SXSW Interactive Day 1: Al Gore Terrifies and Harry Knowles Geeks Out

Editor’s Note: We’re kicking off our main coverage SXSW Interactive 2015! We’ll have continuous updates from the Flip team through the end of SXSW Interactive, so keep checking back for more stories straight from Austin.

by Kirsten O’Brien and Fritz Kessler

Fritz Kessler: One overnight flight, one sleepless night, and the Flip the Media team is in Austin for SXSW Interactive. Kirsten, what did you think of day 1 – was staying up for a solid 24 hours straight worth it?

Kirsten O’Brien: I’d say so, I think we got a nice overview of different sessions. Al Gore’s lecture on climate change was terrifying, but at times it did feel a little elementary. However, it did make me think more about the impact humanity is having on the Earth, so that’s definitely a plus.

My second session (which I’ll have more coverage of later), hosted by MoMA curator extraordinaire, Paola Antonelli, included talk of Bjork and some super awesome examples of art meeting science and design, so that’s rad. Overall, I’m excited about the next four days; there’s always so much to see.

FK: Yeah, I’m excited, too. Day 1 felt like a solid teaser to me, some nice talks, nothing mind-blowing, but clearly indicative of good things to come. That said, let’s talk some more about those first two sessions…

Al Gore Freaks Out SXSW

Al Gore Fritz Kessler SXSW Interactive

Al Gore addresses the SXSW Interactive 2015 crowd: Image by Fritz Kessler

KO: Former Vice President Al Gore is not one to mince words: the takeaway from his featured session on climate change emphasized the fact that yes, we’re ruining the planet with our fossil-fuel addiction, but there are ways to save ourselves from what will surely be the tragic extinction of all humanity in which everyone burns to death and freezes to death at the same time. It’s a terrifying reality, but made palatable by Gore’s optimistic outlook of the future, and the fact that we as a society have made concrete strides toward more sustainable forms of energy.

Al Gore SXSW Interactive Fritz Kessler

Pic of an insane storm from Al Gore’s scary slide deck: Image by Fritz Kessler

He noted that 6.5 million jobs have been created that directly or indirectly support the renewable energy industry, and that real estate tycoon and bazillionaire Warren Buffet sold off his almost $4 billion stake in Exxon Mobile. Plus, his Tennessee accent was as strong as ever, and it’s hard to be scared when someone with a drawl that thick is telling you the world is burning up with the intensity of a thousand suns and in the next sentence, telling you it’s all going to be okay — maybe.

Even with all the doom and gloom, though, some of Gore’s facts seemed sketchy. He mentioned that 50,000 people died in a massive wildfire that overtook an area east of Moscow, including those who died of “related causes,” in Russia in 2010. But, this New York Times story includes a much lower number, stating “at least 28” had been killed.

At the end of the day, Gore is a politician, and politicians are known to twist words and facts, especially to suit their own agendas. Luckily for us, Gore is on our side.

FK: Yeah, I’m glad he’s on our side too (there were audible gasps of shock from the audience at some of his facts), but I agree with your skeptical eye here. If anything, I found myself both starstruck, and a little unmoved. Gore’s talk is indeed frightening and he’s surely an expert in the field, but the whole thing felt a little too practiced, like a band that’s been playing the same hit song for 20 years.

Climate change is, of course, the cause deluxe of our time, and, as Gore noted in his talk, the future of the planet absolutely relies on, among other things, action from people like the innovators here at SXSW. But, as a lecture, I just would have liked a little more Gore, and a little less terror.

Geeking Out on Film with Ain’t it Cool’s Harry Knowles

Harry Knowles Fritz Kessler SXSW Interactive 2015 Aint it Cool News

Brett Hart and Harry Knowles at SXSW Interactive 2015: Image by Fritz Kessler

FK: “Some things in life you don’t do for money, you do for love.” One sentence, from producer Betty Buckley, encapsulated the panel discussion featuring Harry Knowles, “Heed Geek” of leading nerd-culture website and his TV series Aint it Cool with Harry Knowles, along with the show’s creative team, including Buckley, director/producer Brett Hart, and producer Jaime Gallager.

Working under the premise that, as Knowles put it, “a lot of today’s film geeks fell in love with film in the 80’s,” the show is a shot on a set that’s something like a mashup of the basement from Gremlins and Pee-Wee’s playhouse, and takes viewers through wild explorations of Knowles’ favorite films and film genres with guests like Danny Boyle and film critic Leonard Maltin. Formerly produced in association with Nerdist, the show is now broadcast on local Austin PBS (which, as Knowles pointed out, means a lot less dirty language than the Nerdist incarnation – don’t even think about trying to say “friggin” on PBS).

Knowles is a fascinating guy – big, wild haired, wheelchair bound, and doubtlessly creditable, at least in part, for helping to push geek and comic culture further into the mainstream. His show is clearly a passion project for all involved and not a money-maker – hell, Hart’s production company is called “Sweat Equity Productions.” All that said, there wasn’t much to the panel here beyond hearing them talk about how much they love making the show, and watching Knowles passionately, often hilariously, digress into many film-related asides. If, like me, you’re a fan of Knowles and Aint it Cool News, then that was probably just fine with you, but if you weren’t…then why were you at this panel, anyway?


Stay tuned, we’ll have more great coverage from Austin coming up soon!

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