SXSW 2019: AMA and Festival Recap
As I finalize the last of my SXSW coverage I thought I’d take a moment to recap my experience at the festival. I did an Ask Me Anything call out on Twitter and got some great questions in response.
Karen @TheDarkPages on Twitter: What was it about SXSW that made you want to go?
Raquel: I’ve been wanting to branch out and try new film festivals for a while. The SXSW Film Festival appealed to me in several ways. I loved the focus on indie film. I was also interested in the variety of panels, conferences and exclusive events. Plus there were great opportunities for networking. It seemed to me a very press friendly festival with lots of opportunities for great coverage. I knew this was a place where I could take the next step in building my writing career. The press team was incredibly welcoming and I had some wonderful support from both SXSW and Rotten Tomatoes. I can’t deny that there was some appeal in visiting a city I’d never been to before: Austin, TX!
Jen @JenTCM on Twitter: What kind of festival is it, exactly?
Raquel: I’m still trying to figure that out! SXSW is several festivals combined. My focus was on the film festival side but there is also a Music Festival and an Interactive Festival. There was a trade show, a health & wellness expo and programming around food, technology, politics, TV, etc. There was so much going that it would be impossible not to find something that appealed to you.
Chuck @Chuck7703 on Twitter: How would you rate the accessibility of the film screenings? Have you been able to get in to the majority of films you wanted to see?
Raquel: I only missed out on three films. Two I opted out of to give myself a little break. The other missed film was a miscalculation on my part (time between screenings + distance between venues + afternoon rush hour traffic). Otherwise I got into everything I wanted to because I was willing to get in line early. SXSW is on two big loops and I took the shuttle to get from one loop to the other.
When arranging my schedule I made sure to reference the official map so I could build in travel time and pair screenings by venue whenever possible. Because everything is so spread out over the city, I found it difficult to attend more than 4 events per day. I saw at most 2 films per day and built in some time for writing and to attend other types of events. I spent quite a lot of time at the Austin Convention Center where I could use their facilities, grab a quick meal, access the Carnegie Mellon University Press Suite to do some writing and catch the shuttle.
Jackie @Jaxbra on Twitter: Your first time at SXSW, right? How do you find it compared to other festivals you’ve gone to? I mean, like how it was organized, the venues, panels, etc.
Raquel: This was indeed my first SXSW! Compared to other festivals this one can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. I was lucky that I got some great advice from SXSW veterans (thanks Alicia, Sterling and Danielle!). That helped immensely. I’m a methodical planner so I created a detailed itinerary which I kept on Google Drive and accessed daily.
Take a look at the SXSW Shuttle Map . It shows you how spread out all of the locations are. The big movies screen at the Paramount and Stateside once and everything else screens three times at the various other smaller theaters. I only caught one big movie (The Beach Bum) but otherwise I’d have three time slots to chose from for every movie which made planning much easier. And the filmmakers/cast/crew usually show up to multiple screenings so you don’t necessarily have to attend the first one to see a Q&A. The panels and other events were either at the Austin Convention Center or they were held at nearby hotel conference rooms. SXSW made a lot of resources available to attendees including a live shuttle map (you could track the buses on GPS to see how long you’d have to wait), a mobile app with details on all of the events, and other online resources.
Getting into film screenings at SXSW was the most unusual system I have ever come across! There were multiple levels of access.
SXXPress Pass – Every morning at 9 AM CST, Platinum and Film Badge holders could grab available SXXPress Passes for tomorrow’s screenings via the SXSW mobile app. These let you cut the line. You have to be quick to grab these because they went fast and only a handful were made available. I only managed to get two of these and I heard other people say they couldn’t get any. At the venue, a SXSW volunteer would scan the SXXPress Pass on your phone and give you a red ticket. You’d wait in a lobby or in a designated area rather than waiting in line.
Filmmaker’s Ticket – If you’re a member of the press, you could get a filmmaker’s ticket and get in with the SXXPress Pass holders. When I was reaching out to film publicists about coverage, I would ask for a ticket. (Thank you to Alicia Malone for this tip!). I got into quite a lot of films this way but the process was quite awkward. I’d have to meet either the director of the film or the publicist at the venue to get the ticket. It resulted in a lot of texting, e-mailing, searching for head shots and looking at names on badges.
Primary access –For Platinum and Film Badge holders there was a separate line to get in. They were escorted into the theater after SXXPress Pass and Filmmaker’s ticket holders were seated. For this level of access it was important to get in line 45 minutes to an hour early to guarantee entry. Depending on the venue you’d either get in line and have your badge scanned or you’d go up to a group of volunteers, get scanned and then get in line. You’d then be given a queue card.
Secondary access – Film wristband wearers would get into a second line that was seated after the group of SXXpress/Filmmaker’s Ticket holders and Primary Access line. There was also a third level of access but this was the biggest gamble and depended greatly on theater capacity and the popularity of the event. If any seats were left, these attendees would pay $15 at the door to get in.
Nikki @NikkiLM4 on Twitter: How does it compare, pace, people, venues, to TCMFF?
Raquel: SXSW is really on a different level than TCMFF. It’s like TCMFF X 12. It takes place over 10 days instead of 3-1/2. The SXSW venues are spread out all over the city, many of the films are shown 3x, the festival takes over the Austin Convention Center as well as several nearby hotels, Rainey Street bars and restaurants are transformed into SXSW installations, 6th street is closed down and is packed with attendees and revelers, etc. SXSW basically takes over Austin. It’s TCMFF on acid!
Karen @TheDarkPages on Twitter: What were your top three favorite things about SXSW?
- All screenings were open to the public and featured Q&As with the filmmakers. And I had so much fun photographing the red carpet premiere of The Beach Bum.
- Not going hungry. There were so many food options from dining service at the Alamo theaters to the food trucks and restaurants nearby and the eateries inside the convention center. Lots of healthy options too!
- Walking the first loop and taking the free shuttle to the second loop. It saved me a lot of money that would have otherwise gone to Lyft rides.
Marci @MarciK on Twitter: Any cool interactions with other critics/bloggers/writers? What has been your favorite non-film related experience at SXSW?
Raquel: I was mostly on my own but I did get to hang out with some friends most notably Sterling @filmlatelist, Robert @812filmreviews and Danielle @DanielleSATM. I chatted with people in line or on the shuttle whenever I could. I had a few negative experiences with some fellow attendees who thought it was okay to talk during the film. I also met a couple film critics who didn’t think I was worth their time and one who poked fun at my inexperience.
I didn’t have many non-film related experiences. I did love partnering with Kingston Technologies. They were a fantastic sponsor to work with! Carlos and I went to the outskirts of Austin for some amazing Colombian food. It was nice to get away for a bit. And I skipped a screening to see D’Arcey Carden and Henry Winkler at a Twitter Improv event. It was cool to see Janet (The Good Place) and the Fonz (Happy Days) in person!
Vanessa @SuperVeebs on Twitter: What’s one thing about the festival that scared you?
Raquel: I was mostly concerned about my safety. I asked my husband Carlos, who traveled to Austin with me, to come pick me up after my last screening. We’d usually meet up at the Convention Center and walk back to the hotel together. I tried to be in or around groups of festival attendees. If I was by myself, I’d always be cautious and look for protected areas where police were on patrol.
Alejandro @alamofilmguy on Twitter: Any cool restaurants to recommend?
Raquel: I didn’t go to too many restaurants because I was too occupied with the film festival. However I did have amazing culinary experiences at Pelon’s (tacos and cocktails!) and Koriente (Korean food). I was really impressed with what the Alamo Ritz and Alamo Lamar had to offer. Many of my meals were at Alamo film screenings. They had a full menu with appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, pizzas, hot dogs but they also had salads and healthier food options too. I tried to focus on healthy eating throughout my trip to avoid falling asleep during film screenings and to keep my creative juices flowing. I never did get to have barbecue (which wouldn’t have put me right to sleep)! My husband waited in line for 4 hours for Franklin’s BBQ in Austin and said it was worth it.
Erin @MissErinMcGee on Twitter: What was your favorite experience??
Raquel: Getting mentored by Alicia Malone! I was invited to attend a private roundtable mentoring session for female film critics hosted by Alicia. I learned so much from this experience! She shared a lot about her career goals and how she achieved them and gave us amazing advice. She encouraged us to not compete but to instead build each other up. There’s room for all of us. If I had flown to Austin, TX and only been mentored by Alicia Malone and had done nothing else, it would have been worth the trip. That’s how valuable that experience was to me.
Maddy @Maddylovesherc1 on Twitter: Once it’s all finished, I’d like to know what films and events you enjoyed the most here?
Raquel: My top favorite films were as follows:
Raquel Stecher View All
Good stuff, Raquel! It sounds like it was a great experience! Do you think you’d like to go back again?
Hi Karen – Thanks for submitting your questions. And yes I’d love to go back to SXSW! It’s a fairly expensive trip, even more so than TCMFF so I’m not sure if I can always budget for it but I’ll definitely try!
I really enjoyed this, Raquel! Very thoughtful and interesting answers. And how great to read that about Alicia Malone. Lovely.
Hi Laura – It was so kind of Alicia to take the time to mentor us. She’s very kind and generous. I really admire her work ethic.
This post was great (and really very informative, especially for people who are thinking of attending for the first time). I didn’t realize just how massive this festival was. Here’s me thinking it’s similar in size to TCMFF, meanwhile judging by what you’ve told us, it basically takes over an entire city for more than a week! And how cool that you had the opportunity to be mentored by Alicia Malone – that’s incredible! I’m really glad you got to experience that because I know how much you adore her!