band, ZZZs and where thanks to the East Side Kings food truck had the best damn pork ribs I’ve ever had in my life. Afterwards a pedi-cab to the car sealed my last night of brouhaha.
Like the 120,000+ SXSW participants that stormed Austin this week, I’m slowly stepping back into ho-drum reality. Now that I got my first SXSW taste I am hooked! Big besos and thanks to Claudette Godfrey, Fest Coordinator and Programmer who is the reason I took on this gonzo-esque journey.
Jury winners here
Audience winners here
How I feel right now here