“How was your SXSW?” In a word, exhausting. I worked full shifts every day at both I Luv Video and as one of the lead projectionists for SXSW. In truth, I only saw a few movies this year. I usually see at least 20, but this year my schedule and stamina only left room for about 7, and a few half-films (where I either fell asleep or had to leave before the end).
However, what I did see was some really surprising, entertaining, and delightful stuff. My first SXSW movie came on the Wednesday before the festival began. The lovely staff set up a special screening of 21 Jump Street for all of the Crew Chiefs and specialized volunteers. My friend and I decided to go, even though we assumed it would be terrible. The trailers I had seen made it look like a thrown together hodge podge of scattered ideas which had little to do with the show on which it was based. I’ll state here that I adored that show when it was on. The only fan letter I have ever written in my life was to Johnny Depp when I was 8 years-old. He never wrote back... Anyway, I went in with low expectations. In short, I got a real treat. While they are tonally complete opposites, the film actually has quite a few hat tips to the show. The most amazing thing about it was the emergence of Channing Tatum as a, wait for it, brilliant comedic actor. I know! I had yet to see Tatum do anything brilliantly, and there he was making me laugh so hard my face was sore. Wonders never cease. For a small dose of him making the funny, here’s a video he did with Charlyne Yi.
During the festival, I mostly ducked in to documentaries while overseeing the (awesome) volunteers in the booth. One that caught my attention was Dreams of a Life, which tries to uncover the mysterious identity of a woman whose body went undiscovered for three years after her death. By chance, I had read an article about the making of the movie by director Carol Morley the night before I caught the first 30 minutes. The feel of the film is like that of an investigative journalist mystery, as she seeks to find out who the woman (named Joyce Carol Vincent) was and how no one could have known that she’d died. Morley mixes interviews with the woman’s friends and reenactments of stories they tell. Actress Zawe Ashton (who some may recognize from the BBC’s Sherlock) plays Joyce. What I saw was engrossing, shocking, sad, and moving. I really hope I get a chance to see the whole thing soon and that it gets some sort of distribution.
Apart from the films I saw, there was also a little music at this festival. I work right next door to two other places that my bosses own which have a total of three stages. There was a constant blast of music at any hour which I worked. One special band playing next door was introduced by Bill Murray. We heard tell at the video store that he was buying drinks and dresses (there’s also a boutique crammed in over there) for all the ladies. I was not lucky enough to get over there to see him, but there was a whisper of greatness on the wind that night.
A third and most highly attended component of SXSW is the Interactive conference. There’s always some crossover amongst the three parts, and one of the Film/Interactive mash-ups this year was the debut of a video game called Renga. The set-up at the Canon Imagination Theater at the Rollins involved the two creators of the game hooking up a bunch of their own equipment in the booth so that they could project and control it from up there. I’m not smart enough to know exactly how this worked, but the audience were all given laser pointers, to which the gaming software responds somehow. The object of the game is to have a whole group work together to build a spaceship and fight off invaders. The graphics on the game were charmingly (and intentionally) antiquated, recalling the best years of my childhood spent indoors playing Zelda, or at an arcade playing Galaga. I arrived at the theater about half-way through the game, and watched in wonder as one of the creators sat there coding the game in process. He would decide what clues to give the audience, while the other was in charge of things like attacks by enemy invaders. It brought out the nerd in everyone, and I once again sighed and lamented the fact that I will never understand how all that crap works.
And so it is was with a heavy heart and a tired head that I ended my SXSW journey. As always by the end of the 10-day event, I was a battered soldier; tired, messy, unable to distinguish real life from fiction, but a better person for it.
***If you are reading this post via e-mail, the imbedded video in this post might not work with your particular e-mail account. Click on the post title and you will be taken directly to CineRobot to view the video.***