The Hands of Bresson

Sundry observations on the art of cinema and world film culture

SXSW: Whose Geek Week Was It?

with 2 comments

Spring break for geeks. That’s what the mainstream news media christened the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in 2008, just as this self-curated, little-engine-that-could collection of daylong panels, trade shows, and wowee-zowee multimedia presentations—dwarfed in past years by the debauched and much more heavily attended Music Festival—began to draw increasing numbers of registrants. (The current estimate is in the high thousands, a 40 percent bump since 2009.) Running concurrently with this orgy of interactivity, of course, is the SXSW Film Festival, an event that when I visited Austin eleven years ago, pre-mumblecore, seemed destined to become a perennial sidebar on Sixth Street, the city’s famed boulevard of bars, clubs, and intoxicated hipsterism. Who’d want to hole up in a movie theater or audit a panel on “HotBot vs. AltaVista: How to Get the Most Out of Your World Wide Web Search” when the Supersuckers and Fu Manchu were making tattooed eardrums bleed at Stubb’s? Geeks, obviously.

The presumed equivalence between film nerds and techies makes sense on the surface. Both tribes, you might say, are addicted to screens. In 1994, when the fest organizers added these strands, film and interactive (dubbed “multimedia” at the time) were conjoined, only to be separated a year later, perhaps for logistical reasons. Certainly, emergent technologies affect the way films are made and exhibited, as well as how we communicate, and the increasingly sophisticated manner in which advertisers brand entertainment experiences. But how easily do these worlds coexist in Austin’s week of wonders? How compatible, really, are the coffee-swilling entrepreneurs and propeller heads congregating at the obscenely spacious Austin Convention Center with the beer-and-a-burger indie-film set, who mostly haunt the old Paramount and State Theaters on Congress Avenue and the Alamo Drafthouses on Sixth Street and (even more conspicuously) South Lamar, miles away from the madness on the far side of Town Lake?

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Written by eyemaster

March 21, 2011 at 3:09 pm

2 Responses

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  1. You hint at it, but the real convergence occurs when the film/interactive geek buys a Gold Badge, which allows him or her access to all Film and Interactive events, panels, and screenings.

    As a holder of one of said Gold badges for the past few years, though, I have to confess that it is just plain impossible to try to participate fully in both Film and Interactive. But it’s very difficult to choose just one for people like me.

    James McNally

    March 21, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    • It’s true. I attempted to navigate both strands myself a couple of years ago and found it disheartening. I do think what’s interesting about the cross-layering is the presumption of shared interests between Film and Interactive registrants, which doesn’t quite play out in the conference rooms or in the movie theaters. It’s not so much convergence as good old-fashioned tolerance.


      March 21, 2011 at 10:42 pm

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