The SXSW Conference and festivals is the whole world decorated in a Texas wrapper. Beginning as a regional music festival in 1987, it added film, interactive, education, comedy, government, health, and, of course, gaming (what would Austin weirdness be without cosplay).
The first day of this, the 2018 conference, lived up to its traditions.
Hugh Forrest, Chief Programming Officer for SXSW, welcomed attendees and discussed what was new and what hasn’t changed much since the conference began.
He spoke about new themes which included an emphasis on inclusion and more international participation. This is the first year SXSW will have an African pavilion. He also pointed out, reading from the SXSW Mission Statement, that the purpose of the event has been and continues to be fostering creativity by bringing creative people from all over the world together.
This year, besides the film and music, there will be over 2000 sessions – speeches, panels, and workshops – dedicated to inspiring creativity. He also walked attendees through enhancements to the SXSW-Go app that makes finding the status of events – empty or full – easier.
He ended by encouraging attendees to “connect with their zen at SXSW, because that’s how serendipity happens.” In other words, if you don’t get into the session you wanted, chill. There may be an even better one in the meeting room next door.
Nothing is more Texas than barbecue. After the welcome from Forrest, I headed over to The BBQ Crash Course. BBQ chefs and restaurants from all over Texas were corralled into a park where you were treated to all the sweet and spicy you could devour. And while you were eating, you were entertained by the Beaver Nelson Band, who have been playing at the BBQ Crash Course for nine of its 10 years.
I did not leave hungry. I did draw the line at the Donut Hole Sandwich, a slice of caramelized sausage between two donut holes. There was, however, a personal first: washing down banana cream pie with a beer. Thank you, Austin.
Of course, I’m really here for the films. This year the full lineup includes 132 features, 44 films from first-time filmmakers, 86 world premieres, 11 North American premieres, and five U.S. premieres. I watched the world premiere of Barry at the Alamo Ritz Theater. The Alamo chain pioneered the practice of having waiters bring food and drink to your seats while you watch the film. If there is no Alamo Drafthouse in your neck of the woods, consider yourself deprived.
Barry, an eight-part dark comedy series, starred SNL alum Bill Hader as a depressed Midwest hitman hired to kill an actor. He gets to Hollywood and follows his target into an acting class. There he finds acceptance from the other students and must decide whether to carry out his hit or change careers. He finds it’s not so easy to leave his criminal past behind. Barry also features Henry Winkler as an acting teacher you’ll be glad you never had.
The opening night film party – there are parties for other tracks as well – took place at Troublemaker Studios. The studio belongs to Robert Rodriguez (Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids) part of the Austin Film trinity. Other members include Richard Linklater (Slacker, Boyhood) who will speak at SXSW this year, and Mike Judge (King of the Hill, Silicon Valley).
The party took place among the sets for Rodriguez’s new film, Alita: Battle Angel (trailer, below). The sets were amazing and Rodriguez’s generosity – OK he gets publicity, too – is typical of the Austin Film community which is third in movie-making in the country after LA and New York. Other notable film events in Austin include The Austin Film Festival, The Texas Film Awards, and The Austin Revolution Film Festival.
So much for day one. I expect the rest of the conference not to be so laid-back.
For more info on SXSW, check the website.
Photo credits: Leo Sopicki