Highlights from SXSW 2016

I got back from SXSW a week ago, and it’s taken me the last 7 days just to recover. More than any other festival I’ve attended, SX is a constant mad dash for the finish line. And I only attended Film and Interactive! I can’t imagine what mixing Music in there as well is like.

Now that the fog of exhaustion has passed, several films and sessions stand out. In no particular order:

Silicon Valley: Making the World a Better Place

This panel featured the cast and executive producers from a favorite TV comedy of mine, HBO’s Silicon Valley. It’s a hilarious show, and all of the cast were even more hilarious in person, ragging on each other and bantering with audience members. The moderator didn’t shy away from tough questions either, asking Mike Judge and Alec Berg about the diversity of the cast and writers’ room. I was pleased when they didn’t dodge the questions. “It’s not as good as it should be, but we’re trying,” they said.

“Preacher” Pilot Screening
2016-03-14 16.03.35

Going in to SX, this is one event that had enormous amounts of buzz. Produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Preacher is an upcoming TV show on AMC about a west Texas pastor with a dark past (of course) who becomes possessed by a mysterious entity. Right up my alley. The pilot knocked it out of the park, with just the right mix of comedy, action, and atmosphere. The extended Q&A afterwards with the production team and the cast bolstered my enjoyment even more. Rogen and Goldberg made it clear how much of a passion project this was. “The moment we had any sort of standing in Hollywood, we started trying to get this made,” said Rogen.

 In Pursuit of Silence
This has documentary stuck with me in an unexpected way. I saw it in the Alamo Ritz on 6th Street, which is the center of chaos at SXSW. To go from that pandemonium into a film about the effects of noise pollution on the human body drove the point home, to say the least. In Pursuit of Silence is meditative without being slow, and weaves all its elements together to great effect. It’s as beautiful as it is thought-provoking.

Why Gifs?
I went to this presentation by Alex Chung, the CEO of Giphy, completely by accident. Chung is a tremendously funny presenter, and had a gif for every beat in his talk. As a proficient gif-user, I don’t need much convincing to believe that they’re an effective form of communication. But Chung took the argument further, saying that gifs fill a gap between still images and video. They help us communicate exactly what we’re feeling in a shorter amount of time, he posits. I have to agree.

Anyone who followed me on Twitter in the last 2 weeks knows that this film was going to end up on my highlights. Transpecos  is a fiction film about three border patrol agents on an isolated stretch of the US/Mexico border. It’s definitely director Greg Kwedar’s first feature, but what it lacks in polish it makes up in performances. The trio of leads  are all fantastic in their own right, but Gabriel Luna as Agent Flores is the heart of the film. As one review put it, “The film belongs to Luna […] Throughout, he’s trying to steer through practical imperatives — how to find a drop location, how to patch a gunshot wound — while silently weighing the moral cost of each compromise. His face asks the question he doesn’t need to vocalize.”

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