The SXSW Conference, which began in 1987, returned this year to live presentations after two years of virtual-only events. Taking place in Austin, March 11-20, it celebrated music, film, comedy, and the interaction of culture and technology, with participants from around the world.
Despite the fact that of all the virtual events I attended the last two years, SXSW was by far the best, being live was better. The excitement, the conversations, and the pure joy of interacting with other humans, masked or not, made this a memorable event.
According to the Austin Statesman this SXSW was smaller than those of recent (live) years. Some of my favorites were missing. No NASA exhibit in the Creative Industries Expo and no Texas BBQ event. Despite that, the conference was great. I focused on films, comedy, and extraordinary technology.
Dimensions and Volcanoes
SXSW Film brings narratives, documentaries, and shorts from around the world to Austin.
It’s hard to pick favorites from the great films presented this last week. Everything Everywhere All At Once, staring Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), took narrative to a new level. The fastest moving film I have ever seen, it takes a tired businesswomen trying to do her taxes and yanks her between multiple parallel universes to fight battles in alternate versions of her life.
On the documentary side, although I enjoyed Still Working 9 to 5 , I will give my personal best-of-show to Fire of Love. This film tells the story of two French scientists, Katia and Maurice Krafft who studied volcanoes from the 1960s to the 1990s. The film sparkled in two ways. It was made entirely of archival footage put together in an amazing way. It also brought out the Krafft’s playful and entertaining personalities. I was sure that if the Krafft’s were around today, they would be Internet influencers.
Augmented Reality (AR) also plays an ever-greater role in storytelling. My favorite was (Hi)Story of a Painting. After donning a Virtual Reality headset, you initiated elements of the story by where you looked. The technology created the feel of being with the characters in the story, rather than watching them on a screen or stage.
Monty Python and Chloe O’Brian
SXSW also features a comedy festival. One of my favorite TV shows, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, included among it’s stars the amazingly talented John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda, Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Cleese appeared twice at SXSW and I luckily caught his performance with his daughter Camilla at Austin’s Esther’s Follies. He performed a solo stand up routine, his daughter did the same, and then they sat on stage together exchanging some hilarious repartee.
Another night at Esther’s Follies featured performers from the Gotham Comedy Club. The comedians listed on the bill delighted the audience. Then the MC surprised everyone when he introduced Mary Lynn Rajskub. She had been a favorite of mine since her days staring as Chloe O’Brian on 24. I had no idea she did stand up. Just another great SXSW surprise.
Selfies and NFTs
You find the scientific side of SXSW at the Creative Industries Expo. This year could have been dubbed “The Year of the NFT”. Non-Fungible Tokens were everywhere, so much so that one of those stand-up guys from Gotham Comedy Club made them a topic of his routine. I had heard of the use of NFTs for art, but they are also being used for distributing music and other creations where ownership and content control is critical.
While perusing all the high tech, web interfaces, publishing and editing systems, another booth caught my eye: Selfie Stylist. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around that, so I had to ask. This Austin startup by Lana Ashby Rowder provides subscribers feedback on their selfies. The subscriber takes a selfie, then submits it to the app on their phone. They then receive feedback on how to improve their look, such as, “Try it without the hat.”
For more information and reviews of this year’s SXSW, put “SXSW” in the search box above, or check the SXSW YouTube channel.