AUSTIN, Texas—In some ways, experiencing South by Southwest 2013 is like the experience of the seven blind men asked to describe the elephant: It depends on which part of the elephant you touch.
With hundreds of movies and seminars, and thousands of concerts and parties, something is going on literally 24/7 for the entire 11 days of the festival. Websites and some print publications draw huge traffic just telling you what the hot shows are scheduled that day.
Alas, one of the movies generating the most “buzz” at SXSW is Spring Breakers, from one of the darlings of a younger generation of directors, Harmony Korine, who has turned “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll” into “sex, drugs, and dub-step.” The movie also has the dubious distinction of sexualizing Disney kid-stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens. According to one report, they “don’t just shed their good-girl images with the project—they effectively drop a 50-megaton bomb on them.” And that’s a real shame, because lots of their “tween” and early-teen fans will no doubt try to pressure their parents into seeing this movie. And while the film is not without its virtues, be warned that in addition to the above-mentioned sex and drugs, it is also hyper-violent.
On the other end of the spectrum is The Short Game. Nearly 1,500 kids compete each year in the World Championships of Junior Golf held in Pinehurst, N.C. This film follows eight of them, including Allan Kournikova, who besides being tennis star Anna Kournikova’s brother is also an amazing golfer and a funny and interesting little boy. Emmy-winning director Josh Greenbaum told me that the movie is not just about golf, “but about life, what it means to both win and lose, relationships with parents, and the definition of success.” If that sounds like too much to cram into a documentary, it’s not. The Short Game does all this with great style (see trailer below).
One of the recurring conversations at “South by,” as some of the regulars call it, is whether the festival has “gone corporate.” Within a few minutes of arriving at the Austin Convention Center, which is the epicenter of the festival, I stepped into one of the corporate hospitality booths, which was handing out Bloody Marys at 9 a.m. (Indeed, when someone at SXSW mentions the word “buzz,” you almost always have to check the context.) Sitting on one of the big couches there was Tom Friedley, a volunteer at the festival who, after working 40 to 50 hours, earns a pass to the event. A musician and disc jockey on the local public access, liberal/progressive radio station, he lamented the “loss of indie cred” of the festival. He also said there was a “lot less free food” than in years past.
Spoken like a true liberal.