I’ve always been a big supporter of the BarCamp concept (a free self-organizing “unconference” where everyone is expected to contribute or participate), although the original BarCamps are way too technical for me to understand, never mind contribute. So I was happy to find out that CaseCamp Toronto is happening again on April 29th. CaseCamp is a marketing version of BarCamp, with people presenting case studies, and because there’s a big crossover with my favoured tribe of web nerds, there’s usually a heavy dose of social media wonkery. For some reason, these only appear to happen in Canada. My only disappointment is that it’s happening at the exact same time as two other potentially interesting events: StartupCamp 2 and Raindance’s free “99 Minute Screenwriting School.” If anyone makes it to either of those two, would you mind reporting back? And if you’re interested in CaseCamp, sign up soon. There are almost 100 people coming already!
The lack of posts around here has been on my mind lately. I’ve just come through an incredibly busy time and can finally relax. A bit. My company’s annual huge wine tasting event was yesterday and I’m hungover in every conceivable way. It’s been a lot of work, and it’s finally finished. But in case you think I’ve been completely absent from the web lately, well, you’d be wrong. Evidence:
- Podcast of the panel I moderated (Ghost In The Machine: Spirituality Online) at this year’s SXSW is now available.
- I was featured along with my friends Philip and Ian on an episode of Livebait.tv about Hot Docs.
- Related to the Livebait.tv story, my new film blog Toronto Screen Shots has been going like gangbusters, and I’ve got a huge stack of great DVDs to review.
So, although there hasn’t been a lot of text here lately, you can see and hear me in a few different places.
I know this post is long overdue, but it’s actually taken me this long to recover physically and mentally and catch up a bit at work. This year’s SXSW was even bigger than last year, and despite the fears of my friends and I, it was actually somehow a bit more manageable. This was probably due to a few factors. First, I had a panel to prepare for and that allowed me to focus on that to the exclusion of almost everything else on the Saturday. Another sadder reality was that Brooke’s father passed away just a week before I was to fly to Austin. We spent almost the entire next week with her mum in Collingwood, about an hour and a half north of Toronto. That made it pretty impossible to think about or plan my week too carefully. For a few days, it wasn’t even clear I’d be able to make the trip at all. But in a strange way, it made me less anxious about the panel and about figuring out what I wanted to do every hour of every day. I was just happy to be there. And just so you know, Brooke was able to spend some quality time alone with her mum that week and sent me on my way with her blessing. She’s amazing like that.
I didn’t attend a lot of panels, or take a lot of photos or notes, so I thought I’d just give you a list of highlights and lowlights:
- My panel was great. It was a pleasure and a privilege to meet some very sharp people who also happen to be warm and genuine about their faith. I’m really hopeful that I can be involved in something like it again next year.
- Sticking around a few days was a great idea. Although I didn’t buy a Music badge, there were heaps of free day shows. I got to see The Buzzocks(!), The Polyphonic Spree, Apples in Stereo, Peter Bjorn and John, Robyn Hitchcock with Peter Buck and Okkervil River. There was even free food and beer.
- During one of the parties during Interactive, I was chatting with my friends Kevin and Baratunde when we were joined by a personable young guy talking about films. He introduced himself as Joe and said he was acting in a film that was at the Film festival. During our 40 minute conversation, it dawned on me that we were hanging out with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, star of The Lookout. He turned out to be a great guy, smart and interesting but completely unpretentious.
- As a panelist, I got a complimentary Gold badge which allowed me to attend both Interactive and Film events. I took the opportunity to see a few films (Reign Over Me, Exiled, and Eagle Versus Shark) and this was a great break from the intensity of hanging around with smart geeks or rocking out at concerts.
- The panels and keynotes I did attend were almost all interesting and valuable.
- I focussed more on my writing about film and made a number of useful contacts. My decision to launch Toronto Screen Shots was based on attending a great panel called “Blogging About Film.”
- The weather in Austin this year was kind of crappy. It rained for several days, which made getting around fairly miserable.
- Hotels were expensive and filled up really early. Despite sharing with my friends Neil and Kevin, which involved spending five of my eight nights on either an air mattress or a rollaway bed, it still cost me more than US$1,000. I’m going to book my room by July or August next time.
- Almost everyone I know had some travel snafus on the way home. I wasn’t immune. I flew back Saturday from Austin to Detroit without incident, but my flight from Detroit to Toronto was cancelled for “unscheduled maintenance.” Despite the fact that it’s a one hour flight, there were no flights available until Monday or Tuesday, and the airline would only pay for one night’s accomodation. I banded together with a few other Torontonians and we took a taxi across the border to Windsor and jumped on the train. I got home about seven hours late, and it cost me more money, but there was no way I was staying two days in Detroit, especially at my own expense. Boo airlines!
- As always, the week went by far too quickly and I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with people. There were a few people whom I’d wanted to meet for the first time, and didn’t get the chance. Ah well, I’ll be back next year!
I’ve been back from SXSW since last weekend but of course have been exhausted and swamped with work. I have, however, taken some time to collect all of my film-related writing on a brand-new weblog called Toronto Screen Shots. I’m hoping to collaborate with a few other film writers there and feature some exciting new content in the coming months. Please visit and let me know what you think!
P.S. Yes, I’ll post something about SXSW soon, probably this weekend.
The Shutka Book of Records (Director: Aleksandar Manic, Czech Republic, 78 minutes): This month’s Doc Soup screening was one that I’d heard absolutely nothing about beforehand. Shutka is a small town in Macedonia that boasts that it is the unofficial capital of the Roma (Gypsy) people. Though not rich in material goods, its inhabitants are rich in imagination, and almost everyone proclaims himself a “champion” of something. Obscure pursuits such as hunting vampires, training geese to fight, and collecting obscure cassettes of Turkish music are all fair game in the townspeople’s constant quest for one-upmanship.
I had some issues with the film’s tone. Even though the film was made in 2005, it was uncannily close to some of the scenes of the “Kazakh” village in Borat. This film, ostensibly a documentary, also used a slightly comical “narrator” (actually actor Bajram Severdzan, from Emir Kusturica’s Black Cat, White Cat) and the abundant humour brought it so close to parody at times that I felt that perhaps the whole thing was a put-on. According to the reviewer for the Chicago Tribune, (aptly-named) director Manic has called it an “acted documentary,” which only muddies the water.
As well, and as another reviewer noted, there is an unspoken undertone of grinding poverty. These people, although indomitable and at times charming, are the sort of uneducated, superstitious bumpkins who would rather spend their welfare money on a lavish party for their son’s circumcision ceremony than on his school fees. Though there is a discernible Roma culture evident, one wonders whether it thrives only because of a lack of any alternative. Without meaningful work or future prospects, people are bound to end up spending all of their waking hours boasting, stealing, arguing and worrying about evil genies. It’s entertaining, but it somehow felt wrong to be entertained. The few attempts made by the director to get us to empathize with many of the residents’ desire to “fly away” to the riches in the West felt buried under the weight of the jaunty anthropological style (including faux-archival black and white footage). At the end of the film, I felt somewhat like I’d emerged from a carnival sideshow. (7/10)