If you recall, there was quite a bit of drama prior to last year’s South by Southwest (SXSW).
Then-FBI Director James Comey was forced to cancel his scheduled talk at the eleventh hour amid increased calls for a special counsel to probe alleged Trump-Russia ties. Comey, who had been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, was fired by President Trump two months later in a controversial—and perhaps illegal—decision.
The 32nd edition of SXSW runs March 9-17 in Austin, Texas, and is expected to attract some 400,000-plus attendees. And this year’s film, music, tech and comedy superconference will remain politically tinged, with talks by Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), CNN’s Jake Tapper, and a host of others.
On the film and television front, SXSW has carved out a reputation as a springboard for hilarious studio comedies, adrenaline-packed action flicks, and gripping television series. Last year saw The Disaster Artist, Baby Driver and Atomic Blonde premiere at the fest, as well as a star-studded panel on HBO’s Game of Thrones and the premiere of Starz’s American Gods.
So without further ado, here are the events generating the most buzz at SXSW 2018.
The incredibly popular Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) will be giving a talk on March 9 at 12:30 p.m. at the Austin Convention Center moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper, where he will presumably weigh in on the president’s war on video games and his upcoming meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. And at 8 p.m. that evening at Esther’s Follies, comedian James Adomian (Bernie vs. Trump) will be holding a town hall as the Vermont senator. Hilarity will no doubt ensue.
Last year, HBO held a panel for their epic series Game of Thrones where creators revealed, among other things, that musician Ed Sheeran would appear in a cameo. And this time the cable network’s brought Westworld. Though no footage from Season 2 is currently scheduled to screen during the fest, there will be an entire Westworld theme park people can visit. It runs from March 9-11 between the hours of 2 p.m. and 10 p.m., and guests will need to take a bus from downtown Austin to the mysterious theme park. They’ll then be given a hat, and allowed to navigate it. If that isn’t your thing, there’s also a panel with the creators and stars of the show on March 10 at 3:30 p.m. at the Austin Convention Center.
SXSW has become known for its boundary-pushing studio comedies, with Bridesmaids, 21 Jump Street, Sausage Party and Trainwreck all debuting at the fest. This year’s buzzy studio comedy is Blockers. Marking the directorial debut of Kay Cannon, a writer/producer on 30 Rock and the writer of the Pitch Perfect films, and produced by Seth Rogen, it follows a trio of parents (Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena) who, after discovering that their daughters have a pact to lose their virginity on prom night, join forces to stop them from following through. The title of this R-rated comedy is, naturally, a reference to cockblocking.
THE LAST O.G.
Is there a more talked-about actress than Tiffany Haddish right now? She was the funniest/best thing about the underwhelming Oscars and should have earned an Academy Award nomination for her uproarious, scene-stealing turn in Girls Trip. Now, she’ll star alongside Tracy Morgan in this comedy series—co-created by none other than Jordan Peele. Morgan plays Tray, an ex-con who returns to Brooklyn after 15-year bid and is shocked by what he discovers: the neighborhood is gentrified, and his ex Shay (Haddish) is married to a white guy who’s helping raise their two kids. With no money or training, Tray must use the skills he acquired in prison to make ends meet in the hopes of connecting with his kids and starting over.
One of the themes of his year’s SXSW is sci-fi, with several intriguing films premiering at the fest. There’s Prospect, a stunning-looking effort by the directorial duo of Chris Caldwell and Zeek Earl about a teenage girl and her father who journey to a remote moon in search of riches, only to find themselves fighting for their lives. Directed by Julia Hart, Fast Color stars the talented Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a woman with special powers on the run from a group that wishes to capture her, and is produced by La La Land’s Jordan Horowitz. And Joel Potrykus’ new flick Relaxer, about a couch slouch who’s trying to beat Pac-Man level 256 before the Y2K apocalypse hits, sounds like a very fun time.
BILL F*CKING MURRAY
Bill Murray, the man/myth/legend, has been known to pop up behind the bars of Austin during SXSW, gleefully serving stunned patrons. Those types of hijinks—and many more—will be explored in the new documentary The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man, which hopes to get to the truth of the many legends surrounding the legend. Rumor has it that Murray may make an appearance at the doc’s premiere/party. Oh, and if you still haven’t gotten your Murray fix, his latest film Isle of Dogs, a stop motion-animated movie by his longtime collaborator Wes Anderson, is the fest’s closing-night film.
Before Bridesmaids and Girls premiered there, and before Mark Zuckerberg famously sweated up a storm onstage, SXSW was just a music festival—and one where acts like Amy Winehouse, Janelle Monae, Katy Perry, Odd Future, John Mayer and others made a name for themselves. Though he’s already a household name, with his bestselling album American Teen and a Best New Artist Grammy nomination, the 20-year-old R&B wunderkind Khalid is playing several shows at this year’s fest. It may be one of your last chances to see him in a modest-sized venue.
THE MUSIC SHOWCASES
Which brings us to the music showcases, where artists known and unknown attempt to either get discovered by record label A&Rs or further bolster their reputations. Annual staples include the Fader Fort, which saw Drake pop up for a surprise performance last year; Vevo House, with Ludacris and others gracing the space in ’18; Sony’s Lost in Music showcase featuring none other than Khalid; Bud Light’s annual The Roots SXSW Jam, boasting the legendary Roots crew and their A-list friends; Budweiser’s Country Club, a country-themed bash with Old Crow Medicine Show, Elle King, and others; The Stubhub House at Banger’s, this year with Action Bronson, Wavves, and Cold War Kids; and Rachael Ray’s Feedback Party at Stubb’s (yes, really), boasting Salt-n-Pepa, Girl Talk, Waxahatchee, Albert Hammon Jr., and more.
NICK OFFERMAN’S NIGHT OF COMEDY
The comedy portion is always a highlight of SXSW, and this year has several big-name comics showing off stand-up and/or comedy routines, including the gang from Comedy Central’s Corporate, The Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr., and My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rachel Bloom. But the most anticipated comedy event has to be Nick Offerman’s Night of Comedy—a special night of comedy hosted by the Parks and Rec star and featuring performances by Jim Gaffigan and many others.
Netflix’s answer to HBO’s The Defiant Ones is this new 8-episode hip-hop series, produced by the NYC brand Mass Appeal. The show goes inside the lives of acclaimed artists Nas, T.I., 2 Chainz, Logic, Dave East, Rapsody, G-Eazy, and A Boogie wit da Hoodie, with an episode focusing on each. According to Netflix, it will provide a behind-the-scenes look at their lives, from down time with family to recording in the studio to performing on tour.
THIS IS US
I don’t watch the NBC weepie, but hear it’s kind of a big deal. There’s a panel with the cast of the megahit show on March 13 at 12:30 p.m. at the Austin Convention Center, and the talk will include a screening of its Season 2 finale, meaning you’ll get to check it out before the rest of the world. Bring tissues.
OTHER BIG TALKS
In addition to Bernie Sanders with CNN’s Jake Tapper, there are a variety of other anticipated talks at this year’s SXSW. So. Many. Talks. You’ve got: former governator Arnold Schwarzenegger; Moonlight Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins; acclaimed filmmaker Darren Aronofsky; renowned philanthropist (and wife of Bill) Melinda Gates; chef Jose Andres, who’s been providing hot meals to those in Puerto Rico; Alex Rodriguez, the former MLB star who’s got a new CNBC show coming out; Rian Johnson, the Star Wars: The Last Jedi director who’s at the helm of a new trilogy in a galaxy far, far away; celebrated writer and author Ta-Nehisi Coates; and the legendary filmmaker Spike Lee, among others.
Mark Cuban, however, will not be joining SXSW this year, having canceled his appearance last week following the news that he was once accused of sexual assault.