South by Southwest commences this week, running from March 13 to 22, 2015. Are you going to be there? While it can all seem daunting during your first visit, here’s a few tips to help you get the most out of the fest.

2015 marks my sixth year attending SXSW. I’ve attended several of Austin’s great festivals as press, as a filmmaker, and as a film-fan, but SXSW is hands-down my favorite: the onslaught of great films, the quantity of venues, and the limitless number of events going on throughout the week. So what do festival newbies need to know?


Backpack Packing Checklist

In addition to carrying all the flyers, business cards and swag you’ll be getting, I carry around a backpack that almost always has the following items:

  • 5-hour Energy drinks, energy bars, small snacks and/or a refillable water bottle. For long days with very few rest stops, have something to tide you over and keep you going.
  • A portable charger. For when your phone dies (sometimes multiple times in a day) and you need to quickly charge it during screenings.
  • A physical copy of schedule. For when your phone dies (again, it will die) and you need access to your schedule as well as the helpful map with shuttle stops.
  • A light jacket, pocket umbrella and sunscreen. At SXSW I’ve stood in line in the pouring rain, the freezing wind and the blistering sun—sometimes all in the same day! Nothing wrong with being prepared for all three.


Nifty Guide to Screening Venues (in order of capacity)

When making your schedule, remember that the Paramount, Vimeo, Ritz, Stateside and Violet Crown are all within relative walking distance downtown.

  • The Paramount: 1,100 seats. This is easily the largest theater, so don’t be scared off by the long line. I’ve been in lines that wrapped around the block twice and still got into screenings (though I’ve missed getting in by the skin of my teeth as well, so don’t be too complacent).
  • Vimeo Theater: 645 seats. A theater right inside the Austin Convention Center, which is where a majority of the panels take place and you can pick up SXXpress passes (see below).
  • Topfer Theatre at ZACH: 420 seats. It’s a 15-minute walk from the Violet Crown, in close proximity to the Rollins, and a 10-minute walk to the Alamo Lamar Drafthouse. While it’s not a terribly long walk, I usually end up just waiting for the shuttle.
  • Stateside at the Paramount: 298 seats. Right next door to the Paramount.
  • Alamo Ritz: 241 seats. Get. There. Early. The Alamo Ritz holds a ton of popular world premieres and is also notoriously small, so plan accordingly. They have two screens running simultaneously: One will have a live Q&A after the screening while the other will have a live feed. Keep in mind that all Alamo locations have food and drinks available throughout the show, plus the theater is smack-dab in the middle of Austin’s infamous 6th Street!
  • Rollins Theatre: 210 seats. This is really close to the ZACH, so the same advice applies.
  • Alamo Lamar: 198, 198 and 126 seats for three screens. After a recent renovation, the Lamar Theater is back and I couldn’t be more excited. When I first started attending SXSW I sometimes spent an entire day just bouncing between Lamar’s three screens (which I plan to do again on March 18 this year). It’s also connected to the Highball, a fun bar with arcade games.
  • Violet Crown: 183 seats. Like the Ritz, this theater is small and has multiple screens running simultaneously, as well as a full menu of food and drinks. Unlike the Ritz, the seats are essentially La-Z-Boys.
  • There are two Satellite theaters (Alamo Slaughter and the Marchesa) that aren’t in close proximity to the other festival venues, but I highly recommend them for avoiding the crowds and seeing films if you don’t have a badge (see below).

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