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A Weekend of Panels and Premieres

My First South by Southwest Experience


Recently, I've been seeing a lot more traffic come to my website. For those checking me out for the first time, welcome! I haven't been very active with blogging because we are literally SO CLOSE to being finished with book two. I'm dedicating almost the entirety of my free time to that end, with a release set for the first week of April! Yay!!


I say almost because this past weekend was Austin's huge arts and tech festival South by Southwest. For those unfamiliar, the annual spring festival brings film, music, interactive media and academic/policy conferences together downtown for two weeks of learning, culture and celebration. As a journalist, I was invited to check it all out - and let me tell you - this past weekend, I made the most of it!


SXSW South by Southwest Austin Capital City, Capitol Building on South Congress.

A festival in the Capital City! This is outside a particular movie premiere, though I was only passing by.


Saturday: Plans Derailed


I got up nice and early to catch the first train downtown. It drops you off right at the heart of SXSW and is infinitely more convenient than hailing an Uber or dealing with parking. At least, it should have been. A train stuck on the tracks cut our trip short, and a metro bus had to come pick us up and take us the rest of the way. I intended to arrive before 10a to catch a panel on medicine, but didn't end up arriving until 11:30a.


The CapMetro train dropped us right at the Convention Center, and made traveling to downtown Austin easy and convenient!

The train dropped us right at the Convention Center, and made traveling downtown easy and convenient!


With that snag out of the way, I picked up my badge and took a shuttle to a downtown theater to catch the premiere of the documentary Dopplegangers^3 by director Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stepanian. She's a French artist concerned with many disciplines, including plurality, and her film seeks to chronicle her scientific efforts to find alternatives to the eventual commercialization of the moon. She and a couple of "doppelgangers" (two other women she found of similar age, appearance, family upbringing, values, etc.) go into a Spanish subterranean cave to simulate being on the moon.


It was a super interesting film with some pretty high concept ideas, exploring what we owe to space and the life that might be out there. And Dr. Ben Hayoun-Stepian was there herself to answer questions at the end of the film!


Dr. Ben Hayoun-Stepian discusses her film at the end of the showing, Dopplegangers^3.

Dr. Ben Hayoun-Stepian discusses her film at the end of the showing.


There's so much going on, you have to make choices of which panels and premieres you'd like to see over others. I wanted to attend a panel of the Death of Civil Discourse, but ultimately decided to visit a panel titled 'Community is the Future of Public Safety'. There, Deputy Director of the White House's Office of Gun Violence Prevention Greg Jackson, Director of the Darren B. Easterling Center for Restorative Practices Lisa Daniels and the Director of Equal Justice USA and former prosecutor Jamilia Hodge all spoke on how traditional approaches to public safety have been "failing for generations."


They spoke on the importance of community stepping up to address the root causes of violence and healing trauma. It was a really emotional and thought-provoking session, and touched on some similar thoughts to a book I recently read titled Tribe by Sebastian Junger. I spoke with each panelist afterwards, introduced myself as a journalist and spoke with them about the media's role in existing power structures. I'm really glad I went, and was happy that I got to network a little - something that was true of each of the panels.


Deputy Director of the White House's Office of Gun Violence Prevention Greg Jackson, Director of the Darren B. Easterling Center for Restorative Practices Lisa Daniels and the Director of Equal Justice USA and former prosecutor Jamilia Hodge all spoke on the community stepping up to address the root causes of violence and healing trauma.

Here Jackson speaks alongside Hodge during a Q&A at the end.


I then stopped at this really cool interactive exhibit by the company KPMG which had a podcast booth set up where you could be interviewed by its AI podcast host Skylar. I just gave a few details about myself and then the AI was asking me questions like...


  • "Diving into the dynamic world of television news reporting, I'm sure it's been a journey filled with both significant successes and challenges. Could you share with us a particular moment or experience that stands out to you?

  • "The emphasis on human connection and emotion is crucial. Considering that, how do you balance this human approach with the need for objectivity in journalism?"

  • "Allowing the subjects of your stories to convey emotional depth while you anchor the narrative in fact is a profound way to maintain balance. How then do you handle the personal impact of these stories? I mean, being consistently exposed to various emotional and sometimes traumatic events must take a toll. How do you manage to decompress and ensure your own well-being?"


Honestly, it was pretty nutty! It was a short, five minute demo, but this AI asked some pretty profound questions in response to my answers - recorded via traditional podcast equipment. It really flexed the power of conversational AI, which was also a huge topic of discussion across the weekend.


I was in a legit audio booth for the podcast interview, interviewed by KPMG's AI host Skylar.

I was in a legit audio booth for the podcast interview, interviewed by KPMG's AI host Skylar.


After that, I ended the night with the world premiere of Babes by director Pamela Adlon and starring Michelle Buteau and Ilana Glazer. It's about a new mom and a mother of two balancing their new lives with their lifelong friendship, which I think is something that would be relatable to many. It was authentic, funny and very wholesome. I really enjoyed this film, and recommend a watch when it hits theaters May 17.


It was such a long day, but between travel and EVERYTHING there was to see and do, I'm disappointed it flew by so quickly. I stayed out with some friends downtown, braved the time change and was in bed by 4 a.m. to get ready for day two.


Sunday: Back in Class


Going into SXSW, I thought it was mostly going to be about the music and the film. And while I certainly experienced a lot of those things, I'm really surprised how much I enjoyed attending panels and just listening to experts talk about these topics that sometimes niche, but often relevant. It felt academic, like I was back at a university, but because I chose the topics I was interested in, it was never even remotely boring.


I avoided train trouble and made it into downtown sometime in the early afternoon. I intended to sleep in and have a more relaxed day. The panel I caught first was 'How to Have a Healthy and Environmentally Sustainable Diet,' though I missed another concurrent panel titled 'How Shelters Can Stop Euthanizing Dogs and Cats.' As a vegan, both of these topics were very interesting to me, so it was a tough choice.


Dr. Rosemary Ostfeld discusses keys to a healthy and sustainable diet.

Dr. Rosemary Ostfeld discusses keys to a healthy and sustainable diet.


I heard from Dr. Rosemary Ostfeld who has made sustainable eating her life's work. She shared a lot of great resources, and while I wasn't surprised to hear her talk about why eating plants was more sustainable, she never made the argument for veganism. Instead, she shared tips about eating meat as ethically and sustainably as possible and insisted it's not an "all or nothing" approach. She also discussed food waste, goods like palm oil and the problem with modern agriculture. It was super informative, and once again, I had the opportunity to connect with her afterwards.


Then it was on to a panel on 'Industry, Civil Society and the Coming AI Revolution.' Now this wasn't peddling dystopian futurology ideas of AI taking over the world or anything, but this panel did discuss how both the public and tech companies need to understand both one another, and AI technology, better. The panelists included Katie Harbath, chief executive of Duco Experts, Director of Technology Megan Shahi with the Center for American Progress and David Willner, a policy advisor at Stanford University.


Pictured left to right is the moderator Adam Conner, a policy expert himself, and then Shahi, Willner and Harbath. SXSW, Industry and the Coming AI Revolution.

Pictured left to right is the moderator Adam Conner, a policy expert himself, and then Shahi, Willner and Harbath.


What was cool about these experts was they all once worked for tech companies, but now worked on the policy side of innovation. After being on both sides of the fence, they had a wonderful perspective on how industry, the public and government all need to work together to handle the challenges that will come with the continued rise of AI - a technology that they believe in. As Megan said at one point, technology tends to make bad things worse and good things better. They offered thoughts and solutions on riding the curve that just seems to be exponential.


I really enjoyed this topic, especially following my own experience at the podcast booth. AI is such a fascinating technology, and I can't wait to see where it takes us! Like our speakers, it's not something I necessarily fear, but I like how they addressed the need for caution and oversight in an age where video, pictures and even audio can all be faked - perhaps the biggest danger, at least in the short term. They said as AI continues to evolve, it will get better and detecting and defending against these threats too.


Violet Cinema was one of several hosts at SXSW Spring of 2024.

Finally, I closed out with another movie premiere: Smugglers, a Korean film by director Ryoo Seung-wan. I had an hour and a half to kill so I grabbed dinner first. Unfortunately, giving myself 30 minutes was NOT enough time, and I was stuck in line for the first showing. Fortunately, a second showing was happening 15 minutes later and I was still able to get in.


The movie takes place in the 70s and was full of heist movie flare in both style and tropes. It was a really fun watch! Basically, a group of women who go diving for clams in their small village get caught up in a life-changing smuggling ring. There were plenty of twists and surprises, humor that sometimes got a little campy and PHENOMENAL action sequences! I'm really glad I didn't miss out on it. It was a great way to end the night!


The Fun Continues


The festival goes through next weekend and I actually have some friends coming to visit, so there's plenty more to see! The premiere of Immaculate is Tuesday, the DJ Illenium performs Saturday, and if I have the time before or after work, I hope to attend some more panels - but, frankly, I've got a lot else going on.


I'm spending lots of time in the kitchen and the gym - down nearly 30 pounds as of this morning!! And as I mentioned, working on my book is taking a majority of my free time. Not only are we shooting for an Amazon release of April 6 (Wis' Birthday), but here's something else:


For those who wanted Wis' Apothecary in a bigger font, I'm releasing a new version of volume one that is reformatted to both be larger and uniform with volume two. I removed the unnecessary spacing and cleaned it up in various places. So it would make the perfect gift to buy alongside the release of volume two!


Finally, in one last special announcement: Between now and the release of volume two, I'm going to be releasing portions of the first story here on the blog each week! I hope you enjoy the sneak peek, and please feel free to share with friends and family!


Once the book is out on Amazon, I'll be announcing some book signing dates in Austin, Dallas and Rochester - so stay tuned! I'm so, so excited to finally be getting this book out there to you all!


Until next time, thanks for reading!



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