Encompassing two of the largest creative industries, SXSW has created a formula spotlighting both film and music during its nine-day run (not to mention the massive influx of interactive folks), and it's a unique opportunity for both to converge under one mega event. But some have observed amusing differences. Just the other day, a group of film industry members joked that coming to Austin for the film fest is so full of revelry and parties -- along with the many panels, screenings and other events that make up the SXSW Film Conference & Festival-- that mornings can be a bit rough after the late nights. Still, the group observed, the really good times and late night bacchanalias truly begin when the music industry and artists arrive, marking the official start of SXSW's signature music & media conference. 1700 bands arrived mid-week, along with their ubiquitous posse of friends and fans, and then the late late late nights...
Those late nights were duly noted by a South By host who Thursday morning congratulated the hundreds assembled for making it to the "early" 10:30 a.m. keynote discussion with legendary rocker Lou Reed. Reed, interviewed on stage in Austin's convention center by music producer Hal Willner, is in Austin for director Julian Schnabel's "Lou Reed's 'Berlin,'" which, captured a recent concert performed at St Anne's Warehouse in Brooklyn before 650 people, featured the former Velvet Underground frontman playing songs from his 1973 album, Berlin -- which at the time was panned by critics and was not considered a success commercially.
"He wanted us to do this, he's a friend of mine," said Reed about Schnabel's desire to make the film. "Julian Schnabel said it's the most romantic record ever made. [The album] is about jealousy..."
Reed was first attracted to film before turning to music somewhat by chance. "I studied writing, acting, directing [and] I wasn't good at that. Then I started writing monologues for myself and then I thought, 'maybe this could be a song...'" Not surprisingly, Andy Warhol, who played sort of producer/guru to the band's album "The Velvet Underground & Nico" in the late '60s (readily recognized by fans with its phallic banana design on the cover created by the artist) was a major influence on Reed. "Watching Andy and his repetition of images was something I really paid attention to [and I repeated that] with the repetition of sound with the Velvet Underground."
Moby also came to town with a bag of goodies for filmmakers. During a Q&A with the musician/DJ, Moby touted his website mobygratis.com, which offers the artist's music free of charge to independent filmmakers. The program, launched last summer, has already had 4,000 uses and, of course, more is expected. Moby's album, "Play" has already been used in more films, television shows and advertisements then any other record in history. Most recently, his music has turned up in "Southland Tales," "The Bourne Ultimatum," and "Heat," yet Moby is determined to give content away even if it means losing further financial gain.
"I hope I don't get motivated to do things because of money," said Moby. "If any money is ever generated [from the program] then the proceeds will go to the humane society." So far, there are 70 songs available on the site.
Along with Schnabel's "Lou Reed's Berlin," SXSW programmed a number of films where music is the crux of the story. in addition to the 24 Beats Per Second section, among others were the spotlight premiere of "Love Songs" by Christophe Honore, Martin Scorsese's "Shine A Light," Paul Ownes' "Blip Festival: Reformat the Planet," Jerry Rothwell's "Heavy Load," Suroosh Alivi and Eddy Moretti's "Heavy Metal in Baghdad," Negin Farsad's "Nerdcore Rising," Jody Lambert's "Of All the Things," and "Rainbow Around the Sun" by Kevin Ely and others.
Among the films packing in audiences in the festival's music-filled 24 Beats section was the world premiere of Sascha Paladino's "Throw Down Your Heart." The doc followed multiple Grammy Award-winning banjo player Bela Fleck -- the director's brother -- as he traveled through four African countries exploring their musical traditions and jamming with local artists with his banjo. Along the way he discovers perhaps the instrument's early roots, which traveled along with the slaves to America.
"Sascha was very smart by not letting me meet the musicians before taping because that magical moment can never be created again," said Fleck about meeting the African musicians, many of whom lived in small remote villages. "The biggest impact of my experience there was having to learn the music I was playing there [on the spot]. I've noticed that after that Africa trip, my music has broadened."
"One of our goals was to film what is great in Africa," said Paladino. "There are so many films about what's wrong with Africa, which we don't want to deny that exists, but we wanted to show some of the great things in Africa like its music traditions... and that's what we hope the film communicates."