Police in Austin say a drunk driver they were attempting to stop plowed through a barricade and into a crowd waiting to hear music at South by Southwest this morning. Two people were killed and 23 injured. The driver is in custody. KERA, NPR and KUT, Austin’s public radio station, are all following the story. You can read updates throughout the day on
KERA news blog. KERA news blog.
If there’s one theme running through this year’s South by Southwest Film Conference, it’s that just about every big-name Texas director had something new to show. Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge screened their new forays into television. Wes Anderson visited with The Grand Budapest Hotel. And University of Texas professor Kat Candler made a splash with her new film, Hellion.
The Big Screen team certainly took note. But we devote this week’s show to two other Texans who represented well at SXSW – Richardson native David Gordon Green and Austin’s Richard Linklater. Here’s our look at their new films, Joe and Boyhood, respectively, as well as highlights from our conversation with each director.
Be sure to subscribe to The Big Screen on iTunes. Stream this week’s episode below or download it.
AUSTIN – Monday morning saw the second of two major guests appearing via satellite at SXSW. On Saturday, I wrote about Julian Assange’s virtual visit from London. Today, it was Edward Snowden’s turn.
The event was hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union, who beamed Snowden in from Russia. Because the connection had to be run through seven routers, he was a little hard to hear at times. But when he spoke, the auditorium full of tech developers leaned in to listen to the man who last year exposed so many of their worst fears.
Early on, Snowden was asked if mass surveillance is effective. Not surprisingly, he said no. But he did say that he understood why intelligence officials thought it was genuinely a good idea.
“No one had ever done it before – at least publicly. So they went, ‘Hey, we can spy on everyone in the world all at once, it’ll be great, we’ll know everything.’ But the reality is, when they did it, they found out it didn’t work,” he said.
Which would be one thing if, he says, one failure hadn’t led to another.
The 2014 South by Southwest Interactive conference, held this past weekend in Austin, was heavy on new technology as expected, but has also heaped attention on the issues of privacy and digital security, with appearances by Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, among others. KERA’s Alan Melson, who has been blogging along with other KERA staff from Austin for Art&Seek, joined Anne Bothwell to discuss some of his takeaways from the conference.
Listen to the conversation:
Anne Bothwell: So, Alan, any new tech trends that emerged during this year’s conference?
Alan Melson: One subject that kept coming up was 3D printing, a process where machines lay down multiple thin layers of material to build things in whatever shape you need. You may have heard reports about 3D printers being used to make furniture, or even guns, but here at South by Southwest the end product was a little more fun. The makers of Oreos set it up where you could go on Twitter to suggest whatever flavor sounded good to you, and then watch the machines actually print your cookie. A lot of conference attendees tried them out, and most said they tasted just like ones you’d buy at the store. Besides the Oreos, there were well over 100 sessions discussing different aspects of 3D printing, and the general takeaway is that the technology is becoming easier and cheaper every day, and is expected to expand rapidly in the next few years for a variety of uses.
AB: What about new gadgets?
AM: There are always a slew of companies that make the trek down here to Austin, hoping they’ll be the breakout sensation of that year’s conference. It doesn’t usually happen that way, but I did come across a few pretty interesting products.
One is a device called Narrative. It’s a plastic thing you clip to your shirt with a tiny camera inside that takes a picture every 30 seconds. The goal is to capture your life as you live it, and then upload it all to your computer to help you remember where you went, what you did and who you met. Apparently it works pretty well, but it does raise questions about privacy, although its creators say it’s really no different than tools people already use like the FitBit, which measures how you exercise.
There’s also a company called LittleBits that makes pre-assembled circuit boards that do all kinds of things, and then snap together with magnets. The goal is to make it really easy to build your own electronic gadgets – something you and your kids can do at home. The company was founded several years ago by Ayah Bdeir, an MIT Media Lab graduate and TED Fellow. She spoke Monday afternoon at South by Southwest about how her product and others are part of a larger digital world that’s becoming known as the “Internet of Things.”
AB: So what is the Internet of Things, exactly?
AM: Well, that term refers to the whole ecosystem of devices that connect to the Internet in some way – your smartphone, your TV or even your thermostat . I heard quite a bit this year about making those devices easier to use, but also making them more secure. You may want to be able to use your data from those devices however you see fit, but you don’t necessarily want other people or companies to have access to that data, and industry leaders and lawmakers still haven’t figured out how to manage all those expectations.
AB: Privacy and security were big topics of discussion going into South By Southwest this year, with sessions featuring remote appearances by Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Those discussions can often be serious and somewhat negative about our digital future; did you hear any other strands of conversation with a more positive outlook about technology?
AM: Sure, there were actually a lot of really great conversations about collaboration. We heard from media panelists like Bill Simmons and Nate Silver from ESPN, talking about the importance of teamwork and experimentation to create stuff that people will find interesting. There was also a fascinating session about how museums are trying to shed their stuffy image through careful use of marketing and social media, and giving visitors more input – in fact, one panelist said museums no longer have audiences – they have infinite curators. I liked that quote a lot.
AUSTIN – A documentary at this week’s South by Southwest Film Conference attempts to find the Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman – better known as El Chapo. But just as the filmmakers were closing in on him, Mexican and U.S. authorities arrested him last month. We talked with the director of The Legend of Shorty to find out what it’s like to suddenly have the end of your film rewritten for you:
KERA Radio interview:
Art&Seek: Your mission in The Legend of Shorty was to track down El Chapo Guzman and talk to him. What were you hoping to show in documenting that search for him?
Angus MacQueen: When we set out, Chapo Guzman was the head of the Sinaloa Cartel – in our view the most powerful drugs organization in history. And we were just pretty skeptical. We thought we knew probably where he was. And so it was a sort of proposition: If we could find him, why couldn’t they? And if that then followed that they weren’t looking for him what’s going on?
A&S: So about two weeks before the film was debut at South by Southwest, news comes down that El Chapo had been captured in Mexico. What was your first thought when you heard that news?
A.M.: My first response was probably a word I can’t use on radio. But actually, when we were making the film we were always conscious that he might get caught, he might get killed. He might get killed not by the authorities, but by a rival cartel, who, in some ways, for much of the period I suspect he was far more worried about the rival cartels than he was the Mexican or American authorities. But the end of the version that we finished first was a question that went: Do you think they’ll get him? And the lawyer in the film replied, “When he’s no longer of use.” And that, for me, summed – and sums – up the story and what the film is trying to get at. So once I got around the expense that we had to do of reversioning, in a way the film now has a full stop. Before it had a question mark at the end.
A&S: If you had been able to talk to him, what’s the question you wanted to ask him the most?
A.M.: That’s a great question, that. We had quite a lot of discussion about this, because we had various levels. Which is if he looks as if he’s in a good mood and he likes us, to, oh my God – “we’re a bit scared of him” level questions. So, the base-level ones were – I was interested in him as a businessman, to be honest. Drugs as a business.
A&S: So just to wrap up, he’s been in prison before and managed to get out. Do you think this is the last we’ll see of El Chapo in the free world?
A.M.: Do I think he’ll escape again, no? But the fundamental question you need to ask is: Chapo gets caught – did the price of drugs go up in the United States? If they didn’t, what’s going on? The evidence of the past 40 years is: You can arrest Chapo, you can arrest Escobar, you can arrest all the other less-well-known people. The demand is there, the supply is there and, critically, so is the money.
A&S: So it sounds like one guy’s gone, but the machine continues to work.
A.M.: The last line of the film is, “The king is dead, long live the king.”
I’m posting through Monday from South By Southwest Interactive, with updates on the colliding worlds of art, technology and human behavior. Reach out with your questions via Twitter – @amelson – or check out all of our ongoing SXSW reports.
One of Sunday’s morning sessions at SXSW Interactive was a surprisingly fresh conversation about a stereotypically stuffy subject: museums, the people who run them and how they will grow their audiences.
The panel, “Everyone’s a Curator: Do Museums Still Matter?”, consisted of four Bay Area museum staffers who have made strides in bridging the gap between traditional museum trappings (galleries, exhibitions, strong resistance to change) and the modern roles of social media and marketing to promote their offerings. They talked about the identity crisis inherent in their jobs: “Are we curators or marketers?”
Sarah Bailey Hogarty, social and digital media manager at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, said as an art history major, she was at first unhappy about her curatorial position being moved into the marketing department as her involvement in social media increased.
“In many curatorial circles, marketing is a four-letter word,” Hogarty said. “Curators think marketers dumb everything down; marketers think curators are overly scholarly and unintelligible to the general public. In some cases, they’re both right.”
One of her first steps was to change the museum’s social media policy from a one-sided approach explaining the museum’s “what, when and how” to a more open conversation that would actually generate audience engagement. Panelist Jennifer Yin from San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum agreed, citing her golden rule, “Don’t be a mouthpiece.”
Yin provided a solid case study, her museum’s 2013 Terracotta Warriors exhibition. Sensing that the marketing push needed a nontraditional approach, her team began with the hypothetical that one of the warriors had “disappeared” en route from China. She began a guerilla campaign of “LOST” flyers posted on street poles, with pull tabs that contained a web URL and Twitter hashtag. They built the website as a hub, using geotags to display hashtagged tweets on an interactive city map.
She then partnered with other museums, tourism organizations and civic groups to hold 50 appearances across the Bay Area with an actor portraying the lost warrior. Each time someone interacted with the ‘warrior,’ he would hand them a replica Shang Dynasty coin etched with the exhibition’s hashtag and social media links. The approach worked beautifully; the museum garnered massive interest and positive reactions on various social media platforms, generated stories from local media and seemed to translate that interest into higher traffic through museum doors.
Willa Koerner, assistant manager for digital engagement at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, launched the SFMOMA Tumblr site under the radar to give her museum more of a dynamic digital presence. Within weeks after the initial 2011 launch, she started receiving submissions of readers’ work.
“People were sending me their artwork, the same way that people used to send slides in a manila envelope to a museum, hoping a curator will discover them and throw them an exhibition … which never happens,” she said.
But Koerner’s initial resistance soon gave way to an epiphany: “You can put anything up there as long as it fits in with what your brand does.” She quietly launched “Submission Fridays” where such uploads were encouraged (and in some cases displayed online); three years later, the project has become a staple of SFMOMA’s Tumblr presence, with more than 50,000 submissions. It has also helped sustain the museum’s public presence during its recent closure for renovation, and increased visibility for traveling exhibitions of pieces from the collection.
Kathryn Jaller of the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco discussed #SFphotohunt #SecretSpaces, a 2012 contest built around photo submissions chronicling surprises in their city. They received over 300 submissions in a short period of time, and some were featured in gallery displays in their museum. Jaller said the effort highlighted the reality museums face as digital engagement goes everywhere.
“We exist in real space, we exist online and we exist in between,” she said.
Panelists said the spotlighted efforts, both individual and collaborative, helped them change internal feelings about marketing in a world that can be maddeningly slow to adapt. Hogarty said her museums are now experimenting with putting hashtags and digital calls to action on gallery walls alongside works of art. They have even trained museum staff to recognize how visitors are holding their smartphones: Are they taking a forbidden “art selfie,” or following the museum’s encouragement to post on Twitter or Facebook about the exhibit?
“The prohibition of photography forced our visitors to find more interesting things to say, (and) sometimes these kinds of restraints can foster creativity,” Hogarty said. “This made our visitors process what they were seeing and come up with something worth sharing to their friends.”
The late Walter Hopps, a veteran museum curator whose career included a stint at Houston’s Menil Collection, once likened the curator’s role to an orchestral conductor trying to establish harmony between the works. Hogarty said that’s an apt metaphor for the panelists’ continued striving to bring the voices of museum visitors and fans more directly into the conversation.
“Museums no longer have audiences,” she said, “they have infinite collaborators.”
UPDATE: Here’s the fun little video they showed at the session, featuring a number of different responses to the question “what is a curator?”
CORRECTION: The original version of this post contained a quote from the session that contained an incorrect word. The quote has been updated to reflect the exact wording the speaker used.