El rincón cultural cotidiano
Today we have an interview with Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW festival in Austin Texas.
Question.- Hugh, could you summerize what the SXSW is?
Answer.- Every march in Austin, Texas, is a ten day extravaganza that includes 3 main things, film, music, interactive. We bring together very creative people, film makers or new media professionals. We mix them all up in this very creative city where the weather is great, very nice atmosphere and environment for new connections, ideas and partnerships. 700 panels that show great show, variety of events, films screens, music, etc.
We have 200 bands from all over the world playing in 6-7 nights… It is a real life breathing, living manifestation, and a huge variety of things to do. There is always something better to do in every corner, it is a real fun time. It is a strong event to create new businesses.
Q.- What has been the biggest impact of the technologies in the culture?
A.- I work in the event that focuses on technologies. Our main point is interactive; 10 years ago it was just a little space of it and now is becoming more and more important, the biggest impact of the festival. I think it illustrates how much technology, new media, is in harmony with everything we do in this aspect. 15-10 years ago it was impossible to focus a festival just in technology, but everything we do is that. It has been a big part of our growth and hopefully it will continue growing.
And also, we work a lot to have lot of innovators, very creative minds that help catching the attention, not just around the US but from all over the world.
Q.- About Twitter, the revolution has caused and the impact in the SXSW Festival.
A.- Twitter is becoming so powerful. It really really helped us growing fast. It means that so many startups duplicated the success of the people that come to the festival. Bigger members, innovators, sponsors etc. What we like to think is that our best moments are about showcase, what is going to be hot in two years. And that happens a lot with bands, you hear about it soon, or you hear about a film that is not released yet or it is not that big and you hear about through Twitter.
It is happening in recent years, Foursquare for example in 2009. If you look to showcase what is going to be a success in two years time, you don’t really know if what you are seeing now is going to work or be more powerful then. We can’t predict the likes and dislikes of mainstream audience.
And that happened with Twitter in 2007, it was created, they came to the festival and we thought it was a really cool thing but we didn’t know how big it was going to be two years later, 6 years later. No one could have imagined the ramifications. Twitter was really good for us.
So many people use it to get in touch with people: I am here, I am having coffee or lunch in this particular place, come to this party, etc. But it is not just that, it also has great value for marketing and brand perspective or to breaking news perspective. So this science to see the future is difficult, sometimes we got it right, sometimes get it wrong.
Q.- What challenges you face every year to plan the line up?
A.- The biggest challenge is the scale of how big is the festival, try to figure out that and how much hands you want on it and what you don’t want to. But I always like to say that it is true that we are a community focused event, very engaged with the interactive part, which helped us grow. It is a challenge to find the creative minds, get the ideas and incorporate them in the event.
Q.- Lena Dunham is going to be participating this coming March. What makes her so special and important for this new culture scenario?
A.- For this particular person, I think she illustrates the idea of the SXSW of “what is next”? She screened a film for the festival 4-5 years ago. She did it well but it didn’t do it great, but I think she made the initial connections for the show Girls. It turns out why she´s been invited this year:
One: we love showcasing strong women with creative ideas.
Two: it’s a series that shows a different perspective from what we see in TV so we like to showcase that alternative vision.
Three: she embodies this idea we like to talk about in SXSW: figure out what you do right, what you love, and you can make a living out of it. This is our ideology: “Take what you like to do, make a profession out of it and make profit, make a living”.
Q.- Your audience is so diverse; alternative people, modern, classic… the unification in SXSW is the objective?
A.- By definition, hipsters don’t want to be unified. I am joking a little bit. We try to be a big trend. That means that we can have hipsters, independent people, corporate people and all coexist and come together. Two years ago, for instance, our music speaker was Bruce Springsteen. But, how Bruce was feeling about participating in a festival that shows as well new music bands and emerging artists? I don’t see there is any problem of having more established artists within emerging artists to start a extraordinary career. Many other things: it isabout taking your career to another level, whether if you are starting to play now whether you have been playing music for 40 years as Bruce has but he´s trying to release a new more posh album.
Q.- You are also participating in Zaragoza (V Congreso Iberoamericano de Cultura). What is going to be the main idea you are going to talk about?
A.- I am going talk about trends. About the trends we see in SXSW and how they manifest within society encounters. For example am going to talk about this growing technology. Also about this Internet idea where everything is connected and it is changing everything we do.
Q.- I talked to David Binder no long ago and he said that a festival can change the way we see the place is happening the event. Also, the economic impact they have within the city. How big is this impact in Texas when you celebrate the SXSW?
A.- For what we do in Austin we have started tracking the economic impact within society. It has been incredible: hotels, restaurants, t-shirts, taxis, all that stuff. In 2013 had 280.000 million dollar impact so if you put that in the context in means that it creates jobs, it brings money into the city. At the end of the day it has helped to develop new creativity to other people.
But more importantly, we hope that people that come to see us bring their culture and their value. They meet someone new that can take their career to another level or they get a new idea that they can incorporate to their work.
Q.- Innovation, creativity, inspiration as keywords
A.- Those words came from thinking about, talking about what we like most of the event, the obsessions we have and we are most proud of, the claims we want to achieve. People that work in the 3D, an artist that is doing something that maybe other people is not following yet.
Innovation: brain breaking.
Inspiration: probably the most important, we like to feel that we are providing content that is educational but at the same time has a strong nerve of the body. Maybe the best example happened in 2008 when we had Mark Zuckerberg didn’t work quite as we hoped. He was the keynote on Monday and on Tuesday we had Frank Warren who created postsecret.com. It is a website where people write their secrets that are posted on the website, so you can see the first name but you don’t really know who it comes from. And it is developing this internet phenomenon that people like. I saw this guy speaking 3-4 months before the SXSW with a massive audience and by the end, the most amazing thing happened. At the end of the speech there was time for 4 questions and the first one was that his girlfriend asked him to marry her. People were like really connected, touched by it.