SXSW: the last entry, I swear

I realize I had a very movie-watching-focused experience at SXSW. A lot of people go to the film conference and attend panels, network with filmmakers and industry people, and get into all kinds of fabulous parties. All I did was watch movies. A lot of movies, for me (14 feature-feature-length plus 90 minutes of short animated films), although not nearly as many as I’d originally hoped:
The Chumscrubber, The Aggressives, Stagedoor, Tell Them Who You Are, The Puffy Chair, Kissing on the Mouth, A Hole in My Heart, Troop 1500, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, The Education of Shelby Knox, The Last Mogul, The Fearless Freaks, Reel Paradise, and Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party.
I’d like to write an in-depth review for every one of those films, but realistically I suspect I am not going to have time.

The films I saw break down as follows:
Number of narrative features (fiction): 4
Number of feature-length documentaries: 10
Number of documentaries about movies or people in the film industry: 4
Number of documentaries about musicians: 2 … well, 3 if you count Stagedoor
Number of movies with full frontal nudity: 2
Number of movies containing interviews with Gibby Haynes: 2
Movies I would recommend highly: The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Stagedoor (if you can stand show tunes), The Fearless Freaks, The Aggressives (not for children), Troop 1500, The Education of Shelby Knox.
Movies I never want to think about again: A Hole in My Heart
Celebrities spotted: none
I don’t know if I’d do the same thing next year, or if I’d want to go to the conference. I don’t think I really get a choice on the cool parties, though.
The film conference bags this year were absolutely adorable, and I want to thank LB for giving me hers after she heard I was looking for one. I had hoped to post a photo here, but I haven’t had time to take one. Maybe later.
Things I learned from SXSW film festival:

  1. I like the documentaries much more than the feature films. The documentaries are even less likely to get distribution (although they might appear on PBS or in the Texas Documentary Tour), so SXSW is a great place to see them. The feature films were generally okay, but not to my personal taste.
  2. I was able to get into each and every film I wanted to see (I mean, that I wanted to see enough that I actually showed up at the theater for) with a film pass. I didn’t need the full film conference badge. However, I didn’t go to any of the huge splashy gala openings or to any of the popular late-night films (like The Aristocrats). I did tend to get to the theaters about 20-30 minutes before showtime, depending on how popular I thought the film would be and how late I was running in general.
  3. It was generally easier to get into films during the last days of the festival, for the films’ second or third screening. However, that meant that I missed interesting people participating in the Q&A sessions from earlier screenings (like the Flaming Lips at Fearless Freaks).
  4. Most of the Q&A’s probably weren’t worth sticking around to see … but you never know.
  5. I can see two films in a row, but not three. I can see three films in a day if I have enough time between each film. Ideally I would like to see an 11 am film, then have lunch, then see a 4 pm film, then have dinner, then see a 9 pm film. And if I could find a nearby restaurant or cafe with wireless access, I could write updates during those breaks, which would be particularly nice.
  6. If I want to write about all the films I see, and see multiple films in a day without feeling tired or burned out, I ought to take whole days off work. More to the point, I should take the whole week off work.
  7. Taking half-days at work is dumb from a work standpoint—I never get as much done at work as I wanted, and it causes some general problems with other people who didn’t understand that the time I was away from the office was in fact my vacation time. I won’t do that again if I can help it.
  8. It’s a lot more fun to have a film buddy to hang out with during the festival, someone I can chat with before the film and stand in line with and so forth. I particularly liked having my boyfriend with me because then we could raise the armrest in the Alamo theater seats, which gave us more room.
  9. I should not eat salads at Alamo during movies. Even if I order a salad early, I’ll end up eating at least some of it in the dark, and that doesn’t work for me. Alamo theaters are not a good place for making healthy dining choices. They are a good place for hamburgers and pizza and root-beer floats. (Although I did eat soup in the dark during Duck Soup and didn’t mind it a bit. Gooood soup, too … but that’s another story.)
  10. I should keep little snacks (Odwalla bars are great for this) and a water bottle in my car during SXSW because I get very cranky if I haven’t eaten at regular intervals.
  11. Clothing: Even if it feels a little warm outside, I am wimpy enough to get cold in the theater, so layers are best. Also, I should keep a small umbrella in the car (usually I do … I’m not sure where that particular umbrella is hiding).

SXSW Theater rundowns:

  • Arbor: Best theater overall. Comfy seats, good house lighting, easy parking. I want to write Regal Cinemas a note or email telling them how much I truly enjoy their theater when they’re not showing all that crap beforehand. The one disadvantage was that it felt somewhat disconnected from the general SXSW buzz.
  • Alamo South: Comfy seats, stadium seating, very nice. House lights were a little too dark. Servers were still learning (the theater had only been open a week) so food and drink orders often were in disarray.
    Something seemed to be amiss with their digital projector—several of the films had a blocky, almost pixellated look about them, especially in long shots. I didn’t notice this in other theaters. Is it a hazard of sitting close to the screen for digital video, or was something wrong at Alamo? Anyone?
  • Alamo Downtown: They may not have the most plush seats, and the seating near the front is sometimes difficult if you are short, and the house lights are too dark to read Jane Austen. But I love Alamo Downtown anyway. Service was fine; the servers are very good about being as unobtrusive as possible, and I had no problems whatsoever. Parking is a pain, although you could walk from Alamo Downtown to the Paramount very easily.
  • Paramount: As much as I like the Paramount, I had some problems during SXSW. I can’t see the screen if anyone taller than me sits in front of me, which is problematic when the theater is full. The house lights are so dark I could barely figure out which pages in my notebook had writing on them and which were blank. The seats are not as comfy as they are in other theaters. But there’s lots of seating. You have to pay to park in a lot or garage during the day, because the meters are only two hours. (St. David’s garage was an easy walk and was an easy garage to maneuver in, and it was the standard $5 for all-day.)
  • Austin Convention Center: Not a great theater atmosphere—it’s a temporary setup with very uncomfortable seats. However, you get the whole SXSW festival buzz from being in the convention center, people are more likely to chat about the films, it’s a fun atmosphere. Parking stinks—I saw late-afternoon films so I could use a parking meter. Next year I might plan a whole day at/around ACC and just pay for parking in a garage.

One thought on “SXSW: the last entry, I swear”

  1. Dear Jette,
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    I spent forty years as an advertising copywriter, and so I can relate a bit to your day job.
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    Larry Forbes

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