At SXSW with ITVS Programming Manager Karim Ahmad

Posted on March 19, 2010

Held annually in Austin, Texas, South By Southwest (SXSW) is considered one of the world’s premiere festivals, recognizing the best of film, music and interactive projects. ITVS Programming Manager Karim Ahmad gives some of the highlights from ITVS’s participation –– including the FUTURESTATES theatrical world premiere. 

Preparation for a trip to the SXSW film festival usually entails digging through their program guide jam-packed full of screenings and panels and the like, and trying to figure out how to fit it all in. Soon thereafter, you realize that fitting it all in is a Sisyphean exercise –– it’s just plain impossible. This year in particular was a real banner year for ITVS at SXSW because we had the great pleasure and privilege of presenting the theatrical premiere of FUTURESTATES, our new series of short films, at the festival. The films premiered Sunday evening to a huge crowd and some very animated reactions in the Austin Convention Center’s 500-seat G-Tech Theater. For me, it was a real thrill after over a year of developing these projects with the filmmakers, to finally get to watch these films with an audience and see how people relate to these innovative new stories about life in a future America. 

Of course, the hordes of people who attended our opening didn’t get there all on their own. We had our work cut out for us getting people to the screening (see the aforementioned scheduling impossibilities). Luckily, in addition to me pounding the pavement from screening to screening promoting the FUTURESTATES premiere –– a tall order, when one is pre-occupied with reaching out to the next round of prospective FUTURESTATES applicants –– I also helped out our communications team. They manned a booth at the festival trade show, which was decked out to the nines in full FUTURESTATES regalia. At the booth, we screened some of the films; had a “Predict-O-Meter” station, where folks could enter their predictions into the interactive timeline; and of course, a generous supply of FUTURESTATES-branded microwave popcorn (must-have for any trade show booth).

At the screening, we were lucky enough to be joined by three of the filmmakers from the six films premiering: Annie Howell (director of Tia & Marco ), Aldo Velasco (director of Tent City ), and Garret Williams (director of The Rise ). The other three films screened in this special selection of shorts were Tze Chun’s Silver Sling, Greg Pak’s Mister Green , and Ramin Bahrani’s Plastic Bag . The filmmakers explained the geneses of each of their storylines, their approach to visually creating futuristic worlds on an admittedly tight budget, and even their personal views on the future of America –– all in all, a very smart and comprehensive Q&A. Of course, I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention the fantastic slate of ITVS-funded documentaries in the festival also, specifically Laura Poitras’s The Oath , Carol Dysinger’s Camp Victory, Afghanistan , Neil Diamond's Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian , and Lixin Fan’s Last Train Home , all of which, I’m happy to say, played to truly riveted crowds festival-wide –– a huge congratulations to them all. All in all, this year’s festival, more than any other year I’ve been, was a truly amazing experience –– and not just for me, but for ITVS, and for the talented group of filmmakers we were lucky to bring in to create the first season of FUTURESTATES. Now go check them out online at –– I’ve got to get back to work on season 2! 

-Karim Ahmad, ITVS Programming Manager


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