red lights


Exciting films rise above the din

SxSW Film Festival
Austin, TX
Mar. 16 - 19, 2005
All We Are Saying
"All We Are Saying"
Be Here to Love Me
"Be Here to Love Me"
Fearless Freaks
"Fearless Freaks"

Review by David Malsch

For over ten years now I have longed to visit the biggest music and film festival in the country called South by Southwest (SxSW) in Austin, Texas. It is primarily a music conference that is held in the middle of March every year. The festival features over a thousand bands from around the world that play over the course of five days. The festival, however opens with an independent film festival that runs throughout the week.
With the Black Point Film Festival (in which I run and devote many countless hours) at the end of April every year in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the opportunity to venture south has always been difficult. This year, however, the chance to finally make it there was made possible and I couldn't turn it down.
SxSW is like nothing I have ever experienced before. It is a massive (almost too big) under- taking that makes the Black Point Festival out to be a cruel joke. I have spent my life avoiding Texas due to my distaste for it's country-western, political redneck ways, but Austin is like an oasis in the middle of it all. It is a city built on music, it is hands-down the live music capital of the country. Even the homeless on the streets are panhandling with guitars.
The heart and soul of Austin is 6th Street. For roughly a ten block radius there are more nightclubs, bars and restaurants than Walworth County, Wisconsin alone has to offer. The music starts the days and ends the days during the festival. Music can be heard bellowing from the streets by 10:00 a.m. and will close the streets around 3:00 a.m. Once the sun goes down they block off the streets where thousands of music fans begin their evenings. It's like Mardi Gras without the beads, it's like ten Sundance film festivals rolled into one.
With the evenings left for music, the days are filled with conferences and seminars. I was lucky enough to be at the SxSW keynote address given by Led Zeppelin icon Robert Plant. He was amazing as he told stories off his past and promoting his future with his upcoming album that sounds amazing.
The highlight of the film festival centers around music films. While they feature all types of film from shorts to features, it's the music documentaries that are of special interest and what I decided to focus on.

Some of the best films that played were;
"All We Are Saying" A documentary directed by Rosanna Arquette that features personal interviews from some of the greatest musical icons in the history of music.
"Be Here To Love Me" is the bittersweet, tragic, destructive life of Townes Van Zandt. He was one the most respected songwriters in the history of country music.
"You're Gonna Miss Me" is the story of Rory Erikson. A singer who was Janis Joplin's main influence and about his band the 13th Floor Elevators, considered by many to be the creators of psychedelic music.
But my two favorites films that I saw were;
"The Devil and Daniel Johnston" The intimate portrait of the incredibly strange but true life of underground songwriter, illustrator and cult hero Daniel Johnston. Johnston played throughout the weekend and I was lucky enough to see one of his performances just hours after seeing the film on his life, a real treat.
My favorite film was;
"Fearless Freaks" A film about the indie rock band the Flaming Lips who went from college radio staple to international rock stars and how they changed the face of indie rock as we know it today. A terrific film!

Unfortunately, these films will probably not be coming out in theaters across the country but rather be released on DVD in the very near future. Every music fan should love these treats.
When I wasn't sitting through screenings, I was on the Austin streets listening to some amazing music by the likes of up and comers Embrace, the Frames and Kaiser Chiefs. I stood in line at Starbucks with Fatboy Slim, ate lunch at a taco stand with Aimee Mann and had a beer with Elijah Wood (who's short and cute, just like a hobbit).
For anyone interested in attending a future SxSW Festival, I strongly urge the purchase of a wristband that will get you in the doors hassle free. There are also some great parties during the day for those not partaking in the conferences that feature great music, free food and beer and lots of giveaways. But bring your appetite, the BBQ is the best found anywhere in the country. It was an amazing few days that I will never forget. I probably gained some weight with all I ate and I drank too much Lone Star beer. Every morning my eyes looked like road maps home. I highly recommend Texas (at least Austin) and hope to make SxSW an annual pilgrimage.
When you leave somewhere like Sundance, you experience the future of film. Leaving SxSW, it can't help but inspire you musically. It makes you a music fan again in a world of main- stream pop music. It gives you hope for the future. But like a T-shirt said on the streets of Austin: Welcome to Texas! Now go home!

The Devil and Daniel Johnston
"The Devil and Daniel Johnston"
You're Gonna Miss Me
"You're Gonna Miss Me"

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