Monday, March 16th
I woke up early to plant my butt in line for the second #SXSWFilm Keynote I wanted to go to: RZA. For those of you who may not know and are wondering why he gave a film-based keynote speech, RZA is a pretty talented film composer (I believe his most famous work was for Kill Bill, which was likely made possible due to his critically-acclaimed score in Ghost Dog) and a huge film enthusiast. During the speech, he told the story of how he met Quentin Tarantino, who later became his filmmaking mentor. He also made a cool analogy on how film directors are essentially akin to music samplers: the same way in which a sampler samples old beats, a film director samples old ideas. Hyped up from the inspiration of that speech, I went on to a panel, “Independent Directors on Working with Actors.” As a blooming director myself, I figured this would be useful to me since I wanted to hone my skills in communicating with actors. Short of getting the perfect shot, there is nothing more gratifying for a director than pulling out that perfect performance out of an actor so that relationship is key.
Somewhere in between there, I think I got more Chi’lantro tacos and managed not to choke on it since I had a highly-anticipated panel to go to: “A Conversation with Gina Prince-Bythewood.” Remember when Panama interviewed Berook and I for our Cinema Bun podcast debut and noted that Gina had already given us attention? Well, I had a circle of life moment and got to meet her in person and thank her for that attention while handing her my personal/podcast business cards. I fainted in my head, but thankfully not my body. I was on the move! Next up was a Black Filmmakers Meetup, which was super cool because it expanded my network. Networking was hiiiiigh on my life of reasons to go to SXSW so those connections I made with people I may have otherwise never come across was priceless.
Then came disappointment. After that meetup, I ani-morphed into the road runner and rushed to the convention center for another highly-anticipated panel, “Infinity and Beyond: Pixar and 20 Years Since Toy Story.” Now, anyone who knows, follows, Googles or walks past me knows I’m a Pixar stan. The importance of being in the same room Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar was as essential as breathing. Well… let’s just say I went without oxygen that day and died a little inside. As soon as I walked up to the room where the event was held, I saw a super long line. On its own, that doesn’t deter me because at this point, I knew that came with the territory. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was a SXSW volunteer coming toward like 50-75 of us saying, “Ummm, we only have like 15 seats left so um…” JIGGA WHAAAAA???? Granted, I missed out that day. And was supremely pissed that they held it in a room that small instead of one of the bigger majestic venues/theatres. Come on, it’s PIXAR! Ya’ll know a bunch of creatives would flock to that. Ugh, I’m almost too mad to even finish this post. But, the best part of the day is for last, because that night I got to go to the world premiere of Get Hard, starring Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell. The only world premiere of anything I get to experience at this stage in my life is the world premiere of my morning breath every day. Kevin and Will introduced the film by entering the stage dancing to “Truffle Butter,” which was hilarious.
Tuesday, March 17th
Another early morning. At this point, I needed some espresso in my life so I remembered I had a Groupon from Starbucks. Ya’ll know how they’re doing the #RaceTogether thing? Well, cut to my grande caramel macchiato having the name, “Traja” on my cup. MY (FREQUENTLY MISSPELLED) NAME IS MY (FREQUENTLY MISSPELLED) NAME! I roll my eyes and body right over to the Podcasters Meetup since, ya know, I podcast and shit. That was fantastic and I got to meet some super dope people whom I hope to collaborate with in the future. I had some spare free time so I decided to finally check out, the SXSW Trade Show in their exhibit hall where I visited the ChicagoSXSW (because duh), salivated over the Sony/ARRI/RED camera displays, picked up random free gadgets. After was a couple more panels such as, “Other People’s Money: Investing and Crowdfunding” (filmmakers be needing money, yo) and “Pro Bono Legal Services for Filmmakers “ (filmmakers be needing legal security but can’t afford most legal services hence the money-needing in the prior parenthetical, yo). After that, I lollygagged on 6th street, which was ALREADY pretty turnt in a Mardi Gras fashion despite it being late afternoon/early evening. It was — wait for it — going UP… on a Tuesday. My next screening was at the Alamo Ritz, which… LISTEN LINDA. Listen. If you ever go to any Alamo locations, you will be spoiled for movie theatre experiences forever. Basically, you’re in a theatre with a bar in front of you and there’s a menu of drinks and food (REAL food, not just movie theatre food) and you write your order down on a piece of paper so that a waiter can run by and take it then serve it to you while you’re watching the movie. And some of the food is actually cheaper than that 20 bucks you spending on popcorn and a drink. That joint needs to expand across the country on some ASAP shit. No Rocky. But, let’s get to the actual movie, Nina Forever. This movie was one of the weirdest and brilliant films I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget that feeling I got in a theatre that inspired me to create my own films. Nina Forever renewed that feeling. The poster is what initially caught my eye to even read the synopsis and attend the screening. Sooooo glad I did.
Wednesday, March 18th
I woke up that morning with the intention of getting a couple of SXXpress passes for screenings I really wanted to attend. Quick info about that: every film badge holder gets two of these express passes a day so that you can cut the line for films you really want to see, ensuring your spot if you come at least 30 min before. With a lot of screenings, your ass better be there and hour or more before, so the express pass helps. I had actually gotten one for the Get Hard premiere as well since that line went for BLOCKS. After I got those, I went to Starbucks again for two reasons: 1. I needed more espresso. 2. I wanted them to get my damn name right this time.
They did. Hashtag blessed, I guess.
At this point, most of the film panels were completed for the entire film portion of the festival, with a few music/film overlapped panels sprinkled in between. So, for the duration of my trip, I figured I’d try to fill my days with screenings as a priority. Since I had some free time, I decided to go to a film/music fusion panel, “Commercial TV/Film Placements Aren’t Just for the Big Kids Anymore,” which really gave some good insight on music spots for commercials, television and film (including trailers). There was one cool story told by the Director, Music Supervision & Business Development - Workshop Creative, Danny Exum, about Beyoncé’s decision to cover her own song “Crazy in Love” for the 50 Shades of Grey trailer spot in which she heard the darker cover of the hit single, loved it, and instead of licensing the rights for it, decided she was the best person to cover it. Whoop, there it is. After stuffing my face with more Gus’s chicken (because chicken), I headed over to a screening of the movie, Lamb. I’ll just say this. Keep your eyes peeled for a young actress named, Oona Laurence. She’s a fucking star. To kill time after the screening, I decided to walk around since it was so nice outside. A White dude approached me, looking at my Because Of Them We Can backpack.
White Dude: So, um… who’s your favorite Black person?
White Dude: You have so many of them listed on your backpack; I wanted to know if you had a favorite.
Me: All of us. We’re that awesome. *drops figurative mic*
After that silliness, I went to the theatre to enjoy a screening of T-Rex, which I already know will be a fave of the festival. What was extra cool about this screening is that I remember being in the UK for work during the London Olympics and watched the title subject, Claressa Shields make history in becoming the first American woman to win the gold medal for women boxing, a sport that had made its Olympic debut that year.
That screening was a super high note to end the night on and I went home to a train filled with super drunk attendees since the music portion of SXSW had started at that point. But, the writer in me had to chat with them as they drunkenly rambled on about Austinites and tacos and food trucks and local politics. There’s a story in everything.
And this story, will be continued… ‘til next time… the finale.
(You can check out the pictorial diary of my experience at #SXSWFilm on my Instagram page: @embracethej)