Saturday , May 18 2024

SXSW 2023: NASA, Robert Rodriguez, and Reggie Watts

This year’s SXSW Conference ran March 10-19 in Austin. If you have never been to “south-by”, you might think of it only as a film festival, or a film fest with some music. It is so much more. If I had to describe it in one sentence, I might say, “It celebrates reality and beyond.” Opportunities to learn, laugh, and expand your brain abound.


Beyond watching movies and listening to music there are opportunities to learn.

The Austin Film Society sponsored a panel discussion called “Building a Film Career in a Regional Film Industry.” Traditionally when people hear “film industry,” they think of Hollywood or New York. The thrust of the panel’s discussion was to alert people to the opportunities that exist in many other areas of the country.

The panel suggested that people interested in film careers should look to university-based film schools and volunteer organizations like Austin Film Society. The demand for content is much higher than it has ever been.

Robert Rodriguez gave advice to young filmmakers at SXSW

Opportunities to ask successful filmmakers questions after their films create more opportunities to learn.

Robert Rodriguez screened his work-in-progress starring Ben Affleck, titled Hypnotic. After the film, which involved a detective investigating a string of reality-bending crimes, Rodriguez answered audience questions, most of which involved filmmaking.

The advice Rodriguez kept coming back to for new filmmakers: “Just start.”

Ben Affleck stars in Robert Rodriguez work-in-progress, ‘Hypnotic’


SXSW includes a comedy festival. This year there were over 30 comedy events. I spent two evenings at Austin’s iconic Esther’s Follies and, as in prior years, there were surprises.

The first night, modestly titled “The Super Good Show,” featured five stand-up comedians. I had no idea who was in the lineup but was delighted when Katherine Blanford came on stage. She has opened for Jeff Foxworthy, David Spade, and Ron White. Her podcast regularly makes Podcast Magazine’s Hot 50.

Katherine Blanford and Reggie Watts were part of SXSW comedy

Reggie Watts, famous for leading the house band on The Late Late Show, hosted the second evening, “Good Trip Live: A Night of Comedy and Psychedelic Stories.” That show included Eric Andre, of 2 Broke Girls and The Eric Andre Show on HBO Max and Hulu.


SXSW Conference tracks are series of events and panels focusing on specific themes. New this year, the “2050” track looked at what our world may become in 30 years. Among the other tracks you could find cutting-edge thinking about art, marketing, sports, politics, food, creativity, and medicine. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) contributed to 10 sessions.

The metaverse, AR, VR and all things cutting-edge were part of SXSW

My favorite NASA presentation was “Yes, NASA is Looking Up.” This panel discussed the full-time staff involved in tracking asteroids. The program seeks to identify asteroids that may collide with Earth. Once such a potential collision comes to its attention, it plots a strategy, coordinating with organizations in other countries. The strategies could vary from warning people, if the asteroid is small, to crashing a spaceship into the asteroid to alter its course if it provides a real threat. 

If that sounds too scary to think about, SXSW also featured several days of exhibits of virtual reality and extended reality technologies you could immerse yourself in.

A NASA panel explained how their job was to track asteroids that might crash into Earth

And SXSW supports networking, with professional meetups, mentor sessions, and parties every night.

The Future

SXSW describes itself as dedicated to “helping creative people achieve their goals.” Remember that when you try to get your boss to pay your way.

So, assuming we aren’t destroyed by an asteroid, you may want to think about attending next year’s event which will take place March 8-16, 2024. For news and information about attending the conference check its website or Facebook page. The website also includes audio and video recordings of selected events.

About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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