South of Southwest

The South by Southwest Music, Interactive and Film Festival concludes this weekend after ten days of top-notch speakers, great films and loud music pouring out of every bar, club and converted space in town. Austin, Texas provides the home base and hundreds of community-focused corporate sponsors provide financial support for America’s most exciting festival. SXSW repays their generosity by attracting more than 150,000 people to the city and injecting more than $300 million into the local economy.

This is the first year SXSW has been fully open since the pandemic, with packed screenings and packed concerts. The stars are out in full force, with Chris Pine and Regé-Jean Page promoting their blockbuster Dungeons & Dragons, Keanu Reeves in town with the latest John Wick installment and new wave pioneers New Order headlining one Concerts with bands from Manchester, England. The excitement of the grateful crowd is palpable, especially the overseas participants who are excited to be back in America.

This is also my first time back at SXSW since 2019. I was invited by the deadCenter Film Team to attend the technology side of the SXSW conference, researching virtual reality films and creating virtual experiences for this summer’s deadCenter Film Festival from 11-8-11.

Virtual Reality has fascinated me for more than a decade. I got my first taste in 2012 when Sundance introduced their first VR experience. By 2017 I was directing my own virtual reality film called The Homecoming Trilogy and starting a VR program for deadCenter. I now direct and produce through my company McDaniel Entertainment, and am producing a virtual reality movie that will premiere this spring, as well as advising other filmmakers and companies looking to tell their stories in virtual reality.

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The SXSW VR line-up included more than 60 experiences, presentations and films from around the world. Some of the exhibits were very elaborate, requiring donning full body suits to experience insect life or forming a virtual band with other attendees. But most successful films simply allowed virtual reality technology to tell stories in new ways.

JFK Memento is the best example that VR offers a new perspective. The VR film shows the original footage of President John. F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy in the Dallas motorcade and expands them 360 degrees. This new perspective allows the viewer to stand on the grassy knoll as the car drives by and then watch again from inside the book depot where the shots are said to have been fired. Without using graphic images, the film offers a fresh interpretation of an old story and makes it seem new again.

Other VR highlights at SXSW included several films about the war in Ukraine, virtual concerts by Colombian superstar J. Balvin and South Korean girl group Black Mamba, environmental experiences about glaciers and forests, delicious looking food documentaries and a funny story about Bertha Benz , the first person to ever drive a car a long distance.

Outside of the VR program, my favorite movie was Black Barbie, an insightful and entertaining documentary by University of Oklahoma graduate student Lagueria Davis. I’ve also seen great movies about Donna Summer, the Indigo Girls and Little Richard.

Over the next few months I’ll be meeting with the various production companies and consolidating all the virtual experiences into a curated list of VR films that I’ll be presenting at deadCenter from June 8th to 11th. If you are interested in sponsoring deadCenter’s virtual reality program this summer or volunteering, send an email [email protected] and they will sign you up. Otherwise, put those dates on your calendar and get ready to be blown away by the future of entertainment.

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