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SXSW: The glorious onslaught begins with film.

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Names. What's in a damn name? I'm at home watching Alan Berliner's The Sweetest Sound, a documentary about names (Anne S. Lewis, my wife, borrowed the tape because she previews the film on p. 72 of this issue). Actually, the film is not just about names in general; it is very specifically about the name Alan Berliner. I call this a "documentary" for lack of a better term -- it's more cinematic meditation and visual, aural, intellectual, and philosophical speculation. Berliner invites about a dozen other Alan Berliners (including Belgian filmmaker Alain Berliner) from all over the world to join him for dinner in his apartment. The film is charming and brilliant. Berliner is an artist, and this film is a beautifully constructed work in which every element is carefully considered and gracefully executed (sound, film, found photos and film, family archives, tape clips). At first, I thought it was whimsical, almost too obsessive. But then I found myself thinking about my own name, how I inhabit it and what I think about it. If you had asked me about my name before, I would have told you I don't think about it; I have it and always have. That's it. But that isn't it, and I confronted that watching this film -- which is funny and wise and provocative. And then near the end, the film kicked me upside my head, and I realized what I really wanted to do right then and right there was watch it again. (But I didn't.)

You can see it. The SXSW Film festival screens The Sweetest Sound three times (Alamo, 3/10, 10pm; Alamo 3/13, 7:45pm; Dobie 2, 3/17, 5:30pm). Thinking of names, I think of South by Southwest, because it is now upon us. SXSW Week has arrived.

Berliner's film defines the spirit of SXSW Film. It is all about vision. This isn't a black-clad, cell-phone-friendly event. It is a film-intensive nine days in a film-friendly town. SXSW Film registration or the film festival passes (only $45 at Waterloo Records) will get you into nine days of films at five different venues (Paramount, Dobie 2, the D. Montgomery Theatre at the Convention Center, the Alamo Drafthouse, and Bad Dog Comedy Theater). And the films this year are remarkable: narrative, documentary, experimental, and animated; music videos, shorts, and features; digital, video, and film. For more details on the SXSW Film Festival, check out our "Picks of the Festival" on p. 66 or the 12-page supplement in this issue.

SXSW Week officially begins Friday with the Film Festival and registration for the Film and Interactive Conferences. The next day will kick both events into gear. The Interactive Conference gathers together notables from a range of enterprises to speculate as to where we are in the brave new world of media and where we're going. The bigger we of ideas, the smaller we of Austin.

Speaking of names, here are some that will be at the SXSW Film Conference: directors Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Penelope Spheeris, Chris Smith, Ron Mann, Jacob Young, Chuck Workman, producers Amy Robinson, Rana Joy Glickman, Karen Bernstein, and Elizabeth Avellan, as well as John Sloss, Anne Rapp, Tim McCanlies, John Pierson, Eamon Bowles, Ron Jeremy, Bill Plympton, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lee Hancock, and Peter Biskind.

The SXSW Music Conference and Festival lineups are equally strong. (As I've noted, having Ray Davies as keynote speaker is enough.) Check the Web site for more details. The SXSW Music Festival is boasting an unusually strong lineup with really terrific shows. Hundreds and hundreds of bands will be playing in about 50 venues most nights (about 30 on Wednesday and four or five on Sunday). The 4,000 $85 wristbands have sold out, and they now cost $105 and are available at all Star Ticket outlets.

The Austin Music Awards will kick things off on Wednesday night celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Chronicle's Readers' Poll. The lineup is extraordinary, featuring Slaid Cleaves, Vallejo, the Gourds, Lucinda Williams, a blues jam featuring James Cotton, Jimmie Vaughn, and Lou Ann Barton, and an Eighties survivor jam with a scary number of old friends. Paul Ray is the emcee and Monks' Night Out will be helping to fill any dead spots. This doesn't even include the hundreds of winners. You can read more about SXSW Music in our issue this week, starting with Christopher Gray's story on the Awards Show on p. 78. Tickets for that show are available at all Star Ticket outlets.

Next week's Austin Music Awards/SXSW Music super-issue will be partially distributed the evening of Wednesday, March 14 (Awards Show night), mostly in the downtown area. The next day the weekly will be distributed along with the first of our four daily papers. This year we will publish dailies on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (March 15--18) to be distributed all over downtown Austin. Lots of Chronicles, lots of SXSW, lots of names. end story

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