SXSW Diary Day Four Friday, March 19, 2021

Interested in learning about the 2021 SXSW Online Festival? Read my diaries. You’ll feel like you’re walking in a Virtual Austin, Texas.

AUGUSTA, GA – JUNE 8: Reality Winner exits the Augusta Courthouse June 8, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. Winner is an intelligence industry contractor accused of leaking National Security Agency (NSA) documents. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

The 2021 SXSW Online Festival is coming to a close. It’s difficult to tally all the concepts, ideas, and inspiration experienced throughout the festival. An online version of SXSW delivers significant changes around increased accessibility, community building, and diversity. For me, the 2021 SXSW Online changes make a positive impact thanks to digital platforms providing filmmaker Q&As, networking opportunities, presentations, talks, and screenings. I’ve experienced numerous online festivals and summits during the year of COVID-19, and the 2021 SXSW Online Festival stands out as a best-in-class digital event.

What I’m Watching:

United States vs. Reality Winner

Making its world premiere in the Documentary Feature Competition at the 2021 SXSW Online Festival, ‘United States vs. Reality Winner‘ challenges audiences to think about the meaning of patriotism, the value of whistleblowers, and the proper punishment for someone caught sharing classified governmental information with the press. ‘United States vs. Reality Winner’ director and producer Sonia Kennebeck brings new insights to these ideas via a deep dive into the story of Reality Winner, a 25-year-old Air Force veteran and NSA contractor caught providing a classified report about Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election. Kennebeck recreates a detailed timeline of Winner’s trial, sentencing, and failed appeals with the help of parent interviews and news footage of her story. Former computer intelligence officer and well-known whistleblower Edward Snowden appears multiple times in the movie to promote the positive role that whistleblowers play in democracies. It’s worth remembering that filmmaker Oliver Stone made a feature-length drama about Snowden. Perhaps Reality Winner will receive the spotlight that comes from a Hollywood drama. 

Marcus Samuelsson, Chef and Owner of the Newark-based hospitality company Marcus Samuelsson Group, talks about the importance of community investment by local businesses.

What I’m Learning:

Community Investment Makes Cents for Business

Abhinav Mathur, Senior Vice President, Global Center for Urban Development, Audible, joins his colleague Aisha Glover, Vice President of Urban Innovation, Audible, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and Marcus Samuelsson, the chef, and owner of the Marcus Samuelsson Group, for a lively SXSW discussion.  They share their unique partnerships for helping Newark residents manage the challenges from COVID-19. Audible, an audiobook and podcast service owned by Amazon, continues to make community investments in Newark since moving its headquarters in 2007.  Audible’s partnership with Newark is inspiring. I’m excited to experience what’s next from the Audible/Newark partnerships.

“Think of COVID-19 as an incredible reset. It has been awful with over 500,000 deaths, but it’s an incredible reset for cities. That is as long as hope is part of the reset.” –  Marcus Samuelsson, the chef, and owner of the Marcus Samuelsson Group.

What’s New:

SXSW designers recreate blocks of downtown Austin, Texas, for online attendees to experience virtually. It’s a powerful preview of the increasing role XR tech will play at future festivals and industry summits.

What’s the Same:

Brands from CNN to HBO remain active at the 2021 SXSW Online Festival despite the lack of onsite attendees and a brick-and-mortar footprint. XR tech plays a significant role in brands promoting their work via SXSW programming.  Felix & Paul Studios, a leading immersive storytelling studio, NASA, TIME Magazine team up for a behind-the-curtain look at a VR trip to the International Space Station via Space Explorers: The ISS Experience.

Behind the Screens:

SXSW veterans share fun tips and great stories about managing the festival grind and long hours. Streaming into SXSW panels and screenings from your home and office is less physically taxing. Those of you missing the Austin grind, think about putting a few granola bars into your pockets.

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