South by Southwest is the better-dressed Comic-Con. At least, that was my initial impression upon entering Austin's enormous convention center and immediately being shuttled into a huge line for badges that literally whipped back and forth across a cavernous (and insufficiently air-conditioned room) nine or ten times. But like Comic-Con, there's a buzz of enthusiasm in the air among the people here, who are clearly enthusiastic about being among like-minded people and exchanging ideas (and e-mail addresses).
The three categories of the ten-day conference are "Music," "Film," and "Interactive," and all sides of the triangle are plainly visible. Every lamppost in the downtown area is festooned with flyers for bands and movies, the Austin airport is littered with quartets and quintets of scruffy-looking dudes hauling around guitar cases, and seemingly everyone in the convention center is staring into a laptop or a smartphone. (If it turns out these devices lead to blindness or brain cancer or something, consider South by Southwest – or "South by," as nearly everyone calls it – to be an epicenter of the epidemic.)
The vibe here is a lot more loose and fun than Sundance – it's hard to say whether that has to do with the weather, the easy availability of Shiner Bock and good margaritas, or the generally laid-back ambience of Austin itself. But within minutes of my arrival, I'm invited to lunch at Guero's by my friend Aaron Hillis, a blogger, journalist, and curator of the film space ReRun in Brooklyn.
I'm the first to arrive at Guero's, which gives me a moment to say hi to indie production legend Christine Vachon (her company Killer Films has nurtured the work of Todd Haynes and a good chunk of the rest of today's best directors), and Aaron's group winds up including a gaggle of New York–based indie film players, from the editorial staff of indieWIRE.com to former IFC.com editor Alison Willmore – someone needs to revive her weekly movie podcast with Matt Singer, stat – to Rose Kuo, the executive director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
The agenda of the lunch is more about Tex-Mex than about networking, which isn't to say that schmoozing and gossip don't run rampant. I got to chat with indieWIRE's Anne Thompson, one of my favorite film-industry journos, about HBO's outrageous decision not to pick up the Diane Keaton comedy series "Tilda," about a Nikki Finke–ish blogger – Bill Condon's pilot is exceptionally funny – and while any mention of The Human Centipede usually makes me put my fingers in my ears in terror, I learned that IFC Films execs will be seeing the film's "Full Sequence" sequel within the week. Hillis shared his enthusiasm about ReRun getting write-ups in recent issues of both Entertainment Weekly and Every Day with Rachael Ray (both of whom loved the duck-fat popcorn) and confessed that he's a big fan of Spice World.
Oh yeah, and some movies were shown, too. The film conference's big opener was Duncan Jones' Source Code, a sci-fi thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a soldier who gets transported back in time to the scene of a commuter train explosion in the hopes that he can dismantle the bomb, which forces him to relive the same eight minutes over and over again in the hopes of changing history. It's a stylish, albeit gimmicky, bit of entertainment, well-acted by Gyllenhaal as well as co-stars Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga. Both Source Code and Jones' acclaimed first film, Moon, deal with people in confined spaces performing repetitive tasks, and I think some grad student should examine why Jones (the son of David Bowie) and Sofia Coppola (daughter of Francis) make films about people trapped inside finite areas. Did they spend too much time as celebrities' children sequestered inside hotel rooms when they wanted to be out in a playground somewhere?
Another indie/genre hybrid – always a popular combo at SXSW – was the horror flick Insidious, from Saw director James Wan. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne star as parents who are devastated when their oldest son mysteriously goes into a coma, and are then horrified to find out that his soul may have astrally-projected out of his body and can't find its way back. For an utterly dopey movie – which borrows heavily from Poltergeist, all the way down to its trio of paranormal experts – Insidious still manages to be pretty effectively scary. It's also my pick for most unforgettable title card of the year, but you'll have to see it for yourself.
MDC at SXSW 2011:
2011 SXSW Film Festival - Photo Gallery
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with Rainn Wilson and James Gunn
Dialogue: SXSW - Morgan Spurlock Delivers The Greatest Movie
Dialogue: SXSW - Paul Giamatti Grapples with Win Win
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with Apart Star Joey Lauren Adams
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with A Year in Mooring's Josh Lucas
Day Five - Film Ends, >Conan Heads to the Big Screen and Anchor Bay Makes the Biggest Buy in Conference History
Day Four - Tuneful Documentaries and Concert Films
Day Three - Simon Pegg in Paul, Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, and Interactive in Everything
Day Two - Josh Lucas' A Year in Mooring, Apart and the Not-So-Super
Day One - Source Code, Insidious, Shiner Bock and Smartphones