South by Southwest Film, held annually in Austin the week before the legendary music festival, has emerged as arguably the nation’s leading festival for new and truly independent film and filmmakers. (Though I’ve not been, Sundance seems to have been overtaken by more established filmmakers and studios, albeit still at the artful, indie end of the spectrum.) As one panelist said at an opening day “Insider’s Guide” session, “this festival is all about discovery,” and notable recent debuts here include Chicago’s Joe Swanberg and the birth of the mumblecore movement, as well as Lena Dunham with her pre-“Girls” “Tiny Furniture.”
The film festival coincides with SXSW Interactive which, thanks in part to the launch of both Twitter and Foursquare here, has become the nation’s top annual digital gathering as well. The streets of this bursting-at-the-seams city are awash in venture capital being burned in all forms of splendor, from the takeovers of various local bars, gas stations, whatever, to every kind of marketing gimmickry imaginable, to the hordes of digerati roaming 6th Street in search of the hottest private party. It all makes for a sensory assault upon arrival.