Magazine article Filmmaker

Sxsw Film Festival

Magazine article Filmmaker

Sxsw Film Festival

Article excerpt

"The attention economy." That's the new media term for companies that monetize not content but rather the ways - sharing and link exchange, recommendation engines, etc. - in which we connect to content. Content may be king, but given the choice of investing in its creation or a technology allowing its aggregation, it's not difficult to figure out which one most of the 20,000 people attending SXSW Interactive this year would choose.

Concurrent with that overstuffed tech conference is SXSW Film - a program of content. Reduced to 0s and 1s, streamed and replicated, sliced and diced, these films will, if they're lucky, be launched into the attention economy of the near future, fighting for both eyeballs and dollars. But the great charm of SXSW Film (March 9-17) is that while tech titans like Barry Diller pontificate in the cavernous Austin Convention Center, the film programs embrace the personal over the crowd, idiosyncratic visions over jargon-filled mission statements. Despite their mostly sell-out audiences, though, it's not automatic that SXSW films are noticed. My in-box burst this year with publicist pitches, urging me to forgo the parties and see just one more film. . . (For some of those additional titles, visit Filmmakermagazine.com). Here are some films that managed to grab my attention.

With our cultural and political discourse informed by reality TV and James O'Keefe political pranks, Vikram Gandhi's documentary Kumare is a zeitgeist-zinger. The film features the director as "Kumare," a fake Indian spiritual guru who travels to Colorado where he assembles a real group of yoga-loving lost souls as his own miniature cult. In an exaggerated Indian accent he preaches the Kumare way ("I am an illusion, the power is inside you!"), hilariously exposing the vapidity of America's latte-drinking practitioners of Eastern spirituality. Except, as Gandhi noted in his Q&A, once you've met someone more than two or three times, and gotten to know them and their troubles, it's hard to continue to see them as the butt of your joke. Sacha Baron Cohen may quickly swoop in and out of his often well-known victims' lives, but, unspooling over months, Gandhi's is a long con. As the film progresses, the director's own ethical misgivings become the film's intriguingly layered narrative, just as Kumare's spiritual bunkum morphs into something pretty close to the mantra of good ol' American self help. If a third of the film's subjects will no longer speak to the director, a similar split exists among its audience. "I'm embarrassed on behalf of the people in your film," one angry woman said to Gandhi at the screening I attended. Later, the film won the Documentary Audience Award.

Also going for, but somewhat missing, the Zeitgeist was David Dworsky and Victor Kohler's PressPausePlay, a gorgeously shot, sensuously edited documentary on digital DIY culture - again, all those 1s and 0s being produced on laptops and by DSLR cameras. Despite several articulate and well chosen interviewees (filmmaker Lena Dunham, author Seth Goldin, musician Moby), the film wound up being more of an illustration than an analysis of a world unable to meaningfully process its own cultural output. (It's the kind of film I could see many attendees of SXSW mailing home to show their parents - "Hey folks, this is what I do!") One DIY artist who would never have fit into PressPausePlay is Christiaan Zwanikken, the subject of Jarred Alterman's 52-minute documentary, Convento. On his family's home in a restored Portuguese monastery, he has created a kind of steampunk Island of Dr. Moreau, populating it with kinetic sculptures that simulate the local wildlife. Also featuring Zwanikken's mother and brother, Convento is a thoroughly eccentric meditation on nature, art and creation.

The subject of Roddy Bogawa's Taken By Storm is also an artist, but so ubiquitous through our adolescence has been his imagery that we can barely imagine its production by a real person. …

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