SXSW had a series of short comedies that were shown before each feature. The one I remember most fondly played during my first morning in Austin after the red carpets for “Mud.” An out-of-town festival attendee is in a theater, talking with disdain about how he isn’t sure if the local Austiners are junkies or rednecks. The week goes by with him in the same movie seat but he drastically changes in all other aspects. By the last scene, he has stayed an extra three days, grown a beard, is amping up strangers for the music festival and is even expressing longing for what Austin “used to be.” It’s satirical but, as there’s truth in all humor, more than accurate because a week at SXSW really does absorb you.
The film portion of the festival was, to put it lightly, like a dream come true. I attended as many features as I could possibly pack into the week and stopped by short films and music videos in between. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Don Jon’s Addiction” definitely felt like a film-school graduate’s first feature, but if anything the simple structure added to the picture’s overall charm and honesty. The comedy alludes to the one-sidedness of movie watching as the fault for failed sexual relationships: porn perpetuates selfish sex and romance movies embed impractical (and also very selfish) expectations of what an ideal companion should be like.
The theme of media-saturated mindsets also took a central seat in Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s “Some Girl(s),” an adaptation of a stage play by the same name. Adam Brody’s character is a writer who has used his past girlfriends for material and is visiting some of the lucky ones around the country to find closure before getting married. He is manipulative, deluded and selfish, but worst of all, he can’t help himself. The writing and performance prove effective because even if the film features possibly the least likable protagonist I have ever followed a story through, the film itself is engaging. “Some Girl(s)” lends itself to reminding viewers of the harsh truths of belatedness and how we, regardless of gender, foolishly attempt to forget our pasts by transferring our guilt and mistakes to the future.
The music festival at SXSW was a madhouse. Nearly all of downtown Austin was blocked off and flooded with young people from noon to dawn. Snoop Dogg performed under his new reggae persona, Snoop Lion, in a surprisingly smooth and natural transformation — as if he was supposed to be a rastafarian all this time. My favorite was a late night set at North Door by Joey Badass, an incredibly talented 18-year-old rapper from Brooklyn. Secret shows by Justin Timberlake, Prince and Depeche Mode played in small venues throughout town, and it was nearly impossible to choose where you should be devoting your elbow-bumping energy at.
The most beautiful part of SXSW was constantly meeting people who have full-time careers doing what they love. Strangers discussed movies while walking out of theatres. Bands around the world drove themselves and slept on friends’ couches so they could play some daytime gigs. Creative autonomy was something I heard over and over during the week, and it’s proven possible in so many different ways. Photographer Jamie Beck, for instance, is able to have full creative control over where to work because she has developed such a large online following. She called the Internet the Wild, Wild West, where there are no rules, and pointed to young people to help each other, not to be afraid to reach out and continue pioneering creativity.
Contact Soojin Chang at [email protected].