Pathetic and Insulting, Absolutely and Totally Infuriating

RECEIVED Thu., March 19, 2009

Dear Editor,
    Absolutely outrageous. The documentary film Drunken Angel: The Legend of Blaze Foley was to be screened at the Convention Center as an official South by Southwest event (including an admission charge of $10 to non-badge-holders). The film took 10 years to make, and literally hundreds of people came to this event, many of whom had flown in from out of town specifically for this celebration of Blaze's life and posthumous major success (as many know, Blaze's songs have been recorded by Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, John Prine, and others; "Drunken Angel" was of course written about Blaze by Lucinda Williams). After Blaze's tragic death in 1989, his songs live on as does the high regard in which he is held by thousands already; this film was positioned to be a "breakout" premiere event attended by people in the film industry as well as the music community. The audience also included several disabled people – all of whom braved the horrendous traffic, parking, etc. After more than an hour of being asked to "vamp," the filmmaker, Kevin Triplett, was told his screening was canceled and would be "rescheduled" because of the lack of a lightbulb for the projector! This was after a "tech check" less than an hour before screen time. With the billions of dollars generated by SXSW, you guys didn't have an extra lightbulb?! And the wherewithal to take care of this? Disgraceful, disgraceful. People were offered $10 refunds, but what about having paid to park, paid for a plane flight to Austin, paid for a cab, etc., etc., and without even consulting the filmmaker, an alternate screening was announced out of nowhere at the Paramount in the middle of the afternoon (!) two days later on a workday. What good does that do the people who flew in from out of town? They can't get hotel rooms for two more nights; there isn't a room to be had! Demonstrating this truly shameful lack of professionalism for a Festival that is purportedly "state of the art" is an unbelievable failure of your obligation to your participants and your audience. Shame, shame, shame on you guys. Really pathetic, not to mention insulting. Absolutely and totally infuriating.
Madeleine Mercier
   [Louis Black responds: Righteous anger is best when not restrained. The situation was not as simple as a "bulb" for a "projector," as you state. This was an advanced high-definition projector. There was a spare bulb, but the projector had to be reprogrammed in order for that bulb to work. The estimated time for this reprogramming was at least one hour, but after a couple of hours into the reprogramming, it was realized that the "one hour" minimum was ridiculously overly optimistic. The SXSW Film technical crew was all there working on it with much of the creative team there as well. Everyone was devastated and depressed by this event. Long discussions have already taken place on making sure we never experience a similar situation. Having talked to everyone on our end as to what happened, I know two things. One is that despite the SXSW technical teams preparation, equipment testing, and access to technicians, in this crisis there was nothing that could have been done differently that would have changed the outcome. The second is that by next year, no matter what it requires nor how much it costs, there will be a plan in place to rectify similar situations if they occur. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but when it comes to new ever-evolving technology, even when there is sustained concerted planning, the unexpected can happen. Over the last three decades in the hundreds if not thousands of media presentations that I've been involved in, this kind of severe show-crippling technological breakdown happened only two or three times. In the wake of the incident, I've spent time talking to and consoling each individual member of the technical crew. Consoling because each and every person involved was devastated and completely upset by what had happened. Even though I assured them that no one had yet recommended or pointed out a better solution that had been overlooked, this did nothing to improve their moods nor alleviate their shared sense of having let down the filmmaker. Unfortunately, in a situation like this, to try to create a slot by moving, postponing, or canceling another screening would be just as unfair to that film and its creative team. Consensus was that the best available slot was the Paramount afternoon one. The filmmaker turned it down. When anything negatively impacts any film screening at the SXSW Film Festival, it weighs far more than all the successful screenings together, occupying the overwhelming amount of post-Festival discussions. The positioning and promotion of this event was because of our awareness of the film's importance. The way you portray the situation is unfair, but if nothing else, you can be sure that any small bit of wind that had accumulated in any of the SXSW Film team's sails has been destroyed. The only member of the SXSW Film team not involved in this situation was me. This was because, as you so graciously and appropriately point out, I do none of this out of passion, commitment, or purpose but am instead just driven by greed. I was off searching for those "billions of dollars," but I've still not found them anywhere.]
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