With each year more and more people flock from all over the world to Austin, Texas for the largest film, music and tech conference in North America, South by Southwest. This being my first year attending my expectations were set high. Originally starting with only 700 attendees in 1987, SXSW (the common acronym for South By Southwest) now boosts nearly 175,000 attendees just 32 years later. Often perceived as an event of tacos and tequila, each year SXSW sees a gradual shift towards something different, gaining the identity of the native weird Austinites, the indie filmmakers, the startup engineers and developers, and the musicians from all over the world. With my SXSW pass in hand I was ready, or so I thought, for all the experiences this city had to offer!
With a push away from its pioneering track in music towards film and interactive, these visions are slowly growing larger, debuting the next and most innovative ideas in storytelling, directing and visual design. This year's "South by" was introduced with the debut of Jordan Peele's newest horror film, Us. After his successful directorial debut of Get Out, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, many people are excited to see what Peele has in store next. Us is set to release in theaters on March 22nd, with a 100% already on Rotten Tomatoes from its world wide premiere at SXSW. Let's just say, THE BUZZ IS OUT!
SXSW showed a collection of 133 features films, selected from a pool of almost 8,500 submissions. While SXSW might not be the place to debut the next blockbuster or summer hit, it is the new testing ground for experimental genres such as satirical, macabre, bizarro, deadpan, and slipstream movies. After several discussions with other film goers and attendees, I came to understand that many of the films that premiered there wouldn't necessarily be suited for general audiences or the mass public. Many of these films either had themes, visuals, stories or scripts that people are not ready for but will maybe become the future of cinema one day. Movies like Come As You Are, the story of 3 disabled men on a road trip to Montreal to visit a brothel that caters to people with disabilities, was not produced in the past due to the nature of the content but a platform like SXSW makes the making and viewing of this type of movie possible. SXSW has become the nest for cinema and the arts before they are ready to take flight into the world.
While this cinematic land of milk and honey is becoming the new home of indie films, it is also where major tech companies are showing off their newest developments in terms of hardware and software. While there I had the pleasure to test the cutting edge Bose Frames. Resembling it's long gone cousin, Google Glass, the Bose frames utilizes location data, open ear audio speakers, and an AR audio system for real time feedback and interaction. Bose frames resemble normal fashion glasses and allows users to ask questions to the Bose AR, a voice controlled intelligent personal assistant much like a Siri. Wearing the glasses felt quite normal since Bose designed them with simplicity in mind. I definitely enjoyed my brief test with them. It is easy to see how innovation like this will push forward how we will interact with technology and media in the future. With the boom in use of AR, VR, and XR, many tech and media companies are vying to be the first in the development of new mediums and platforms for their products and content in a modern day space race.
Interactive is the new nest of indie developers and content creators, who simply want to share their creative vision with as many people as possible. One virtual cinema debut that I was able to experience, Forest, which was listed under Virtual Cinema and created by Kelsey Boncato and Daniel Oldham, brought the viewer, on a visual and musical journey through a world that defied the laws of time and space, separating the ego from oneself in order to experience a world very unlike our own. Using the HTC Vive, the user is set in a boundless world of white, traveling towards black and white trees, ferns and mushrooms of magnificent scale and lively animation. You begin to understand the world and in that moment everything changes, bringing me to the realization that when we think we have everything figured out, the rules will change. This experience separated the superego and ego and humbles the user to understand their place in a microcosm of the real world. Projects like these allowed viewers to hold a piece of the art, to be included with it and with the viewer in mind rather than the traditional outside looking in. SXSW has become a powerhouse for new and innovative ideas like these for markets such as film, gaming, entertainment and music. Every year the purpose and idea of SXSW changes but it remains to be one of the greatest think tank events of the world. I wasn't sure what to expect from SXSW but it by far blew up every expectation and has rejuvenated my own personal and professional attitude towards creativity and technology and the symbiotic relationship between the two.
Here is a list of films I saw at SXSW:
Personal Rating = * (star)
Personal Favorite = Bold
Animated Shorts Program:
Title Design Program:
(We Make the Best Dark Roast on the Planet!)