I believe we’re all still in shock that this festival is happening in-person – real, living, breathing people. This year’s festival trend seems to be how crypto, blockchain, NFTs, and Web3 intersect storytelling, with an emphasis on marketing and data. I for one, am still hazy on what cryptocurrency is and how it functions, and how we utilize it as creatives – so for now, I don’t have the answer to the how or even the what. But I do wonder – is this just a fad? Will this fizzle out within the next five years? It’s hard to put my finger on the pulse – however, if Dolly Parton is taking part in NFTs with her creative endeavors – maybe there’s something to it after all?
As the pandemic still rages on, it seems to be a thing of the past as hundreds of SXSW attendees excitedly mill about the Austin Convention Center and entertainment hubs on 6th street. There is a feeling or at least the idea of normalcy and the SXSW staff are doing a pretty stellar job at making sure we’re taking precautions – aka, mask up when in a seated session. There is a lot to do, a lot of information to consume and so very little time. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my disappointment in the lack of film and TV-centric sessions and filmmaker panels for the Film Festival portion of the SXSW. The handful that are available, all happen at the same time; there’s a lot of wavering until the very last minute in picking which is the best or right one to check into.
On the first day of the festival, I excitedly attended a featured session titled Anthem: A Conversation with Noah Hawley. It was a great discourse about Hawley’s work between page and screen, his approach to writing, and what he writes about. His latest TV work Fargo is most notable for rich characters, which is safe to say about his work in general. When asked what his framework was for character development – he responded with the character starts as a question and he builds from there. What a wonderful way to approach character creation and development.
Next on the docket was a conversation with comedian and Emmy award-winning actor Bob Odenkirk and his son and fellow writer Nate Odenkirk. The two are creators of a new Audible narrative podcast Summer in Argyle – featuring a star-studded comedy line up lending their voices to eccentric characters that live in a charming little town that is proud of those that are second best. The first thirty minutes of this conversation felt like Bob working as the charming hype man for his new podcast – I had hoped that they would touch more on the development and craft in narrative podcasting, but it’s understandable that marketing is key, and he did a job well done in rousing the audience to check out his new Audible comedy scripted podcast.
Day two consisted of pop-ups, activations, and a really fantastic panel Cinematography - Vérité in Narrative. Panelists included cinematographer Alyssa Brocato (Pretty Pictures), Charlotte Hornsby (Master), Larking Sieple (Everything Everywhere All At Once), and Joshua Weinstein (Sell/Buy/Date) who also moderated. It was really interesting to hear how these visual artists approached their work and what draws them to material as cinematographers – it always came back to character. Verité is being more and more commonly seen in films, but how these filmmakers utilize this style seems quite simple – honor what’s within the frame – from character placement to natural light sources. Seems like a simple notion, but it takes great artistry and a great eye to create worlds that feel rich, authentic, and real.
The evening wrapped up with a film screening of To Leslie at the Stateside Theatre, a wonderful intimate theatre nestled right up against the Paramount Theatre, which is only showing the big-ticket films with heavy star power attached. This film was a pleasant surprise from director Michael Morris, written by Ryan Binaco. A story that too many of us are far too familiar with, how we navigate life with loved ones that have a deep illness of substance abuse and alcoholism. As the story unfolds and we learn more about Leslie – wonderfully and disturbingly played by Andrea Riseborough - our central character with a serious illness, we learn that this is a tale of forgiveness and second chances. Binaco’s craft is beyond words as his characters unfold in this fictional downtrodden town in Texas. His script is ripped from his heartstrings, pulling from real-life events with his mother, who also struggled for many years with this too rampant illness and later lost her life to dementia. During the brief Q&A, he stated even though their relationship didn’t end on the greatest terms, she was still his mother, while wishing things could’ve been better - this is his love letter to her.