South by Southwest Festival Grows in Scope

Photo courtesy of DeShaun Craddock, Flickr Creative Commons

With an inception dating back to 1987, the South by Southwest festival, or SXSW, has emerged as one of the largest in three specialized categories including film, music and the interactive component. The event is held annually in Austin, Texas and is an 11 day affair: five days dedicated to the interactive displays, six to music and nine days out of the 11 for the ongoing film festival.

This year, filmgoers and enthusiasts were given the opportunity to view an event high of 145 features, which included big budget debuts and significantly more indie films. Recognizable films like “Furious 7,” “Get Hard,” “Trainwreck,” “The Final Girls” and “Moonwalkers” were screened in Austin for the very first time. In addition to fiction efforts, documentaries like “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” and “Brand: A Second Coming” premiered.

The most overwhelmingly well-received film of SXSW was “Ex Machina,” the debut of director Alex Garland and stars Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander. The film is a haunting and poignant story that truly delves into the potential moral issues encoded in the not-too-distant realm of artificial intelligence.

“The Final Girls” is poised to be an instant cult classic from director Todd Strauss-Schulson who bends reality by teleporting his characters into a campy '80s slasher film, which one of their mothers was a star in. This film, like “Ex Machina,” is an example of the creativity and vibrancy still existent in film – consummate goal for SXSW. 

On the documentary front, perhaps the most visceral of the bunch was “Welcome to Leith,” the story of a nowhere North Dakotan town whose 24 residents desperately try to prevent a group of white supremacists from claiming the town as a home base for “purity.” The film by Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker is truly a success because it works incredibly hard to be objective, making it a standout but controversial work.

The music festival that closed out SXSW featured hundreds of bands and solo artists as an ever-growing part of the event. One particularly notable performer was rapper J. Cole, who electrified the Austin crowd with the help of other artists from his record label, Dreamville. While last year’s event boasted big name talent like Lady Gaga, 2015 SXSW merely had rumblings of appearances from Kanye West and Drake, which never came to fruition. Ultimately, this year's festival stayed closer to its independent roots.

An incredibly wide variety of technological innovations were on display as a part of the interactive portion of SXSW, which is nearing mecca status for scientific showcases. Another social media tool on the rise, although not being premiered at SXSW, is “Meerkat,” which has garnered significant interest after the event. This app will allow Twitter users to stream live video to their followers, and its potential on the social media giant will certainly be expanded upon to the delight of creator Ben Rubin.

The futuristic hopes of many have come in the form of AeroMobil’s flying car. The Slovakia-based company announced the vehicle, which will likely be available in 2017, and showcased a prototype that can morph into an airplane seamlessly. The roadable aircraft will be able to take off and land in grassy areas, in addition to pavement, but owners must be a certified pilot in addition to having a regular driver’s license. This invention was a finalist for the top prize and while a price was not revealed, the vehicle will likely be a product to be enjoyed by the wealthy as a hobby.

A surplus of films, music and inventions went on display in Texas and next year’s festival will likely have an even bigger turnout, all for an event that began as a local get-together and has ballooned into one of the top events in the country.