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The most remarkable trend at our recent endorsement meetings was that many of the candidates had not one philosophical disagreement between them on the job and how it should be done. It came down to a difference in qualifications and capabilities, which is perhaps the reason why some of these campaigns have turned ugly. Without issues, the choice comes between personalities. But we have heard, seen, and read some particularly nasty, mean-spirited, and distorted campaign charges. Let us not reward negative campaigning, despite the intention. This really is ridiculous; even the vitriol that some voters are bringing to this discussion is surprising. There is no underestimating the importance of these county races, but there is no reason for mudslinging. The SXSW maelstrom is in full force. Across the field at the SXSW offices, the phone never stops ringing, the fax continually spits out paper, there are people everywhere talking, working, meeting, and planning. This goes on every day. On Saturday, March 14, SXSW Interactive begins. In this issue, we explore a small part of Austin's rapidly growing interactive community in conjunction with SXSW. This is the first of three issues that will focus on SXSW (next week will be a special film issue and the week afterward is the Austin Music Awards as chosen by Chronicle readers, with extensive SXSW coverage).

The bulk of the coverage this issue is on Austin's burgeoning gaming community. SXSW Interactive will offer five areas of concentration including Gaming Trends, Web Publishing, Music 2000, Digital Hollywood, and Money & Marketing. Howard Rheingold is the keynote speaker along with a couple hundred panelists, all experts in their field. Registration for SXSW Interactive is still available - look for information on all the conferences in the special SXSW supplement in this issue.

Friday the 13th is when SXSW Week officially kicks off with the Film Conference and Festival. SXSW Film, as much to Barbaro's and my astonishment as anyone's, has gained an impressive national reputation with this being only its fifth year. Starting that Friday, the American independent film community will gather in Austin, to talk about movies and watch them - lots of them. There will be all kinds of regional and world premieres in many different genres of filmmaking.

This year SXSW is especially excited to be presenting the world premiere of two films by filmmakers who are good friends. The world premiere of Richard Linklater's The Newton Boys starring Matthew McConnaughey, Dwight Yoakam, Skeet Ulrich, Ethan Hawke, Julianna Margulies, and Vincent D'onofrio will be presented at SXSW Film. This really is an exciting event as it does mark a coming of age of the Austin and regional film industry: A Hollywood studio production conceived, shot, and about Texas. This is a great time to honor Linklater, who through his own productions (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, Suburbia) and as artistic director and spiritual leader of the Austin Film Society, has done so much to support and encourage the local creative community. The Newton Boys screening is only for SXSW registrants.

We are also thrilled to be presenting the world premiere of Storefront Hitchcock, a music performance film featuring musician Robyn Hitchcock directed by our old friend Jonathan Demme, who will be visiting Austin after about a decade (Demme used to visit regularly and shot the test footage for Stop Making Sense in Austin, Dallas, and Houston). Hitchcock himself will be at the screening along with Demme and will then play the SXSW Music Festival afterward.

On Wednesday evening, March 18, the results of the Chronicle's annual music poll will be celebrated at the Austin Music Awards show at the Austin Music Hall. The bill this year is very focused on the emerging generation of Austin musical talent, though the evening's capper is Asleep at the Wheel featuring Ray Benson, the wheel, and a host of family and friends including Johnny Gimble, Leon Rausch, Floyd Tillman , and Don Walser. Opening the show is contemporary gospel group Malachi, followed by the Derailers; MC Overlord & Hot Buttered Rhythm; Kacy Crowley, Ana Egge & Trish Murphy with special guest Jon Dee Graham; and the Gourds/Damnations aggregation. Tickets are available through Star Tickets outlets. This is the peak night of Austin music, bringing the Austin music community together with the world.

Wednesday is also the first night of SXSW Music, featuring a sampler of 32 clubs that goes up another 10 clubs starting on Thursday. Thus it begins.

Movies, music, interactive, bands, food, folk, fun... and a baby. Well, yes. Chronicle education contributing editor Roseana Auten and SXSW managing director Roland Swenson welcomed Christiane Helene Swenson on Friday, February 27 at 3:21PM. She was 6 lbs, 2 oz and 19 1/2 inches long. Both the Chronicle and SXSW staffs welcome this baby with much love and affection. There are some questions about the timing, as not only is Swenson being asked to run the largest music festival in the country in two weeks (not to mention film and interactive segments), he is at the same time being asked to learn to change diapers. Sometimes, the good Lord truly does work in wonderous and mysterious ways.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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