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SVA and SXSW: The 2019 Preview

Part festival, part conference, and all-around creative mecca, South By Southwest (SXSW) kicks off in Austin, Texas next week, running Friday, March 8 through Sunday, March 17. Celebrating the convergence of a wide range of industries, SXSW strives to showcase the cutting-edge innovators in film and television, music, tech and interactive design. The ever-growing areas of comedy, food, journalism and politics, and even cannabis (or cannabusiness, in the festival’s parlance) have been brought into the fold as well. SVA alumni and faculty are well-represented in the eclectic mix of programming this year. The multi-disciplinary, multi-media nature of the annual event, which started in 1987, sets SXSW apart, as does its embrace of both industry insiders and emerging and independent artists. Check out what’s in store.

SVA filmmakers will debut their recent work in a variety of categories, several in juried competition. Sword of Trust is Lynn Shelton's (MFA 1995 Photography and Related Media) second premiere in as many years at the festival. Written and directed by Shelton, with production design by John Lavin (MFA 1994 Fine Arts), the film features Marc Maron and Jillian Bell teaming up in an attempt to sell a bizarre, Civil War-era family heirloom; conspiracy theories and Southern disillusionment abound in this largely improvised ensemble comedy. Rebecca Halfon (MPS 2018 Directing) presents her first film Bodega in the narrative shorts competition. The comedy, which screened at SVA Premieres last year, tells the story of a sympathetic dad and deli owner and two teenage girls with a fake ID who find common ground one winter night in Brooklyn. MFA Social Documentary Film faculty member Toby Shimin edited documentary feature entrant Ernie & Joe. Vérité in its approach and blending social commentary and buddy flick, the film follows a pair of officers in the San Antonio Police Department mental health unit as they work to divert people away from jail and into mental health treatment, one unpredictable 911 call at a time.

Also on the documentary docket is The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash, directed and produced by Thom Zimny (BFA 1990 Film and Video). With recently discovered archival materials and full cooperation of the Cash family, the film aims to disentangle the man from the musical legend, highlighting both his many struggles and successes. On the genre side of things, Darlin', about a feral teen taken in by nuns (spoiler: carnage ensues), with casting by David Guglielmo (BFA 2009 Film and Video), premieres as part of the festival’s Midnighters programming. Martin Ahlgren (BFA 2000 Film and Video) contributed cinematography work to NOS4A2, a forthcoming series from AMC and best-selling author Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son), starring Zachary Quinto as a vampiric, soul-sucking monster.

Outside of the film and television portion of the festival, in SXSW’s conference halls, John Tubert (BFA 1997 Illustration) will participate in the Internet Stories at Ignite panel—a series of five-minute TED-esque talks sharing speakers’ tips and stories about the internet which focus on the danger of basis in artificial intelligence. MPS Branding chair Debbie Millman joins author Austin Kleon for Keep Going, a discussion on motivating oneself to keep working, keep playing, keep living, even when the rest of the world seems out of control. And Krystal Persaud , MFA Interaction Design faculty, will host two Build a Solar Panel workshops, guiding attendees through the process of creating a working solar panel capable of charging a phone as well as the history, science and current trends behind solar energy.

SXSW’s draw makes it an optimal occasion to stage other, like-minded and art-centric events. This year is the inaugural edition of Satellite Art Fair Austin, March 13 through 17, expanding the artist-run organization’s reach and collaborative practices. Founded by Brian Andrew Whiteley (MFA 2013 Fine Arts), and now co-organized with Quinn Dukes (MFA 2015 Art Practice) and AnnaLiisa Benston (MFA 2016 Fine Arts), Satellite is doing its part to Keep Austin Weird by partnering with the city’s Museum of Human Achievement, an under-the-radar non-profit exhibition and performance space, to bring contemporary art, a robust performance and music program, and an experiential environment to the busy weekend.

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