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Bart Weiss’ SXSW Notebook


by Stephen Becker 20 Mar 2009

Guest blogger Bart Weiss is the founder and president of the Video Association of Dallas. He recently sent along this post about his recent trip to Austin for South by Southwest: We have AFI coming up really soon, but last week I headed south to Austin for my annual fix of film and fun at […]

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Guest blogger Bart Weiss is the founder and president of the Video Association of Dallas. He recently sent along this post about his recent trip to Austin for South by Southwest:

We have AFI coming up really soon, but last week I headed south to Austin for my annual fix of film and fun at SXSW.  South by, as it is known, is large and diverse, with lots of great features, shorts, docs and dramas, experiments, film panels and lots of parties with free beer. I think I drink more beer this week than the rest of the year.

Like many festivals, making choices is overwhelming. I have sympathy for folks who complain that they can’t see everything at my festival when I have to choose. I vacillate between thinking I need to see something else and that I am at the right place at the right time. The stress of trying to see the things I need to see pushes me on. This year, SXSW was programmed by Janet Pierson, who did an amazing job.

I got into town too late on Friday to see anything, so Saturday morning I woke up and started with a mumblecore double header. The genre is a cross between John Cassavetes,  improv and slacker culture and is very big at SXSW. The films I saw — Sorry Thanks and Beeswax — seemed to thrive on cool T-shirts. Beeswax was most notable for its strong main character who is in a wheelchair, but the film just deals with her problems running a used clothes store instead of focusing on her disability.

Next I saw, Objectified by Gary Hustwit, who directed the only feature doc about a font, Helvetica. This time he hits on industrial design, and like all great docs, it makes you interested in things you didn’t think you would be. He only touches on the dark side of industrial design – that it makes us desire new things that make living on the planet unsustainable – but it’s defiantly a good film. Then it was off to Trimpin: The Sound of Invention, a doc about the musician, sculptor and instrument maker. The film was an endearing portrait, and since his music is not commercially available, the film tells a story otherwise not seen. Best Worst Movie was one of those films about a cult film, this time the really bad film Trolls II. I found the movie really enjoyable for about 40 minutes, then it was just more quirkiness. Or maybe I was just getting tired.

Sunday I started with the Austin Film Society short film showcase. One of my students had a short there (Sleet/Snow, which is playing at AFI Dallas, too). There were some other great shorts, including Martha – a great visual treat about coming to terms with your parents story by Katja Straub.

After that, I took some time to go to the trade show, pick up a few biz cards and check out a few panels. Then it was off to watch the Texas High School Shorts, where I was on jury duty. I have done this for a few years, and this year the work was all good – good acting, good stories, well executed. The program had the longest Q&A session of the whole festival. The stage was filled with these proud, shy kids who were really excited that a full house of strangers loved their movies.  I know that AFI Dallas will have a high school show, and I’m sure it will also be great.

In the evening I saw R.I.P.: A Remix Manifesto, a meditation and call for action about fair use and copyright in the digital age. It focuses on Girl Talk, a master masher who could be sued for the way he makes his music. Everything he creates comes from mixing snippets of other records.  This film makes a case for the legal and cultural perspective on this. Interesting that it is a Canadian doc about American law.

On Monday I went to a great panel on the future of DVD and digital media, which was really useful and depressing. Seems like I have heard this story before from the early days of cable, CD, VHS, DVD. This year there seemed to be fewer panels than in the past, but they were all well attended and for the most part very useful.

On Tuesday morning I saw New World Order, a doc mostly about Alex Jones and his conspiracy theories. Alex is from Austin, and let’s say he has an interesting perspective on the news. I would suggest you check out his site before you see the film about him. It will give you a new look on all things political.

Later that day I saw my favorite film of the fest, St. Nick, by David Lowery. This feature might have had 30 lines of dialogue, but it’s a beautifully poetic silent film in which two kids who have left home learn how to live on their own. It’s also  playing here at AFI Dallas, so check it out.

After that visual treat I saw The Yes Men Fix the World, a fun international jaunt of political theater by the Yes Men. They do a mix of media hoax, street theater and just plain fun. I followed that up with the strange tale of We Live in Public, about how a dot com millionaire went a bit crazy with an experiment that dealt with surveillance, privacy and video. Watching it is both creepy and sad. It really signals how we are changing our sense of privacy.

I know that I saw other films in there somewhere, but they are lost in the haze. On Wednesday, I came home and rested my eyes and brain.

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