There could not have been a more timely documentary to show at SXSW 2011 than Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times. The first three months of 2011 will go down as a major turning point in the worlds of social media, online news reporting and SEO (search engine optimization) and The New York Times seems to be at the center of it all in one way or another.
Page One shines a light on the difficulty of real news reporting in the world of media convergence and content aggregation. We see new media evangelists trumpet the demise of the "old media" while harvesting the old media's content for their own purposes. We see reporters work on pointed and difficult stories. We see how stories are crafted from ideas, carefully researched and turned into stories. We see the triumphs and the stark realities facing news organizations today. We see the reality of The New York Times in 2011.
Arguably the most compelling character in the story is David Carr. David is a well respected writer for The New York Times and former speaker at SXSW. Throughout the movie we see David defending the track record of The New York Times against new media upstarts. This movie takes us into the mind and process of a quality reporter who cares about getting stories right and does not shrink in the face of adversity. If The New York Times ever needed a defender, they definitely have their man in David Carr.
Arguably the invention with the most profound effect on civilization is the light bulb. But along with the advances in technology it heralded, is there a dark side to all the light we have in our lives today? Director Ian Cheney (King Corn) explores the scientific and philosophical side of lighting the night sky in The City Dark.
Cheney explores the history and impact of all the light at night in various chapters, from the history of lighting to light pollution to the impact on nature and humanity. He could easily make a movie on each chapter, but instead includes just enough to make a person consider how much artificial lighting they include in their lives.
The City Dark is not just a romanticized longing for the heavens above. Some of the facts Cheney presents may at first seem like they're not relevant to everyday people, such as light pollution making it difficult for astronomers do their jobs. Urban dwellers may even wave off the impact on other species. But others are much more relevant, such as how light impacts the human body, and how shift work can be deadly to the point the that World Health Organization has made a declaration about it.
Some days even seeing just two films feels like an accomplishment. I only saw two today, but they were both so powerful, it made for a full day. And I have to set my clock's back? It's gonna be a rough morning in a few hours.
I got up too late to get to the first movie I planned on seeing, so I wandered around a bit, picking up a Dublin Dr Pepper at the Royal Blue Grocery on Congress before heading over to the Paramount. If you're an outsider who likes fizzy drinks at all, if you've never had a Dublin Dr Pepper, you have never had a real Dr. Pepper. The bottle may be small, but it's delicious stuff. [Jette's note: Alamo Ritz has Dublin Dr Pepper now, too.]
I was in line early for my film, but I was anticipating a full house, since the subject relates to current events. But everyone else was in line for the State theater's screening of The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway. This year is a great year for free food, and thanks to the food trailer phenomenon, they keep on bringing it right to the lines. This time it was ice cream treats, making for a very happy crowd. And apparently post-screening, Pee-Wee himself was handing out ice cream treats.
My favorite thing about a film fest like SXSW is the possibility it allows to step outside your normal comfort levels and discover something you really love that you never expected, or at least something incredibly noteworthy and interesting. The international aspect opens a path not just to films but to nations and cultures that get little or no media coverage in the US. My first film selection for 2011, aptly titled The First Movie, is a documentary that ventures into the most remote section of Iraqi Kurdistan, a region decimated by war.
The First Movie is a sort of dreamy documentary exploration into the filmmaker's psyche. Mark Cousins narrates his journey to Goptapa in northern Iraq, a farming village that in 1988 fell victim to chemical warfare attacks by Saddam Hussein's forces, instantly killing one in seven people. Cousins describes growing up in northern Ireland and how the beauty of the country, unmarked by the violence, seems more real than the war that tore through it.
Right now I'm finally giving my iPad its first real workout and I'm glad I already know I'm a lousy typist because I seem to be unable to not hit the "a" key. I started off the day by checking out the SXSW panel for beginners that Jette was on, and now I'm the unofficial Cap Metro expert for SXSW Film. I also finally got to meet Agnes Varnum from AFS, who moderated the panel. Took me along enough eh?
I dragged Jette over to Parkside for dinner and we both ended up having three courses; it was all I could do not to wave around our spiffy dining guide that SXSW printed up (which should be available at the various venues). I shouldn't tell you it was delicious because then y'all will be eating there and I won't get a seat when I go for an early and delicious dinner. But the price of fine dining was missing the first round of screenings, so I wandered around a bit and ended up by the Paramount just as Jake Gyllenhaal arrived for the opening-night film Source Code, much to the glee of screaming fans (my ears are still ringing).
Authored by Jette Kernion, Jenn Brown, Debbie Cerda, Mike Saulters and Chip Rosenthal.
This year, Slackerwood teamed up with SXSW to create a printed version of our SXSW Dining Guide. You should be able to find it at any film venue. Here's the online version, in case paper is just too low-tech for you. The restaurants, cafes and food trailers in this guide are nearly all in walking distance of a SXSW theater. Of course we missed a lot of good stuff. Feel free to make your own recommendations in the comments.
A couple of updates since we wrote the printed guide: Taco Journalism has an excellent SXSW guide to convenient and/or delicious tacos in the downtown area. The Austin American-Statesman has a list of restaurants that have opened downtown since SXSW 2010. We also suggest you search #sxswfood on Twitter for the latest on food trailer locations and special SXSW deals.
Don't forget to check out our other guides, including the SXSW Venue Guide and the Guide for Locals and Passholders. In addition, Slackerwood editor Jette Kernion will be one of the panelists in the "Beginners Guide to SXSW Film" panel at 3:30 pm today, where you can ask all kinds of questions about surviving the fest.
Anywhere else but Austin, the idea of an 18-year-old veteran filmmaker would seem odd. Still months away from her high school graduation, Emily Hagins is the envy of many filmmakers with her third feature, My Sucky Teen Romance, world premiering at SXSW at the fest's biggest and most coveted venue, the Paramount.
If you’ve been living under a rock, or somewhere besides Austin, Hagins began her film career at the tender age of 11 or so when she penned her first script, for a zombie movie called Pathogen. That production ended up being the inspiration for the documentary Zombie Girl. Pathogen may not be available on Netflix, but it put Hagins on the radar of local film fans and the indie scene as someone to watch. She completed her second feature, The Retelling, in 2009.
Hagins met me for brunch at Olivia in South Austin, and with the gorgeous weather we were having, we enjoyed the meal outside in the sunshine. I have sunburn already; just because it's March in Austin doesn't mean you can go SPF-free, and I was reminded (ow). I was also reminded why Hagins is a talent to watch in the future. Read more and you'll probably end up agreeing with me.
Note: A 2012 Guide for Locals and Passholders is now available.
Last year, SXSW Film seemed more frustrating than usual for Austin festgoers with film passes, or people who wanted to buy tickets for a couple of movies. The Interactive conference practically exploded in size, and a lot of those attendees had Gold badges, while others queued up en masse for the screenings that were also open to Interactive badges. The opening-night film filled up before passholders could get in (badgeholder line from Kick-Ass pictured above; what's not pictured is that it completely circled the Paramount block). And I'm still frustrated that I missed Thunder Soul because I could not find any parking within a mile of the Paramount for under $20 that day.
It looks like SXSW Film access will be much better overall this year, and special care has been taken to ensure that Austin filmgoers can see festival movies. For example, this year Interactive-only badgeholders can't use their badges to get into any screenings. And a couple of remote theater venues are intended to appeal to locals. Movies playing at Alamo Ritz tend to play larger venues as well.
If you haven't bought a badge yet, you can still enjoy SXSW Film. The film passes for SXSW 2011 are already sold out, but tickets are available even now for some SXSW screenings, and we bet you'll be able to walk up and buy tickets easily at the more remote venues.
Being both a tech geek and film enthusiast, I'm determined to find a balance between satisfying both interests during SXSWeek as the SXSW Interactive Conference overlaps with the beginning of the Film Festival and Conference. Luckily SXSW features several opportunities to explore both film and interactive industry topics.
Last year Slackerwood featured the "SXSW 2010 Guide: Balancing Film and Interactive" to help SXSW attendees know what was up. Although a lot of the core advice is the same, there are several significant changes this year.
SXSW Interactive-Related Films
In the past, SXSW has allowed Interactive badgeholders to get into certain film festival screenings with their badges ... but not so in 2011. Those attendees interested in films related to Interactive (IA) content will either need to have a Gold and Platinum badge or buy a ticket at the screening (based on availability 15 minutes prior).
I was going to do this big write-up about Austin films at SXSW, and Austin Film Society beat me to it on the Persistence of Vision blog. Thanks, Bryan, you did my work for me. Mosey on over there to see a comprehensive list of the Austin-connected films at SXSW this year.
Trying to pick which films to see from that list is hard, and I'm going to try to see them all, although I have to admit my personal favorite on that list is My Sucky Teen Romance, by Emily Hagins, which has such good buzz it's premiering at the Paramount. Watch this space for my interview with Emily over lunch at Olivia in South Austin this weekend. I unashamedly admit I’m not entirely objective, since I know Emily and quite a few people who worked on the film (not bragging, honest!) but when the SXSW film team chose the Paramount for very good reasons. It's Austin, indie, sending up pop culture, it's all good.
But wait! There's more! AFS announced the Austin Film Society ShortCase 2011, featuring AFS member shorts. If you aren't a festival veteran, you know that the shorts reels at Austin festivals are outstanding and SXSW is certainly no exception, and AFS isn't just a film appreciation society but an active association of filmmakers of all levels. This year's ShortCase includes The Man Who Never Cried, which you may remember Slackerwood's Debbie Cerda reviewed earlier this year. As I was researching this, I saw that Jackson worked on Script Cops, which played as bumpers for Austin Film Festival a few years ago. Hilarious stuff. Just remember that the shorts reels are very popular, so don't wait til the last minute to get to the venues when they play.