I flew to Austin by way of the most conservative flight route in all of western North America: Orange County to Salt Lake City. The in-flight magazine exalted the merits of Utah. An article about Munich referred to the city’s “complicated past,” a really terrific euphemism. While waiting for a gate in Austin for thirty minutes. I checked my phone. In two hours, I’d gotten 25 e-mails from publicists wanting me to see their films. They’re form letters that all look the same: Bold and centered 18-point font announcing the name of the movie. Two sentences in italicized 16-point font briefly explaining the film. A six paragraph press release, followed by information where to watch the film in Austin. None of these messages take into account that the receiver might be a human being. That’s why I was happy when Kyle Smith reached out to me.
He was the only filmmaker to send me a direct e-mail asking me to watch his film. (He had seen my tweet about free-style walking on Alvarado and Sunset. We call it “Echo Park-our.” LOL?)
We met at a cafe, and he gave me a copy of his SXSW submission, Turkey Bowl. Also he told me that the room he’d booked for his cast had an extra space for the first night I arrived.
So I went to check-in and then to go see him. A bus sponsored by an internet start-up, one that I don’t remember but to which I am now indebted, gave me a free ride to the convention center. It was slightly freer than the $1 airport bus. I registered and walked to the pedicab, carrying two heavy backpacks and three SXSW tote bags. The rickshaw operator delivered me four blocks away from the hotel because he didn’t want to ride up a hill.
The director was inside the hotel room with cast, and his sisters. His entire family came to town for the premiere of his directorial debut. Turkey Bowl is a 63-minute comedy about old friends playing football, shot in real time.
Kyle seemed nervous about his screening, which was less than twelve hours away. He wanted to be in bed early. He and his cast and his sisters left the room. I stayed to shower.
After, I took a walk down Congress towards the madness of Sixth Street, looking for an ATM. At the Apple store, an employee was clearing the barricades that had been used to corral nerds into the store.
The line had been around the block at noon. Who flies to Austin to wait in line for hours to buy a piece of technology that’s not much different than the thing they’re already lugging around? To be fair, the wait was only fifteen minutes now.
A pedicab told us he’d give us a free ride to a famous BBQ parlor—if we “tweeted at” his sponsoring start-up. Fine. But the restaurant had closed when we got there.
We went and got a burger and then I went to The Driskill, because I remembered it was fun last year. The actor Kevin Pollak was there. It was crowded and stuffy, so I left. Then someone texted me that they were at the bar. I went back inside. The bar was still crowded and stuffy. Then my friends texted again to say they’d left. So I left too.
Then came the film festival’s opening party, at Buffalo Billiards. Someone in line asked me if The Awl was based in North Hollywood. I was embarrassed that I’d registered with my parents’ address on my badge. At the party there were sliders and miniature corn dogs. Why had I paid for food earlier? Instead I had a free 16-ounce Miller Lite.
The cast and crew of Turkey Bowl were celebrating their first time at a film festival. Morgan Beck plays the nerdy loudmouth in the film. In real-life he’s the writer’s assistant on a show on premium cable. He pointed out that Monk was playing without commercials on televisions above the bar. I said that I’d heard Tony Shalhoub was deejaying. Beck disagreed when I said “unemployment is the greatest thing ever.” I disagreed when he said “Justin Bieber is pretty good.”
Troy Buchanan, from the film, said his character is a less confident version of himself. In real life, Troy works at an Apple store in Florida and said he was happy he didn’t have to work today. He wasn’t a fan of being yelled at by creeps while clearing barricades to corral nerds. Brian Wessel is Turkey Bowl’s editor. He went to AFI with Kyle. Now he cuts a reality TV show.
We walked to The Jackalope because I remembered from last year that it was the only glimmer of punk rock salvation on Sixth Street. Plus I saw on Foursquare that my friends friends were drinking there. I drank my first Lone Star in over a year.
When we got back to the hotel, Kyle was already asleep. I slept in the same bed. I observed the heterosexual male custom of sleeping on top of the sheets so we wouldn’t accidentally touch in the middle of the night.
Kyle woke up at 7 a.m. to meet his dad. His father is a physician for a Division 1 football team. Before big games they go for runs. He got back back at 9 a.m. He ran seven miles while I slept for another two hours.
The cast got to the screening two hours early. I stayed back to eat a waffle that looked like the state of Texas. I gave a dollar to a homeless man because he said “hey brother, can you spare some change.” I didn’t know homeless guys still said that.
I got to the Alamo Ritz for the premiere. The cast and crew mostly wore blazers and jeans: business casual. They stood among film critics wearing promotional t-shirts and cargo shorts: film critic formal. The comedian Doug Benson was in line behind me, talking about his boycott of 3D movies.
We walked into the movie hall. It also serves beer. Silent films that didn’t fit the screen were projected in place of the terrible pop culture quizzes that are typically shown before commercial films. A filmmaker/government contractor sat next to me. He said that if Congress doesn’t approve the budget, government employees including the armed forces will be forced to report to work for free.
A SXSW volunteer/cinephile from Abilene sat on the other side of me. She began laughing from the movie’s first joke. Before the film hit the third act, the girl from Abilene tore her audience award ballot. She gave the movie a 5. The crowd cheered at the end. The film went really well. After, the line for the men’s room was much longer than the women’s. Too many people wearing cargo shorts.