How did I survive, SXSW? It wasn't easy, but I did ... and it was a fun journey. This is meant to give an overview of what to expect for those who have never attended SXSW before. I recommend the experience –– even if just once. I'm also glad to answer any other questions you might have about navigating it.
On Day One, while still shuffling through my newly retrieved SXSW registration packet to see what's what/where and getting set for the week, I head to the IFC (International Film Channel) Crossroads House nestled against the Driskill Hotel. IFC aired daily interviews with film stars and musical talent, and hosted live performances, so a must-have is the free IFC wristband. It allows for a lucky few SXSW attendees to make up the live audience in a lounge setting where it was always happy hour.
This was definitely going to be a hotspot, because for me, it's not just about seeing the movies or hearing the music, but getting to see and hear from the people behind the scenes.
The IFC Crossroads House had guests including Conan O'Brien, Rosario Dawson, Danny DeVito, Emmylou Harris, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, Pee Wee Herman, Jason Ritter, Rainn Wilson, Brittney Snow, Soliel Moon Frye, Eliza Dushku and more. To see some of those interviews, visit http://www.ifc.com/sxsw. Consider making this part of your SXSW experience.
With less than one hour of SXSW 2011 under my belt, I encounter my first (and *last –– see tips below) long line, here, at the IFC site. While making a mental game plan, I paced away from the line and moved just around the immediate corner of the building. What a fun surprise. I run right into actors Rosario Dawson, Danny DaVito and Carla Gugino, who everyone is waiting in line to see. They're coming in the side door –– Rosario is all smiles and Danny is signing autographs for the crowd of 5 that happened upon them as well. They were in town to talk about their film "Girl Walks into a Bar," the first feature length film produced exclusively for the Internet â€¦ and its free. While I haven't seen it yet, this encounter set the stage for the film portion and many celebrity encounters, panel discussions and Q&A sessions.
There are three types of SXSW film attendees, I discovered –– those who take in only the world premiere films that already have big stars and a distribution deal (or are close to it); those who see the other film gems hoping for a distribution deal but may never see the light of day again; and those (like me) who really enjoy the underdog film but also enjoy the hoopla of the Red Carpet, and watching a film in my hometown with the big name actors and directors in attendance.
SXSW affords attendees the rare opportunity to watch a film and then have immediate access to the cast and crew for a Q&A session.I sat in on a few of these screenings for world premiere films at the lovely Paramount Theater like "Source Code" with Jake Gyllenhall, "Paul" with Kristen Wiig, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (of "Sean of the Dead"), "Super" with Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page, and "The Beaver" with Jodi Foster and Mel Gibson. All key actors (minus Mel Gibson) were present, watching the film with the audience and sticking around afterwards for the questions. I got to meet several, face-to-face, including Conan O'Brien, too. But talking one-on-one with Kristen Wiig was a real treat. She's hilarious - definitely my favorite Saturday Night Live cast member. She's down-to-earth and nice to boot!
Tourists on the Austin Duck Tours got a real treat when they stopped to observe the buzz in front of The Paramount. They just happened to stop when Jake Gyllenhall was doing Red Carpet interviews for "Source Code." They had a front row seat for that, and you could tell, by the squeals of excitement on the bus, that they'll likely not forget that tour.
I also enjoyed a slew of other less visible films including one of my faves –– "Bag of Hammers", starring Jason Ritter, son of the late John Ritter. He's super talented and the film deserves wider distribution. We shall see.
Also on my roster of films was "Matter of Taste", a fascinating documentary about one of New York's top chefs Paul Liebrandt. My friend, Rachel Mills, is a producer for the HBO-backed documentary that had its world premiere here. I was excited for her and the project. The after party at Eddie V's had haute hors d'oeuvres and a rare chance for me to get some sustenance. Between bouncing from venue to venue at breakneck speed sometimes, there was little time for food. I call it the SXSW diet. Lots of walking/running across town and no time to eat. The beauty of it is that there IS plenty of time to eat, if you choose. I just chose to take in as many panel discussions and films that I could, instead. There's plenty of time to rest, too, if that's what's important to you. A friend called me after Day One saying she was skipping the next evening's premiere –– she was already tired.Good for her. Not for me! But you definitely need to know what your limits are, and heed them. Pace your stamina to carry you through your time at SXSW.
Taking it all in required much stamina because while some nights went long with films (the Kristen Wiig double-feature of "Paul" and "Bridesmaids", didn't finish until about 2:30 a.m.)my mornings/afternoons were also booked with Interactive panels that addressed so many crucial areas of new media –– the way technology changes the way we report and receive news and information. Was I tired? Heck yeah, but I was also feeling charged by it all, too.
In fact, I saw a documentary about Kevin Clash, the man (and voice) behind Elmo, the ticklish Sesame Street celebrity. It was only by chance that I saw it. I went in treating it as a time killer in between two nearby interactive panel sessions I was sitting in on. The location was suitable for simply getting off my weary feet. But the documentary was wonderful ... and I admit to shedding a tear or two â€“ mostly for joy. I don't think we ever lose our giddy love of the Sesame Street puppets we knew as children. But, it also was a very real story with life lessons and all.