Magazine article Filmmaker

Sxsw 2013

Magazine article Filmmaker

Sxsw 2013

Article excerpt

Mars is a lonely, spiritually bereft place in Philip K. Dick's science-fiction classic The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Colonists live inside, away from the planet's harsh elements and unexpected predators, whiling away the hours by playing a hallucinatory role-playing game called Perky Pat. Using little figurines - avatars, really - and a psychoactive drug, they transport themselves into a consumer fantasy world back on Earth.

I thought of Dick's book as I walked past an exhibit at SXSW Interactive this year. A company was demonstrating its 3D-printing prowess by making little plastic figures based on your Facebook photo - the new physical world meeting the old virtual. I stared at a row of them. They looked exactly as I had imagined one of Dick's Perky Pat dolls would look like.

3D printing and Mars - both were hot topics at SXSW 2013. Bre Pettis, the CEO of MakerBot, gave one of the keynotes, and the new technology, which is making its way to the consumer level, was all over the conference. Expect to see 3D printers as staple parts of film art departments soon. As for Mars? Well, there was another keynote by Elon Musk, the South African entrepreneur and inventor who has moved from PayPal to Tesla Motors, where he developed the Roadster electric car, to SpaceX, the commercial space flight company hoping to build a community on the red planet. For Musk, this is necessary research. "The sun is gradually expanding," he told Wired's Chris Anderson on a SXSW stage. "In 500,000 million years - a billion at the outside - the oceans will boil and there will be no meaningful life on Earth. Maybe some very high temperature bacteria, but nothing that can build rockets ... I want to die on Mars - just not on Impact."

Speakers such as Musk were undeniably fascinating at SXSW this year, even as shifts in the tech landscape meant that many of the conference's topics - life on Mars! - seemed a bit distant from the lives of early-career developers for whom consumer app development is this generation's version of starting a garage-rock band (or making an indie film). Indeed, with venture capital flowing to the less-sexy enterprise sector, and the next wave of transformative innovation (biotech and personalized medicine) a few years out, SXSW Interactive featured rock star speakers such as Pettis and Musk, as well as Al Gore - who described his sale of Current TV to Al Jazeera as "the most disruptive move on the chessboard" - and Megaupload Dark Lord Kim Dotcom. Alongside the usual seminars on coding and development, there seemed to be a higher number of somber panels examining digital lifestyles, such as "Is Social Media Making Us Sick?" I attended one such talk, "The New Serendipity?" based around one of SXSW's buzzwords this year. Panelists Included John Perry Barlow (Electronic Frontier Foundation), Joichi Ito (MIT Media Lab) and Kevin Rose (Google Ventures), who all discussed how technology can enable the sort of unexpected encounters that can transform one's life. Their conversation essentially updated self-help homilies for the digital age. Said Barlow, "They used to say fortune prefers the prepared mind, now it's fortune prefers the networked mind." For Ito, keeping an open mind and surrounding yourself with interesting people was translated into, "To develop a weak tie network, move toward outliers and look for patterns."

As always, SXSW Interactive is hit-or-miss, depending on one's own schedule and the size of the crowds. I couldn't get into one hot seminar - Google's demonstration of Google Glass - although I did hear a lot about the company's unveiling of a talking shoe. But what about SXSW Film? Curation from the year's festival circuit was top-notch, with titles such as The Act of Killing, Prince Avalanche, The Spectacular Now and Computer Chess garnering strong buzz. SXSW was the U.S. premiere of Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, and it seemed to take over the festival the night it screened. SXSW Film's own premiere line-up wasn't as strong, perhaps due to a pincer action from competing festivals. …

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