Unchained at SXSW 2012: The Recap


Note: The WordPress App and I do not get along. Apparently this draft chose not autopost last week and was lost to the interwebs forever. So here goes attempt 2…

If you do plan on volunteering at SXSW (which I highly recommend), I’d like to share a few reflections:

Video Projectionists for the win: I’m sure there are many great volunteer experiences at Southby, BUT I’m pretty sure not many compare to the video projectionist team. With only a 2-hour training, I set up camp in the Stateside Theater in downtown Austin for the rest of the fest.I was helping with the sound check for filmmakers, hitting the five buttons in our projectionist booth orchestra and getting to watch entire films with the best seat in the house! I highly recommend this volunteer crew.

It’s huge! I guess I should have done my homework on this particular adventure. Silly me, I just thought it was a popular film festival with some music and tech stuff on the side. Not even close. I was told numerous times that the population of Austin triples during the festival because when you think about it, SXSW is really 3 different events that happen to overlap in the same city downtown. Unfortunately, the size felt like a hinderance to me. You can’t really get a feel for the buzz of films and there’s not the same sense of indie community like at Sundance. With five 8-hour volunteer shifts, there were a lot of things I missed. I did get to attend two panels (one about grants and the other about breaking into Hollywood), but I mainly focused on seeing films. There are also more venues than I expected and the lines can get pretty crazy (2 hours for 21 Jump Street, 1 hour for MARLEY doc).

Fest on a budget: This festival could easily be the best one to volunteer for if your wallet’s looking lean. Volunteers get one *full* meal during their shift (there was always a sandwich, chips, fruit AND something sweet and processed). Bam! But what about when you’re not working? Whip out your Twitter and search the #sxsw hashtag or just look around the nearest corner. From the mobile coffee carts to the walls of posters advertising free burgers with a retweet, I paid for very few meals during my stay. No joke, the volunteers at the “Girls” show by Lena Dunham(@GirlsHBO) tent knew my face because I went there for breakfast and lunch almost everyday. And how does one get around without a car? The fest has free shuttles for folks with badges (that means volunteers too) and this year, Chevy had about 40 vehicles that would take attendees to various downtown destinations for free. If you’re savvy enough during the music portion of SXSW, you might even get into one of the many free shows at venues. Lastly, don’t forget the closing party…ah the power of the badge.

Stay with friends: I don’t know how out-of-town volunteers manage to find a place to stay in Austin. I wouldn’t have even applied if I didn’t have friends that lived there. Southby is no joke. There are people who have been coming to this thing for years and tons of companies that consider this a prime time to pitch anything which equals all hotels within reasonable distance booked before January. I was very lucky to have snagged the dorms at Sundance, but I doubt I would have been able to do the same in Austin. So if you do have to get a hotel, get it now. Right now.

Don’t forget if you’re an Out of Town (OOT) Volunteer: Apply EARLY when they announce the open call for volunteers. Contact EVERY volunteer crew team that even remotely piques your interest as soon as your apps been accepted by the festival. CHECK your email religiously, especially YOUR SPAM FOLDER.

MY 2012 SXSW FILM LINEUP:

DREAMS OF A LIFE (review here)

COMPLIANCE

21 JUMP STREET

BROOKLYN CASTLE

DO-DECA-PENTATHALON

WOLF (review here)

SLEEPWALK WITH ME

TAIWAN OYSTER

PILGRIM SONG

MARLEY (review here)

CHARLES BRADLEY: SOUL OF AMERICA

GIMME THE LOOT

THE LAST FALL

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED

IN OUR NATURE

THE IMPOSTER (review here)

ELECTRICK CHILDREN

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL EXPOSED: THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF BOB GRUEN

*18 films in 9 days, 6 docs, 12 fiction features and with just enough room for 2 panels. Overall, I do have to say the narrative films fell flat compared  to Sundance, while the docs left me picking my jaw off of the floor in awe. No time for shorts, but my local friends said the animation block was very impressive. All in all, a memorable experience that I suggest to any cinephile with some time off in March.*

Sean is volunteering at festivals in Boston and I’m looking forward to his perspective on the experience.

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2 thoughts on “Unchained at SXSW 2012: The Recap

  1. […] my plunge into full-time film festival volunteering at Sundance (read here) and SXSW (read here), I’m now trying to figure out just how I can do this amazing work with a paid staff […]

  2. Essie says:

    I’m volunteering at sxsw 2013 and I reeeeally appreciate your review of last year’s fest! You’re awesome!

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