The 12 Things We Can’t Wait to See and Do at SXSW 2016

By  · Published on March 11th, 2016

For the Film School Rejects squad, this will be anything but a formulaic year at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival and Conference. Since 2007, we’ve been converging on Downtown Austin, TX with a bunch of our friends from around the world to watch movies, eat brisket and drink until we forget to write about the movies we saw. In the past, it’s always been a team affair.

I’ll let you into a little secret about our coverage of the 2016 edition of SXSW: it’s mostly going to be me. We will have some reviews from Chief Critic Rob Hunter, who will be screening films from the comfort of his own living room. We also may have a few guest articles along the way from familiar faces. But the bulk of what you’ll see from us will come from yours truly. Which is terrifying, as I’m the most easily distracted by shiny things. SXSW is full of shiny things. The marketing world calls them “activations,” let’s call them what they really are: distractions. From a giant ferris wheel to a billion sponsored food trucks, SXSW will provide more than a few things that will undoubtedly distract from me seeing and reviewing movies.

With this in mind, I’m flipping the script on our annual preview. Instead of providing a list of the 10 (or more) of the most anticipated movies of the festival, I’ve come up with a list of experiences that I can’t wait to have over the course of the next week.

1. Obamapacolypse

On Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama will be coming to SXSW to participate in a keynote session. He will join Evan Smith, CEO / Editor in Chief of The Texas Tribune, for “a conversation about civic engagement in the 21st Century” and how technology plays a role in the way we participate in and change our country’s political process. It’s very cool, as SXSW is celebrating its 30th year and this will be the first time that a sitting President (and the First Lady) are attending the festival. It’s a big to-do and everyone is already buzzing about it. The Mayor of Austin is even telling locals to work from home, if possible, as downtown is going to be a madhouse. For those of us who don’t like large crowds, insane lines, being watched by the Secret Service and sitting in traffic long enough to listen to five episodes of Serial, SXSW is streaming the event live via You can watch President Obama talk tech without even having to wear pants. This is how I prefer to engage in the political process. That’s what it’s all about, right?

2. Riding the Mr. Robot Ferris Wheel in The Middle of Downtown Austin

Once Air Force One is back in the sky, it’s likely that downtown Austin will clear up a little, though not by much. Still, I’ll be headed toward the center of town, where the USA Network marketing team has set up a giant Coney Island-inspired Ferris Wheel to promote the hacker drama Mr. Robot. I’m not great with heights, though perhaps a ride on this thing will show me if there’s any cyber-corruption going on in my city. I don’t know how these things work.

3. Watching Matthew A. Cherry’s 9 Rides

Matthew A. Cherry is a former NFL player turned filmmaker who made his debut with The Last Fall at SXSW four years ago. He’s also one of my absolute favorite Twitter follows. His new movie 9 Rides combines two things the tech community of SXSW Interactive already love: the iPhone and Uber. Shot on an iPhone, 9 Rides chronicles an Uber driver’s New Years evening, in which is many passengers help him deal with some life-changing news he’s recently received. The trailer debuted on Complex a few days ago and for a film shot on an iPhone, it looks extremely polished. I’m interested to see if, like Tangerine before it, 9 Rides gets energy from its chosen camera. At the very least, I’m looking forward to Cherry’s innovative craftsmanship and fresh perspective. Of all the films that aren’t among the Headliners of SXSW, this is easily my most anticipated.

4. Visiting the Game of Thrones Hall of Faces

HBO always brings a solid activation to SXSW, as it times perfectly with the upcoming release of Game of Thrones season 6 (43 days from now, but who’s counting?). In years past, we’ve had Iron Throne pedicabs, a massive Game of Thrones exhibition, a sword fighting art project, and the Iron Throne itself. This year HBO is bringing The Hall of Faces to SXSW. Fans will be able to have their own face among the House of Black and White’s halls, get a special holographic preview of season 6 and take a seat on the Iron Throne. Stay tuned for a more in-depth walkthrough of the exhibit, coming shortly.

5. Learning About the Modern Media Company

It’s not all pop culture for me this year. On Saturday evening, I’m going to attend a panel called “Creating the Modern Media Company,” in which Vox Media Chairman and CEO Jim Bankoff will be among the speakers. Vox Media is a company we admire greatly and hearing his take on the current and future state of media will be very interesting. And who knows, maybe there will be some insight that will help guide the future of Film School Rejects. A great blog can’t life on a healthy diet of GIFs and listicles forever.

6. Talking to Our Friends About Midnight Special

The only film that screened before the festival, at least that I could fit into my schedule, was Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special. If this sounds like a familiar title, it’s because this movie has topped our list of the most anticipated movies of the year for each of the last two years. In short, it’s great. And the less you know about it going in, the better. In fact, everything you need to know about it will be in the review I’m working on. Look for that on Saturday. Later that evening, people at the festival will see the film and I’ll find them so that we can talk about it. Don’t worry, I’ll find them.

7. Getting an Early Look at Key and Peele’s Keanu

A more recent trend in the SXSW arsenal of events is showing “Work in Progress” screenings of major studio films, usually comedies. Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow brought the house down with a completely finished WIP version of Trainwreck last year. For 2016, Key and Peele will be here with a version of Keanu (the action comedy about two men and a kitten) and Seth Rogen will be here with the animated feature Sausage Party. Both are high on my list, but Keanu is clearly the favorite. Key and Peele are stepping into their takeover of comedy cinema with cute kitten antics and Method Man. Cue up this GIF:

8. Experiencing the Intense All-Dimensional Experience of Hardcore Henry

One of the least comfortable theaters of SXSW (or Austin in general) is the Paramount Theater. Its seats are the thing you’ll hear festival goers complain about the most all week. The Paramount is great. It’s big enough to hold the major premieres, which means if you show up early enough you’re going to get in. But once you get in, back and leg pain await. The final screening on Sunday at the Paramount is Hardcore Henry, the first person action movie starring Sharlto Copley. It promises to be an in-your-face action movie on any screen, but combined with the uncomfortable seat at the Paramount, it might be the only true 4D experience of SXSW. Hopefully the movie is good. But if it’s visual gaggery ends up being its defining characteristic, it’s likely to be a very painful night for everyone in attendance.

9. Learning More About Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Ugh, more Star Wars. Who am I kidding? That should read, “Awesome. More Star Wars!” On Monday afternoon, SXSW will screen the feature length documentary Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey. Part of the upcoming Force Awakens home video release, this doc promises to pull back the curtain on J.J. Abrams’ adventure in a galaxy far, far away. DVD Extras taking up a screening spot at a major film festival. This I’ve gotta see.

10. Chasing Down The Fargo Waffle Truck

In Austin, we love our food trucks. During SXSW, a number of these trucks are overtaken by sponsorships. Because, activations. This year my truck-chasing will undoubtedly include trying to score some free waffles from the Fargo truck pictured below:

I love waffles. I also love Fargo. It’s really quite simple.

11. Experiencing AMC’s Preacher

Among the many TV shows debuting at this year’s festival (a growing trend over the past few years) is AMC’s Preacher, the comic adaptation starring Dominic Cooper. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg will be on hand for a Q&A following the screening of the show’s pilot, which I’m told is quite good. With all of the good spring shows on hiatus, this should do well for a Last Night and TV column on Tuesday.

12. The Unexpected Discoveries

The best part of SXSW is the best part of any major film festival. Underneath all the marketing and the studio pictures booked in an attempt to sell badges there are a bunch of great films waiting to be discovered. I have entire days on my schedule dedicated to seeing things about which I have no prior knowledge. This year’s festival program includes a lot of interesting documentary subjects and a number of filmmakers of whom I’ve never heard. These discoveries make the trip worth it. To come out of a festival like SXSW with a few great films I can talk about and champion throughout the rest of the year is an ideal scenario. It makes waiting in line, fighting off crowds and overpaying for street tacos more than worth it.

My hope is that all of this will be of interest to you, dear reader. You can follow along here on the site via Instagram feeds. All three will be full of things that catch my eye.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)