SXSW: Whose Geek Week Was It?
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?