The South by Southwest Film Festival starts March 13 and runs through March 21, offering up hundreds of films, both feature-length and short.
This year’s SXSW event has seen some cancellations, mostly for the interactive conference, due to concerns over COVID-19, a disease caused by coronavirus. SXSW officials said Monday afternoon that its conference and festivals are still planned to go on as scheduled, and no Texas health officials have requested cancellation. Organizers said they are monitoring the COVID-19 situation and working with government agencies to ensure safety. SXSW has released a statement at sxsw.com.
» More SXSW Film 2020: Austin360 critics’ movie picks
The festival’s recommendations for attendees include:
• Wash your hands for 20 seconds and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
• When coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue; discard the tissue immediately into a closed bin
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
• Stay home if you have a fever
Now, back to the movies. Here are 14 things you should remember in order to have a smooth festival experience.
1. Know your venues.
Here are the places you’ll be watching movies:
• Paramount Theatre (713 Congress Ave., 1,100 seats)
• Stateside Theatre (719 Congress Ave., 298 seats)
• The SXSW Film Theater at the Austin Convention Center (500 E. Cesar Chavez St., 450 seats)
• Zach Theatre (202 S. Lamar Blvd., 420 seats)
• Rollins Theatre at the Long Center (701 W. Riverside Drive, 210 seats)
• Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar (1120 S. Lamar Blvd.; 126 seats in Theater A, 126 seats in Theater B, 86 seats in Theater C, 198 seats in Theater D, 198 seats in Theater E)
• Alamo Drafthouse Ritz (320 E. Sixth St.; 172 seats in Theater 1, 69 seats in Theater 2)
• Violet Crown Cinema (434 W. Second St.; 50 seats in Theater 1, 50 seats in Theater 2, 39 seats in Theater 3, 44 seats in Theater 4)
• AFS Cinema (6259 Middle Fiskville Road; 265 seats)
• JW Marriott – Griffin Hall (110 E. Second St.; this is where the virtual cinema program takes place)
Here is a pro tip: According to SXSW folks, the Zach, Rollins and convention center theaters rarely fill up, even during the first few days of the festival.
2. Remember the Paramount and State theaters’ bag policy.
Bags larger than 14 inches wide, 12 inches tall and 6 inches deep will not be allowed in the venues. Bags smaller than this, diaper bags (with a child present), medically necessary items (breast pumps included), jackets and coats are permitted but subject to inspection. The official SXSW bag received at registration will be allowed.
3. Might as well download the app.
SXSWGo is the festival’s official mobile app. It is an excellent way to organize your experience and request SXXpress passes.
4. Oh, here’s the deal with the SXXpress passes.
SXXpress passes allow registrants with platinum, interactive, film and music badges to request priority access to individual conference sessions, music festival showcases, film festival screenings, comedy showcases and select parties.
Each SXSW event is allocated a limited number of SXXpress passes, which can be requested starting at 9 a.m. on the day before each event. Requests open March 12 for events on March 13, for example.
New for 2020, registrants can request passes prior to picking up their badge, as long as they have already registered their badge on the SXSW website.
SXXpress passes are digital, not physical, and they can be requested through the online SXSW schedule or in the mobile app. Passes are distributed via email, Apple Wallet and Google Pay.
You can request a SXXpress pass for events to which you have primary access (so for movies, that’s a platinum or film badge). SXXpress pass allotment and event eligibility varies by badge type.
Platinum badge registrants may request up to three passes per day. Interactive, film and music registrants may request up to two passes per day.
5. The SXSW guest pass is no longer a thing.
However, there are still plenty of SXSW-related events free and open to the public. These include the free music shows at Vic Mathias Shores and the Flatstock poster show. Check out sxsw.com for the full slate.
6. Interactive and music badges are considered equal to film wristbands.
In keeping with the notion of SXSW convergence, if you have an interactive or music badge, you can get in the film wristband line. This is reciprocal: If you have a film or interactive badge, you can get in the music wristband line, and so forth.
7. In fact, let’s talk about the film wristband.
The film wristband is an under-the-radar element of SXSW. It gets the wearer into any screening after platinum and film badge-holders, subject to theater capacity. The wristband is good for all nine days of the film festival.
They are sold out for 2020, but if you already bought one, pick it up at the film wristband help desk at the Austin Convention Center (500 E. Cesar Chavez St.) in Exhibit Hall 1 starting March 12. Each person must pick up their own wristband and will need to present a driver’s license or valid government-issued photo ID to claim it.
8. Tickets for SXSW films are sold 15 minutes before the start of a screening.
After those with badges and wristbands have been let in, single-admission tickets will be sold for $20 if any seats remain, starting 15 minutes before showtime.
9. Most movies show more than once.
There are a few films that screen just one time, but the vast majority are shown once the first weekend and at least once after. And …
10. A lot of people leave after Monday.
It is much easier to see films after March 16 and gets even easier any time after midweek.
11. Pay attention to the event status board.
Those who have been to SXSW in the past remember the screens outside each theater letting you know how full a particular screening is. Those status updates also are integrated into the SXSW Go app and online at vsb.sxsw.com.
It’s stoplight color-coded: Red means don’t bother, it’s sold out; yellow means a few seats are left; and green means plenty of seats are left. The likelihood that you can get into something, somewhere, at any given time, is high, so be willing to take a chance on a film you don’t know based on how open the theater is.
12. Even without a badge, the queue card system is useful.
If you have a badge, and you want to ensure you get a seat, show up early to get a numbered queue card. Queue cards will be distributed starting one hour before screening time and handed out until capacity has been met. A card guarantees you a seat as long as you stay in line at the venue.
If you don’t have a badge and want to see something at a theater with queue cards, ask someone at the back of the line what their number is. If it’s the Paramount and their number is higher than 900, you might not get in. If it’s 200, you have a good shot. And while you’re there …
13. Embrace the networking opportunities of the line.
SXSW is a line culture; I can tell you I have met more interesting film people in line at SXSW than at any given party.
14. Remain chill.
They’re only movies.