Greetings from the best little interactive, film and music showcase in Texas, nah, the world. As is now customary, mid-March sees me swapping the usual beat in Dublin for Austin and the SXSW beano. It starts with the Interactive and Film festivals before 2,000 bands roll into town on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning and start playing as the Music festival gets underway.
While the natives will claim that everything about Texas is big, SXSW is still on another scale entirely to other fests of similar ilk. Look at the Interactive festival, for starters. There are 22 different strands to it, including Marketing & Branding, Robotics, Work & Happiness, the Future of Journalism (yes, there is definitely a future, though the panel titles and synopsises tend to be better than the actual dry, rather academic content), Greater Good (a big element to this year’s talks) and Convergence. That’s 22 different strands with 15 to 25 panels, discussions, workshops and presentations per day per strand. At any one time, you have a choice of between 40 to 60 events to choose from. Yes, you’re definitely going to miss stuff, but you’re also going to come across some fascinating panels too because there’s a lot of good stuff in the mix and the hit rate is way, way higher than equivalent festivals elsewhere.
My Saturday schedule came up trumps with panels like Banks: Innovate Or Die (I kept waiting for the Citibank rep to do a Conor Linehan on Vinnie Brown impersonation during this lively, grumpy, shouty panel), How Does Scifi Influence Our Future Cities (fascinating look at how scifi literature and films have predicted urban planning), How Social Media Fueled Unrest in the Middle East (New York Times journalists Brian Stelter and Jennifer Preston chaired a public panel about how social media tools were used in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya – including warning protestors of where snipers were based – and how the myths may well outweight the truths), Brands, Celebs & Nonprofits (which produced the startling stat that Livestrong have sold 72 million of those yellow bands to date) and Left Brain Seach = Google, Right Brain Search = X (people from Google, Bing and Moodfish trying to predict the future of search).
What’s very striking this year is a shift in themes. Once upon a time, SXSWi was viewed mostly as a G2G (geek to geek) love-in, but it’s now more about expressing, exchanging and discussing ideas of every stripe under a very wide interactive umbrella. Sure, the geek factor is still in play – I spent five minutes in absolute confusion at a panel about Interfaces for Geotemporal Visualisation, which reminded me of the time I spent a couple of minutes at a panel in Eurosonic in Holland before realising that the participants were speaking Dutch and I was in wrong room – but there are also been thought-provoking panels of the non-geek variety too. Panels like The End Of Reading In the USA, A Media Based Econony for Detroit’s Future (a focus on the city’s grassroots’ media enterprises rather than the now usual ‘ruin porn’ or ‘hope porn’ way of viewing Motor City) and How Social Media Is Changing Advocacy (solid conversation about how advocates are using social networks to spread their message) now have a place at the SXSWi table.
The SXSW film festival is also in full flow right now. To date, I’ve enjoyed 96 Minutes, Aimee Lagos’ fine urban thriller about a bunch of kids caught up in a carjacking which goes wrong, and The Key Man, a brilliantly shot Seventies’ throwback about an insurance man caught up in a scam with great performances from Brian Cox, Hugo Weaving and Jack Davenport.
Some housekeeping for the week ahead: we’re now on Texas time so all comments will be updated in the early afternoon. Our snappy SXSW music reviews will proabaly start appearing here from Wednesday afternoon as there are showcase gigs on Tuesday night this year for the first time. There will, of course, be regular blog posts this week too inbetween all the SXSW updates. And yes, the OTR SXSW bike is back in action and it’s a doozy.