SXSW 2023: Reflections

Bill and I were glad to attend SXSW 2023 in person. Except for watching movies at home, last year’s virtual experience wasn’t great. I don’t know the final attendance numbers, but Interactive and Film seemed almost as crowded as back in 2019. In his 2023 Opening Remarks, SXSW Chief Programming Officer Hugh Forrest had said that 30% were international attendees, and that seemed to be true: I heard many different languages while waiting for sessions, movies, or music.

This year the larger sessions had close-to-real-time captions displayed on the screens. This technology is quite impressive and mostly accurate, even with various accents. However, sometimes there was what I’ll call “Caption Confusion”… 

  • Mandalorion = Amanda Lorion
  • Refrigerators = fridge raiders
  • Cheap clothes = sheep close
  • Pop fans = pot fence
  • Wildflowers in Texas = wildfires in Texas
  • Definitely = deadfly 

During one Interactive session, the captions blocked a QR code that was displayed on the screens. Many techies in the room yelled out for the presenters to stop talking so that the captions would disappear. The entire room of 2000+ people grew quiet, and as predicted, the captions disappeared. Tech problem solving at its best!

This year’s Creative Industries Expo was definitely smaller than the pre-pandemic Trade Shows. Big tech companies were missing, probably due to the recent rounds of industry layoffs. I’ll write more about the cool and weird things from the Expo in a separate blog entry.

This year had fewer takeovers of downtown buildings. Due to Austin’s exploding growth, most of the downtown parking lots and smaller buildings have been razed anyhow. I visited a few rebranded event spaces, including Dolby House (at Brazos Hall), House of Creative Denmark (at The Contemporary), and German Haus (at Parkside).

Over the nine days of SXSW, I watched ten films. All except two were documentaries. My favorite movies were Theater Camp (a laugh-out-loud comedy about a children’s camp, coming out in July) and STILL: A Michael J. Fox Story (a documentary, out in May). I enjoyed all the movies, but felt that the other seven documentaries were a bit too long and overloaded with too many tributes. You can read Bill’s reviews at Bill and Bill Movies.

SXSW Music seemed more subdued, with fewer performers and venues than the pre-pandemic years. Except for Sixth and Rainey Streets, downtown Austin was relatively quiet during the second half of the conference. Some outdoor shows were cancelled by the storm that came through downtown on Thursday evening, and the accompanying cold front prompted me to search for indoor activities. The Radio Day Stage hours were reduced, and the International Day Stage was moved into a small outside tent. My favorite venue, St. David’s Church, was closed due to renovations. However, The Zombies’ free concert at Auditorium Shores did attract a large crowd on Friday evening.

After hearing so much about ChatGPT, I opened a free account with OpenAI and requested a 100-word summary of this blog post. Now I understand what all the fuss is about. Here’s the ChatGPT summary:

The author attended SXSW 2023 in person and found it to be more enjoyable than last year’s virtual experience. The Interactive and Film sessions seemed almost as crowded as in 2019, with 30% international attendees. The larger sessions had close-to-real-time closed captions that were mostly accurate but sometimes caused “Caption Confusion”. The Creative Industries Expo was smaller than pre-pandemic years, and there were fewer takeovers of downtown buildings. The author watched ten films, mostly documentaries, and enjoyed Theater Camp and STILL: A Michael J. Fox Story the most. The SXSW Music scene seemed subdued with fewer performers and venues than pre-pandemic years.

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