Monday, March 17, 2014

SXSW Film is Over!

Never was I so glad for a festival to end. We only bought film badges and we had a pretty good time and seem to have picked wisely on movies. Still. I wore myself having fun. And I felt compelled to try to see a few things and also to eat and drink at my favorite bars! And the crowds seeking free booze and rap music or whatever made me so weary. I decided I'd recap the nine days just so I'd have a record of it. What I can remember anyway.

We picked up our badges and bags on Thursday, March 6th after my tennis game. It was quick and easy with only minor confusion in the swag bag line. It seems wasteful to have two big guides and two pocket guides and two extra Chronicles. (FFP put one Chronicle back in the stack at the convention center. But as the next ten days went by there were tons of these dead tree publications lying around the convention center.) We put the app on FFP's iPad but it took time to start up and get to the schedule and our personal picks and was also trying to update itself so we did use the pocket guide I stuck in my backpack. I also put some energy bars, other emergency stuff like mints, Advil, extra phone power, a camera, etc. in there. And when rain threatened, little umbrellas. FFP added a magazine or two, I carried around two issues of The New Yorker, I sometimes had a crossword or other puzzle in a newspaper section. We sometimes stood in the line reading from the  iPad or magazine or newspaper but we spent a lot of the line time looking around and talking to friends and strangers.

I chose a bunch of films and panels early on and then, each day, based on how we were feeling and the weather we winnowed it down.

Here are the things we did (that I remember) both as part of the festival and during this time.

  • Went to the convention center to see a panel on Lego! This was Day 1 and we had high hopes for doing lots of activities. When we got to the Convention Center we picked up an SXXpress Pass for the movie we planned at the Topfer. They told us that they weren't available for the Vimeo. This did not seem to be true, but that theater is vast and I can't imagine badges not getting in. The panel was in a vast room, too. However, after we were seated we heard there was a pipe burst in our building via twitter. We rushed back to the building to see if our unit was affected (it wasn't) and by the time we returned they were just taking questions. I love Lego but I have no idea if this was a good session. We would not do another panel. I did watch one of the Interactive ones live-streaming. (I couldn't personally get in with my film badge.)
  • Saw Thank You a Lot at the Topfer. This movie is about the music business. It follows a struggling music agent who is pressured to sign his father (an aging country singer with a cult following) or lose his job. He and his father are estranged precisely because he'd started his own agency pinning his hopes on having his dad's representation and his dad had disappeared. The father was played by James Hand who is a country singer. They used his name as the character's name, too. I enjoyed seeing the Austin scenes and thought the performances were pretty good. A very Austin and SXSW beginning to our festival. [We had SXXpress passes. They were unnecessary. We didn't get our favorite seats, the row with three seats on the left side, but that was because there were tons of filmmaker tickets seated first.]
  • We rode the shuttle bus! We had walked to the Topfer. We thought maybe we'd see another movie at the Vimeo (at the Convention Center). We would not ride this again instead walking around and among the venues we visited: Paramount, Vimeo, Rollins, Topfer and the Violet Crown.
  • Saw The Legend of Shorty at the Vimeo. We had plenty of time to queue and get in when the shuttle got to the Convention Center. This movie is a documentary about "El Chapo" the Mexican drug lord from the Mexican state of Sinaloa. I don't know how the film makers stayed alive. They tried to meet with him. They never succeeded but met lots of underlings and his mother. Shorty was captured after they wrapped and edited but they went back and added a bit about the capture. This was a good film and very revealing although there are still mysteries about why he finally was captured and why he evaded for so long as well as how he escaped the first time he was imprisoned. (Most likely it was the old conundrum of who was paid off and when.)
  • Hung out in Bar Congress a couple of times. We'd eaten in the restaurant on Wednesday before the thing opened. We love this bar and the food is delicious. We also ended up eating dinner one night during the fest when they had a cancellation and there wasn't much room in the bar.
  • Saw No No: A Dockumentary  about Dock Ellis and his famous no-hitter for the Pirates thrown while on LSD. This movie was about drugs, baseball, redemption and much more. Like many docs that thoroughly tell the story of one person it was fascinating and instructive. There was a lot of footage of Dock although he died in 2008.
  • Saw Wicker Kittens a documentary about jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts and a competition for them. The title is the actual title of a puzzle. Many jigsaws involve kittens in baskets, apparently. I like jigsaws and spent many a lovely time with relatives and friends bent over a table, especially at holidays, assembling one as a group. This movie was kind of sweet and well-made and had interesting characters but there was an edge of OCD behavior and maybe hoarding that I found too close to home. Something I could find in a not so well-liked part of my own or my relatives' personalities. A rain storm outside and some lightning stopped the film briefly but it was restarted successfully. After this we went across the bridge again and found ourselves eating at Congress. Got soaked on the walk home.
  • Almost went to a party. It was not an official SXSW thing. Quite the opposite. It was an annual brunch during the fest given by Austin Film Festival. We stood in a slow-moving line to get inside and then, seeing the line for the tacos and such, walked out and went to Walton's for breakfast.
  • Saw Hellion, a film made by a local director and produced in part by friends of ours. It is about a young boy struggling with the loss of his mother and his father's grief-stricken inattention. His behavior seems a little too severe to me, but it is an interesting journey and well-acted. Adults and children do sometimes make terrible choices for the best of reasons, I suppose. This film is very well-made for a budget effort (or any effort really) and I'm proud of the local crowd. Kat Candler is a very savvy director and a fine writer of characters.
  • Saw Sequoia, a narrative about a young woman with an incurable cancer who decides on a suicide plan that is to involve her sister but eventually brings in the whole family and a stranger. This was an OK piece with a few characters who were too comically-drawn but with fabulous scenery of the giant trees.
  • Tried to get SXXpress passes at the beginning of them being handed out for the Monday session. There were hundreds and hundreds of people in line. We walked down to SoCo and ate at the Snack Bar instead. We then just queued in the badge line for A Night in Old Mexico which was written over more than three decades by our friend Bill Witliff and starred Robert Duvall. It was a romp and the co-stars, Jeremy Irvine and Angie Sepeda, were great playing off the old master. Only saw this one movie on the day and instead sat in the lounge at Ruth's Chris and drank and ate while watching people stream by outside on Sixth Street.
  • Saw Lady Valor, The Kristen Beck Story, a documentary about Navy Seal veteran Chris Beck who transitioned to a female identity. It was a very personal story. I could not really relate to the Navy Seal, struggling to become one of these elite warriors and weathering so much danger and death and continually volunteering for deployment. The woman who was fearlessly speaking of her journey to be her authentic self did resonate. At one point in the film she says she hid girls' clothing and faked illness to stay home and dress up during elementary school. It reminded me of a gentleman in a film shown in last year's SXSW (Before You Know It) who had a desire to cross-dress his entire life that, after his wife died, he devoted himself to enabling. People are complicated. That one feels strongly enough to re-identify against society's expectations tells us much about this complexity. Kristen was at the screening and is a very dynamic figure but in a fairly self-effacing way. 
  • Saw Take Me to The River, a documentary about the evolution of the Memphis sound. It was told in a most unique way by uniting old hands of the Memphis Blues with younger artists from Snoop Dog and other rappers to teen-aged music students to cut tracks. There was a lot of good history and final interviews and performances from some of the legends. made me not hate rap so much when it was integrated with the other music.
  • Punched request into Open Table after seeing above movie and ended up at Wink for a great meal.
  • Saw Rubber Soul, a documentary and re-enactment of two interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, ten years apart, in 1970 and 1980. I found it very informative and a unique way of looking at this post-Beatles era as well as the entire Beatles phenomena. I heard other people disparage this flick or at least say they didn't care for it. That unofficial sample of people did seem to be a bit younger, perhaps unborn in 1980! It is, in any case, a very unique take on John Lennon material and perhaps not for every fan even.
  • Went to the trade show a couple of times. We did a pretty thorough 'walk by' of the many countries section. Saw many wanna be next social media platform or development platform. Also: Chevy, 3D printing and more 3D printing, post-it notes, origami (but not with post-it notes).
  • Went through the CF that is getting into a SXSW movie at Violet Crown. To see something I normally eschew: a vampire movie. But this was Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive, a fantastic movie. I'll never have to see another vampire movie. But I'll see anything Jim makes.
  • Saw Impossible Light, a documentary about a project to put many thousands of LEDs on the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge and have a light artist, Leo Villareal, program an abstract light show with them. This was a good movie about making a massive in situ art work. It made me want to go to San Francisco and see it. (They are trying to raise money to continue it but currently it will end in 2015.) Very reminiscent of Christo and Jeanne Claude works. In fact, they got Christo to write a letter backing the project.
  • Saw Road to Austin, a documentary billed as a chronicle of "how Austin, Texas became the Live Music Capital of the World, dating from 1835 to present." Well, really it was more a cursory look at Austin music history and a film about a concert Steven Burton produced and an homage to him to promote a new non-profit for musician's health. (Austin is really the non-profit capital of the world. Is that a good or bad thing? Sometimes a bit of both.) There's was a party after with music and we almost went but then decided to see the Johnny Winter movie.
  • Saw Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty, a documentary about Johnny Winter. A good overall portrait of defeats and triumphs and one man's life. The film needed editing very much but its overstuffed length allowed the man himself to arrive at the theater from a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live.
  • Saw Harmontown, a documentary chronicling Dan Harmon's road show of his podcast. Dan Harmon is the man behind the TV show "Community." He has a popular podcast. I don't attend to either. However, I told FFP that this movie was billed as a "calamitious cross country tour" and sometimes those can be interesting. In spite of beginning with and ending with no interest in Dan Harmon's work, I did not hate the movie.
  • Saw Born to Fly, a documentary about choreographer Elizabeth Streb and her work. It was a very comprehensive study of the person and the work. Amazing person, work and film. This is like no other dance or movement you will ever see.
  • Saw The 78 Project Movie, a documentary about a cross country trip to make one-of-a-kind 78 records of performances of old songs on a Presto direct-to-disc recorder. The movie shows these recordings being made and has other documentary footage of the Smithsonian folk collection and record collectors. I was fascinated by a lot of this but felt the movie needed some editing. Perhaps it was simply getting to be too late in the festival.
  • Saw The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Schwartz, a documentary about a brilliant young programmer who was so tormented about being indicted for downloading thousands of pages of documents from JSTOR (a purveyor of scholarly papers) and threatened with years of jail time that he committed suicide. This piece is packed with information important to our connected society from the contents of ill-founded legislation to our government's role in deciding what to prosecute and bending over backwards for corporations.
  • After our last movie (above) we went to Chavez, a new restaurant in the Radisson on Cesar Chavez. I had a wonderful cocktail. (A variation on Manhattan using a chile instead of a cherry and bitters.) Less impressed with ceviche and fish dishes. Felt relieved that the thing was over. Stopped for a nightcap at Bar Congress.
  • So we saw 18 movies (5 narratives and 13 docs, no shorts), a bit of one panel, much street craziness. FFP woke me up early in the morning of March 14th to tell me about the car driving into the crowd on Red River. Three people have now lost their lives. No one we knew but only one degree of separation between us and two of them. Life is fragile. And over in a flash. Live in the moment if you can.
And back to real life