Earlier in the week, when for a few days movies took center stage at the SxSW conference, I saw Morgan Spurlock’s new documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, a film about product placement that he funded entirely by product placement. Spurlock—who made a name for himself by torpedoing McDonald’s with his 30-day Big Mac binge in Super Size Me—is at his best when he plays the everyday American lampooning the massive corporate machine. Which is why The Greatest Movie Ever Sold may be the most important documentary at the SXSW conference this year, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary and has more event sponsors then ever before.
There were 40% more attendees at this year’s interactive conference than last year, and it was reportedly the first year badge holders were turned away from the 1,200-seat Paramount theater, for the film portion’s opening premiere of Source Code. I grew up in Austin, and vividly remember going to SXSW during its fledgling first decade, when a wristband could get you into just about anything, and parties— where you could chat with the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Stephen Soderbergh and Robert Rodriguez—weren’t sponsored or publicized.
After the doc screened and Spurlock proudly strutted the stage during the Q&A, wearing his suit jacket emblazoned with corporate sponsorship logos, the unspoken questions seemed to be: How big can the SXSW conference get before commerce begins to affect creativity? Has it already happened? The answer came on Day 5, when both the Chris Hardwicke-hosted Interactive Awards, which were surprisingly entertaining, and Film Awards were handed out, all to relatively small tech companies and independent films. This appears to signal that that major corporate sponsorship hasn’t truly affected the conference, at least not quite yet.
With Interactive officially done and Film with only a few major premieres left, Music is finally let loose Tuesday night, and the crowds stormed the clubs and streets. I headed to the heart of it on “Dirty 6th,” checking into the first-part of a Pitchfork showcase at the now-classic Emo’s. No Joy had two teenaged chick rockers with a Warpaint vibe that may be more memorable upon maturity.
From there, it’s squeezing into the overcrowded Latitude 30, which has been dubbed the “British Music Embassy” for the run of the conference, hosting a collection of Brit Pop, rock, and metal groups, from across the pond. I see The Boxer Rebellion, whose melodic rock feels years more mature then the band looks, and is pleasantly deafening after an extended sound-check. The sample and pop-culture obsessed Das Racist trio tears it up at Maggie Mae’s after that, putting on what is undoubtedly the most entertaining performance of the night. At Casino El Camino, I grab a burger and observe already exhausted patrons trying to focus on their schedules and SXSW apps, to see if there are any shows worth going to before the sun rises at 6:30am, when Malford Milligan will take a small stage in the lobby lounge of the Four Seasons hotel and the Music will finally, officially, begin.