At the intersection of film, music, technology and mass media, there is South by Southwest (SXSW)–a week-long festival of arts and culture in Austin, Texas. Austin is a great hub for it, being a city known for its cultural aspects. As someone who dedicates his life to ingesting every piece of media imaginable, there was no question over whether or not I should go to SXSW for my final Spring Break. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the URI Film/Media department, which offers class credit for the experience. Not only did I gain credit for the trip, I was able to experience it with fellow students who were equally as passionate about the festival as I was.
Going to every event offered at the festival and properly experiencing the city of Austin is a near impossible task. There are screenings, panels, shows and a myriad of other events being held around the clock. Realistically you’d need three lifetimes to take in the whole thing, and even that might not be enough. This trip gave me a masterclass in time management and planning out, something I will definitely take to heart in all my future endeavors.
Still, overlooking circumstances that were out of my hands (Shuttle schedules, long lines, not knowing how to properly navigate a film festival until three days in), I got to experience most of what I wanted to. I screened about fifteen films, and before every film screening, there was an animation that played showing the SXSW logo and the sponsors of the festival. The last frames of the intro read “A huge thanks to all our SXSW volunteers.” Every time it came up, it got wild applause, which made me really happy. A majority of these films I’d never seen before. I also went to several panels and non-film experiences.
I got to take in a couple live shows, despite music not being my priority. Many of the movies were small independent films that might not even see a wide release, and some of them were world premieres of huge Hollywood films that won’t be released for several months, including Terrance Malick’s “Song To Song,” Ben Wheatley’s “Free Fire,” and Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver.” Many of the films had their cast and crews present at their screenings, which means for probably the only time in my life, I was within shouting distance of Michael Fassbender, Jon Hamm, Seth Rogen, and Dave and James Franco, to name just a few.
Panels afforded even more opportunities for celebrity encounters. A moderator would lead a discussion and, in most cases, an audience Q&A with major media and cultural figures. I attended panels with Noah Hawley, the creator of “Fargo” and “Legion” on FX, and Gareth Edwards, the Director of “Godzilla” and “Rogue One.” There was panel with Nick Offerman moderated by Nick Kroll. And perhaps my most anticipated, the cast and crew of “Game of Thrones” with creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss, and cast members Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams. Here, a packed ballroom hung on every word spoken for possible spoilers for season seven. I was also lucky enough to have a short but sweet one on one session with Alexandra Hannibal, who works at CNN Films.
Then there was Austin, Texas itself. Austin combines the atmosphere of a major metropolitan area with a vibrant, quirky, small city vibe. Nestled within the skyscrapers and the convention center is a city with its own unique feeling that can’t really be described. I could spend another three months taking in everything the city has to offer. Whether it’s the seemingly endless stretch of bars, restaurants and clubs on East 6th Street, all the unique, independently operated stores, or the spots where the stereotypical view of the state of Texas with Austin’s own atmosphere meet, it never got old. Then there was the Alamo Drafthouse, a chain of upscale theaters that many of the films at the festival were screened at. We’re both blessed and cursed that there aren’t more of these in our neck of the woods. Cursed in that we’re missing out on the one of a kind movie going experience they provide (a strict no talking or texting policy and food and drinks brought right to your seat), but blessed in that we don’t have the opportunity to spend our entire life savings every time we go there.
When I arrived in sunny Austin on March 10, after barely making it out of cold, snowy Rhode Island earlier that day, I had no idea what kind of experience I would have at SXSW. I’m pretty much the opposite of trendy, so I was worried that the hipness of Austin might be too much for me along with the nagging fear that I might not be able to do everything I wanted to with my finite amount of time. But the city of Austin is unique enough that whether you live and breathe the latest trends or dress in five layers of grey every day (read: me), you’ll never be anywhere that you feel out of place. And as I said above, there’s no way any normal outside visitor could ever hope to take in every last part of the festival. But when all was said and done, South by Southwest 2017 was a one of a kind experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Top 5 Movies I Saw:
-“Baby Driver” (Directed by Edgar Wright, releasing June 28th)
-“Becoming Bond” (Directed by Josh Greenbaum, releasing May 20th on Hulu)
-“The Big Sick” (Directed by Michael Showalter, releasing June 23rd)
-“The Disaster” Artist (Directed by James Franco, release TBD)
-“Mayhem” (Directed by Joe Lynch, release TBD)