72 Hours at SXSW

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Anne del Castillo, POV’s director of development and special projects, just returned from SXSW. She reports on what it was like to return to her old stomping grounds in Austin.

I remember a conversation that I had with film bloggers Joel Heller, Agnes Varnum, and Sarah Jo Marks at SXSW last year: Joel told us that he’d stopped doing “real-time” blogging during festivals, because it was too much to balance screening, connecting and distilling all at once. This year, having attempted my first “blog report” from SXSW, I now get what he was saying. Following is a hybrid on-the-spot/look-back at my three-day, whirlwind run at the festival.

Friday: My “Secondary” Life
7:20 a.m. When I get to the security check-in at Newark Airport, I’m told by airport security that my driver’s license has expired. I have no other ID on me, and my flight is in 30 minutes. “Does this mean I’m going to miss my flight?” I ask. The security agent assures me that it won’t, “but it will take a little longer to board,” as he streaks pink highlighter and scribbles S’s all over my boarding pass. “We’ve got a secondary!” he hollers to his colleagues, who proceed to take turns announcing my arrival at each checkpoint — from the conveyor belt, to the puffer detector, and into the isolation booth for baggage hand-check. Finally, the secondary is cleared for passage to the gates.

Austin

Austin: Day 1.

1:30 p.m. I’m at the convention center waiting in line to pick up my badge when SXSW producer Matt Dentler walks over to give me a warm Texas welcome. He looks remarkably unfazed by the fact that it’s opening day of the festival — we could just as well have been meeting for coffee, and I’m reminded of why I enjoy coming to SXSW.

Despite exponential growth since its start in 1994, the South by Southwest Film Festival has not allowed success to kill its indie DIY spirit. It’s the kind of festival where the films and filmmakers are the real celebrities; often the smaller films get the biggest buzz, which to my mind is as it should be. The easy atmosphere allows for folks to connect without feeling the pressure to be “on.” Most of the connections I’ve made over the years are rooted at SXSW. It was actually at SXSW in 2000 when I met Cara Mertes — just a brief encounter, when I drove her and some ITVS folks back to their hotel. When I moved back to New York in 2002, I conjured that connection, and I’ve been at POV ever since. Great things happen at SXSW.

8:30 p.m. I’m still laughing to myself after seeing Goliath, the latest release by my buddies David and Nathan Zellner, who premiered the film at Sundance earlier this year. It’s an absurdly funny portrayal of a guy who’s in the middle of a divorce and has just been demoted from manager to lackey. When he discovers his beloved cat Goliath has gone missing, he embarks on an obsessive search that leads to a downward spiral culminating in a wild rampage with a tree trimmer. For a sample, check out the trailer.

Louis Black and Paul Stekler10:30 p.m. POV’s Director of Interactive Theresa Riley called to say that her flight has been delayed, and she won’t be arriving until late in the evening. So I head off on my own to the opening party, which feels more like a reunion, as I run into old friends from Austin: Louis Black (co-founder of SXSW and editor of The Austin Chronicle, Chris Garcia of The Austin-American Statesman, and filmmakers Paul Stekler (Last Man Standing, POV 2004 – to the right in this photo with Louis Black), Geoff Marslett, PJ Raval, and Margaret Brown, whose latest film The Order of the Myths also premiered at Sundance has been getting rave reviews.

Saturday: In Search of Funding and BBQ
8 a.m. I’m bummed, because I realize that four of the films I want to see are playing against my panel this morning. In addition to Margaret’s film, I won’t get to see Secrecy by Ross McElwee or Shot in Bombay by Liz Mermin. I’m particularly sad about missing Of All The Things by Jody Lambert, because it is about a Filipino concert promoter who convinces songwriter-turned-real-estate-agent Dennis Lambert (“Baby Come Back,” “Rhinestone Cowboy”) to do a comeback tour in the Philippines, where his 1972 solo album is a hit. Any film featuring Filipinos is a must-see as far as I’m concerned.

12:30 p.m. Just wrapped up the Finding Funding panel. Brian Newman, the newly appointed executive director of the Tribeca Film Institute, deftly moderated the discussion between Mark Ankner of Endeavor, Roger Kass of RingtheJing Entertainment, and yours truly, the token non-profit voice on the panel. The panel actually ended at noon, but we spent the last half hour flanked by filmmakers at the dais. So that everyone gets some face time, I generally try to get the two-line pitch, hand out my card and move on to the next person.

Austin

Anne del Castillo and Theresa Riley with a sheriff at the Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas.

7 p.m. I’ve done about all the networking I can handle for one day, and am ready for some dinner. Theresa and I meet up with my cousin Meagan and her boyfriend Matt, who are in town to premiere Matt’s film, and we all head out to the Salt Lick in Driftwood. It’s a bit of a haul, but definitely worth the trip. Located on an old ranch in hill country, the Salt Lick serves up some of the best bbq on the planet.

Sunday: Party People
2:30 p.m. After meeting Austin Film Society executive director Rebecca Campbell for a macrobiotic brunch at Casa de Luz (the perfect antidote to a bbq hangover), I head over to the Alamo to see the premiere of Matt’s film, Rock in a Hard Place, a stop-motion animation based on “rock, paper, scissors.” Living in the doc world, I rarely ever get to indulge in anything else, so I’m happy for an excuse to see some animated shorts. Matt’s film is truly original (and I say that without bias), and I also really like the one about the bat and the hat (Becky JamesI Hate You Don’t Touch Me — Or, Bat And Hat) for its simple yet insightful portrayal about the pursuit of happiness.

The day culminates with PBS’s Weirdly Wired Party co-hosted by indieWIRE and ITVS at KLRU. Lightspeed Champion and The Spinto Band put on a great show on the Austin City Limits set. Despite the rain, the party gets a really great turnout, with crowds still streaming in as I head out just around midnight.

As I knew it would be, the time was just too short. I’d love to hear other impressions of the fest. What films really surprised you? What docs should folks be looking out for?

Anne del Castillo
Anne del Castillo
Anne is POV's director of development and special projects; she has been active in the independent media arts and public television as a producer, programmer and fundraiser for over 12 years. She currently manages American Documentary's fundraising activities, content research and program licensing. Prior to joining the AmDoc staff in 2002, she was a production associate at American Masters in New York and then series coordinator for Frontline in Boston. In 1997, she moved to Austin, Texas, where she served as associate director of the Austin Film Society, and worked on numerous documentary and narrative film projects. She served as vice president of the board of Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers and has been a panelist for numerous arts and media organizations.