When I tell people that I want to be a writer, many people ask the question “Don’t you want to make money?” To this, I would usually respond with a small smile and a shrug, because I know why they’ve asked it. As a field of study, the arts—whether it be writing, acting, singing or performing—can get lost in the shuffle amid the degrees deemed more “successful” like business, engineering or law. That is not to say that these fields are not immensely important in our society, but their placement in the limelight means that the arts may be left in the shadows. If there was one thing I would take away from the South By Southwest film festival, it is that the importance of the arts should never be understated, because it ignites my passion in a way only certain things can.
Being immersed in film culture throughout the week was telling of this. As I stood in line with people of all ages waiting for the chance to see these films, the genuine enthusiasm was palpable. For me, the peak of this excitement came in viewing the documentary “Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey.” Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a huge Star Wars fan, so naturally I sat with childlike anticipation in the theater for Janet Pierson, head of SXSW Film, to kick off the screening. She then announced that they had a “special guest” in attendance. I sat up a little straighter and turned to the side of the stage to see J.J. Abrams, director of “Episode VII,” walking onstage. The crowd erupted in applause as he gave a brief introduction to the documentary. The event was surreal; seeing the behind-the-scenes dedication in making “The Force Awakens,” as well as an instrumental figure in this process, added more life to a project I already admire immensely, proving how dynamic the creative process is.
The festival also exposed me to genres that I never would have sought out otherwise and reminded me that there is always something new to experience in film and art. “Hardcore Henry,” a film by Ilya Naishuller, was one of them. In all honesty, I went into this film expecting not to like it. However, after having seen it, I now have much more respect for the movie. “Hardcore Henry” is an action film that takes a first-person point of view, reminiscent of a video game. The cinematography was gripping; nearly every scene was shot using a GoPro to emphasize a sense of viewer engagement. “Hardcore Henry” was packed with plenty of violence, gore and thrills that kept my heart racing the entire time. I cannot say that it was my type of film, but I appreciated its innovation. The same can be said about the screening of the work-in-progress film “Sausage Party.” The film is a zany and inappropriate animated feature that is definitely not for kids. To hear producer Seth Rogen speak about the developmental hell he and his fellow producers had to go through warrants respect for finally seeing the project come to fruition.
In Austin, there were producers, directors and actors at every turn. Many of those people were there to showcase their very first works at SXSW, and directors Alex and Ben Brewer were among them in presenting their feature “The Trust.” The film stars Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood as two oddball cops, with Wood present at the premiere. Cage and Wood have surprisingly good chemistry on screen, and it is also the best performance from Cage that I have seen in recent memory. It was a gamble for two well-established actors to take part in a project with directors relatively new to the business. The fact that the Brewers could capture such strong performances proves that taking risks can amount to success, especially when it comes to the arts. For Wood to stand onstage and spread his praise of the film hints at the possibilities for others aspiring to dive into this field.
More than anything, to see these people in person and listen to their perspectives gives tangibility to the importance and success found in the arts. These stars are not mythological creatures only accessible through the big screen; they are human beings with passion, creativity and faith. People like Elijah Wood, J.J. Abrams and Kerry Washington proved this in their respective appearances at SXSW. To see the man who played Frodo Baggins, the man who helped revitalize “Star Wars” and the woman who challenges standards on the small screen shows that their passion for their work pays off. They took part in these projects and attended the premieres because they have faith in their craft, and that has to mean something.
To be a part of a community that dares to try new things on a daily basis is an irreplaceable feeling. Everyone at the festival entered those theaters and keynotes without knowing whether they would be any good, but we had faith that these events could entertain us, provoke us or challenge us. That is the power of art. While it is not an easy pursuit, the payoff can be enormous. Attending these events at SXSW has strengthened my faith in my decision to write and that what we do in arts and entertainment matters.