Austin's biggest, weirdest, most brand-friendly festival / conference / convention / show has already begun. Apps have risen and fallen. Interactive Brand Experiences have taken our staff and held them hostage overnight in a murder hotel. Virtual reality has been hyped. Movies have been watched. Tacos have been eaten.This is SXSW 2015. We're already attending and reporting from panels where very smart people say very smart things and panels where very smart people say not to smart things. We're ready to experience the best of the indie film industry, catch some concerts, party at parties, and tell you all about them. And through it all, we can't escape the marketing from companies that are increasingly desperate to catch any kind of buzz. It's a mix of the sublime and the banal, seasoned with BBQ to taste. It's a pork sandwich wrapped in Wonderbread.Catch all of it right here, and bring some napkins.
Every so often, the people in Russell Brand's life will take time to tell you that he's a crazy person. That's the impression you get from director Ondi Timoner's latest documentary Brand: A Second Coming. "He's mental" is a frequent refrain throughout the film, as Timoner guides us through his early life to his drug-and-sex-addled rise to fame all the way to his more recent turn as a political commentator. But, as absurd as the proceedings can often become, Timoner’s camera treats Brand with a kind of bemused awe, bordering on adoration. That it made its debut at South by Southwest is all too appropriate. Everyone here — brands and human beings alike — is trying to change the world in their own way. And it’s clear that Timoner thinks Russell Brand probably could change the world, despite his many flaws. After all, crazier things have happened.Read Article >
Ava DuVernay is real. Thoughtful, necessary, and real. During her keynote address at South by Southwest, the director held forth about her work. About how she made her first narrative film, I Will Follow, and the road to Middle of Nowhere, her second film, winning the Best Director Prize at Sundance in 2012. Mostly, though, she spoke about Selma. Selma, the first feature film about Dr. Martin Luther King to hit theaters. Selma, which won near-universal praise when it debuted last December. Selma, which failed to earn a Best Director nomination because Academy voters skew old, white, and male. Thankfully, DuVernay isn't bitter.Read Article >
"My work’s worth is not about what happens in, around, or for that room," she said. "It’s just a room. My intention was the serve the story." And with that, the audience — and the world, I think — could let go. And it felt good. It felt good to acknowledge that, as slow as Hollywood moves, more and better stories are being told about women and people of color. The work matters more than the award, and DuVernay is a part of that process.
Mar 14, 2015
Pro-net neutrality groups hope SXSW visitors look at the sky today. If they do, they might see a big banner calling out Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) for fighting alongside cable companies against net neutrality. The 1,500-square-foot banner, which flew over Austin yesterday and will hit the skies once again today, reads, "Don't be an enemy of the internet, Sen. Ted Cruz."Read Article >
The banner is being paid for by three pro-net neutrality groups, Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, and Free Press through crowdfunding efforts. In a statement, David Segal of Demand Progress said, "Our banner is an internet-backed reminder to Cruz and all politicians that if you stand against net neutrality, you are standing against the Internet." He added, "We had to crowdfund this airplane flight, but if we could figure out how to harness all the hot air Ted Cruz has been blowing on net neutrality, we could get a blimp off the ground for free."
Mar 14, 2015
In Ernest Cline's 2011 novel Ready Player One, the narrator enters the virtual reality world of OASIS to visit a hollow planet filled with thousands of simulated arcades. "Archaide" contains a copy of every coin-operated game ever made, all on perfect simulations of the original cabinet. That's not the kind of thing we'll see any time soon, but if you go online right this minute, you can play thousands of classic arcade, Atari, and MS-DOS games, emulated in a web browser and hosted by the Internet Archive.Read Article >
The similarity between these things apparently hasn't been lost on the world. In a panel at SXSW, Internet Archive curator Jason Scott said he'd been asked if Ready Player One inspired his work. Cline, his co-panelist, used emulated versions of games like Pac-Man to research his novel, and even watched Scott's documentaries about interactive fiction and BBS communities to immerse himself in the past. Their panel explored the links between OASIS and the Internet Archive, including the latter's value as a guide to the densely packed '80s pop culture references of Ready Player One. "Kids who were not even alive in the '80s will read it, and for them it's a multimedia experience," says Cline. "Any game that's mentioned in Ready Player One, you can pull that game up instantly and play it." By proxy, Ready Player One can become a guide to the Internet Archive. In the larger world of VR, OASIS has become convenient shorthand for a giant immersive world.
Mar 14, 2015
Every year at South by Southwest Interactive, there's a small competition to be the "it" app of the show. Although such buzz has dubious long-term value (cf. Highlight), it's still a fun game to play. This year, the app everybody assumed would take the mantle is Meerkat, the live video streaming service that piggybacks off of Twitter so you can automatically have a ready-made social group within the app. And just as SXSW is getting started, Twitter is cutting off Meerkat's automatic access to that social graph, Buzzfeed reports.Read Article >
"We are limiting their access to Twitter’s social graph, consistent with our internal policy," a Twitter spokesperson told Buzzfeed. "Their users will still be able to distribute videos on Twitter and log in with their Twitter credentials."
Mar 13, 2015
Speaking at a panel today at SXSW, Oculus VP of product Nate Mitchell answered a long-standing question about the company's Crescent Bay prototype headset: it looks so good because it actually uses two screens instead of one. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey chimed in as well, saying that it was "super obvious" that the prototype used two screens, but nobody had really looked closely enough before to notice it. (The headset was announced in September 2014). Using one screen to save costs was one of Oculus' first big advances, but there's definitely been a jump in quality since then.Read Article >
Hours before the world premiere of Brand: A Second Coming, the Russell Brand documentary that's headlining South by Southwest's first night, Brand himself announced that he won't be in attendance. In a statement on his official website, the comedian stated that the film, while likely good, felt "oddly intrusive and melancholy."Read Article >
"You’d think a narcissist would like nothing more than talking about themselves and their 'rags to riches', 'hard luck' story," he writes, "but actually, it felt like, to me, my life was hard enough the first time round and going through it again was painful and sad."
- Read Article >
Without the fanfare backing efforts like Jurassic World or the big Marvel Studios tentpoles, Ex Machina might be the most important sci-fi film of the year. Making its stateside debut at SXSW this week, the movie, directed by 28 Days Later screenwriter Alex Garland, is a heady psychological thriller that takes our anxieties about present-day technology — namely, clandestine data collection and killer robots — and tells us we’re not ready for what comes next. But it’s not because of government overreach or the imminent singularity. Here, it’s because our collective assumptions about technology and how we relate to it as human beings could betray us in the end — and we won’t see it coming.The action in Ex Machina takes place in the not-so-distant future, where a company named BlueBook has achieved a kind of technological ubiquity the likes of which Google can only dream of. From there, the film homes in on three characters: Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson, is a BlueBook programmer and everyman, making him the ostensible protagonist of the narrative. Nathan, played by Oscar Isaac, is the eccentric CEO of BlueBook, who invites Caleb — like some sinister Willy Wonka — to his forest home to help him prove he’s made a breakthrough in artificial intelligence. The breakthrough is Ava, a gynoid played by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander who, save for her exposed mechanical internals, seems like a normal young woman, and thus the perfect candidate to pass the Turing test. Pretty soon, however, it’s clear that Nathan’s version of the test is much more than just base thinking and feeling, and things take a turn when Ava lets on that Nathan shouldn’t be trusted.