SXSW 2014 / Field Report

We are shaking off the jet lag and going through pages of notes after an inspiring time at this year’s South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. Each spring the festival attracts the best minds from across disciplines for a ten day bonanza fusing film, music and interactive.

We were there with our friends from straight 8 running the fastest digital filmmaking competition in the south-west. Hackney Council invited us to use their #HH14 space and British Airways helped to get us all there. Seven teams came with their iPhones and no had idea what they’d be doing. They shot their films using the straight 8 app, and an hour later their work was on the big screen in front of 150 people and our esteemed panel of judges.

Thank you to all those who accepted this crazy challenge! The winning film was by Daniel Goldhaber and Michael Bucuzzo and can be viewed online here.

A big thank you also goes to our judges on the night. They were:

Anna Higgs, Commissioning Exec at Film4 / Ed Guiney & Lenny Abrahamson, Producer and Director of Film4 production, Frank / Stephanie Walton, Interactive Producer, Shooting People / Jordan McGarry, Lead Curator, Vimeo / Henri Mazza, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

Straight 8 poster on table

For the duration of the festival, SXSW forms a hub for sharing great ideas and becomes a celebration of the most innovative thoughts from people across the world. Below are a couple of our own thoughts on what stood out for us.

A big conversation starter was the appearance of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Using technology to breach political and national boundaries, Snowden spoke via a video link from an undisclosed location in Russia. His keynote on online privacy and internet surveillance put the importance and power of data at the fore of everyone’s minds.

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 13.37.45

A fantastic brand project that caught our eye is one being undertaken by The Coca-Cola Company. The initiative started out with Dean Kamen’s creation of an innovative water filtering system. Dubbed the Slingshot, the machine can clean thirty litres of water per hour. With each unit costing hundreds of thousands, and governmental organisations unable to fund it, Coca-Cola came onboard and is in the process of spreading it to twenty countries in need of cleaner water supplies. The project shows the sheer power that brands have to enact real, useful change with the ability to reach and communicate across the globe that can hardly be matched. 

A much-anticipated screening of The Raid 2, directed by Welshman Gareth Evans in a language he doesn’t speak, was ironically halted by technical difficulties and missing subtitles. The waiting crowd was kept happy thanks to the film’s stars giving an impromptu pencak silat demonstration, the Indonesian martial art showcased in the film. Extra screenings were subsequently organised and met with a fantastic reception, whilst the technical hiccups only grew the conversation around the movie.

Also creating a lot of buzz was Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank, which takes inspiration from one of the strangest relics of the 1980s in Frank Sidebottom. Funded by the BFI and starring Michael Fassbender, the film follows a struggling British musician who finds himself ingratiated into the harem of the titular enigmatic genius as his band, appropriately enough, build up to a performance at SXSW.

Music and musicians is seemingly a subject capturing the imagination of filmmakers at the moment, with two music documentaries also premièring to excellent reviews at the festival. Pulp, about the Sheffield band of the same name, and The Possibilities Are Endless, the moving story of stroke survivor Edwyn Collins, both demonstrated that the non-fiction feature is a field of innovation matching its fictional counterpart.

Our observation
Film was constantly discussed and referenced, even by those presenting on a seemingly unrelated topic. We attended loads of talks (twenty-nine by our best calculations) and cinema was mentioned in every single one. Across every discipline and field, film is always used to help tell a story.

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elevenfiftyfive explore commercial opportunities within the medium and genre of film. We identify the best places within film for brands to connect with audiences in the most creative ways.
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