So this year I decided to take the plunge and do SXSW, full force. I volunteered my skills for a couple hours and got a Gold Badge, which got me into the film and interactive events. I liked this badge, because most of the events I wanted to do were film-related, and the films ran all week long. Also, it is more difficult to get into films without a badge than it is to get into the music events.
What I learned by doing SXSW:
You will not get to do all the things you want. There is always a million things going on at once, and logistics get in the way. What I ended up doing that worked well is I took my pocket schedule, crossed out times I was working, and then picked out things I wanted to do by looking at what was going on when I was free. A little planning goes a loong way.
Open bar is great; drinking excessively is not. You will not survive SXSW if you spend the whole thing drinking. It is too much work, too much walking, too many people. Alcohol can do weird things to you when you are already tired and a bit dehydrated to start. Plus, the lines for booze can be really long.
The film and interactive parties are overrated. I wasn't terribly impressed with the film parties and didn't see how they really differed from just going out, besides a lot more schmoozing and some swag. There was not one party I went to where people were dancing (ok, one exception) and I didn't even see anyone who was recognizably famous. A lot of line-waiting and people crammed into tight spaces. The one exception to this "overrated" title was the Frog Design Party. This was the one non-music party I thought was worth going to. It was at the Mexican American Cultural Center, a huge and lovely space, and they hired fire dancers and break dancers to keep things lively. Also , Grupo Fantasma played indoors and they are always fun and keep people dancing. I had a blast there.
The music parties are worth going to. Because there's music. Duh. But parties are worth going to when they have free food. You can't beat free. SXSW is all about looking for Free Stuff.
And now for the reviews!!
Films I saw: 21, Flying on One Engine, Secrecy, Reel Shorts 2, Stop-Loss, Mister Lonely, Registered Sex Offender
Best Films: Flying on One Engine, a documentary about Dr. Sharadkumar Dicksheet, a plastic surgeon who is paralyzed on one side, has no larynx, and an aortic aneurysm, yet travels to India for six-month periods to provide free marathon plastic surgery to children who have cleft lips and other facial deformities, was extremely touching and fascinating. I was riveted.
Mister Lonely, a very strange and beautiful film from Harmony Korine, follows a Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) to a commune in the Highlands for celebrity impersonators. Weird as the film was, I found it ten times more human and moving than the two big-budget pictures I saw during SXSW. Diego Luna is perfect as Michael Jackson; a perfect performance. I couldn't keep my eyes off him. Samantha Morton was also fantastic as Marilyn Monroe. I also really enjoyed some of the nontraditional storytelling devices Korine used--song, soliloquy (especially Buckwheat's "Chicken" monologue), and symbolism. I hope this picture is released nationwide in the US. It really was a movie unlike any other I've seen before.
Music: I wish I saw more of it. I didn't have a music schedule, so the music I happened upon was all through word-of-mouth or walking by, hearing it and liking it and getting in. One great new discovery: French singer Yael Naim. She reminded me of Regina Spektor but with a little Alicia Keys thrown in. She has a sexy killer cover of Britney Spear's "Toxic."
And of course, I went to Japan Nite. (This is the third year in a row I've been.) I have to say, I was slightly disappointed. In the past it's been a lot of high-energy punk and ska bands, and this year, well, there wasn't. However, I did like Maki Rinka, a 1940s-esque jazz band whose smooth sound was nice to relax too after a long day of walking, and Damage, an alternative band reminiscient of Nirvana. Once the Emeralds took the stage though, the energy in Elysium went through the roof. They put on one of the best, most high-energy stage shows I've seen anywhere. By 1 AM when the Pillows took the stage, the crowd was up and the place was packed. I really enjoyed the pop rock of the Pillows, who apparently have a following in the US. All in all an enjoyable night, although no one band really blew me away. I guess it's hard to top last year's Go!Go!7188 who are, by my estimation, a killer band. Those girls are the most skilled rock guitarists I've ever seen and they brought down the house last year. Austin needs them to come back, in their own show.
So there you have it. SXSW 2008 in a nutshell. Can't wait for next year!!