Freestyle: SXSW’s oasis of inspiration

Mar. 15, 2015 | 2 Comments
COURTESY PARAMOUNT PICTURESDavid Oyelowo, center, stars as Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2014 film "Selma," directed by Ava DuVErnay.


David Oyelowo, center, stars as Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2014 film “Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay.


South by Southwest and Austin have been good to me so far.

On Saturday, my second day at the fest, I was highly inspired by “Selma” director Ava DuVernay, who gave a SXSW Film keynote talk to a crowded auditorium full of admirers.

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TGIF Editor Elizabeth Kieszkowski will be blogging from Austin, Tex. during the 2015 South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival. Read more SXSW posts at

“If your dream only includes you, it’s too small,” she told the appreciative listeners.

Her point: In her experience, true joy comes, not from “hustling,” but from working on a passion project that aims higher than accolades and financial success.

“If you’re not working for something bigger than yourself, you don’t know what you’re doing,” DuVernay said.

Revealing her own doubts, setbacks and hurdles on the way to creating the Oscar-nominated film, and presenting her talk as if it were a sermon, DuVernay said her theme was “the intention of your attention.”

“If you’re not paying attention” to the purpose in your actions, she said, “then your life is probably a hot mess.”

DuVernay was not the first director approached to direct “Selma,” but she grasped the opportunity to portray a key moment in the Civil Rights era and in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. In my view, her film is a classic — gripping, suspenseful and humane.

Ava DuVernay-SXSW2015


Ava DuVernay.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture. It didn’t win, but in her address, DuVernay emphasized that awards aren’t the ultimate goal.

“Don’t limit your dreams with the small stuff,” she said.

She’s working on another movie now (“It’s everything,” she said), teaming up again with actor David Oyelowo (who portrayed Martin Luther King in “Selma”) on a murder mystery with Hurricane Katrina as its backdrop.

SXSW PROVIDES food for thought, and real food, too. This year, for the first time, there is a Southbites series of discussions. But many of the companies who seek to have a presence at SXSW also use food as a lure.

On my way to a panel discussion on food and community at the classy Driskill Hotel, I ducked into the Start-Up Oasis, which provides a friendly environment for young companies, and scored some fajitas and an iced coffee, along with an opportunity to network with a handful of cheerful entrepreneurs.

I came for the grinds, but ended up interested in the participants. It’s cheering to see this kind of optimism in a collaborative environment.

PHOTO BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI/STAR-ADVERTISERFrom left: Entrepreneurs Mike Lee, Jennie Kelley, Brian Bordainick and Will Levitt at the Southbites "Food, Brand and Community" panel.


From left: Entrepreneurs Mike Lee, Jennie Kelley, Brian Bordainick and Will Levitt at the Southbites Food, Brand and Community panel.

The Food, Brand & Community panel I attended only reinforced that optimism, as the high-performing panelists described their strategy: creating bonds with their customers by making dining a shared experience, rather than an isolating transaction.

IT WOULD be possible to jump from session to session and party to party from 9 a.m. until 2 a.m. every day, but I have to reserve energy for this blog — and for music, food for my soul.

I pulled myself away from downtown Austin Saturday to visit Rodeo Austin, part neon-lit carnival, part Western-themed festival. The lure was Willie Nelson, who rocked a sold-out rodeo crowd from a round, rotating stage smack-dab in the middle of the rodeo’s central oval, alongside a hot band that included piano-playing sister Bobbie and charismatic, electric guitar-playing son Lukas.

The experience was one-of-a-kind, what with the bull-riding and calf-roping in the rodeo that preceded the concert, and the plethora of cowboy hats atop heads young and old in the crowd.

COURTESY WILLIE NELSONWillie Nelson and his Family Band played at Rodeo Austin on Saturday night, March 14, 2015.


Willie Nelson and his Family Band played at Rodeo Austin on Saturday.

When I landed in Austin on Wednesday, one of the first things I saw was a rack of T-shirts that boasted, “This ain’t my first rodeo.” Well, this WAS my first rodeo, and the women barrel-racers were amazing! The bull-riding was pretty scary, too; those animals are big and rough.

Even without that, though, it would have been a thrill to see and hear Nelson. Now in his 80s, he continues to prove that art and invention aren’t limited to the young.
Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at or follow her on Twitter.

  • cw

    ty for this. i needed it <3

  • MountianTop

    Love Willieʻs macrame red white and blue guitar strap. Thanks for sharing!