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March 19, 2013
SXSW: Feeling Welcomed and Confidently Figuring Out Austin
— Posted by Kenny Miles
It was an early morning for me since I needed to head downtown from my friends place near Anderson Lane via the bus. Most people in Austin are friendly and cooperative especially to my delightful surprise the bus drivers. It’s madness in downtown Austin and they maintain a positive composure. Kudos to CapMetro for pulling that off. This is the complete opposite living Denver especially having to deal with RTD Bus system which is sky high overpriced compared to Austin. This was an encouraging beginning to my day. I was tired from my busy travel day and staying up past my bed time to catch a movie. Its recommended to make the most of your time at SXSW and squeezing in as much as possible was ideal.
The highlight of my personal interaction was the friendly volunteer at the XXPress Pass Counter who patiently answered my all of my questions and gave me great advice and recommendations. It must be burdensome receiving the same questions or dealing for excitable/obnoxious people like me. SXSW values there volunteers which is sometimes the overlooked, under appreciated backbone of any festival. And with the commotion of the days at SXSW, reliable and knowledgeable volunteers are essential. Not here. It is the pride of SXSW! There can be some confusion when you ask them a question, but most are as eager to find out the answer to the question as you are! No matter whats going on the people in the Austin Convention Center ALWAYS make you feel welcomed. The people buzzing around the Austin Convention Center were excited to have Dave Grohl attend SXSW who was there especially for his documentary Sound City. It was an extra added bonus for him to spend time in Austin.
I made a change of plans to catch a morning screening of William and the Windmill which won the grand jury award for best documentary. I’m glad I changed my schedule around. William and the Windmill was an interesting, at times fascinating, doc about William Kamkwamba who constructed a wind mill in his third world African village. The story takes a scientific approach to his innovation and embarking on a new journey of personal self discovery. The media fueled tour from a TED talk to morning news/talk shows was captured on screen providing context to his accomplishment. One very funny moment involved a conversation with a bitter girl who resentfully didn’t get into Dartmouth College and reminded him in a condescending way how expensive it is. William and the Windmill was an inspiring and delightful tale of innovation which instructs the viewers with the nuts and bolts of building in an unlikely place. I can see how this won over the jury.
Another documentary Before You Know It showcased life from an overlooked generation from a small segment of the population, the LGBTQ community. I saw it at the Violet Crown one of downtown Austin’s art house theaters. It shows these people overcoming negative perceptions from the past and living in a time where they are on the verge of societal acceptance. Before You Know It captured the emotional experience for the subject matters and haunts the viewer. My one issue with this doc was the lack of perspective from lesbians. They were there, but their inclusion would’ve provided a stronger dynamic to the depth of the story. However, profiling activist Ty Martin who ran a gay advocacy group for seniors living in Harlem was the strongest element of Before You Know It. These stories were engaging and moving, but I preferred some statistics on gay seniors (even the Census) and including other members of the LGBTQ community being interviewed.
My first experience at an Alamo movie theater happened while watching my third movie of the day at the Alamo Ritz. Showcasing freedom and capturing the rapid technological advanced societal change in a post-Taliban Afghanistan, The Network was nearly a pitch perfect, top notch documentary. The doc highlighted many things but its biggest accomplishment’s were the changing view of women’s role and cultural attitudes in Afghanistan. Captivating, informative, and enlightening, The Network provides a fresh perspective Western viewers rarely see in the turbulent region. Programming like their own version of CSI and American Idol provided a Western influence on their culture while maintaining their own identity. Since this channel was funded by US Embassy, was it considered propaganda? Great questions abound in The Network leaving the viewer much to ponder. One talking head made the bold claim that the contributions this channel provided “did a greater service than Karzai” to Afghanistan. The post-screening buzz was the strongest of anything I had seen so far at SXSW.
I honestly don’t know where to begin with White Reindeer? A mild mannered real estate agent Suzanne Barrington (Anna Margaret Hollyman) lives an ordinary life of business and pleasure. She has her life drastically re-defined during the Holidays due to a sudden tragic event and rediscovers what the true meaning of Christmas is for her? Pointless Shopping? Yes. Excessive Decorations? Yes. Sex, Drugs, and Holiday Carols? Absolutely! I don’t want to discuss anything more about White Reindeer without ruining where the plot takes the audience. The uneven tone is a sarcastic unorthodox Christmas movie has a niche, indie audience to fall in love with it. It’s not me. There are funny spurts of random, awkward humor. What makes this a decent and at least enjoyable movie was how unpredictable it is. No one knows where it’s going and that aspect was refreshing for narrative, crisis comedy filmmaking. White Reindeer is a gem when it wants to be.
After my screening, it was past 11PM and the streets of Austin were flooded this Thursday night as roads were blocked off and countless music fans roamed eagerly anticipating the weekend. The energy of the massive crowds reminded me of the very large Halloween celebration at my alma mater at Ohio University in Athens or when the Democrat National Convention was hosted in Denver back in 2008. I love being in a city where ALOT is going on. This is going to be a great weekend!
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Whether something is overlooked by Hollywood or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies (especially the cultural impact of a film). He covers various aspects of movies including specialty genre films, limited release, independent, foreign language, documentary features, and THE much infamous "awards season." Also, he likes to offer his opinion on the business of film, marketing strategy, and branding. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion for interacting with moviegoers (something most movie pundits lack) as a pollster for the market research company CinemaScore and working as floor staff/special events coordinator in the film community. You can follow him on Twitter @kmiles723.
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