SxSW 2016: Everybody Wants Some POTUS

By Jason Whyte
Posted 03/12/16 06:20:19

By the time you read this the President of the United States will be in city of Austin, Texas for South By Southwest. With a motorcade, snipers, secret service and everything. And to think I had my presidential action with the recent ultraviolet LONDON HAS FALLEN...I haven't seen anything yet.

But yes,Barack Obama is here to keynote the interactive portion of South By Southwest. I will not get to meet him in person, and nor will you. I will be asking SxSW Film Director Janet Pierson if she was able to meet the man, but nope. Times have changed. SxSW has grown. When I started attending all the way back in 2007 you had no problem hanging out with Paul Rudd at a party and not getting hounded. Today? You might get to shake his hand in the press line, but that's about it.

Yes, that is how big SxSW has grown and now in its 30th year and I wouldn't be surprised if the World Summit would be held here in 2017. With every single year the festival getting bigger and and with the festivals' concurrently running music, film and interactive festivals all attracting people from all over the world, including this journalist who travels down from Canada, long flights be damned, I wanted to look back on the festival, ponder what this year will bring us, and give you, my faithful readers, some expert tips on how to handle the madness whether you are a newbie or a veteran.

First things first, SxSW means something different to everyone. Starting only as a music festival by local legend Louis Black, the festival started out small, expanded quickly then started to include film. Now with that little invention called the Internet and it's power, the festival then added Interactive which has put the festival on a world scale. I would consider this second to Sundance as the largest film festival, but SxSW as a market and a presence is pretty now the biggest event in the United States. Or maybe Comic Con might be bigger, but they don't show as many movies. So who cares.

The Interactive portion of the festival, which I am covering for the first time this year, is all about startups, companies coming together, and being...interactive. It really is a different world than the film section, and many SxSW Film people even question its very existence, wondering what all the fuss is about. My guess? Connections. Or so I think. If you are covering Interactive and want to give ME some pointers, email me at the address below. Please.

The 2016 edition of SxSW Film kicks off with EVERYBODY WANTS SOME from Austin's own Richard Linklater. Touted as a spiritual sequel to DAZED & CONFUSED, the movie follows a group of just graduated teenagers as they aspire into adulthood. While DAZED looked at a much younger aspect of high school, this movie takes things a bit further into adulthood, just as his landmark SxSW film BOYHOOD did a few years ago. This also looks to be the launching pad for a new generation of talented actors and filmmakers too, as Linklater has always been gifted in bringing new talent to the forefront.

Also headlining the festival is a special presentation of KEANU, which features Key & Peele in a very amusing looking film about their missing cat. The screening has been advertised as a work in progress screening, although as we are rather close to release date I'm assuming this is just the completed film without end credits, so we're good. And no, there is no Keanu Reeves in this movie, before you ask. You think you're so clever.

Jeff Nichols, no stranger to Austin (his previous films MUD and TAKE SHELTER have had premieres at not only SxSW but Fantastic Fest) returns with MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, a thriler/sci-fi film starring Michael Shannon, Kirsen Dunst and Adam Driver. Any fans of Nichols' work knows his passion for storytelling and visual film style, and this looks like a winner. The movie opens on March 18th making this a very quick turnaround from festival to release.

Added to that? Tons of indie films looking for a new home. Some of the best documentaries you will see all year. Films on music that perfectly tie in with the Live Music Capitol Of The World culture. Movies on sports. Midnight films of genre film status that rivals Midnight Madness of TIFF. If you would like to know more, simply click on my "Live Report" or articles sidebar and 40+ interviews await you.

Along with virtually every filmmaker who has a film in this festival attending for their screenings, you can also expect the likes of Nicolas Cage, John Travolta, Mae Whitman, Martin Starr, Pee Wee Herman, Ray Parker Jr, James Caan and Jake Gyllenhaal to walk their respective red carpets and give intimate Q&A's, which are the best of any film festival I have ever been to. And you know what? Play your cards right and you just might be able to say hi to them after all. I ran into Robert DuVall by chance last year and you could too.


So how is the best way to handle this festival? Simply start with the badge you purchased and then working from there. Figure out exactly what you want out of the festival is a big first step. Do you simply want to binge on movies? Hit up panels? Network at parties? Just want free swag and food/drink? There really is a lot to cover at SxSW every year, and your badge and clever RSVP's will also see your way into awesome events. Just remember to not only keep a survival kit on hand but also stay hydrated too. And be open to dropping your schedule on the fly when you get a tip on a sudden event.

Always remember that your badge has as much power as any other badge at the festival. It gets you into everything. You have the power to make the most out of it. And the more you connect, shake hands and do business with people, the more doors that open for you. And it Is easy to make friends; just turn around and chat with that person in line behind you. Don't be afraid to walk up to someone you find interesting and start talking to that person. They are there for the same reasons you are. Connection.

At all times I have my SxSW survival kit on hand; a messenger bag full of the following:

-My phone (although as I am Canadian I live or die by the might of widely available wireless internet access).
-My iPad to write, write sudden emails and business whenever wifi is in distance.
-A camera, preferably a DSLR to take those awesome red carpet pictures the filmmakers want copies of.
A WATER BOTTLE. Preferrably water, although fill it up with any liquid needed to keep you hydrated for the week. Although a few argue with me that a water bottle prevents you from getting into parties at bars with strict bottle policies, I still recommend having either a plastic recyclable bottle on hand or a dedicated water bottle as hydration is key.
-Tylenol/painkillers of choice that will cure a hangover or the headache you get from that hour of sleep you lose when you roll back the clocks on the first Sunday.
-Extra battery power and charging cable for phone and laptop. You will run out of power at some point.
-Deodorant and/or body spray (trust me, you are walking everywhere) because smelling good is everything to that person sitting next to you at the midnight screening.
-A notepad and reliable make notes, of course. I always take notes during and after movies, because there is no way you will remember all the details of every movie you see every day. You might also want to write something down too, or get the digits of that person you met in line and fancy, or get Nicolas Cage to sign your notebook. See, having a notebook is a good idea after all, right? Although these days I guess you take a picture with your phone. Still, pen and paper is kinda pro.
-Always have extra room in your bag for extra swag and bottled drinks to pick up along the way (OR use your SxSW big bag). I also recommend having an extra, collapsible shopping bag just in case you run out of space too! This has happened to me so many times and I wish that bag was there when my current one was overflowing with T-shirts and Harold & Kumar memorabilia. Why don't you forget I just said that.

At any other event I would look like a dork. But doing it this way is smart.

The biggest piece of advice that I can give anyone on how to surviving...WEAR GOOD SHOES. Either have a really nice pair of well maintained shoes (I myself write this wearing my Dr. Scholl's Career shoes, available at most shoe places) or ensure you get a new pair before starting SxSW. Test them, make them comfortable to your feet, test them again, and make sure they are comfortable. You may think your crocs look cool or those flip flops are awesome, or those high-heels make you look like a cool Austin hipster keeping the city weird...forget that. This is Austin. You are going to be walking. The Austin Convention Centre alone takes 15 minutes just to circle and I can't tell you how many times I have walked from the press suite to the Vimeo Theater in the ACC and how long it takes. Downtown Austin has hills, holes in the sidewalk, sidewalks that end in grass and, oh yeah, there are tens of thousands of people downtown. You're going to be walking all over downtown, from venue to party to lounge...then you will get a text from a friend telling you to come to this great party about a half mile away...up that hill. You know the one. That is just one example of many. You will be walking, trust me.

Trust me, GOOD SHOES. And don't forget to smell good. Wait, we covered that.

Okay, so we have the shoes down, and you are covered in deodorant. Looking and dressing well at SxSW? This is debatable, but also depending on what your intent at SxSW is. I cover Whistler Film Festival on an annual basis and it's my job to look good every day at the fest. You dress up. Those are the rules. Plus your hotel is RIGHT there in the village, so easy to do a pit stop to freshen up. Here? It is not only Texas, but everyone is in their shirt and jeans. And hats, too. That said, a good collared shirt, a nice pair of jeans and comfy shoes is my preferred attire, and dammit I look good.

Always stay within good proximity of the Austin Convention Centre. As I do the film events, I normally stick to screenings only happening at the Vimeo, Alamo Ritz, and the larger Paramount and Stateside in the first portion of the festival, then move onto the out-of-downtown Topfer and Lamar locations later on in the week when music takes over the city. All of the venues are easily accessed by a circulating SxSW shuttle, but I also recommend that little secret called the Mazda Shuttle. It's like a cab, but free. Because it's sponsored. They try to sell you their Mazda. But you get a free ride. Put up with advertising or take the shuttle. Your call.

When it comes that heavenly (or not so heavenly) thing called swag (free things, promotional items), only take the things you really need; for me it is extra pens, notebooks and free sunglasses because I am always losing both, it is a crux I will never fix as I age and it is nice to have tons of spares on hand. I also thought this extended to t-shirts, but I made a big mistake back in 2009 by collecting every t-shirt I could get my hands on; from startups that don't exist anymore to movie t-shirts promoting movies that did poor business...let's just say I have an endless supply of THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2 toilet rags to this very day.

Pro tip: If you are seeing movies at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz or Lamar location, always get a couple of plastic glasses of ice water for every movie. They are a restaurant cinema, and they provide a 20oz plastic glass of ice water on request. These always come in handy for hydration, and if you have any left transfer over to your water bottle for later. You may think this is silly, but it has bitten me in the ass before.

All of the above is just my own personal tips based on the nine years I have crashed the city of Austin, Texas to partake in a wonderful annual event that IS madness, but a type of controlled madness. Stay calm, remain open to changing plans and go with the flow. And who knows, you could walk around the corner and Obama might be there to give you a selfie and a fist bump. Because, you know, Austin.


SxSW Film takes place from March 11 to 18th, Interactive goes from March 11 to 15 and Music goes from March 14 to 20th. For more information on, well, EVERYTHING SxSW, even more tips and how to plan your monster of a schedule, hit up

I also highly recommend fellow blogger Jette Kernion's mecca to Austin film coverage Slackerwood which has even better SxSW tips and insider info from one of the best locals around.

As for us, we have a gallery of over 40 interviews from SxSW this year covering a wide array of subjects of film including narratives, documentaries, music films and even some of the headlining talent at the festival. Watch after the festival for a wrap up and my picks for the 10 Best Motion Pictures Of SxSW 2016. Click on any article below or our Live Report series for a great selection of interviews.

Also be sure to also follow my Twitter and Instagram account for more on-the-ground coverage of SxSW this year. The official hashtag is #sxsw2016.

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