I went to SXSW in Austin, Texas. I did not stay long enough.

My time was filled with visions, and realities, of the future. There were so many more I could have seen. SXSW has become the place to be for anyone who likes to combine tech, film, music, fashion. And they’re all there.

“South By” continues until the end of this week. Here’s what I saw: Not everything. There’s so much on, and in so many different venues, it’s impossible to catch it all. But the fact that it is all spread around the walkable, extremely pleasant city of Austin means it’s easier to navigate than the multi-zipcode hell of a fashion week, for example. And the other difference: everyone’s really nice.

On the film front, there was hype about Song to Song; I was too busy experiencing CNN VR, the channel’s incredible new VR content (I stepped inside a real-life bomb site in Aleppo, and a bullfight in Spain) to attend the screening but I caught a great on-stage conversation between director Terrence Malik, actor Michael Fassbender (who stars alongside Natalie Portman, Ryan Gosling, and Rooney Mara) and moderated by Boyhood director and Austin-ite Richard Linklater.


Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling in Song to Song

Other films which premiered well include James Franco’s The Disaster Artist, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver (with Ansel Elgort, Lily James and Kevin Spacey), and Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire (Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson and Armie Hammer). Ron Howard and Brian Grazer spoke about the upcoming (April 25) Einstein series Genius at the NatGeo hub. I watched a screening in a bubble tent of Films of City Frames, a series of student-made commercial shorts commissioned by Giorgio Armani, followed by discussion with mentor, actor Dev Patel.

At the #HBOTheEscape (an immersive, interactive theme park kind of thing), my teammates and I passed through three HBO set rooms solving clues; Veep, Silicon Valley (BEST. Show. Ever.) and Game of Thrones. The experience—akin to The Crystal Maze—culminated in a group photo on the infamous Iron Throne amid prop swords and fake snow. I tried hard to emulate my GOT alter-ego Kinvara, High Priestess of the Red Temple of Volantis, the Flame of Truth, the Light of Wisdom, and First Servant of the Lord of Light. Things were lacking in the costume department.


Brothers Dave Franco and James Franco (who also directs the feature) in The Disaster Artist

Reluctantly and pressed for time, I shunned the countless movie theatre screenings I had penned in my diary in favour of a myriad virtual-reality experiences: ones I will never forget. With the HTC Vive (it’s pronounced “vyve” not ‘veev’), I inhabited the body of a cartoon alien with Mindshow. I explored the beauty of a hat in Spatium, a VR film created by my talented friend Philip Treacy, directed by Roland Lane with Inition. I finally got to try the Meta headset (I wrote about it here), where augmented reality shows how we will shop/learn/read in the future. My best VR experience yet: in a moving chair pod, filming a zero-gravity scene in a military plane that’s about to crash for the upcoming The Mummy movie with/right NEXT TO Tom Cruise. Also: everyone needs a Positron Voyager chair.


Characters from Mindshow

I am sad I missed Eliza McNitt’s much talked-about VR feature Fistful of Stars. And, as a huge fan of Chris Milk and all that his team have created (I live, with my VR headset, on and in their Within app), I missed his new Life of Us. I will head to his offices in LA as soon as I get to the United States for a desk-side showing. That’s the beauty of VR; it’s on whenever and wherever you need it to be. And yet so far removed from where you actually are.


 Fistful of Stars by artist Eliza McNitt

At the end of my SXSW experience, I moderated a panel at the Decoded Fashion hub about the future of content. I concluded that that will undoubtedly include video and film, both short-form and long-form, as well as VR and AR. User-generated content will be more popular than ever before. Thanks to SXSW, I am not short of ideas, nor friends and creators to help me realize them.—Kinvara Balfour

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