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Why is McDonald’s Sponsoring SXSW and the World’s Fair?

Why is McDonald’s Sponsoring SXSW and the World’s Fair?



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McDonald’s wants to be relevant again. The fast food giant has secured itself as a major event sponsor at both South by Southwest, aka SXSW — the music and creative tech festival, one of the largest of its kind in America — and the upcoming World’s Fair, which will be held in Milan (the theme of the Milan Expo, incidentally, is food).

McDonald’s will offer samples of its McCafe coffee and “music-based experiences” at the McDonald’s Lounge on site at SXSW. More importantly, McDonald’s really wants your opinions, and will host three “pitch sessions.” You, as a festival attendee and an influential millennial, have the opportunity to help the fast food giant with “re-inventing the restaurant experience” (equipping McD’s locations with more technology), “content creation” (effective tweeting), and “transportation and delivery” (more drones, please).

“We want to be in the flow of ideas, offering our scale to interesting partners, with the intent to make the lives of millions of people who use McDonald’s a bit simpler and even more enjoyable,” McDonald’s chief digital officer, Atif Rafiq, said in a blog post on SXSW’s website.

Perhaps even more baffling is McDonald’s presence at the Milan Expo, where efforts to solve problems of world hunger and share the world’s cuisines will take center stage. According to Slow Food, McDonald’s will have their own 1300-square-foot restaurant and a project, called “Making the Future,” that highlights young Italian farmers as possible future McSuppliers.

“The contradiction is jarring. And it hurts. Expo 2015 has given itself an ambitious task if ever there was one: to address the pivotal topic of how to nourish the planet in the future,” Slow Food writes in a blog post. “From this point of view, the presence of McDonald’s seems more like a clamorous self-imposed goal rather than their claim of the right to freely compare different theories, which Expo would like to promise.”

Between faltering sales and an ousted CEO, McDonald’s is having one of its worst years in recent memory. The fast food company has been focusing on re-building its brand image with heartwarming commercials and behind the scenes “no, that’s not pink slime” videos. Both the SXSW and Milan Expo sponsorships are further examples of McDonald’s attempted worldwide comeback.


As You Consider Attending SXSW 2016, Here's What Was Awesome About SXSW 2015

It's sort of passe to talk about how much SXSW has changed over the years because, well, it has and there's no going back. If you feel the need to reminisce or wallow in the past, you can read this, this, this, this and this.

Or you can put you mind in a more upbeat mode and read 6 Reasons Why SXSW is Still Awesome, written after last year's SXSW.

In any case, let's move on. Did you go to SXSW this year? What did you think? Did you get out of it what you expected? More? Less?

Let's take a look at some of what transpired during this year's SXSW Interactive.

That Women Everyone Fell For on Tinder

To promote the movie Ex Machina, which was premiering at SXSW this year, the producers of the film created a "fake" Tinder profile under the name Ava. Ava engaged with many people but the link in her bio let to the film's promotional website. Turns out, Ava was actually Swedish actress Alicia Vikander who appears in the film. Some thought the promotion was a bit porn bot-ish. Others loved it.


Marketers Get Creepy With Customer Data

In a session entitled Malevolent Marketing led by Robbie Whiting, founder of San Francisco-based Argonaut and Razorfish exec Garrick Schmitt, dressed entirely in black, took a look at the various ways marketers are, in essence, taking advantage of people by misusing customer data. Putting it to to the audience, what seemed to bother people the most was the proliferation of Internet of Things devices which gather personal information and TV sets with always on listening technology.

When the moderators asked the audience to develop, on the fly, a malevolent marketing-style product, they came up with Perfect You. As Forbes contributor George Anders summarized, "It would consist of a three-dimensional body scanner at the entrance to clothing stores, which would spew its results into a series of photo-rendering displays throughout the store -- showing digitally manipulated pictures of shoppers wearing various clothes that could be bought on the spot." Creepy?


FireChat Takes Home Innovation Award

As is always the case, innovation is front and center at SXSW and at this year's SXSW Innovation Awards off the grid chat app FireChat took home the Innovation in Connecting People award.

FireChat, developed by San Francisco startup Open Garden in 2012, rose to prominence
last August at the Burning Man festival in Black Rock, Nevada, where cell phone service is scarce. Currently, it has about 5 million users.

Of the win, Open Garden CEO Micha Benoliel said, "We're ecstatic that FireChat was chosen for such a respected award at this year's festival. Our mission is to connect people around the world. The recognition from this team of judges and our peers is wonderful and exciting for our team as we continue our efforts."


Brands Still Spending Boatloads of Money (And Providing Free Food and Drink For All)

While we're trying to keep things positive here, brands were still king at SXSW this year taking over entire restaurants and erecting full on structures (Bates Motel) in an effort to, well, WSJ's Mike Shields described it best writing, "It's about marketers marketing their marketing efforts to other marketers.

National Geographic had an #EscapetheCold structure that would simulate Alaska's icy conditions to promote the brand's Life Below Zero. Bausch + Lomb erected a "Lens Lounge." HBO sponsored pedicabs to promote its Silicon Valley show. And let's not forget the long-running Fast Company Grill which for the the past five years or so has been providing a branded experience along with educational content and, yes, free food and drink.

There really wasn't anywhere you could go that wasn't, in some way, branded or sponsored. Some argue this sullies the pristine origins of the SXSW experience. Others, perhaps tossing their hands up, simply admit that, well, the upside is that everything is free because some brand is sponsoring it. And, with the high cost of attending SXSW, saving money on food and drink is a benefit many appreciate.


Some Things Never Change. Others Do

Perhaps perfectly summarizing the essence of SXSW, collaborative economy expert and Crowd Companies Founder Jeremiah Owyang posted on Facebook the Ten Signs You Were At SXSW in 2015:

1) You lost your voice
2) You have more than 3 wrist bands on in the morning
3) You have more business cards than you remember receiving
4) You got stickers from a startup that's missing vowels
5) You're actually proud you tried the McDonald's new flavor fries
6) You rode the Hootsuite bike bar
7) You were on Meerkat Friday night, but never again.
8) You took more than 4 selfies with your FB friends
10) You're so hungover you didn't realize that we skipped nine.

I would add "You hung out at the JW Marriot" because, you know, it was new and, well, we're all like Lemmings in some ways and that's what we do.


Apparently, There Are Still SXSW Haters (Who, Luckily, Don't Hate Everything)

One can't really summarize the SXSW experience without realizing that the changes which has occurred over the years are not agreeable to all. One such person is Havas Senior VP of Strategy and Innovation Tom Goodwin who wrote, "The festival thrives on the energy and optimism of youth, but suffers for a lack of adult supervision. It's a cathedral to all things popular that don't matter, from GrumpyCat to Meerkat. It's one big meme, that lives and dies as rapidly and pointlessly."

And hammering marketers for their "irrational exuberance, Goodwin added, "It's the un-dwindling confidence that iBeacons somehow will be embraced by people or that augmented reality in the shopping center will be fun. I'm not sure these Brooklynites and Palo Altans have ever seen how real people behave and yet we give them a chance to bolster their opinions and feed their ignorance by hanging out only with people like themselves."

Hmm. Harsh? Well Goodwin isn't entirely a hater and did come up with something to love about SXSW: diversity of thought. He complains about the sameness of panels at most other events he attends over the course of the year but appreciates the wide-ranging topics and opinions that reveal themselves each year at SXSW.

He notes, "From gender equality to the role of art, trans-humanism, and privacy issues, SXSW each and every year brings together (a few of) the best minds in the world to further our industry."

Nothing that SXSW has become "a good metaphor for the Internet, it's too big, too much, but it's democratic and accessible to all," he suggests that, just like the internet, SXSW needs a good search engine to make the plethora of growing content more manageable.


As Always, Panels Give Good Content

I attended a few panels. One was hosted by Marketo and held offsite at the Marketo Lounge on 6th Street. The marketing automation company hosted several panels along with parties and a CMO dinner.

On Tuesday morning, Marketo hosted an Irish Breakfast and hosted a panel entitled Ask the CMO. CMOs from Mashable, Bloomberg, Marketo and Equinox were present and discussed issues of importance to CMOs. Chiefly, it was all about keeping the creative spirit alive and not allowing it to get buried beneath today's proliferation of big data. Additionally, the panel encouraged attendees to insure the brands they represent take on a more human persona which becomes ever more important in an increasingly one to one marketing world.

Deirdre Bigley, CMO of Bloomberg, discussed the importance of gauging the temperature of the social media waters and when or when not to jump in. She cited the February incident during which a couple of Llamas began running around a Phoenix-area retirement community and became a social media phenomenon. The brand ultimately decided to capitalize on the event with this witty tweet:


The Entrepreneurs Lounge

Hosted atop Fogo de Chao every year for eight years running, The Entrepreneurs Lounge is one of the best networking events that occurs during SXSW. A tightly curated list insures that you'll be able to mix and mingle with the best and the brightest in the marketing, advertising and startup worlds.

Each night from 5PM to 9PM during SXSW, connections are made, business deals are proposed and closed and life long relationships are made. Oh and let's not forget the endless supply of Brazilian meat that's passed continuously to guests along with the caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail. Together, the two made for network dining perfection.


Decoded Fashion Explored the Convergence of Fashion and Technology

The breadth and depth of SXSW content is truly impressive. If you have an interest, it's well addressed. I attended a series of sessions at the JW Marriot put on by Decoded Fashion, an organization at the convergence of fashion, beauty, retail and technology whose mission is to expose the fashion community to new ideas, demystify technology and foster creative partnerships between tech startups, designers, retailers and media professionals in highly interactive summit formats.

A series of panels addressed fashion hackathons, how to incorporate technology with fashion, wearable technology, the ability of mobile to tie online and physical retail together and how data can drive improvements in retail.

Speakers represented brands including John Lewis, Nieman Marcus, Simon, ASOS, Google, Simon Venture Group, TechCrunch, Gap and others.

Along with the series of panels, Decoded Fashion also included a mentorship hub in which those working in related fields could set up and conduct one on one meetings with industry experts. Each mentor offered startups and emerging designers feedback and advice so that those startups and emerging designers can further hone and improve their offerings.


And, Of Course, GSD&M Threw A Massive Party

Each year, Austin-based ad agency GSD&M takes advantage of the fact that each year their fair city becomes a mecca for ad and marketing types. What better way to pimp yourself than to ply the industry with free food and alcohol?

An estimated 3,500 attended the agency's party at which attendees could sample Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Pacifico beer and participate in a photo contest sponsored by Southwest. Winners of that contest were awarded front row seats -- in the form of actual Southwest airplane seats -- to the evening's musical performances which included surprise guest Grammy winner Gary Clark.


Random Sightings

The exhibit hall was full of activity and plenty to see:


A&E erected an even bigger Bates Motel display this year:


Many of the thoughts and topics discussed in panels during the 5 day Interactive conference were shared visually:


Only at a tech/marketing-related industry party is it totally cool for one person to be partying like crazy and the other to detach and stare at one's phone:


This guy always makes an appearance at SXSW. This time from the sky:


How McDonald’s uses Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+

In the latest instalment of our blog series looking at how brands make use of the four major social networks, I’ve decided to take a closer look at McDonald’s.

McDonald’s is one of the most recognisable brands in the world, yet also has to battle a fair amount of negative publicity – so one would assume that its social accounts would be extremely active.

This blog follows on from similar posts looking at the social strategies of ASOS, Walmart, Starbucks and Red Bull, among others.

Without further ado, here is a quick look at how McDonald&rsquos uses Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+.

Facebook

For a company that has had its fair share of bad press over the years, McDonald&rsquos remains one of the biggest brands in the world and this is reflected in its social media communities.

The McDonald&rsquos US page has more than 27m fans, and its local market pages have all attracted several hundred thousand &lsquolikes&rsquo.

But despite its obvious success in attracting fans, McDonald&rsquos actually does relatively little in regards to posting content on its wall.

Accepted wisdom suggests that you need to post frequent updates in order to maintain people&rsquos attention on Facebook, and retailers such as ASOS and Walmart are great exponents of this theory.

However, both McDonald&rsquos and Starbucks have taken a far more hands-off approach, yet are two of the most &lsquoliked&rsquo brands on the social network.

McDonald&rsquos generally posts fewer than five updates a month yet each one attracts several thousands &lsquolikes&rsquo and comments, which is more than the brands that posts several times per day.

Several commenters on my Starbucks blog post suggested the engagement levels that these massive global brands enjoy on social media is just a natural by-product of their corporate success, and that theory certainly appears to hold water.

McDonald&rsquos makes no apparent effort to respond to the thousands of user comments it receives, and most of its posts are merely product promotions.

Interestingly, the local market pages are far more active and post several updates per week.

The UK page has almost 500,000 fans and posts a steady stream of eye-catching content, though nearly all of it is product focused.

While many businesses use social to give a more rounded image of the brand by posting lifestyle content, McDonald&rsquos just promotes its product range and upcoming changes to the menu.

Even so, it maintains an impressive level of engagement, with each post attracting several thousand &lsquolikes&rsquo and comments.

Furthermore, McDonald&rsquos UK hasn&rsquot made any effort to reward its Facebook fans in any way. Many brands run Facebook competitions, with Ikea&rsquos warehouse sleepover being a notable example.

But McDonald&rsquos clearly doesn&rsquot see any value in that, and sticks to its sales messages instead.

Twitter

Unlike its Facebook page, McDonald&rsquos USA invests a lot of time and effort in maintaining an active Twitter feed.

It posts several updates each day to entertain its 995,000 followers, however it tends to avoid tweeting anything too quirky or off-message and instead remains resolutely focused on promoting it products.

This could be because this Twitter feed was the subject of a fairly major social fail in 2012. McDonald&rsquos used the hashtag #McDStories to promote video content of their suppliers talking about McDonald&rsquos ingredients.

Unfortunately for Ronald the campaign was hijacked by consumers complaining about the company&rsquos service and the quality of the food.

That said, the social team do respond to a handful of users each day but only ever ones that have posted positive comments.

The fast food chain also has an official corporate account, which has far fewer followers but responds to a far greater number of @mentions.

This Twitter feeds injects more personality into its tweets, and like the US account it links to short biographies of each member of the social team.

Through this account the brand engages in conversations with other users and brands alike, and also occasionally responds to complaints.

On top of this, McDonald&rsquos also has a dedicated customer service feed that responds to customer complaints.

However it currently only responds to about 20 customers per day, and based on the number of McDonald&rsquos restaurants in the US I would have thought that this means a large amount of complaints are going unanswered on Twitter.

As with its Facebook strategy, McDonald&rsquos also has Twitter local Twitter feeds for various global markets and US states.

But despite the fact that even El Salvador has its own feed, the UK apparently doesn&rsquot see any value in using Twitter.

Pinterest

While McDonald&rsquos maintains separate acounts for its local markets on Facebook and Twitter, on Pinterest it only has one main corporate account.

A majority of the content is pinned from the company&rsquos Flickr account, while the rest mainly comes from other McDonald&rsquos websites.

This is a common tactic among brands, presumably because they want to make sure they aren&rsquot driving traffic to other sites and avoid any copyright claims.

The one board that bucks this trend is &lsquo#FoodThanks&rsquo which was created to &ldquocollectively show appreciation for wholesome food and those who provide it.&rdquo

McDonald&rsquos has invited other users to pin their own food-related images to the board, which is a good way of building a community on the network as it means people feel involved with the brand.

Overall though, McDonald&rsquos isn&rsquot particularly active on Pinterest compared to other major brands such as Red Bull and Walmart.

It joined the network more than a year ago and since then has only pinned 393 images on its 15 boards. The account only has around 2,000 followers, which is low for a such a huge, global brand.

One other interesting point to note is that McDonald&rsquos is unable to run any Pinterest competitions due to the differing regulations in the 119 countries in which it operates.

This deprives its social team of a useful tool, as many other brands have managed to increase engagement and boost their follower numbers by running competitions on Pinterest.

Google+

While putting together these social media posts one common theme that has emerged is that very few brands bother to put a lot of effort into their Google+ pages.

ASOS and John Lewis are notable exceptions as they post updates on a daily basis, but Ikea and Walmart are more typical examples in that they have established G+ pages, posted a few updates, then lost interest and left the accounts dormant.

McDonald&rsquos actually goes one step further, and has established a G+ account then done absolutely nothing with it. There isn&rsquot a single post in its feed.

There are also accounts for other local markets, including Brazil and Japan, but neither has been updated since last summer.

The one exception is McDonald&rsquos Germany, which last posted on March 6, however the updates only come at the rate of about two a month.


AUSTIN BOUND: SXSW 2014, PART 4 (of 5) – Our Final Thoughts About SXSW 󈧒

Since the end of this year’s South By Southwest, it’s taken a little time for us at The Southland Music Line to gather our thoughts and opinions on the event. I was able to meet to review this year’s SXSW with both Stephen Anderson (Photographer) and Robby Amonett (Artist) contributors to “The Line”. The last couple weeks, as we are back to familiar surroundings, we’ve had a chance to reflect on the whole event in our normal, hometown environment. Robby and I met recently at a favorite place in Pascagoula, MS known as “Jacks by the Trac ks.” While sitting out on the front porch there at “Jacks” we discussed what we loved about SXSW, personal highlights, and our choices of best music, bands and venues.

Robby had an inside look into the the festival while traveling on the road with the band, Banditos, prior and during Southwest. (In Part 3 of this 5 part article, we discuss Robby’s time spent with the band in more detail.) Two of the things Robby mentioned liking best about SXSW was the availability of so much music and the taco trucks. There was no shortage of food vendors set up along the streets of Austin.

His highlight venue was Hotel Vegas and a place just to the south of Austin called Sam’s Town Point. Even though he had spent much of his time with his friends in the Banditos band, he still found time to see several other bands/artists. Some he enjoyed most: Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, a full-throttle soul screamer in the spirit of Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, and Solomon Burke, who appeared at The Bloodshot Records Showcase Lydia Loveless, an artist that both Rolling Stone and Spin Magazine said you need to know in 2014 PopMatters.com says: “If you believe in Rock ‘N’ Roll, you pray for people like Lydia Loveless.” Ha Ha Tonka, described as: “Where Southern Rock Meets The Cure”. Robby had nothing but high praise for The Deslondes (formerly known as The Tumbleweeds), a New Orleans-based country-soul, R&B, folk and gospel-influenced band who is truly a crowd pleaser. He also enjoyed the two bands The Bad Lovers and The Wolf. Finally, Robby’s list of bands and artists he wanted to highlight included a musician by the name of Ramsay Midwood. His website calls his brand of music as “Pyschedelic Country Blues”. Stephen and I were also fortunate to see him perform at Sam’s Home Point.

When asking Robby, if there was anything that he considered a negative about SXSW, his answer was one that is often repeated regarding huge events like Southwest, the extreme amount of advertising by companies like McDonalds and others. Things like the banners pulled by airplanes and other excessive advertising, he felt was something that he could have done without. South By Southwest is full of sponsored events, showcases and activities, evident throughout the city during the festival, and with so much commercializing, it’s easy for some to feel this was “too much”.

Artist, Robby Amonett painting at a recent Jason Isbell concert. From Nashville to Atlanta to New Orleans to Austin, he can be found painting bands/artists in many venues large or small. (Photo by J.G. Cole)

Robby Amonett is a fixture to the local music scene along the Northern Gulf Coast (Florida Panhandle, Southern Alabama and Mississippi) and New Orleans areas. He has painted numerous bands and artists that have traveled through the area, which makes him a valued and beloved resident and part of the scene near his home. All in all, Robby definitely enjoyed this time at SXSW and especially his time spent with his friends in the band. He looks forward to returning to Austin for the ‘Austin City Limits Festival’ at the end of the year. It truly was nice getting together, briefly, that afternoon at Jacks to share some stories about the music we love. I look forward to seeing plenty more music with him in the future, including another trip to Austin. But for now, the slower pace and getting back to the local scene is refreshing.

While Robby found his way around the city with Banditos, Stephen Anderson and I did our bit searching Austin for great music at many different locations. Stephen was able to take photos of many bands and artists. Personally, I believe it is some of his best work. (See Part 5 of this article.) He and I also have been able to discuss SXSW a lot since leaving Austin along with countless hours spent going through thousands of photos from the entire music part of the festival.

Above Right: Stephen aka “Andy”Anderson doing what he does best. Here taking photos at Butler Park during SXSW 2014. (Photo by J.G. Cole) Below: Cheers Elephant (Photo by Stephen Anderson)

When asking Stephen some of the same questions that I had asked of Robby, many of the answers were similar. His well thought out answers obviously proved how much he enjoyed Southwest and the city of Austin. When asked ‘what he liked most?’ His response was clearly about the availability of so much music. He loved the fact that he was able to see so many artists that he had not seen before. If not for SXSW, he would not have ran across such bands as the entertaining ‘Cheers Elephant’ or ‘Mandolin Orange’. He appreciated being able to walk down the street and look through the many open doors and wide windows to see one band after the other. The huge events, held across the river at Butler Park, gave many an opportunity to see such events as “The All-Star Tribute to Jimi Hendrix” and “The Tribute Celebrating the Music Legacy of Memphis”. The two events at Butler Park allowed Stephen the chance to get photos of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame members such as The Doors’ Robby Krieger, Booker T. Jones of Booker T. & the MGs and Slash from Guns n Roses. His photos of Lucinda Williams, Charlie Mussellwhite, Bobby Rush and more were awesome not to mention, also seeing Los Lonely Boys give one top notch performance, followed by the band he believed was the most exciting live act of the entire SXSW – Vintage Trouble. Stephen uses the term, “Real Deal” to describe those musicians he deems as the ‘very best’. He certainly felt that way about seeing James McMurtry at the “Rock The Lot” show near the Congress Avenue Bridge and I absolutely agree.

James McMurtry’s show was one of our favorites at this year’s SXSW. (Photo by Stephen Anderson)

When asked about SXSW links to Corporate America, company name placements and the large amounts of sponsored events, Stephen feels as I do about this subject. Without the companies sponsoring the many showcases and events, we wouldn’t have gotten the chance to see such an extraordinary event as “The Jimi Hendrix Tribute”. Plus, SXSW can be overwhelming with who to see, where to go and or what’s next. Those sponsors’ dollars helped provide brochures, daily SXSW newspapers and helpful websites to guide us to the many events. Admittedly though Robby was right, at times, it can seem a bit much.

And finally Stephen said after reflecting over his full week of activities at Southwest, he couldn’t come up with anything he didn’t like with the Festival or with the city of Austin. His only advice to future festival goers is to ‘wear comfortable shoes!’ I agree one hundred percent with Stephen about the sponsorships, the city of Austin and the shoes. Stephen and I walked several miles each day, covering the entire downtown area, across the bridge (we crossed two bridges on multiple occasions) and ‘up and down’ many stairways to rooftop shows. Following the New Frontier Touring Showcase, we felt as if we had walked 40-50 miles that week.

The city of Austin, Texas (Photo by Stephen Anderson)

As for me, I loved so many things about SXSW 2014, that it is hard to point or highlight the things I liked best, but for starters, getting to the same parking lot each day (even same spot) was a big convenience our accommodations provided by friends at their Austin condo was another one and having a short distance to drive each day made it nice too. Those kinds of things have to be highlights, because as anyone knows when those things don’t work right, it can make a whole trip a total disaster. As for music highlights and standouts, many have been mentioned in this multiple part article. It’s fair to say, I enjoyed many on different levels. Three outdoor events: The All-Star Jimi Hendrix Tribute Show, The Celebration of the Music Legacy of Memphis, and The Rock the Lot show, dedicated primarily to local Austin musicians – were all fun, exciting and will remain memorable. Man, I got to see The Doors’ Robby Krieger next to fellow Rock & Roll Hall of famer, Slash (Guns N Roses) performing the songs of Hendrix! Pretty cool! As far as the most lively show, I believe Vintage Trouble receives that honor. They can rock a small venue or a large outdoor setting equally amazing. I cannot wait to see them again! There are others I’m looking forward to seeing more of – Cheers Elephant, Jordan Sokel, Mandolin Orange, Roo & The Howl and Liz Longley. ( See more about them and others in Part 1 of this 5 Part Article).

Above Left: Ty Taylor of the exciting Vintage Trouble (Photo by Stephen Anderson) Above Right: Beckah Wagner of Roo & The Howl- one of the bands we enjoyed at SXSW. (Photo by J.G.Cole)

Lincoln Durham performing at Rock The Lot during 2014’s SXSW (Photo by Stephen Anderson.)

The biggest standout performance for me was Lincoln Durham. I left SXSW ready to explore his music in more detail and have been doing so since leaving Austin. Hopefully, when I return to Austin, I can also make it to one of the James McMurtry shows at The Continental Club. We saw some familiar bands we love (eg. Rosco Bandana) some bands we wanted to know more about (eg. Vintage Trouble) and some new ones we knew nothing about (eg. Roo & The Howl, Liz Longley, Mandolin Orange and most certainly Cheers Elephant), thus giving us much reason to look forward to next year.

Another big part for me at SXSW is meeting, not just musicians, but club owners, writers, photographers, vendors and every once in awhile someone you didn’t expect to meet. Meeting Ron Campbell, an animator, director, and producer, best known for his work on the 1960s The Beatles television series, as well as the animated feature film Yellow Submarine, was a nice surprise. At the Vintage Trouble show, I met longtime musician Steve Power who shared many stories. Incredibly, you never know whom you will run into at SXSW.

TO CONCLUDE:

This year was marked by a senseless tragedy. As written about early in this article, our hearts go out to all those affected by the terrible event that went down on the early morning hours of March 13, 2014.

To make donations to help victims, SXSW put up the website: www.sxswcares.com

We felt it was important to make mention of it, one more time at the conclusion of this article.

And finally, we encourage everyone who took the time to read this entire 5 Part Article (including the Photo Retrospective that follows Part 4), to check out the many bands and artists discussed – Go to their websites, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, Purchase their music on Amazon or iTunes, and GO SEE THEM LIVE! We also encourage all to support their own local music scene and independent music. South By Southwest promotes what’s new in Film, Interactive Media and Technology and Music, which is why we went to this event, in the first place. The Southland Music Line promotes music from all over the World. Yes, we highlight music and musicians ‘from or associated’ with “The South”, but we believe that every band, every solo artist, every duo that takes their music to places like New Orleans, LA Memphis or Nashville, TN Athens or Atlanta Ga Tupelo, Ms Norman, OK Gainesville, FL Asheville, N.C. Lynchburg, VA Mobile, AL and yes, Austin, TX can be called “Southern” for the time spent in such places. There are a lot of fans ‘Down South’ and there are a lot of small websites and magazines promoting their music. Regardless of size or recognition, you never know just who is spreading the word about a certain band or talking about a great music venue. The power of social media and just ‘the word of mouth’ are tools to inform others about something they might be missing. No band, artist or promoter should be quick to overlook the various means of spreading the news, and efforts in reaching people far and wide.

Click Here For : AUSTIN BOUND: SXSW 󈧒, PART FIVE –
A PHOTO RETROSPECTIVE


As You Consider Attending SXSW 2016, Here’s What Was Awesome About SXSW 2015

It’s sort of passé to talk about how much SXSW has changed over the years because, well, it has and there’s no going back. If you feel the need to reminisce or wallow in the past, you can read this, this, this, this and this.

Or you can put you mind in a more upbeat mode and read 6 Reasons Why SXSW is Still Awesome, written after last year’s SXSW.

In any case, let’s move on. Did you go to SXSW this year? What did you think? Did you get out of it what you expected? More? Less?

Let’s take a look at some of what transpired during this year’s SXSW Interactive.

That Woman Everyone Fell For on Tinder

To promote the movie Ex Machina, which was premiering at SXSW this year, the producers of the film created a “fake” Tinder profile under the name Ava. Ava engaged with many people but the link in her bio let to the film’s promotional website. Turns out, Ava was actually Swedish actress Alicia Vikander who appears in the film. Some thought the promotion was a bit porn bot-ish. Others loved it.

Marketers Get Creepy With Customer Data

In a session entitled Malevolent Marketing led by Robbie Whiting, founder of San Francisco-based Argonaut and Razorfish executive Garrick Schmitt, dressed entirely in black, took a look at the various ways marketers are, in essence, taking advantage of people by misusing customer data. Putting it to the audience, what seemed to bother people the most was the proliferation of Internet of Things devices which gather personal information and TV sets with always on listening technology.

When the moderators asked the audience to develop, on the fly, a malevolent marketing-style product, they came up with Perfect You. As Forbes contributor George Anders summarized, “It would consist of a three-dimensional body scanner at the entrance to clothing stores, which would spew its results into a series of photo-rendering displays throughout the store — showing digitally manipulated pictures of shoppers wearing various clothes that could be bought on the spot.” Creepy?

FireChat Takes Home Innovation Award

As is always the case, innovation is front and center at SXSW and at this year’s SXSW Innovation Awards off the grid chat app FireChat took home the Innovation in Connecting People award.

FireChat, developed by San Francisco startup Open Garden in 2012, rose to prominence
last August at the Burning Man festival in Black Rock, Nevada, where cell phone service is scarce. Currently, it has about 5 million users.

Of the win, Open Garden CEO Micha Benoliel said, “We’re ecstatic that FireChat was chosen for such a respected award at this year’s festival. Our mission is to connect people around the world. The recognition from this team of judges and our peers is wonderful and exciting for our team as we continue our efforts.”

Brands Still Spending Boatloads of Money (And Providing Free Food and Drink For All)

While we’re trying to keep things positive here, brands were still king at SXSW this year taking over entire restaurants and erecting full on structures (Bates Motel) in an effort to, well, WSJ’s Mike Shields described it best writing, “It’s about marketers marketing their marketing efforts to other marketers.

National Geographic had an #EscapetheCold structure that would simulate Alaska’s icy conditions to promote the brand’s Life Below Zero. Bausch + Lomb erected a “Lens Lounge.” HBO sponsored pedicabs to promote its Silicon Valley show. And let’s not forget the long-running Fast Company Grill which for the past five years or so has been providing a branded experience along with educational content and, yes, free food and drink.

There really wasn’t anywhere you could go that wasn’t, in some way, branded or sponsored. Some argue this sullies the pristine origins of the SXSW experience. Others, perhaps tossing their hands up, simply admit that, well, the upside is that everything is free because some brand is sponsoring it. And, with the high cost of attending SXSW, saving money on food and drink is a benefit many appreciate.

Some Things Never Change. Others Do.

Perhaps perfectly summarizing the essence of SXSW, collaborative economy expert and Crowd Companies Founder Jeremiah Owyang posted on Facebook the Ten Signs You Were At SXSW in 2015:

1) You lost your voice.
2) You have more than 3 wrist bands on in the morning.
3) You have more business cards than you remember receiving.
4) You got stickers from a startup that’s missing vowels.
5) You’re actually proud you tried the McDonald’s new flavor fries.
6) You rode the Hootsuite bike bar.
7) You were on Meerkat Friday night, but never again.
8) You took more than 4 selfies with your Facebook friends.
10) You’re so hungover you didn’t realize that we skipped nine.

I would add “You hung out at the JW Marriot” because, you know, it was new and, well, we’re all like Lemmings in some ways and that’s what we do.

Apparently, There Are Still SXSW Haters (Who, Luckily, Don’t Hate Everything)

One can’t really summarize the SXSW experience without realizing that the changes which have occurred over the years are not agreeable to all. One such person is Havas Senior VP of Strategy and Innovation, Tom Goodwin, who wrote, “The festival thrives on the energy and optimism of youth, but suffers for a lack of adult supervision. It’s a cathedral to all things popular that don’t matter, from GrumpyCat to Meerkat. It’s one big meme, that lives and dies as rapidly and pointlessly.”

And hammering marketers for their “irrational exuberance, Goodwin added, “It’s the un-dwindling confidence that iBeacons somehow will be embraced by people or that augmented reality in the shopping center will be fun. I’m not sure these Brooklynites and Palo Altans have ever seen how real people behave and yet we give them a chance to bolster their opinions and feed their ignorance by hanging out only with people like themselves.”

Hmm. Harsh? Well Goodwin isn’t entirely a hater and did come up with something to love about SXSW: diversity of thought. He complains about the sameness of panels at most other events he attends over the course of the year but appreciates the wide-ranging topics and opinions that reveal themselves each year at SXSW.

He notes, “From gender equality to the role of art, trans-humanism, and privacy issues, SXSW each and every year brings together (a few of) the best minds in the world to further our industry.”

Nothing that SXSW has become “a good metaphor for the Internet, it’s too big, too much, but it’s democratic and accessible to all,” he suggests that, just like the internet, SXSW needs a good search engine to make the plethora of growing content more manageable.

As Always, Panels Give Good Content

I attended a few panels. One was hosted by Marketo and held offsite at the Marketo Lounge on 6th Street. The marketing automation company hosted several panels along with parties and a CMO dinner.

On Tuesday morning, Marketo hosted an Irish Breakfast and hosted a panel entitled Ask the CMO. CMOs from Mashable, Bloomberg, Marketo and Equinox were present and discussed issues of importance to CMOs. Chiefly, it was all about keeping the creative spirit alive and not allowing it to get buried beneath today’s proliferation of big data. Additionally, the panel encouraged attendees to ensure the brands they represent take on a more human persona which becomes ever more important in an increasingly one to one marketing world.

Deirdre Bigley, CMO of Bloomberg, discussed the importance of gauging the temperature of the social media waters and when or when not to jump in. She cited the February incident during which a couple of llamas began running around a Phoenix-area retirement community and became a social media phenomenon. The brand ultimately decided to capitalize on the event with this witty tweet:

The Entrepreneurs Lounge

Hosted atop Fogo de Chao every year for eight years running, The Entrepreneurs Lounge is one of the best networking events that occurs during SXSW. A tightly curated list ensures that you’ll be able to mix and mingle with the best and the brightest in the marketing, advertising and startup worlds.

Each night from 5PM to 9PM during SXSW, connections are made, business deals are proposed and closed and life-long relationships are made. Oh and let’s not forget the endless supply of Brazilian meat that’s passed continuously to guests along with the caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail. Together, the two made for network dining perfection.

Decoded Fashion Explored the Convergence of Fashion and Technology

The breadth and depth of SXSW content is truly impressive. If you have an interest, it’s well addressed. I attended a series of sessions at the JW Marriot put on by Decoded Fashion, an organization at the convergence of fashion, beauty, retail and technology whose mission is to expose the fashion community to new ideas, demystify technology and foster creative partnerships between tech startups, designers, retailers and media professionals in highly interactive summit formats.

A series of panels addressed fashion hackathons, how to incorporate technology with fashion, wearable technology, the ability of mobile to tie online and physical retail together and how data can drive improvements in retail.

Speakers represented brands including John Lewis, Nieman Marcus, Simon, ASOS, Google, Simon Venture Group, TechCrunch, Gap and others.

Along with the series of panels, Decoded Fashion also included a mentorship hub in which those working in related fields could set up and conduct one-on-one meetings with industry experts. Each mentor offered startups and emerging designers feedback and advice so that those startups and emerging designers can further hone and improve their offerings.

And, Of Course, GSD&M Threw a Massive Party

Each year, Austin-based ad agency GSD&M takes advantage of the fact that each year their fair city becomes a mecca for ad and marketing types. What better way to pimp yourself than to ply the industry with free food and alcohol?

An estimated 3,500 attended the agency’s party at which attendees could sample Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Pacifico beer and participate in a photo contest sponsored by Southwest. Winners of that contest were awarded front row seats—in the form of actual Southwest airplane seats—to the evening’s musical performances which included surprise guest Grammy winner, Gary Clark.

Random Sightings

The exhibit hall was full of activity and plenty to see:

A&E erected an even bigger Bates Motel display this year:

Many of the thoughts and topics discussed in panels during the 5 day Interactive conference were shared visually:


Only at a tech/marketing-related industry party is it totally cool for one person to be partying like crazy and the other to detach and stare at one’s phone:


This guy always makes an appearance at SXSW. This time from the sky:


It’s not SXSW without an Adrian Grenier siting:


And, lastly, this guy got lucky:


SXSW Panels: Woke Food

By Emily Beyda,

Monday's SXSW food track covered food activism, diversity, and community. Here are a few highlights.

How Technology Is Making Meals More Communal

Over the past few years in Korea, a popular new form of live streaming has emerged. Called mukbang, it consists of a videoblogger sitting down in front of the camera and consuming an enormous meal as she chats with her followers. Connecting over meals is one of the most essential forms of human connection. In a panel moderated by Padma Lakshmi, Vijay Karunamurthy, the CEO of Nom, Michelle Davis, co-founder of Thug Kitchen, and Nick Taranto, co-founder & co-CEO of Plated, discussed the ways in which technology can help people make a human connection over food.

They started out the panel by discussing how homemade meals have gained new traction in the food media space. As Lakshmi put it, “To me, it’s become almost entertainment in a way, not just food and cooking shows, but that the actual act of cooking can be the entertainment for the evening. And that’s great to me, because I think the number one thing people can do for their health is to cook more at home.” Taranto believes that with Americans becoming more and more interested in personal expression through food and cooking, data analysis can be an effective way to improve consumers’ experiences. “We’re interested in using our ability to harness data and personalize meals to meet an individual need. The modern consumer, and the way she eats, has changed enormously over the past 10 years.” Karunamurthy believes that live streaming can serve a similarly communal purpose. “It’s almost a social experience that everyone shares together. The rainbow sprinkles fad, for example, shows the social community drive, a desire to go back to the foods of your childhood. We can connect with what people are cooking in their own kitchen. People make those choices because we can see our friends participating along with us.” By streaming their cooking experiences, users of video-sharing websites can cook together, share expertise, and come together in a shared digital kitchen. “On weekends, we see a lot of people watching and streaming. Sundays, for example, have become big baking days, where people relax with their kids and spend three hours making a cake, streaming and sharing the recipe with their communities.”

Karunamurthy emphasized the importance of digital platforms in bringing a diversity of voices to the food media world. “People want to see chefs from all over the country. I hope there’s a lot more of that, that people realize wherever you are you’re going on this journey together, and bonding with this experience.” Lakshmi, agreed, saying “It’s the modern version of recipe swapping, or going to the state fair to present your apple pie.”

Occupy Your Meal

SXSW is all about optimism. Most of the talks here focus on the infinite possibilities of the future, how everything is going to be bigger, better, faster, brighter from here on out. How we can access a better world through smart coding and intentional consumption a vision of a kind of late-stage capitalistic utopia where you can fix what ails you, heal the world, by buying the right things in the right way. This panel on food activism, hosted by Strategar's Yareli Esteban, Snappy Salads' Chris Dahlander, United States Healthful Food Council's Caesare Assad, and Nectar's Imran Charania, was no exception, striking an uneasy balance between realpolitik misery and tech nerd optimism. They believe that food is going through a revolution that is both cosmetic and fundamental. As Esteban put it, “Consumers are no longer satisfied with the way things have been operating for the last 30, 40 years, but we believe we are in a position to make a change.”

That is precisely what they aim to do with their movement, Occupy Your Meal, creating a community of conscientious eaters to create systemic change through the personal choices they make around food and eating. A big part of this is being aware of the daily choices you make, and looking at the environment around you. They encourage eaters to do background research when going out to eat.“See if there’s a food scientist on their staff,” says Dahlander, who was cautiously optimistic of the direction the American industrialized food system is taking. “There are some companies that are making strides and trying to do good things, and I hate to say it, but McDonald’s is one of them. Campbell’s is starting to bring real foods into their soups again, and eliminate all the chemicals that have been put into those itty bitty cans.”

Assad emphasized the role of individual choices in effecting systemic change, “The reason these guys are shifting is because we are shifting. Consumer demand is shifting. People are more interested in accountability and consuming real food.” For larger brands, consumers can look for various types of sustainability and health certification. While certification might not be perfect, it least it lets you know that a company is interested in being held accountable and trying to do the right thing. Still, the problem is that many types of certification are extremely expensive to obtain. It costs ten thousand dollars to get organic certification, a process that can be prohibitively expensive for small farmers, making it meaningless if you’re buying locally from farmer’s markets. With all the enormous systemic problems with our food system, it can feel impossible to affect change on a personal level, but these panelists were optimistic. As Dahlander put it, “I don’t know how you can change the world without personally looking at what you’re doing, taking a close look at how you act and what you’re doing. If we look at how we’re spending our money, that’s how we can go the farthest, quickest.”

We Love Technology, Why Not When It Comes to Food

On this panel, sponsored by the Innovation Center for US Dairy and moderated by The Hartman Group's Melissa Abbott FTW Venture's Brian Frank, Fair Oaks Farms & Fairlife farmer Sue McCloskey, and AeroFarms' David Rosenberg got together to talk about the role of technology in shaping consumer preferences in a changing food system. The way that Americans think about sustainability and consumption has radically shifted over the past few decades. As Frank put it, “We’ve gone from this industrialized food system of the Fifties and Sixties to a completely different mindset about what consumers are looking to get out of their food.” Mobile technology allows consumers to unlock access to information on the go, to look for foods that meet their particular values, the needs of their family. Because of this transparency has become the new norm, and increasingly, consumers have questions about the food they buy and eat. We are better informed than they’ve ever been before at any point in American history, and more curious. In a study conducted by Abbott and her colleagues at The Hartman Group, 65% of Americans surveyed said companies earn consumer trust by being open about what’s in their products, and 55% wanted specific details about how their products were made, and who made them.

So how, in an atmosphere of increasing mistrust of behind the scene interactions between food and technology, how can brands establish trust? According to Frank, part of the problem is definitional. Most people think technology and food means GMOS, or increasing use of chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers. On the contrary, he said, “These people are using robots, they’re using computers, they’re using a lot of technology. But it shouldn’t be about fetishizing technology. It should be about making better food.” Farmers and food producers have to explain technology to the consumer in a way that’s going to help people understand and appreciate it’s uses. For McCloskey, it’s all about personal engagement. “You show them. We have busloads of people come to Fair Oaks Farm from urban areas, rural areas, all around the world, and they’re able to have their questions answered with complete honesty. We need to be able to say to ourselves that if there’s something we’re doing that I can’t explain in a clear and comprehensive way, maybe we need to take another look at those practices. We understand that we have to have those conversations, and we embrace the idea of having those conversations.”

We also need to look at the ways technology can improve the lives of farmers in the developing world, to help people help themselves and help them develop their economy. According to McCloskey, “The majority of the world’s farmers are women. If you could give these women the ability to grow more food than they need to support their families on a subsistence level, it would change their lives. We always talk about how technology can benefit us and what we need, but we need to remember that we are part of a world, we are part of a community.” Ultimately, for Rosenberg, applying technological innovations to food production is a matter of social responsibility. “We need a new paradigm of how we create our food. We need to embrace new behavioral patterns, and apply these new innovations towards how we create our food.”

Think Outside the Trash Can: Fight Food Waste Now

Americans waste millions of pounds of food per year. According to statistics cited by panelists Jane Francisco of Good Housekeeping, Sam Kass of Innit, Dana Gunders of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Jennifer Benuso of Whirlpool, 40% of food that passes through the supply chain isn’t eaten. 25% of the water used in agriculture production is used to grow food that is never eaten. 21% of everything that goes into American landfills is food. Kass suggests that the roots of this problem might lie in shifting cultural attitudes and behaviors. “We’re asking people to cook more and waste less. Our lifestyles are speeding up, transforming in every way, but in the kitchen people are still cooking like they did in the Fourties.”

But Francisco thinks that people can affect food waste patterns by changing their personal behaviors to effect systemic change. “The number one thing you can do to reduce food waste is plan ahead and do your grocery shopping appropriately. But life is so busy and hectic that it can be hard. One of the things we’re trying to get people to do is be loose with the way they’re cooking, substitution, cooking your fridge, looking for recipes to use what they have when things are starting to look wilty, what you can do with them.” By changing our cultural attitudes about food scraps and imperfect food, we can dramatically reduce food waste.

Kass says that, "Part of the issue is a really bad branding problem. It’s not waste, it’s good food that’s being thrown away. I don’t want to eat waste, waste is garbage, but this food is perfect. It might not be the prettiest food, but when it’s cooked well it’s delicious. We need a positive messaging frame to talk about how to handle food that would otherwise be wasted and make it taste good.” Gunders added that, in her experience, “A lot of really good food is being thrown out because of the ‘when in doubt, throw it out’ mantra. But the head of the food research institute said that he has never, in his forty years of working, heard of someone getting sick from eating food that was too old. Our bodies are really well equipped to know when not to eat food, when it will make us sick. If it looks fine, tastes fine, and smells fine, it’s likely fine to eat.”

The way we can change the endemic systemic problems caused by food waste, according to the panel, is to get to a point where wasting food is socially unacceptable. On an individual level, we need to be conscious about the waste we’re producing, to look at and think about our own waste. Why are you producing the waste you produce? Where does it come from? Kass, believes that, as a society, we need to put more intentional thought towards eating whole foods, the parts of the plants and animals we throw away because we think it’s not good to eat. “A lot of that stuff is completely edible, and if you cook it right it tastes great.” Gunders, agreed, adding, “Part of it is awareness, looking at the food waste around you. Another part of that is information. But part of it is convenience, how sometimes it just feels easier to order take out. And the biggest part of overcoming inconvenience is social pressure if you’re aware wasting food isn’t acceptable, you’re going to think a little harder about it.” As Kass said, “Our food behaviors are one of the deepest aspects of our culture. There are policies and technologies that can help shift this, but ultimately, it’s a question of culture, of cultural priorities.”

Stay Hungry: Increasing Diversity With Food and Hip Hop

According to the bureau of labor statistics says that the majority of people in top of the line, creative positions in kitchens are white men. 80% of James Beard awards go to white chefs, and of the remaining 20% of chefs of color who get the award are largely male. Darian Harvin, of Buzzfeed, sat down with The Gates Preserve's Syreeta Gates, meroë & Co's Candace Queen, and SheChef's Elle Simone to discuss how they have attempted to address the larger social issues of representation in the kitchen with their nonprofit organization Stay Hungry.

Gates was inspired to start Stay Hungry when she googled, “hip hop and food,” and the only thing that came up were lyrics of songs that mentioned food. She was interested in exploring this connection, but the resources she wanted didn’t exist. Stay Hungry works within urban food deserts to organize cooking competitions for young people inspired by hip hop beefs, each team of young people mentored by a chef/coach who helps them plan a meal and go head to head with a rival team. Each team is assigned a different hip hop lyric, and cooks a recipe inspired by it, making a personal connection with the music on the plate. The chef coaches select a lyric, Stay Hungry orders food based on the content, and the students and chefs have four hours to work together to plan and execute their lyrically inspired meals. Simone explains, “They can be creative at the time of competition about the ways they want to transform that lyric into food.”

Before she joined Stay Hungry, Queen was researching the demographics of food deserts at UT. By working with Stay Hungry, she feels that her work is having a real impact on the community and affecting ground level change. As Gates put it, “A lot of times in our communities, we live in food deserts, so the only thing we have access to is KFC, McDonalds, etc etc. And in the process of ordering a number five and a fruit punch, you don’t get to cook, you don’t have access to raw ingredients. This is the first time a lot of them cooked steak, or green vegetables. And we hear from parents that it’s changing their children’s behavior, they can’t get them out of the kitchen.” Simone agreed, adding, “Representation is very important. If you don’t see yourself in something, you don’t see yourself in something. They get to meet these chef coaches, seeing themselves represented in a plethora of ways that will get them to start thinking about their life outside the food desert.”

The New Food Words: What Do They All Mean?

All Natural
Gasparro cut right to the chase. “It doesn’t mean anything! There are no regulations about what can be labeled natural when it comes to packaged food. The FDA is in the process of creating standards for the word ‘natural,’ but right now it’s hard because when you see the word natural you don’t necessarily know what that means. The USDA has a definition of natural that means you’re not having any preservatives added to the meat, nothing to do with the diet or quality of life of the animal.” Collins went even further, saying, “For me it’s a warning sign, because it means the company doesn’t have anything specifically good to say about their food.” So if you’re buying a product labeled “all natural,” make sure to take a close look at the ingredients list.

Biodynamic
Dickson says that biodynamic agriculture goes “beyond organic,” taking extra steps to ensure that crops and animals are brought to market through a holistic engagement with the land. “It starts at its core,” he says, “With organic principles, and most growers are certified organic, but goes beyond that. Biodynamic farmers have to devote a certain amount of land to biodiversity, There’s the use of herbal preparations and special composts, planting according to the lunar cycle.” Think of biodynamic agriculture as organic plus, a farming method that is concerned with the natural life cycles of the products they grow, engaging in ancient agricultural traditions.

Cage Free
Unfortunately, those cage free eggs you’ve been springing for might not be as chicken friendly as you hoped. As Dickson explains, “You can have animals that are labeled cage free that are packed into rooms where they have even less space than they did when they were in cages.”

Grass fed
Much like cage free eggs, grass fed milk might not live up to the idyllic image its name suggests. Dickson says,“The norm in America today is that cows live most of their lives eating grass, then end their lives eating grain in a feedlot. Grass fed beef is a reaction to that model. For an animal to be classified as grass fed meat, it has to have eaten mostly grass throughout its whole life. Grass fed dairy is huge, and there’s less self regulation in that industry and no government regulation at all.”

Non-GMO
Gasparro says that labeling around genetically modified foods is well regulated but limited in its scope. “This has to do with the seeds that are planted to grow the corn and soybeans that make ingredients, like high fructose corn syrups, used in packaged foods. There are a few regulatory bodies that look at this, so you know it’s certified by someone other than the company.” But, as Pincoffs warns, “To be clear, just because non GMO is on the label does not mean it’s good for you. You can have non GMO garbage as well.”

Organic
Dickson described the origination of the USDA organic label by explaining how, “The organic standard was introduced due to widespread fraud, because in many states non organic apples and onions were being sold as organic.” Today, organic produce must be grown without pesticides. Animals must have access to the outdoors. Organic farmers can’t use any GMOS. “Out of all the food claims we talked about in preparing for this, I can’t think of another that’s more heavily regulated,” says Dickson, although he added that in an era when consumers are increasingly mistrustful of the government, this isn’t always a good thing. Still, Pincoffs calls it, “The most codified standards that goes across everything.” The organic label is a fairly reliable catchall label that rules out some of the worst excesses of industrialized agriculture.

Regenerative Agriculture
Regenerative agriculture is dedicated to intentionally restoring grasslands through the use of grazing animals Gasparro, the founder of EPIC meat bars, is a fan of regenerative agriculture because he believes, “It creates diverse habitats for native species and migratory species. It’s about healing the land, improving it, making it a better place than it was before.” While sustainable agriculture tries to maintain land at the same quality throughout years of growing cycles, Gasparro says that, “Regenerative farming tries to create a net positive outcome, rather than just sustaining it where we’re at.”

So what can you do with all this information the next time you’re wandering through the local Whole Foods? You can use these labels to vote with your dollars, deciding what foods best match up with your priorities and values. As Pincoffs put it, “There are a lot of people between you and your food, so it’s hard to know who to trust. And there are magnificent people who are doing good work taking care of their slice of earth, who are worthy of support. Because it does matter. Everything is impacted by food, by what you put in your body. And you put things in your body at least three times a day, sometimes more, so these decisions are important”


In the sponsorship game, AT&T promotes and protects its brand

It’s one of the most valuable brands in the world, and to bolster it, AT&T Inc. reportedly spends nearly $200 million a year on sponsorships here and around the country.

The giant Dallas-based communications firm attaches its name and its blue and white globe logo to such places and events as AT&T Stadium in Arlington, the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas, SXSW in Austin and the AT&T Jeb Bush Florida Classic, a golf and fishing tournament that raises money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Earlier this year, AT&T even teamed with Latin Grammy winners Jesse & Joy to create an anthem for fans of the Mexican national soccer team. No doubt you’ll hear choruses of “Corazón de Campeón” (Heart of a Champion) when Mexico plays the United States in a World Cup qualifier on Sept. 10 in Columbus, Ohio. It’s one of the most important matches of the year for both teams.

At its basic level, “Corazón de Campeón” is about passion — the passion of fans and players — which is also a good word to describe AT&T’s approach to sponsorships.

“We want to connect with people at their passion points,” Jamie Kerr, an AT&T sponsorship director, said last year in a video posted on a sports marketing website.

Another word to describe the AT&T approach might be secrecy. For competitive reasons, AT&T initially declined interview requests for this story, which began two weeks ago. But late Friday afternoon, after the deadline for the Sunday section, the company offered to make someone available next week.

The telecom industry is huge and ultracompetitive. Sprint has partnered with the National Basketball Association. Verizon is the official wireless provider of the National Football League. Earlier this year, Verizon renewed an agreement, said to be worth $1 billion over four years, allowing it to stream even more NFL games to its customers’ smartphones.

Because of its recent naming rights deal with the Cowboys, though, AT&T grabbed a share of pro football’s glow for itself. In a rights package that some news outlets estimate could approach $20 million some years, AT&T secured the marquee venue — AT&T Stadium — in the marquee American sports league.

“These sports are where companies can be assured of reaching their audience,” said Michael Wright, executive vice president at IEG, a Chicago-based marketing consultant.

In a report this year about sponsorship growth, IEG said there is “unprecedented recognition at the highest levels of corporations” that sponsorships can support brands “in an environment that is otherwise hostile to marketing communications.”

Sponsorships are now a key part of corporate strategic planning, IEG said, and are likely to be part of “integrated marketing programs” that also employ traditional advertising.

Changing world

In some ways, today’s AT&T is reinvigorating the power of a brand that had gone a little stale after the breakup of the Bell System in the 1980s into Southwestern Bell Corp. and other regional operating companies.

Southwestern Bell later changed its name to SBC Communications and, in 2005, acquired AT&T Corp., changing the corporate name to AT&T Inc. The next year, the new AT&T acquired BellSouth, its partner in Cingular Wireless.

The rebranding of Cingular to AT&T in 2007 caused a major controversy on the sponsorship front, illustrating just how important such arrangements can be.

Nextel (Sprint Nextel after a merger) was the sponsor of NASCAR’s top stock car racing series, but Cingular’s sponsorship of a car was grandfathered. When AT&T wanted to replace Cingular logos on Jeff Burton’s No. 31 car with AT&T, NASCAR said no. AT&T sued and NASCAR countersued, for $100 million. An appeals court sided with NASCAR. A settlement was reached, however, that allowed AT&T to sponsor Burton’s car through the 2008 season.

With more than $125 billion in annual revenue, AT&T is one of the largest companies in the world. Its brand is the sixth most valuable, behind Apple, Google, IBM, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, according to Millward Brown’s BrandZ Top 100 global report for this year.

“Brands take on greater importance, meaning and responsibility in today’s rapidly changing, interconnected world,” the Millward Brown report said.

You won't get an argument from AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson. In 2010, two years after the company moved its headquarters from San Antonio to Dallas, Stephenson sat for an interview with The Dallas Morning News. He related an analogy he used to emphasize the importance of the AT&T brand.

“That brand is my 13-year-old daughter, and I’m giving you responsibility for protecting her,” Stephenson said he told the company’s global marketing officer. “Do not attach that brand to anything that we do not have the highest confidence in.”

In 2012, AT&T spent between $175 million and $180 million on sponsorships directed at the U.S. market, IEG estimates, ranking behind only PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch InBev and Nike.

That doesn’t capture the complete extent of AT&T’s commitment to the events and organizations it sponsors, particularly when sponsorships extend into traditional advertising. AT&T spends roughly $3 billion a year on advertising, according to its financial filings.

Active in sports

IEG estimates that total North American spending on sponsorships will hit nearly $20 billion this year, up more than 5 percent from a year ago. Nearly 70 percent of the spending goes to sports, 10 percent to entertainment, 9 percent to causes and 5 percent to the arts.

AT&T is active in all of those areas.

In sports, AT&T sponsors the annual Cotton Bowl game, now in Arlington at AT&T Stadium, the Red River Rivalry (Texas vs. Oklahoma football) at Fair Park and the AT&T Nation’s Football Classic, a game between black colleges at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

AT&T already has its name on two golf tournaments on the PGA Tour and in 2015 becomes the main sponsor of the Byron Nelson Championship here. It’s also one of the main corporate advertisers for the Masters.

The company sponsors U.S. Olympic and Paralympic efforts, the Grand Prix race track in Austin, and National Collegiate Athletic Association events as a corporate champion and official wireless service provider. At the Men’s Final Four basketball tournament in Atlanta this year, the Zac Brown Band headlined the AT&T Block Party.

AT&T Stadium is one of five sports venues with the company’s name. AT&T Center in San Antonio is home of the Spurs in the NBA. AT&T Park in San Francisco is home of the Giants in Major League Baseball. Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock hosts Texas Tech football. AT&T Field in Chattanooga, Tenn., is home of the Chattanooga Lookouts, a Double A baseball team.

In entertainment and the arts, AT&T is a sponsor of the popular TV show American Idol, is the official wireless provider of Walt Disney World and Disneyland, and is a sponsor of the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, the DUMBO Arts Festival in Brooklyn, and the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee.

AT&T also sponsors QuakeCon, the annual gaming gathering here.

“Those AT&T guys are really cool,” said Tim Willits, studio director for id Software. Willits said that on the peak night of QuakeCon, there are 6,000 machines plugged into the Internet connection — supplied by AT&T — at one location.

“It’s a ridiculously fast connection,” he said.

In its sponsorships, AT&T tries to make the venues a showcase for its technology, which will ultimately expand traffic on its network.

Increasingly, AT&T also tries to secure exclusive content that it can offer to customers and potential customers. That’s part of the deal with the Cowboys and Bonnaroo.

“Companies with the conduit between that content and the audience clearly will be the major players,” IEG’s Wright said.

Additionally, AT&T is the communications sponsor of the Boy Scouts of America. It provided the initial funding to help create, and continues to support, Curing Kids Cancer, an organization that funds pediatric cancer research. And it was a sponsor of this year’s Blogging While Brown conference in New York, dedicated to bloggers of color.

Numbers kept secret

How much does AT&T spend on these individual sponsorships?

The company doesn’t say. Confidentiality was a stipulation in the agreement with the Cowboys, though there have been plenty of estimates. AT&T has never said what it spends on its Performing Arts Center sponsorship, and the arts organization’s publicly available financial documents don’t say, either.

Occasionally, the public gets a peek at specific amounts.

Financial disclosures for the Cotton Bowl Association indicate that AT&T paid $771,400 to sponsor the 2010 game. It was the first game in Arlington and the final year of the old contract between AT&T and the association, an association spokesman said. In more recent financial disclosures, there is no indication of what AT&T is paying.

AT&T paid a total of $21 million, from 2007 through 2011, in its sponsorship agreement with Texas Tech, which included the company’s name on the football stadium. A copy of the agreement was obtained through an open records request.

The company's corporate champion deal with the NCAA and its umbrella deal with Major League Soccer, U.S. Soccer and the Mexican Soccer Federation are each estimated, or hinted, to be worth "eight figures" annually by Street & Smith's Sports Business.

And when AT&T Park in San Francisco opened as Pacific Bell Park in 2000, the naming rights had been acquired by Pacific Telesis in a deal totaling $50 million over 24 years.

Christina Landshut, executive director of the South Florida office of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, said AT&T has been “wonderful” to work with on the Jeb Bush Classic.

Named for the former governor of Florida, who is the son of one U.S. president and brother of another, the event has netted more than $6 million for the foundation since it began 18 years ago. AT&T became the title sponsor in 2008. This year, the title sponsorship is listed at $75,000 on the classic’s website.

“Having such a prestigious organization involved just lent so much credibility to the event,” Landshut said.


SXSW Film Conference and Festival '98 Further Reflections

Dir/scr: Roland Tec Prod: Catherine Burns & Roland Tec DP: Gretchen Widmer Ed: Jon Altschuler Cast: Peter Bubriski, Jay Corcoran, John-Michael Lander, Jeff Miller, Paul Outlaw, Merle Perkins, David Vincent.

Here's a movie that revives a dreaded art-film convention - the one that places a shocking, unexpected ending behind a litany of perfectly timed and purposeful plot events. In the case of All the Rage , that means that Christopher - a slick, oversexed attorney - finally finds true love with book editor Stewart and - as foreshadowed - blows it all by having a fling with Stewart's roommate. He then has to pay for his sin by having a one-night stand and a potentially murderous situation with an obsessive psycho type whom he doesn't even realize he's had sex with before. This ending is a shame not so much because the viewer wants Stewart and Christopher to happily work out their relationship but because it zaps the viewer with a sterile, preachy aftertaste entirely befiting the stiff Boston setting of All the Rage , which Roland Tec adapted and directed from his stage play, A Better Boy . All actors sing with enthusiasm for their parts. Peter Bubriski tinges the role of Christopher Bedford with a hint of vulnerability beneath a steely exterior. - Claiborne Smith

Dir: Ruth Leitman Prod: Ruth Leitman, Margie Thorpe, Nancy Segler Exec Prod: Peter Wentworth DP: Mark Petersen, Ruth Leitman, Nancy Segler Ed: Ann Husaini, Ruth Leitman, Darcy Bowman Cast: Alma Thorpe, Margie Thorpe, James Thorpe.

Alma Thorpe, the subject of documentarian Ruth Leitman's Alma, suffers from mental illnesses that could be explained in a rather perfunctory manner by most any mental health professional. Fortunately for her audience, Leitman bypasses those facts for other, more rewarding insights, like Alma's unarticulated reliance upon her daughter Miss Margie, a staple of the Atlanta music scene, who ends up becoming the emotional and visual ballast of this complex, excellent documentary. At the film's beginning, after learning that her mother is once again mentally unstable to the point of hospitalization, Margie resolves to "leave my family to their own existence," a resolution that unravels by the film's end as Margie realizes, with no small amount of pain, that she can't leave her mother and once-abusive father to their own devices. Leitman is the filmmaker behind SXSW '96's Wildwood, New Jersey , which documents seaside New Jersey girls. Alma is the concatenation of many perceived, sometimes stereotypical, notions of Southern women. Thus, simply shooting the camera at Alma (and Margie) turns this documentary into a treatise on Southern girls, though "treatise" makes it seem as if hilarious moments do not arise amid all the pathos, moments that usually consist of Margie providing renditions of her mother's fantasies. Margie is Alma 's producer and was present at SXSW screenings of the film, which made for a jarring union of the onscreen Margie and her role as the instigator of this documentary. Alma is a sad Southern specter, the damsel in distress who is also a forceful and manipulative woman, the type that fueled the imaginations of Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, and Truman Capote Leitman no less poetically and eloquently mines the same territory. - Claiborne Smith

Dir/ed: Kyle Henry Prod: Calvin N. Preece, Dan Delaney, Kyle Henry DP: Helen Lee.

Gene Mikulenka stands at odd personal and societal crossroads - at 39 he's an engaged, aging, gay cowboy who knows his riding days are soon over. He stands at those crossroads haltingly, though, because in American Cowboy 's opening, a bull bucks Gene in rodeo competition and then steps on him, breaking his right leg in two places, which is particularly unfortunate for someone who stresses that he's "not used to being still." Gene also makes it quite clear that he's not used to being filmed, which makes for its own drama on top of the drama behind his broken leg and his anxiety about asking his partner Stephen to marry him. Gene declares that there is "a personal and private side of yourself that you don't want to just reveal to the world," and he's forthright in making his feelings known. Gene's reluctance stems in part from the fact that he's not entirely out to his small-town, South Texas family. To demonstrate just how many obstructions he had to brook in order to capture Gene at ease, UT documentarian Kyle Henry steps inside the frame throughout the documentary as if to show the whole picture. The viewer is privy to shot set-ups, discussions between Kyle and Gene about what will and will not be filmed, and the film crew's bungled directions in following Gene to a New Mexico rodeo competition. More than one documentary has been stifled by this technique, but not American Cowboy . - Claiborne Smith

Johnathon Demme
photograph by John Anderson ANTONE AND THE BLUES: A STORY OF OBSESSION

Dir: Robb Niles, Chip Ferruko Prod: Robb Niles.

Bottom line: Clifford Antone loves the blues. And this authorized biography serves up a litany of big names ready to tell you just that. The documentary chronicles the evolution of Antone's nightclub from a clothing store to the sanctuary for some of the country's most talented artists. Successfully, the film illuminates the rare integrity Antone has and his unique symbiotic relationship to the musician. And yet, there is something the film lacks. It's not so much the "Arrest? What arrest?" omission of the clubowner's recent legal troubles. And it's not that the piece is slow pictures, footage, and endless interviews make it at least historically intriguing. The problem is that the film fails to capture or even show a glimmer of the passion of the blues itself. Where is the sultry slice of bohemia Guy Forsyth so aptly describes as a "late-night, drums-voodoo-sex ritual?" After a while, sober musicians inarticulately answering questions grows to be dull stuff. Niles and Ferruko should take a hint from Antone himself, who knows where the kernel of truth lies. Not in the words themselves - in the music, boys, the sweaty smile, the wordless screech of a guitar, the soul and truth buried in the music, the music, the blues. - Sarah Hepola

Dir/scr/prod: Anne Makepeace DP: Uta Briesewitz Ed: Jennifer Chinlund, Anne Makepeace.

When filmmaker Anne Makepeace and her husband Peter, a writer, decide to chronicle their attempts to conceive a child, they expose themselves and the audience to the brutal vagaries of fertility. So simple for some, so heartbreakingly difficult for others, the feat of conception is rife with all sorts of emotions: blame, hope, joy, futility, anger, and inequity. A pretty good arsenal for a movie. But, ultimately it is the weight of that arsenal that bogs this picture down. As Anne struggles with an increasingly remote prospect of conception, she also begins to look inward, past her aging procreative equipment to the demons that haunt her soul. An earlier, unwanted pregnancy is depicted in nightmarish visuals and accompanied by a chillingly matter-of-fact voiceover. Anne seeks delayed absolution for the abortion, and you sense that part of her believes that forgiveness would make her fertile again. She visits her brothers: one leading a solitary life tending goats in Appalachia, the other, a Manhattan yuppie planning to live part-time in Utah where he will become a part-time polygamist and father to a passel of children. She interviews aunts and uncles about her dysfunctional life and her parents' shortcomings. The camera makes us privy to the most intimate of discussions, and the effect is unsettling, like eavesdropping from behind a psychiatrist's couch. Interesting, even captivating, but do we really want to know this? In the long run, this is a film not so much about making a baby as it is about coping with the hand that's been dealt you. It could have as easily been titled, Baby, It's Me . - Hollis Chacona

Dir/scr: Stacy Kirk Prod: Bob Millar DP: Steve Cosens Ed: Patti Henderson, Fredrik Thorsen Cast: Peter Fleming, Babz Chula, Earl Pastko, Suzy Joachim, Deanna Milligan, William McDonald, Mary McDonald, Faustino Cachilapo.

Shakespeare was wrong when he said that music was the food of love. But, to be fair, barbecue hadn't been invented in Renaissance England. There's just something about meat slow-grilling, rubbed in spices and bathed in sauce, served with a nice, cold iced tea that gets juices other than the salivary flowing. Especially for Lucky, the slow-speaking Texan with a sweet spot for good barbecue. Unfortunately, Lucky is a barbecue savant, talented at licking his fingers but falls short in just about any other useful category, particularly when it involves women. Texas-born director-screenwriter Stacy Kirk loves Lucky and has carefully crafted a slow, sweet film that celebrates Lucky's talent with meat and never flinching from his heartache while spinning in sub-plots that heat up the coals in this savory pit. But the film, like a good all-you-can-eat special, satisfies and, if you're careful, leaves you just this side of stuffed.

Unfortunately, the preceding short, Matthew Harrison's "Bystander From Hell," is a lousy appetizer for this wonderful repast. "Bystander" is like being trapped on a street with your Uncle Louie and forced to listen to his stories, including the ones that could get him arrested, until the traffic light changes and you can escape. - Adrienne Martini

BARBIE NATION: AN UNAUTHORIZED TOUR

Dir/prod: Susan Stern Assoc Prod: Trish Harrington Ed: Elizabeth Finlayson.

"Cuba 15," Elizabeth Schub's touching and unnerving short about a Cubana's quinceañera, is the perfect warm-up to Barbie Nation: An Unauthorized Tour . Both deal with the passions of young girls who dream of being adults with real breasts and hips. Both walk that careful edge of showing the world of the subjects without over-editorializing about the worth of their obsessions. And both deal with sexuality, the playful seductions of a girl learning to be a woman and the plastic perfections of a grown-up doll. But, at some point, the similarities end and Barbie Nation takes a deeper look into all things that come with miniature accessories, whether they be homemade S&M Barbies or the scary Barbie conventions where doll designer and Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler is treated like the Pontiff. While this documentary is loosely about Handler's journey through Barbieland and her obsessions with all things mammary, director-producer Susan Stern uncovers more grist for the Barbie-mill with unauthorized versions of the perky blonde that would make any toy exec blush. But there is something essentially American about Stern's discoveries, and her film shows volumes about our country's needs for fantasy and role-play. - Adrienne Martini

Dir/ed: Scott Storm Scr: Dylan Kussman Prod: David Hayter, Anthony Miller Exec Prod: Bryan Singer, Adam Duritz, Steve Jensen DP: Peter Blue Rieveschl Cast: Randall Slavin, David Hayter, Andrea Roth, Alfonso Freeman, Karen Rosa.

A nearly empty Hollywood apartment, writing scrawled on the azure walls. In it, a solitary chair and a desk with a typewriter and a neatly arranged stack of paper, an offering to an unappreciative muse. The occupant, naked, unkempt, smoking nervously, crouches in the center of the floor, as if the walls were his prison and his jailer due any moment. The jailer, though, is blithely unaware of his role, and when he shows up is unprepared for the prisoner's reaction. Tom is a glib, self-centered fellow whom the muse has favored. Having just finished his novel (on a pentium processor computer, no doubt), Tom returns to California and his old pal Ben, a writer whose manual typewriter has cobwebs between the keys. The two haven't seen each other in a long time, and Tom, having forgotten, or never having acknowledged, the rift between them, is eager for his friend to read (and admire) his manuscript. Admiration, of course, is not what awaits Tom, for Ben, endlessly adrift in that blue apartment has had nothing to do but bank the embers of his resentment. Burn is very nearly an interesting character study, a minute examination of self-awareness, creativity, anger, and friendship, of catalysts, both perceived and unrecognized. It's a tight, confined wordplay, staged entirely within a single room, its emptiness amplifying each word. That being so, each word, each movement should be feeding our anticipation, drawing us in. But Burn falls just short. Neither the script nor the actors are quite strong enough. We bob at the edge, continuously caught, then released by the waves, the emotional current never quite strong enough to draw us all the way in. - Hollis Chacona

Dir/scr: Julien Nitzberg Prod: Hayley Marcus, Rachel Frazin DP: Kelly Evans, Warren Yeager Ed: Charlie Webber Cast: Mary Sheridan, Judson Mills, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Johnny Strong, Thom Rachford, Sandra Tucker, Victor Raider-Wexler, Geraldine Allen.

Another in a long, tired line of "black comedies about white trash" - it's telling when a film at its world premiere already smells ripe enough for syndication. The story is structured like an episodic "best of" of the genre: a young woman and her boyfriend get busted for drugs in front of a national television audience when the police raid their house with a Cops -style film crew in tow. She then must struggle to raise enough money for her beau's bail and keep from losing custody rights of her daughter - all under the sneers and leers of the white trash family members around her. It's not surprising that this won the runner-up award at SXSW over the other "white trash" entry, the elegantly formal and sublimely nuanced Barbecue. A Love Story . Kern County is an easier read: sensationalist plot devices, over-the-top performances, and a laughs-at-all-expense tone. It's infused with a rapid-fire energy, but white trash is an all-too-easy target, and there is a fine but strict line between satire and rube-like condescension. Kern County falls squarely on the side of the latter. - Jerry Johnson

Dir/scr/prod: Scott Large, James Murray DP: Brett Reynolds Ed: Po Kutchins, Brian Hicks, Scott Large Cast: Jason Andrews, Eddie Daniels, Bill Wise.

Conspiracy theorizing is fashionable stuff these days: It's been effectively utilized as either outlandish improbability turned wonderfully dry humor (Gerry Daloney's "Hey pal, did I overhear you say you've got a friend that's missing?" character in Slacker ) or substantiated fact ( Waco: The Rules of Engagement ). The combination of the two, though, in Scott Large's and James Murray's Central Standard Time results in a boorishly taxing and longwinded rant. The film's cast of twentysomething militia characters treat the most incredible of international governmental arrangements as fact and then spew them out without the slightest hint of self-deprecation for their collective inability to see that the simplest explanation might be the best. So instead of dialogue, the result is more of a drawn-out collection of diatribes, and they are the toughest kind of diatribes to sit through because, well, the joke isn't funny anymore. Throw in gratuitous gun usage and some sexuality (in fact, Eddie Daniels' innate lustiness is the most interesting thing on screen from about minute five to minute 25) with a thin narrative that erupts with a predictable apocalyptic flair and the project is complete. And that's really the weakness of Central Standard Time , not that its subject matter is based on fashion and fashion is inherently transitory, but that it's just not a remotely interesting story. - Michael Bertin

Dir/prod/dp: Phillip Glau Ed: Phillip Glau, Grover Babcock.

This chronicle of a self-described punk rock circus' calamitous cross-country tour is a kissin' cousin to such mockumentaries as This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman , with one crucial distinction: It's all true! In 1995, an ambitious young huckster named Chicken John really did pack 17 quote-unquote performers into two rapidly disintegrating vans and hit the road, presenting a low-rent carnival show - one veteran of the tour christened it "Cirque du So-Lame" - in clubs, youth centers, and, hell's bells, anywhere they could (in Austin, that ended up being a trash recycling center). The result was a protracted parade of disasters every bit as hilarious as the ones cooked up for mockumentaries, but with an extra comic edge by virtue of it having actually happened. Filmmaker Glau captures the tour's implosion in riotous detail every other frame seems to be another catastrophe - an automotive breakdown, a gig that doesn't happen, a gig that does but draws fewer than a dozen people - with the circus' Olympian ineptitude made even more hysterical by acerbic remembrances from tour survivors and Glau's own cinematic punctuation marks. It's a tale true to the troupe's name: ridiculous, a real tour de farce. - Robert Faires

Dir: Lynn Hershman Leeson Scr: Lynn Hershman Leeson, Eileen Jones Prod: Henry S. Rosenthal, Lynn Hershman Leeson DP: Hiro Narita, Bill Zarchy Ed: Robert Dalva Cast: Tilda Swinton, Timothy Leary, Karen Black, Francesca Faridany, John O'Keefe, J.D. Wolfe, John Perry Barlow, Owen Murphy.

There are so many movies that use parallel lives as devices to explore the past-present continuum that it's upsetting when one like Conceiving Ada , which boasts the incendiary intelligence of British actress Tilda Swinton as Byron's daughter Lady Ada Byron Lovelace, doesn't do more than set up the fact that there are similarities in the lives of two women, Emmy, a present-day MIT computer genius, and Ada, a 19th-century mathematical genius. Emmy uses her computer to actually enter Ada's life by entering an idea like "conception" or a specific date, Emmy makes it possible for that moment to unravel like a movie clip on her computer screen. When she wants to go a step further and communicate with Ada, her boyfriend, the father of their unborn child, becomes frustrated with Emmy's tireless vision and lack of attention to her pregnancy, which upon doctor's orders necessitates rest. The two lives are not seamlessly dovetailed, which makes for a fragmented narrative in which we learn not enough about Ada and spend too much time with Emmy. Her breakthrough in devising computerized time travel and her subsequent ability to speak with her idol - to tell Ada that she thinks she can help her out of her miserable, dying existence - are high points in the film. - Claiborne Smith

Dir: Stan Schofield Scr: Steve Schmidt, Ed Schmidt Prod: Stan Schofield, Susan Horn-Toffler, Paula Cohen, Doug McCulloch DP: Larry Fong Cast: Edie Falco, Andrew Lowery, James Villemaire, Bill Sage, Amy Horne, Caitlin Clarke.

Cost of Living belongs to the interesting offshoot of film noir that dispenses with the familiar plot device of the criminal caper and devotes its full attention to the moral and philosophical conflicts which have always been the genre's most intriguing feature. Schofield's story focuses on a rugged individualist named Billie (Falco, in a masterful, richly authentic acting turn) forced into the uncomfortable position of asking for help when menacing figures from her past corner her in a Gulf Coast fishing town. Despite minor flaws such as an annoyingly derivative performance by Villemaire as a blue-collar stud who becomes Billie's antagonist/lust object, this is a smart, evocative movie that compares surprisingly well with the works of modern noir innovators such as John Dahl and Steven Soderbergh. The key to Schofield's success is an approach to this filmmaking style that proceeds from a deep understanding of its complex, wised-up worldview, not just a desire to soak up its hip cachet. The hard existential questions raised by good noir storytelling are intelligently explored (especially, in this case, the terrible implications of complete freedom) and resolved with a lingering hint of mystery that avoids tying the ends up too neatly. Cost of Living is an impressive performance by a director with a true, unfakeable vision and the artistry to bring it fully realized to the screen. - Russell Smith

Dir/scr: Tim McCanlies Prod: Chase Foster, Peter White, Dana Shaffer, Michael Burns, Leanna Creel DP: Andrew Dintenfass Ed: Rob Korbin Cast: Breckin Meyer, Peter Facinelli, Eddie Mills, Ethan Embry, Ashley Johnson, Alexandra Holden, Eddie Jones, Lucy Jacobson.

A winsome sweetness marks writer-director Tim McCanlies' debut feature Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 , a sweetness made all the more dear for the film's agile sidestepping of any tendency toward cloying sentimentality or trite homilies. Dancer, Texas bursts with fresh attitude and a genuine love of its characters and location. The story zeroes in on four West Texas small-town boys whose childhood vow to leave on the first bus out of Dancer following their high school graduation, has now reached the "put-up or shut-up" stage. The events are compressed into the span of one weekend as each character struggles to make his peace with the conflicting desires of breaking free and staying put. Although the conflicts are the universal dilemmas of young adulthood, McCanlies also imbues his movie with the distinctive color of regional specificity. Modern life in a small Texas town hasn't been depicted with this much soulful passion since The Last Picture Show . In the film's four leads, McCanlies also finds effective communicators of the brave uncertainty that's required in order for young adults to consciously leap into the rest of their lives. It's possible to trace Dancer, Texas ' lineage to a such films as American Graffiti and Diner , yet what these films have in common is greater than mere subject matter - what they share is an abiding love and respect for their characters. The local colors of Dancer, Texas are painted with a vivid American palette. - Marjorie Baumgarten

Dir/scr: Dan Rosen Prod: Michael Amato, Ted Schipper, Jeremy Lew, Alain Siritzky, Pierre Kalfon, Michael Chambat, Ian Jessel DP: Joey Forsyte Ed: Glenn Garland Cast: Matthew Lillard, Michael Vartan, Randall Batinkoff, Keri Russell, Tamara Craig Thomas, Anthony Griffin, Bo Dietle, Dana Delany.

Take the kooky coeds of Rosen's last screenplay The Last Supper , add Scream 's mordant sensibility (and its bad boy Matthew Lillard) and you have Dead Man's Curve , an amusing yet wholly derivative tongue-in-cheek thriller. The premise revolves around the rumor that if your college roommate kills himself, you receive a 4.0 for the semester. So when Harvard hopefuls Tim (Lillard) and Chris (Vartan) find their grades slumping, the only way out seems to be setting up roomie Rand (Batinkoff) for his last fall. Of course, it's never that easy, as our heroes (?) soon find out. Rosen, taking a cue from recent teen thrillers, is playing for laughs here. And he does give us many yuck-yucks at his characters' expense, like when a psychiatrist played by Dana Delaney unironically lists signs of suicidal behavior: listening to Suzanne Vega, watching Scandinavian films. What Rosen doesn't give us, however, is much credit for having a brain. And by the film's improbable ending, my disbelief was so suspended it actually hung itself. The absurdity of the scenario coupled with the skewed assessment of today's job market ("It's either an MBA from Harvard or you're flipping burgers") makes for a slick film that could fly, but ends up dead on arrival. - Sarah Hepola

Dir/scr: Tim Kirkman Prod: Mary Beth Mann Exec Prod: Gill Holland DP: Norwood Cheek, Ashley McKinney Ed: Joe Klotz.

A gay man from North Carolina. A dissonance in that phrase, as if it's a contradiction in terms to be homosexual and come from the state so strongly identified with National Homophobe Jesse Helms, leads Tim Kirkman to take an extended leave from his comfortably outed life in New York City and return home, camera in hand. He's seeking a way to reconcile who he is and where he comes from, but his path to self-revelation is through his opposite, the gay-hating, gay-baiting Helms. Kirkman goes on a tour of the state, exploring Helms' background and talking to North Carolinians of diverse political persuasions about the senator and their experiences with him, politically and personally. There's a bit of a dodge in Kirkman's approach in shifting the focus almost exclusively to Helms, the filmmaker also removes himself from close scrutiny, leaving us with holes in his history and not a few questions about what all contributed to his self-imposed exile in New York. Still, the calm, reasoned air with which Kirkman investigates his subject gives this profile of an incendiary figure an extraordinary compassion and commendable humanity. - Robert Faires

Atom Egoyan
photograph by John Anderson

Dir/scr: Andy Anderson Prod: Robert Castaldo, K.C. Irick DP: Gary Watson Ed: Robert Castaldo Cast: John Davies, Marsha Dietlein, Susana Gibb, Meason Wiley, Rebecca Sanabria, Brandy Little, Jonathan Brent, Kirk Kelley-Khan.

If you think the only fate worse than death is to be shut up with an insurance salesman for an extended period of time, you obviously haven't seen Detention , (or been forced to listen to Toni Basil's "Mickey" on a loudly played, continuous loop recording). This is a funny, scary, and seriously provocative movie about behavior modification, learning, and the state of education in our society. Bill Walmsley is a mild-mannered fellow with a circus, a Master of Education degree, and a V.A. hospital all in his background. At first encounter, he is in his apartment, surrounded by circus memorabilia, somewhat disoriented and inordinately disturbed by a pounding on his door. He grasps the first straw that comes by, a telephone offer of a job as a permanently temporary (or temporarily permanent) detention-hall teacher in a senior high school (another clue to the state of Walmsley's mind, as this is not your ideal re-entry situation). Students who openly taunt him, knowing he has no recourse, teachers who have long since given up trying to teach, and a principal concerned only with keeping students alive and lawsuits at bay are all part of Walmsley's initiation at the ominously named Donner High. Still, Mr. Walmsley maintains his quiet, rational behavior until, inevitably, something has to give. Exactly who gives what, however, is open to interpretation. Must the spirit be subdued so that the mind may absorb the theory of Keynesian economics? Can cooperation exist only between conformists? Does the end justify the means? Detention is textured with wacky, funhouse visuals and an offbeat, savage humor that belie the dogma of the dialogue and the tidy nicety of the puff-piece ending. I came out of Detention feeling as though I'd spent two hours standing on tilted floors and looking at wavy mirrors. - Hollis Chacona

Dir: Steve Yeager Prod: Cindy Miller, Steve Yeager.

In Steve Yeager's Divine Trash , John Waters says he went to NYU's film school for "about five minutes," and since his class was studying Potemkin and not Olga's House of Shame , which he knew he could learn much more, he quit NYU and convinced his father to give him the money set aside for John's education and invest it in his burgeoning film career instead. It would make it a tidy summation to say that the rest is film history, but to do so would bypass the hilarious and trashily fascinating details that emerge in Divine Trash . It seems a bit ill-befitting and solemn to document someone like Waters in talking-head format, but then Yeager's subject is not just Waters but underground cinema in general, so topics range from the influential cinematic avatars of trash to interviews with Divine's mother to outbursts from Mary Avara, the last film censor in America. Mink Stole recollects conditions on the sets of Female Trouble and Pink Flamingos and the Egg Lady is captured commenting on her bit of eerie Flamingos glory. Of course, the obligatory film critics are present, but in Divine Trash , they're there in part to reveal what a shrewd businessman and marketeer Waters is as they recall the flyers and updates about screenings they constantly received from him in his early career. The previously unreleased footage of the making of Pink Flamingos documents that amid the frenetic atmosphere on the set, Waters' love for trashy, do-it-yourself filmmaking has always been the core of his success. - Claiborne Smith

The program began with two pieces by Greg Sax. 27 is a promising, if somewhat derivative, take on the cultural forces at work in the development of a boy that places him in the world of a 1950s-style TV commercial. The promise is fulfilled with 28 , which Sax made three years later. The boy is now a young man and his budding (homo)sexuality is explored in relation to the vegetation around him: trees in a forest, cut flowers in a vase, supermarket broccoli on a chopping block. It's a stunning study of texture and sound that, for all of its structuralist qualities, succeeds in evoking the emotional force of discovered passion. The Entire History of the Louisiana Purchase by Joshua Oppenheimer fails to break any new ground, covering territory thoroughly mined by other filmmakers, particularly Bruce Connor and Craig Baldwin. Mixing appropriated footage with pseudo-documentary interviews of various right-wing wackos, it sets out to explore the historical and cultural factors that lead a woman to fry her baby in the microwave oven. There are some truly haunting moments, but overall it reflects more of the easy humor of a Saturday Night Live sketch than of the innovative concerns of experimental cinema. The final film, Eric Henry's Wood Technology in the Design of Structures , cloaks itself in the guise of those old high school science documentaries to analyze that special kind of human who likes to eat wood. A pleasant enough piece, but ultimately disappointing because, due to the absence of any formal variation, it made me feel like I was watching one of those old high school documentaries. - Jerry Johnson

Dir: Marcus Spiegel Scr: Marcus Spiegel & Randy Watson Prod: Elaine Frontain Bryant, Callum Greene Assoc Prod: Michael Capiraso Exec Prod: Fred Berner DP: Horacio Marquinez Ed: Daniel J. Rosen Cast: Leo Burmester, Blythe Danner, Kurt Deutsch, Katherine Kendall, Keith Reddin, Jennifer Chambers, Guy Ale, David Spoltore.

Adapting stage plays to the screen is a problematic task for even the most experienced filmmakers. The respective natural rhythms of cinema and theatre are at complete odds with one another, and it takes considerable skill to bring the two to a reconcilable plane. That is why it should come as no surprise that The Farmhouse , based on the play of the same title, feels like one long scream, literally, against the artificial cinematic constraints imposed upon it. The plot offers ample enough opportunity for screaming. Set on a family farm in rural Kansas, a mentally disturbed mother shoots and kills her daughter, leaving the questionably sane father and grown son to try to cover up the murder, thus tipping the scales of the already unbalanced family even further. All of these emotions and pathos are put through the ringer via long monologues stacked up against each other from beginning to end. While this dénouement -less structure can work on the stage, it feels like a shrill, single-note train whistle when applied to the more sensitive properties of the film medium. The acting is adequate and the storytelling attempt is an honest one, but what is left at the end is a former play that's still a play that should have been left on the stage. - Jerry Johnson

Dir/Prod: Greg Carter DP: John Darbonne Cast: Kory Washington, Donna Wilkerson, Thomas Miles, Thomas Webb, Creepa, Junie Hoang, Lee Carter, JaCorrey Lovelady, Louis Gusemano, Steve Green.

Rule number one for first-time filmmakers: Don't screen your film until it's absolutely ready to be seen by the public. There's no surer kiss of death, and though you may be the proud papa of your cinematic labor of love, to the rest of us it's still a grainy, squawking fetus. Despite Fifth Ward 's ambitious style and noble, socially conscious storyline, the film - which was screened on a video projector from a not-quite-final Avid edit - is a messy mix of bad lighting, muddy sound, and thudding hip hop that sounds like it was recorded in a closet. Plot-wise, Fifth Ward follows James Kennedy, a young high-school graduate whose brother Ray Ray has just been murdered in a drug-related killing during the film's opening minutes. Now it's up to James to either follow his homies as they gather guns and plan a retaliatory shooting, or straighten up and get the hell out of the hood while he still has his circulatory system intact. A little bit Boyz N the Hood, a little bit Houston geography lesson, and a lot of gangsta polemics, Fifth Ward is fairly tedious stuff that not only looks like it needs a few more weeks of post, but also fails to spark the imagination in any noticeable way. Obviously, Carter rushed to make it into the festival circuit, and the end result seems just as hurried and stillborn as you might expect. - Marc Savlov

FIVE WIVES, THREE SECRETARIES AND ME

Dir/scr/dp: Tessa Blake Prod: Jason Lyon.

This film is a fascinating, intensely personal glimpse into the life, loves, and highfalutin' shenanigans of Houston oil lawyer Thomas Blake, who just happens to be the filmmaker's dear old dad. Despite its title, the film is as much about Tessa's life and formative years as it is her father's. Throughout the film, she captures rare glimpses into her aged father's monied, to-the-manor-born lifestyle, as well as a portrait of his irascible, inborn racist tendencies (exasperated to the breaking point when Tessa returns from college to announce that her new beau is black), and the surrounding members of her very extended family, including several of Thomas Blake's ex-wives who now make it a habit to dine together whenever possible. It's as much a sociology lesson as a personal memoir, revealing that Houston's landed gentry is just as wacky as the rest of us always thought, though Blake's father remains a bit of an enigma, to his daughter as well as the audience. Thoroughly engaging, Blake's lengthy documentary footage and interviews with her dad (and just about everyone who ever knew him) are like sparring matches between two friendly boxers - she's just as eager to explain herself and her motivations as he is, though not nearly as cagey. It's a rare invitation to see how the other half lives, and not surprisingly, it turns out to be pretty much like the rest of us, albeit with a greater cash flow. - Marc Savlov

Dir/scr/cast: Julia Sweeney Prod: Rana Joy Glickman Ed: Fabienne Rawley, Julia Sweeney.

"The feel-good cervical cancer movie of the year!" That's how I'd sum up this concert film in my "let's mock Joel Siegel" mode, but actually, it's not too far off the mark. Saturday Night Live alumna Sweeney ( It's Pat! ) provides a first-person account of the traumatic year when she battled cervical cancer even as her brother Mike was fighting brain cancer, and the humor and compassion with which she spins the tale strokes our funny bone and stirs something warm inside. The movie captures on celluloid the solo stage show that Sweeney performed to acclaim, and like many a film version of a theatrical production, it suffers somewhat in the translation. There's that odd sense of being separated from the performer, who is clearly doing the show for a live audience, and that awkward issue of what to do with the camera so the film won't look stagy but won't constantly call attention to itself. Sweeney the director doesn't help matters with some curious choices, but whenever she settles on Sweeney the actor we're disarmed by her self-deprecating wit and decency and love for her family. She makes her cancer year a triumph of humor and humanness. - Robert Faires

Dir: Laurel Chiten Prod: Laurel Chiten, Lucia Small Scr: Rodger Kamenetz DP: Peter Wiehl Ed: William Anderson.

A rare congress of two different cultures provides the catalyst for one man's personal and spiritual redemption. When writer Rodger Kamenetz was invited to join a delegation of Jews meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, he was deep in personal crisis, having suffered the loss of a child and serious professional rejection. He accepted the invitation, and it changed his life. As the Dalai Lama and rabbis of various Jewish traditions talked, Kamenetz awakened to a larger, more profound existence - a cosmos in which angels of Tibet and Judaism were conversing - and he saw his place in it. He wrote a book about the meeting and became a popular speaker on the subject, as well as an advocate for the liberation of Tibet. Chiten uses little footage of the meeting itself, but in interviews with the participants and images of Indian and Tibetan life, she vividly portrays Kamenetz's state of mind: his isolation and depression, his immersion in what at first seems an alien culture, and his growing awareness of the bonds between the Tibetan Buddhists and the American Jews. She achieves a portrait of transformation that shifts the universe for its viewers, too, and touches our hearts.

Showing with the film was "Looking for Sly," named "Best Documentary Short" at the SXSW Film Awards. The film follows an Armenian sculptor whose resemblance to Sylvester Stallone leads him to a career as a celebrity impersonator in Moscow, then to Hollywood, where he dreams of meeting the Rambo man himself. It's a new spin on the old Tinseltown cliché of the small-town kid with stars in his eyes who heads to Hollywood to make it big. When that kid is from Armenia, it makes us realize just how far the Dream Factory reaches and how its images can twist our minds. Directors Kia Simon, Eve Conant, and Jonathan Crosby portray their subject's unlikely odyssey without judgment or ridicule, giving us a portrait of a thoughtful, gentle spirit realizing an American Dream. - Robert Faires

Dir/prod/scr/dp/ed: Dominic DeJoseph Cast: Jon Hyrns, Marco Giudice, Charles Langley, Jeanne Foss, Silverman, Paul Yates.

Dominic DeJoseph's The Leafblower is a piece of pure Dadaism in black and white and the ambling oeuvre (it was shot without a script) is as coreless as it is colorless. Emotively akin to Institute Benjamenta and Tetsuo: The Iron Man , The Leafblower very plainly follows a leafblower (Jon Hearns). That's it. And it's what the leafblower does - namely not much of anything, or anything meaningful at least - that makes watching him such a relentlessly tedious experience. The truly lamentable aspect of The Leafblower is that the outset, the film does establish the potential to explore some interesting themes, among them (and in direct concord with Tetsuo: The Iron Man ) the convergence of man and machine (even when swimming the leafblower does not separate from his mechanical apparatus) or the obsessive way people take to ultimately pointless tasks (early in the film the leafblower is clearing a lot of garbage in preparation for an alien landing never to occur). Instead, the few promising moments quickly dovetail into a series of painfully aimless scenes. The leafblower lays down by a pool for a nap. The leafblower talks to someone in a bubble-wrap shirt. The leafblower wanders down a beach. The leafblower refuels his vehicle. Maybe in some meta-symbolic fashion DeJoseph was making a point along the lines of: "Look how wasteful of resources this film is, like the leafblower himself." Maybe not. - Michael Bertin

Dir/prod/scr/ed: Jacki Ochs Assoc Prod: Marie Cieri, Alexey Adashevsky Voices: Lili Taylor, Victor Nord.

This year's SXSW award winner for Best Documentary is an anomaly in its genre: no talking heads, no expert witnesses, no specific item to be addressed or mystery to be uncovered in fact, the filmmaker Jacki Ochs never even asks a question of anyone. The piece is structured around the five-year correspondence between two noted poets, American Lyn Hejinian and Ukrainian Arkadii Dragomoshchenko. The only thing Ochs asked of the poets at the beginning was that they reflect upon a decided-upon word ("books," "poverty," "violence," etc.) in each of their letters. She then used lines from their letters (read by actors Lili Taylor and Victor Nord) as a voiceover for footage she shot around America and the former Soviet Union. The result is a rare embrace of the political and the personal - a politics of intimacy. While the first letters come across as somewhat awkward and pretentious (as if each poet was trying to impress or outdo the other with flowery imagery and social insight), the latter ones grow in stature to the extent that they acknowledge, dance with, and revolve around each other. These may be letters not about love, but they do represent a love affair of words, and this is the root of the film's intoxicating appeal. Ochs' underlying images are rarely heavy-handed, but give new insight and meaning to the spoken words. It is a true and literal fusion of cinema and poetry. - Jerry Johnson



LITTLE SHOTS OF HAPPINESS

Dir/dp: Todd Verow Scr: James Dwyer, Todd Verow Prod: Lisa Correia, Todd Verow Exec Prod: L. Diane Fortier, Robert Jason Ed: Jarod Dubrino Cast: Bonnie Dickenson, Todd Verow, Linda Eknoian, Rita Gavelis, PJ Marino Castalia Jason, Leanne Whitney, William Dwyer.

If you believe her husband, Frances Collins used to be "an agoraphobic freak." But Frances has decided to change all that. In the film's first few minutes, she has begun her descent into a gritty life of drinking, smoking, and screwing. These little "shots" of happiness become a daily ritual, an escape from her drab telemarketing position where her dimwitted coworkers never catch on to her angel-like secret identity. But soon we witness the often brutal repercussions of Frances' seemingly weightless liberation, and our heroine must pay the price for her debauched escapades. Writer/director/producer Verow's script manages some moments of sheer delight, and Bonnie Dickenson is downright adorable in her loopy abandon. But at some point, Verow is unable to resolve, or even keep pace with, the capers he sets in motion. By the film's end, the narrative has too many frayed ends to weave together, and the hurried conclusion is at best two hands thrown up in frustration. It's a dull disappointment for a film that glimmers with so much else. - Sarah Hepola

Dir/scr/prod: Kenneth Jones Assoc Prod: Carmen Jones DP: Richard Strain Ed: Clay Walker Cast: Maura Gale, Larry Robinson, John Black, Eunice Saunders, Phillip Smith, Verna Safran, Phillip Wilson, Greg Shumann.

Love & Fate takes place in a backwoods, pastoral South whose edenic setting unfortunately refuses to rub off on the rest of the film. Better Minds Home of Rest, the film's central locale, is a cozy place, the kind of mental institution in which Claudia lovingly passes out pills and willingly tells her boss she can work a double shift if needed, which is odd since she's actually a patient and not the nurse she believes she is. Her status as such causes problems for her blossoming relationship with Isaiah, who reluctantly places his aging father at Better Minds, his father's hallucinations the result of being unable to save Isaiah's sister from drowning. Isaiah is virulently opposed to "crazy people" and the idea that his father might be one. Since for all of their courtship Isaiah doesn't know that Claudia is a patient, he is understandably upset at having to take her back to "work" by 9pm each night and at having to conduct the majority of their relationship in front of the other six patients. There's an evident, tight bond among the cast, but even that doesn't produce convincing acting from the majority of the actors. This mars the wonderful ideas that are lurking but just don't surface in Love & Fate , an unreservedly sappy first feature from writer, director, and producer Kenneth Jones. - Claiborne Smith

Dir/scr: Tamara Hernandez Prod: Harry Ralston, Tamara Hernandez, Jessica Rains Exec Prod: Bob Sturm, Harry Ralston, Tamara Hernandez DP: Michael Grady Ed: Garth Grinde & Scott Balcerek Cast: Steven Nelson, Honey Lauren, Jeri Ryan, Harry Ralston, Michael Mangiamele, Sabrina Bertaccini, Bob Sherer, Simara Richler.

What kind of men cry bullets? Tamara Hernandez's edgy Men Cry Bullets , which won the narrative feature competition at this year's SXSW Film Festival, isn't concerned with that question. That's partly because the man in this film, Billy, is busy being chased by bullets. Billy enters the film on shaky ground as a budding, ersatz drag queen, though he seems certain to become a quick study in that esteemed discipline before he happens to meet Gloria (Honey Lauren), a full-throttle bitchy sexpot who at 33 still lives at home. Gloria is an insecure, needy woman whose loyalty and exquisite shame for her actions instill ready emotional involvement from the viewer. Gloria's boyfriend, the "paperboy," kisses Billy during a drag performance, which swiftly positions him as the unenviable object of Gloria's rage naturally, Gloria and Billy consequently fall in love then, of course, Gloria's vapid country cousin Lydia visits, throwing a blond wrench into the chemistry between Gloria and Billy. Analyzed as such, the plot events seem laughably unreal, but since the finest element among many in Men Cry Bullets is its mercurial tragicomedy, all is believable, if wildly dramatic. Though Jeri Ryan as Lydia pushes the Southern accent a bit too far, the actors are intensely engaging and the film's vibrant palette of colors is cleanly and beautifully shot, which helps make the over-the-top storyline digestible. - Claiborne Smith

Dir/ed: Robert Celestino Scr: Robert Celestino, John Mollica Prod: Phil Katzman DP: Dick Fisher Cast: Frank John Hughes, Lisa LoCicero.

The moody Mr. Vincent unflinchingly examines the scary dynamic of a relationship that goes very, very bad: One minute she's the love of his life, the next he's hitting her while shouting vile obscenities. Newly separated from his wife, struggling to make it as a musician, and disenchanted with his teaching job, the film's eponymous character is Jekyll-and-Hyde in his unseemly transformations that, objectively speaking, don't make much sense. But then, of course, what rational explanation can ever be given for this kind of compulsive, obsessive, and violent conduct? Mr. Vincent is hard to watch at times, but only because you find yourself embarrassed to witness someone act so pathetically. (And for anyone who has lost his or her grasp on rationality in a relationship, even for a moment, there may a glimmer of disconcerting recognition.) The film does leave some loose ends dangling, particularly with respect to Mr. Vincent's relationship with one of his students, and there's a distracting continuity problem toward its end that may leave you scratching your forehead. All in all, an excursion to the dark side of the human psyche that, despite its faults, is not easy to shake. - Steve Davis

Dir/scr: James Boyd Prod: Peter Baxter & James Boyd DP: Robert Stanger Ed: Robert Meyer Burnett & Adam Pertofsky Cast: Bryan Taylor, Ron Wolf, Elizabeth Newman, Parker Lee, Doug Burch, Chris Carlyle, Drew Johnson, D allas Riley.

The New Gods is a poor man's Good Will Hunting , in which a young, once-in-a-generation mind (this time, he's a poet) is torn between his loyalty to the dead-end stomping ground of his youth and the future of far-flung fame and fortune that his talent promises. But The New Gods is missing out on the one element that made van Sant's film work: If you're already asking the audience to suspend its disbelief by making your protagonist the "best [fill in the blank] in the world" (especially when you can't prove it on screen - the film offers almost no examples of his poetry), then you had better take it to the hilt and make the whole affair sexy as hell, too. Unfortunately, the bland poet-protagonist bears no semblance to a hero, or even an anti-hero, and so the straw myth that the filmmaker has so precariously invited us into has no sustaining force - it topples around our heads before we've even begun. Add to this mix such weakly melodramatic elements as a sadistic law enforcement officer and a best friend up on a murder rap, and it becomes apparent that the film itself didn't trust the myth at the heart of its own story, either. - Jerry Johnson

Robyn Hitchcock
photograph by John Anderson NOT A LOVE SONG

Dir/scr: Jan Ralske Prod: Gudrun Ruzickova-Steiner DP: Hans Fromm Ed: Alida Babel, Jan Ralske Cast: Anna Thalbach, Lars Rudolph, Matthias Freihof.

Plenty of lip service is paid to the ideal of moviemaking that arises organically from character and setting as opposed to contrived concept, but films that actually follow this path are so rare as to be startling when they're encountered. This oddly compelling little slice of comic absurdity from native Texan Ralske patiently seduces you into its tale of a sardonic drifter named Bruno (Rudolph) who stumbles onto the warped, Albee-esque world of a dysfunctional couple who plan to open a bistro in a tiny German backwater town. Rudolph has a startlingly expressive face (think Tab Hunter as drawn by Dick Tracy cartoonist Chester Gould) that adds wordless ironic commentary to Ralske's understated dialogue. Thalbach is equally memorable as Luise, the pugnacious entrepreneur with whom Bruno forms a disastrous alliance. In truth, not a hell of a lot happens in Ralske's determinedly low-keyed, black-and-white film. The local burghers - symbolically no doubt - seem to spend half their time pissing away the beer they swill from dawn to dusk, and many events seem inconsequential, arbitrary, or both. Yet even as the characters spin their wheels futilely in pursuit of their hazy dreams, Ralske's sure sense of the tiny but crucial details of character and circumstance that bring even the most minimal story to life makes the experience not only watchable but rewarding. - Russell Smith

Dir/scr/prod/ed: Max Makowski DP: Gavin Liew Cast: Rachel Jacobs, Anthony Di Maria, Anthony Michael Jones, Anthony Grasso, Daniel Milder, Kevin Colbert, Bruce Walker, Ron Van Praag.

For a film that wears its Saussure on its sleeve, this experimental romp into semiotics and semantics (it is equal parts Monty Python, Seinfeld , and faux Godard) ambles along with surprising ease. The mere excuse of a plot, which involves a couple on the run from bumbling mobsters, offers a comfortably familiar if not specifically recognizable backdrop (it was shot in Hong Kong by a Chinese crew with an American cast) for the film's chief concern: lacing the characters' incessant chatter with doublespeak, non-sequiturs, double-entendres, wordplay, and anything else to showcase the ever-elusive and shifting nature of oral language. Sounds like Philosophy 101, I know, but lucky for us the filmmaker apparently studied his Howard Hawks, too - the wit and repartee of 1930s screwball comedy pulls us through what could have potentially been a ponderous exercise. And except for the severe misstep of the film's climax (an obligatory shoot-out scene that is clumsily staged and offers absolutely nothing new to the film in particular or the shoot-out cliché in general), the film proves there's no reason semiotics can't be a breezy walk in the park. - Jerry Johnson

Dir/scr: Julie A. Lynch Prod: Gill Holland, Nadia Leonelli, Julie A. Lynch, Eilhys England Assoc Prod: Ken Greenblatt & Kevin Chinoy DP: Enrique Chediak Ed: Brian Kates Cast: Christine Harnos, Brooke Smith, Bill Sage, Amy Ryan, David Marshall Grant, Tom Gilroy.

To be honest, I'm still not sure what the title has to do with the movie. A better suggestion: Josie Drinks, Fucks, and Paints in New York City. Certainly a more honest label for the content of this okay but troubling first film by director-screenwriter Julie Lynch. Christine Harnos gives a courageous, no-holds-barred performance as Josie, the alcoholic painter who continually gives herself away like a door prize, free to whomever is left standing at the end of the night. Her friends are no help. Jennifer also seems to have vodka for blood and can't resist a gay guy. Elaine is a staunch, frigid conservative who never can get a date. And Josie keeps violently shoving away the one guy who seems to give two shits about stopping her spiral into true insanity, a dance with death that only stops after the revelation of a "secret truth" that throws the whole film into the land of telenovelas and after-school specials. But Lynch's film reeks of well-placed intentions that get muddled in a script that hides from the very same honesty it wants to reveal as it throws out contrived explanations and recriminations that do not match the stark, naked promises made by the dark shots and stripped performances. - Adrienne Martini

Dir: Lydia Dean Pilcher Scr: Reno Animation: Janie Geiser Prod: Lydia Dean Pilcher, Reno, Tina DiFeliciantonio Exec Prod: Jane Wagner, Lily Tomlin, Paula Mazur DP: Trish Govoni Ed: Jane Wagner Cast: Reno, Mary Tyler Moore, Lily Tomlin.

The title says it all. Comedian Reno is on a search to find her birth mother and drags cameras into the quest. Reno, with her trademark blonde hair and black roots, is advised by an acquaintance shrink that she can't figure out who she really is unless she discovers where she came from - a piece of therapy that convinces this charmingly abrasive performer that the only roots she really has are entwined around the woman who gave her up, not the mother who raised her. While it is disturbing to watch Reno dismiss her parents in search of a more exotic heritage, the trappings of which she wears like a new-found hat, it is also scary to watch the hell she has to go through to uncover information that should be readily available and hysterical to watch the almost constantly talking Reno crack wise about the tediousness and frustrations of her search. But it is her birth mother who poses the most potent question of all: Does Reno really need to close this issue or does she just need to be the star of a film?

Reno Finds Her Mom was paired with "Two or Three Things But Nothing For Sure," a touching short directed by two of Reno 's producers, Tina DiFeliciantonio and Jane Wagner, and based on the life and work of Dorothy Allison ( Bastard Out of Carolina ). The film uses soft, selective focus to illustrate a gripping monologue by Allison about her harrowing childhood. - Adrienne Martini

Dir: Christopher Hanson Scr: Geoffrey Hanson, Christopher Hanson, George Plamondon Prod: Geoffrey Hanson, George Plamondon Co-Prod: Craig McNeil, Carey Williams Assoc Prod: Robert Bigelow, J. Gary Kosinski, Louis Marx III, Scott Zenko DP: Robert F. Smith, Ed: Adam Lichtenstein Cast: Geoffrey Hanson, Ryan Massey, Buck Simmonds, Bunzy Bunworth.

A drug-dealing, pig-lovin', bell-bottom-clad tour de farce from first-time director Christopher Hanson, Scrapple so faithfully recreates the Seventies era of peace, love, and terrifically bad hair in Telluride, Colorado that you're likely to get a contact high and doze off before the final reel unspools. Geoffrey Hanson plays Al, a low-rent, low-maintenance kind of guy who just wants to sell his shipment of Nepalese drugs to fund his dream of moving to a country home in neighboring Ajax, ostensibly to care for a sick brother. Along for the ride is a porcine mascot/confidant named Scrapple. Spam lovers may recoil in fear at naming a pet pig after the foul breakfast concoction made of the "unusable" bits of leftover bacon-scrapings, but the feisty porker is at the heart of the story, though he's still not as cute as Babe. The Hansons are whizzes at double-dipping this Seventies flavor fest the film keenly recreates an era many of us would just like to forget already, but Scrapple is less than the sum of its dazed and confused parts. It moves at such a leisurely, stoned pace and by the time the seriocomic ending rolls around, you've already forgotten what all the fuss was about. It's cinematic creeper weed, and it leaves you pondering that eternal question: "What the hell?" - Marc Savlov

Always a mixed bag, this second program of short films came across as a particularly strong blend of comedy, drama, and adenoidal student filmmaking sponsored by Martin Scorsese. "God Says So," by Marjorie Kaye, focuses on a pair of young sisters who antagonize each other when "God" calls one day, with disastrous results for the younger sibling's china doll. Kaye's cinematography in the seven-minute piece is excellent, full of rich, dark wood tones, but little else. Victor Fanucchi and Matt Nix's "Chekov's Gun" is a fourth-wall breaking exercise in theatrical dramatics, as the mythic "gun in the first act" appears and drives three roommates up the wall with possibilities. Philip Pelletier's "New Testament" looks to be straight out of a recent SNL sketch, with Jesus Christ hawking New Testament-brand alcoholic spritzers - water into wind indeed. "La Leçon," from NYU alumnus Craig Marsden, gets the unofficial Scorsese award. At 36 minutes, it's the longest short here, and also the one with the most emotional resonance, as a young, white French tutor and his black, female student perform an emotional pas de deux that leaves them both disappointed. Beautiful, sharp, black-and-white camerawork highlights a pair of excellent performances, though the overall story seems a bit contrived. UT Professor Richard Lewis' National Geographic documentary "The Snow Monkeys of Texas" was clearly the audience favorite, eliciting hoots, moans, and muffled cries of "I want one!" as a displaced group of Japanese Macacs gamboled around their adopted Dilley, Texas turf. Ending the program on a low note (a really low note) was Maria Bowen's "What's Up?", a lighthearted look at - I kid you not - vomiting, as a number of talking-head interviewees attest to their most, uh, interesting experiences with abdominal overflow, from party calamities to seafaring projectile expulsions. What's up, Chuck? My lunch, man, my lunch. - Marc Savlov

Six filmmakers closed down the 1998 SXSW Film Festival with a heterogeneous collection of shorts encompassing everything from chilling parlor psychodrama to over-the-top comic parody. The former style was represented by Scott E. Elder's "Hebe Kills Jarry," a creepy, though rather affectless two-man play about a consensual murder pact between two exquisitely polite young Englishmen. Perhaps "Hebe" would have fared better in a setting of more compatible films. Despite their stylistic variations, most of the other shorts featured markedly higher energy levels and, with the exception of Lawrence Silberstein's clever and engaging mistaken-identity yarn, "Flower," a certain parodic broadness. Gray Miller's "Hellzapoppin'," a sort of Kalifornia for the AARP set featuring septuagenarians as serial killers, was often hilarious, if a bit overlong for its one-joke concept. "Culture" by Will Speck and Josh Gordon achieved the effect of psychological horror with its comic conceit of a Bartleby-like elderly secretary who wields career-wrecking power over a long line of self-important bosses. The full-blown surrealism of Dina Waxman's "Anton, Mailman" benefited immeasurably from the outlandish performance of Nina Hellman as a sexy madwoman who rocks the world of a nerdly mail carrier. Sean Presant's program-opening "Suburban Monogamy" risked being one example too many of the somewhat overdone 1950s Documentary Parody genre, but carried the day with superior writing and eerily authentic design flourishes. - Russell Smith

Dir/prod/ed: Paul Devlin Prod: Paul Devlin, Tom Poole DP: John Anderson.

Austin is no stranger to the phenomenon of poetry slams - that curious hybrid of onomatopoeia and Olympic competition - and indeed our city is represented in Devlin's documentary about the National Poetry Slam, alongside competing teams from Providence, RI Berwyn, Il and New York City among others. Egos and wits rub shoulders and occasionally collide on the road to the finals in Portland, Oregon, although famed New Yorker Saul Williams keeps insisting that "It's not about the competition, it's about the poetry." Yeah, right. Devlin, who's better known for his ESPN2 extreme-sports coverage, frames the slams in a similar style, focusing on the most visually eclectic (we assume) of the entries, whether it's the Austin team's group action, featuring all four team members hollering out a hilarious paean to the cathode ray tube or similar outbursts from Providence, their chief competitors. It's an interesting mix, and Devlin's film captures the muted fury of competing poets like wasps in a mason jar: Leaves of Grass this ain't. Still, SlamNation feels a bit overlong, with minute detail given to the methods, practice, and explanation of the history (beginning at Chicago's Green Mill Jazz Club) of poetry slams. That aside, Devlin nicely captures the frenetic, poetry-as-warfare pace it's fierce, hilarious, brooding stuff, with nary a red rose or blue violet in sight. - Marc Savlov

Dir/Prod/Scr: Louis C.K. DP: Paul Keostner Ed: Doug Abel Cast: Chuck Sklar, Martha Greenhouse, J.B. Smoove, Rick Shapiro, Heather Morgan, Greg Hahn.

Bizarre and perverse, Tomorrow Night tells the deliciously improbable story of Charles, a joyless photo-shop manager who has all the charm and good looks of Eugene Levy during the Ghostbuster years. Sensing the emptiness of his life, Charles is drawn toward the lonely Florence, a lovable elderly woman whose penchant for tidiness leads him to propose a marriage of convenience, despite their age difference of some 30 years. If you can imagine, things get stranger from there. Shot in black-and-white, the film maintains the choppiness and at times even the sound of old nickelodeons, a nuance that makes this grotesque world even creepier. The real treat of Tomorrow Night , though, is the delightfulness of the performances, which range from just short of certifiable to Chuck Sklar's unshakable deadpan. Vivid, unforgettable characters leap into the story at every turn, characters like the freaky, funky mailman (Smoove) or ludicrous love bunny Lola Vagina (Morgan). Together they weave a most enjoyable jaunt into an off-kilter universe, so wild and nonsensical, so bittersweet and beautiful that it might just be our own. - Sarah Hepola

WALT CURTIS: THE PECKERNECK POET

Dir: Bill Plympton, Walt Curtis Prod: Bill Plympton Ed: Anthony Arcidi.

After 64 minutes of watching self-described "jerk-off poet therapist" Walt Curtis in animator-turned-documentarian Bill Plympton's Walt Curtis: The Peckerneck Poet , you may agree with this rhyme an Oregon cowboy tosses Curtis' way: "Roses are red/Violets are blue/Assholes like you/Belong in a zoo." But if you don't agree, it's most likely because the wild, frenetic poet's irreverence and verve are, in fact, really admirable. Of special difficulty for this documentary, however, is Curtis' undeniable status as a poet-entertainer that latter avocation is played to the hilt, much to the detriment of a fuller glimpse into Curtis. Curtis never seems "off," as if he's a little child all too aware that he's having a movie made about himself. No sources provide insight into Curtis, no friends or family are captured on-camera verbalizing what it means for Curtis to shout his poetry instead of read it gently. Maybe that's Plympton's point, though - that Curtis is such an in-your-face, full-bodied poet that he occupies all the available space around himself. If so, his antics aren't worth 64 minutes. Neither worth 27 minutes is Wayne Freedman, the smug, uninterestingly frustrated feature reporter behind "Wayne Freedman's Notebook," a short screened Plympton's film. - Claiborne Smith

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Tuesday, March 11

ATTENTION: You must signup in advance to attend this workshop. You will need to have a valid SXSW badge, and an activated SXsocial account. To reserve your seat, please go here: https://sup.sxsw.com/schedule/IAP25031 Mo…

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The maker movement has inspired many hearts and minds worldwide to reconsider their role in the community and their connections to one-another. Sharing online has its limitations, so people globally are rekindling their …

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Earlier this year, a federal appeals court threw out the FCC’s open Internet rules, effectively killing Net Neutrality. What does this decision really mean for Internet users, and what comes next? In this session, Crai…

Presenters

Andrew Rasiej, Craig Aaron

Whether it’s your product, company or rock band, the naming is inevitably the hardest part. Hunched over the screen typing URL after URL into GoDaddy, you cross your fingers that your seven-hundredth attempt will finally…

Presenters

ATTENTION: This workshop is FULL. If you do not have a CONFIRMED seat, you will not be able to get in as space is very limited. Those with a confirmed seat must arrive by 9:25am or their seat will go to someone waiting o…

Presenters

Fanfiction is mainstream - in some sectors and to some creators. Whether that's good for fans, creators, publishers, tv networks or social media companies - and their lawyers and investors - is a question that unfolds ev…

Presenters

Heidi Tandy will appear at the SX Bookstore to sign copies of "Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World ".……

Presenters

35 years after the first Sony Walkman shipped, today's music player still has essentially the same set of controls as that original portable music player. Even though today's music player might have a million times more…

Presenters

In early 2013, comics writer Greg Pak and internet superstar musician Jonathan Coulton launched a Kickstarter for "Code Monkey Save World," a graphic novel written by Pak, drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa, and and based on Coul…

Presenters

Drew Westphal, Greg Pak, Jonathan Coulton

The Future of TV in a Digital World: A Conversation with MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts and Richard Wolffe In this day and age, news consumers are increasingly turning to digital sources. How does a cable TV news network reinve…

Presenters

Richard Wolffe, Thomas Roberts

Mentor Sessions enable less-established new media professionals to gain seven minutes of direct one-on-one career-related council from a more established / more experienced new media professional. Please visit this URL t…

Presenters

Mentor Sessions enable less-established new media professionals to gain seven minutes of direct one-on-one career-related council from a more established / more experienced new media professional. Please visit this URL t…

Presenters

Mentor Sessions enable less-established new media professionals to gain seven minutes of direct one-on-one career-related council from a more established / more experienced new media professional. Please visit this URL t…

Presenters

Magazine people think media consumers want carefully prepared packages filled with stories and photographs: in other words, magazines. But newspaper owners and record label executives thought the same thing about their p…

Presenters

Evan Ratliff, Jake Silverstein, Mangesh Hattikudur

Dr. Bhowmik will be talking about how natural user interfaces are fast becoming a reality in computing devices, including PCs and Tablets. He will show how Intel is adding eyes and ears to its technology so that our devi…

Presenters

CLE. Music is the product, substance, bait, wallpaper, and incidental portion of much on-line promotion and commerce. It’s used and abused. This presentation reviews what’s legal, what’s not, what should be, what shouldn…

Presenters

3D printing is poised to change entire industries. From transportation to manufacturing, fashion to education, this technology has huge implications for how the world will run now and in the future. And food is no except…

Presenters

Award-winning IFC series Portlandia is one of the smartest comedies on the air and SXSW is getting a special look at their latest season. Preview clips from the upocming fourth season of Portlandia, followed by a discuss…

Presenters

Carrie Brownstein, Fred Armisen, Matt Braunger


10. Unique giveaways

Gifts and giveaways are excellent event sponsorship examples, especially if you and your sponsor tie the giveaway to something experience-based, like a trip.

Online real estate marketplace Ten-X was a major sponsor at SXSW 2016. Its Ten-X Flyaway Contest tied in the launch of a new product with a compelling prize: roundtrip airfare and hotel accommodations for five winners and their guests to the SXSW Interactive Festival, as well as registrations for the event and tickets to Ten-X’s exclusive launch party. Attendees were eager to participate and provide their information in the process, making this a powerful sponsorship package for lead generation.


Watch the video: What Happened to the Worlds Fair? (August 2022).