Over the past five years or so, the separate facets of South by Southwest (Music, Film, and Interactive) have morphed from “insider industry conference” to “giant event that people will make fun of you for if you don’t go.” Located in Austin, Texas, and taking place over two weeks that overlap with the University of Texas’ spring break, SXSW has long served as a confluence of bands hoping to get signed, regular folks wanting to be entertained, and industry professionals looking to network, learn, and sign.
Oh, and everyone is also there to drink.
Since we’re primarily a film and television site, we’ll keep this discussion limited to SXSW Film, though if you’re attending, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to dabble in the other trades. Even though the conferences for the three respective disciplines are somewhat staggered, there’s still plenty going on both before and after their allotted times.
The film component of SXSW consists of two parts. The Film Festival (featuring feature and short films submitted for festival awards and recognition) runs for nine days from March 9-17, while the Film Conference (featuring panels, discussions, presentations, and generally more insider-y and fanboy fare) runs from March 9-13, concurrent with the Interactive Conference.
Though SXSW Film is getting a higher and higher profile every year, it’s still not nearly as popular as the music portion, and badges required for conference events and many screenings are still available for $595 bucks. Starting about six months before the start dates, you can also apply for a press pass that will get you a significant discount or cover the badge entirely, depending on how prestigious your gig is.
Hotels can be a bitch, as many of the rooms are priced for people bankrolled by projects, companies, and media outlets. Strike early, be willing to share a room (you won’t spend any time in it anyway, if you’re doing it right), or get online and look for rooms to rent near downtown. There are tons.
In addition to the official SXSW Film site, there are many websites run by people whose full-time job it is to keep track of everything going on during SXSW Film, so don’t expect an exhaustive list here, but a few highlights (bear in mind there are literally hundreds of things I’m omitting that might speak more to your tastes):
3 R’s of Horror: Remakes, Reboots and Rediscoveries
A Conversation with Cliff Martinez
Alternative Film Events: Site Specific and Beyond
Artists Scoring Movies: A Look Into the Latest Trend of Film Composing
Arts Criticism 140 Characters at a Time
Behind the Pure Evil (The Saga of Todd & the Book of Pure Evil)
Beyond Netflix and iTunes: Your Film’s Unique Digital Distribution Strategy
Beyond the 1 Sheet – Pen to Paper Returns
Bringing Sexy Back: Where’s The Line Today?
Carbon Film Quote – Putting the Carbon Footprint in Your Production Bid
Casting on a Budget: Get the Best and the Rightest
A Conversation with Joss Whedon
Coppola Vs. Kittens: Pro Filmmaking’s Online Future
(The list is actually about seven times longer than this snippet, but I’ll spare you.)
As you can see, the panels run from really specific topics such as “How Fast Can Audiences Drive Edits?” to more generalized items like “A Conversation With Joss Whedon,” so while you don’t have to be a filmmaker or insider to enjoy any of these, you might need to be one to realize value from the $595 you’re laying down.
There are also many, many films being screened, just like there would be at any other film festival. Badgeholders get priority, but residual tickets are often available to the public as well. If the list of conference topics struck you as a little dry, then you might find a bit more value here. And remember: you don’t necessarily need a badge for the film screenings, but you do necessarily need one for the panels and topics.
There are too many films at SXSW Film to list, let alone synopsize, so we’ll preemptively thank Playlist for doing the heavy lifting here and link you to their piece on the 15 most anticipated movies at SXSW. Thanks, Playlist!
The most alluring part of SXSW in my experience has been what I will call the X-factor. There is no better nexus for creative young minds than Austin, so while the schedules and films may serve as the enlightening and entertaining part of the trip, the backdrop serves as the fun part. Austin has perhaps the best nightlife of any city I’ve ever visited, so getting boxed out of your favorite screening serves as an opportunity to run around this playground with thousands of like-minded people with no real agenda. It’s pretty great.
That’s it. If you’re not making it this year, get there next year. It’s a blast.