Courtesy of SXSW [http://schedule.sxsw.com/2015/events/event_FS17780]

What does it mean to be human? Viewers are forced to ponder this existential question and more in Ex Machina, a stunning science fiction thriller that began garnering buzz long before it hit European theaters in January.

Ahead of its highly anticipated U.S. release on April 10, SXSW Film attendees got a sneak peek of the movie that compels audiences to reflect on their own humanity. Actor Oscar Isaac told CultureMap that the festival was the perfect place for a screening because of the huge technology scene.

The story centers around an intelligent computer programmer (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who is asked to study a gorgeous robot woman. Her artificial intelligence is so convincing, in fact, she even caused a stir on Tinder during SXSW.

Despite a dense plot, intense marketing ploys and potential existential crises, writer and director Alex Garland said making the film was easier than it looks — and it looks amazing. "This is the easiest film I've worked on. By miles," Garland told us on the red carpet.

The story was different for those in front of the camera. "There was a bit of a challenge for the actors," Garland said. "We had to shoot it in six weeks, which is quick. So for them, there was a lot pressure to sort of get things right fast so we can move on."

Watch our interview with Garland above, and check out quick red carpet snippets from Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson.

Courtesy of SXSW [http://schedule.sxsw.com/2015/events/event_FS18148]

Taissa Farmiga talks off-screen chemistry and the making of The Final Girls

Exclusive Video

In a world full of Hollywood starlets, celebrity divas and viral TMZ videos, it's not often that you hear about the cast of a movie getting along as well as, well, kids at summer camp.

During its SXSW premiere, CultureMap caught up with the stars of The Final Girls, an upcoming horror comedy flick that is equal parts terrifying, hilarious and endearing. The film follows Max (played by American Horror Story actress Taissa Farmiga) and her friends as they are sucked into a classic, cheesy 1980s horror movie starring Max's mother (Malin Ackerman).

The off-camera chemistry between all of the actors translated well onto the screen, where most of the story takes place at a fictional summer camp. "We shot at an actual summer camp," explains Nina Dobrev, who plays Max's friend Vicki. "We're all adults, but I felt like we became kids at a camp. It was a really fun vibe."

"When I say it, I genuinely mean it — I love the entire cast," insists Farmiga. "We had such a blast. Everyone's so funny and we just mesh so well." Co-star Ackerman reaffirms the sentiment. "Honestly the best cast, the best crew, the script is incredible and the final product really reflects just everybody's love for it," she says. "We all still hang out whenever we can!"

An official release date for The Final Girls has yet to be announced, but you can catch more from the cast in the video above.

Courtesy of SXSW [http://schedule.sxsw.com/2015/events/event_FS18319]

New film catapults legendary Texas gospel band into national spotlight

Exclusive Video

Get ready to meet the Jones Family Singers. The Texas-based gospel group stars in a new documentary, The Jones Family Will Make a Way, which premiered at SXSW 2015.

The feature film has thrust the family band, well-known by gospel fans across the state, into the national spotlight.

Ahead of the SXSW premiere, CultureMap caught up with Bishop Fred Jones and Alexis Jones, who spoke passionately about the documentary and the flurry of media exposure. "Well, first of all, we were excited about the red carpet," joked Alexis. "And then we're excited about the world getting to know the Jones Family as we are."

When Bishop Jones decided to debut the band outside of the Pentecostal church circuit, he met Michael Corcoran, the man who would help take the band countrywide. "I think our big lucky break was trusting God for the outcome of what you see today," said Bishop Jones. "And allowing us to meet Michael Corcoran, along with [director] Alan Berg," Alexis added.

For the full interview with the Jones Family Singers, watch the video above.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos

Top 5 performances from SXSW — and the artists to follow this year

SXSW Review

SXSW 2015 was a throwback to five years ago: crowds were lighter, marquee names weren't in abundance and (most crucially) people were more interested in discovering new acts than waiting around all day to see established ones. This made for an easier and more pleasant experience than the two prior years. Police were helpful, the safety measures seemed smart and lines were mostly quite reasonable. Overall, it was the thoughtful course correction many hoped for.

The "Choose Your Own Adventure" festival means everyone has a completely different experience. After 2014, where we happened upon Sam Smith, Chet Faker, London Grammar, Future Islands and Charli XCX, we thought there was no way to top it. However, we still found tons of notable artists old and new while catching nearly 50 acts. Of that lot, there were dozens of great moments, but here are five we'll remember for years to come.

Run The Jewels: Stubb's on Friday
You could be forgiven for thinking that Run The Jewels would simply turn up and honor an obligation. The rain was mucking things up at SPIN's day show, and Killer Mike was just back from a visit to his Atlanta doctor after being attacked at an earlier showcase. But that's not how these guys do things. As El-P and Mike hit the stage, the crowd roared approval and flashed the duo's signs, leading them to declare, "We're gonna burn this [expletive] place to the ground!"

They weren't kidding. The audience at the gig sang every word from both RTJ albums, and the rappers prowled the stage with an intense confidence. It's rare to see a live act that's at once totally on point and also having a great time, but this was it. Run The Jewels resonated with rap fans and you could see the group feeding off the massive energy and audience love.

Courtney Barnett: Mohawk on Wednesday
Courtney Barnett may be the Keyser Soze of indie rock. Her lolling voice and lo-fi guitars may initially strike the listener as shambolic, but she's pulling a fast one on you. There's a serious method and craft to her tunes. It's always interesting to see a talkative audience quiet down and step away from the bars when something engages them — such was the mood at the Mohawk.
Barnett's demeanor was low-key but chipper: She barreled through songs and kept the banter lean. New cuts showcased from Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit were impressive. Toward the end of the set during "Avant Gardener," we actually saw someone punch up the Amazon app and order Barnett's records. Barnett's talent stood out in a big crowd.
Hot Chip: Samsung on Friday
While not a public showcase, Hot Chip's Samsung-sponsored gig Friday was their first Austin appearance since 2008 — and they made the most of it. The band emerged just before 1 am in polished and fine form. After a quick run through the excellent new single "Huarache Lights," the group treated the crowd to a "best of" set with a few new songs sprinkled in. The crowd loved all of it, but exploded when "Over And Over" started.
This is a fanboy band, and Hot Chip fans really, really love them. Of the older cuts, "Night And Day" was a real killer as well, but the biggest thrill of all was finally getting this fantastic group back to Austin.
Swervedriver: Red 7 on Friday
While we often think of Swervedriver as the spiritual cousin to bands like Ride and Lush, the band's rollicking set at Red 7 had us reassessing our memories. These guys were, and are, more metal than their peers. Despite a driving rain that cascaded sheets of water onto portions of the crowd, the band's massive sound was entrancing. New songs from this year's I Wasn't Born To Lose You blended seamlessly with those from 20-plus years ago and it became obvious that this wasn't a nostalgia run or a cash grab.
Swervedriver have come back fully embracing their sound and their legacy, and as we left, we hoped they'd come back for a full set soon.
Kate Tempest: Red 7 on Wednesday
British wunderkind Kate Tempest definitely produced the most interesting set of the 48 we saw this year. We're not 100 percent sure how listening to her albums would go, but we'd sure as hell buy a ticket to catch her live show again. On stage, Tempest alternates between beat-based songs and a capella poetry. The narratives are like sketches or one-act plays describing party conversations or a naive twentysomething arguing with a wise old man.
Like many of our best SXSW sets, Tempest won points for playing serious music joyfully. She radiated excitement, and the audience responded by paying rapt attention until she finished. "I've never seen anything like this festival! I'm walking 'round with my jaw dropped," she exclaimed. The feeling was mutual, as the audience had never heard any music quite like hers.
Courtesy of SXSW [http://schedule.sxsw.com/2015/events/event_FS17776]

John Cusack takes on challenging role of Beach Boys' Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy

Exclusive Video

Brian Wilson's fame is a complicated one. He will always be known as the driving force behind the Beach Boys, but, like many geniuses of the time, he fell prey to the pitfalls of drugs and success.

The new film Love & Mercy delves into Wilson's life during the 1960s and 1980s, each time period portrayed by Paul Dano and John Cusack, respectively. CultureMap caught up with Cusack and the director of the film on the red carpet of the U.S. premiere during SXSW.

"I think Brian, he's a genius," Cusack tells CultureMap. "So I think if you were doing a film with Mozart or Brian Wilson or Jackson Pollock or Salvador Dalí or something, you're sort of humbled by that. Because we're not geniuses. We're just people."

It's difficult to do a dramatization of someone when the subject is still alive, Cusack explains. "I think the fact that he's still here and it's his life story [is challenging]," says Cusack. "And he went to some very dark places in that period in his life."

Director Bill Pohlad says his focus was on the stories "that will be able to paint this portrait of him that people will be able to relate to, hopefully."

Love & Mercy is scheduled to be released on June 5.

Photo by Nicole Raney

Your guide to navigating SXSW in the rain


Reports of torrential downpours, flash flood watches and potentially canceled events have certainly dampened the SXSW mood, but it doesn't mean that the party has stopped. If you're braving the storm this weekend, here are some last-minute tips for navigating the festival in the rain.

Hit up the indoor venues
Unless you're absolutely dying to see your favorite band at Stubb's, we suggest looking into what the indoor venues have planned for the remaining two days. The Parish, The North Door, St. David's and Austin Music Hall will host shows indoors, just to name a few. Search the SXSW schedule by venue to get a better idea of the offerings this weekend.

Catch a movie
The festival is still screening films Friday and Saturday, with start times as late as midnight. You can watch one of SXSW's buzzworthy movies downtown at the Vimeo Theater, Stateside Theater or the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. There are even screenings at satellite venues such as the Alamo Drafthouse on Lamar or the Marchesa Hall & Theatre, that way you can avoid the hassle of downtown all together.

Seek refuge in the Austin Convention Center
If you need to escape a sudden downpour, you can always find refuge at the Austin Convention Center. While you're there, check out the Music Gear Expo and Flatstock, both of which are open to public until 6 pm on Friday and Saturday. There are also tons of cool panels left to attend. A stop here is also a great opportunity to fill up your water bottle, grab a snack or take advantage of the clean, indoor bathrooms.

Bring extra cash for a good meal
Some of Austin's greatest food trucks have flocked to the city center for SXSW, but nobody wants to eat kimchi fries in the rain. Splurge on dinner at one of those downtown restaurants your friends are always talking about. Hang out inside until the rain stops and get a delicious, much-deserved meal.

Check social media before you go
Whether it's an official SXSW event or a separate festival, visit the event's official Facebook page for any final statements regarding the weather. For instance, the free SXSW music showcases at Auditorium Shore are still green-lit for Friday and Saturday, but festival officials have stated that they will be canceled if there is a risk of lightning. If you don't already, follow SXSW on Twitter and Facebook.

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Austin chefs turn out for farmer-focused food festival, returning this spring

Field Guide

Sometimes reinventing the wheel is a good thing, which may explain the immediate and warm welcome Field Guide Festival received upon its launch in 2021 and return in 2022. Moving past the food festival trope of tiny bites, loud music, and general Baccanalian vibes, Field Guide Festival seeks to foster connections between farmers, chefs, consumers, and everyone in between. Returning to East Austin on Saturday, April 22, the innovative event invites Central Texans to consider their role in the future of food in the Austin community.

Founded by female powerhouses, Lindsey Sokol and Trisha Bates, the goal of the fest is to leave guests inspired to participate in their local food system, equipped with the knowledge of where to find the best, most sustainable food available in Austin and the surrounding area.

"Field Guide Festival presents an answer to the question, ‘Where does your food come from?’ by highlighting the local farmers and chefs of Austin," Bates shares in a release. "Our festival is the only place in the city where you will see the farmers side-by-side with the chefs who transform their food, creating dishes uniquely representing this exact time and place. You'll never have this food, presented in this way, again."

The recently-released 2023 lineup features an impressive roster of 34 farmer and chef partners who will partner together to create dishes exclusive to the festival using in-season produce. Tickets will include a full day of food and beverages, cooking demonstrations, symposium conversations, live music, and a farmer’s bodega — all benefiting the Central Texas Food Bank.

“The Central Texas Food Bank is honored to be a partner of such a special gathering,” says Mark Jackson Chief Development Officer of Central Texas Food Bank in a releasE. “Not only will revenue from the event help ensure that thousands of our neighbors facing food insecurity have enough to eat, but attendees will learn about the impact food has on our whole community while having fun.”

Curated by Field Guide Culinary Director Chef Philip Speer, the 2023 chef and farmer lineup is below:

  • Abby Love (Abby Jane Bakeshop) & Amalia Staggs (Farmshare Austin)
  • Colter Peck (Elementary) & Becky Hume (VRDNT Farm)
  • Fiore Tedesco (L’Oca D’Oro) & Sean Henry (Hi-Fi MYCO)
  • Graeme Little (Fairmont Austin) & Julia Poplawsky Lewis (Cielito Lindo Farm)
  • Graham Fuller (Emmer & Rye) & William Nikkel (Trosi Farms)
  • Joaquin Ceballos (Este) & Anamaria Gutierrez (Este Garden)
  • Krystal Craig + Ian Thurwachter (Intero) & Celia Bell (Two Hives Honey)
  • Mia Li (Ora King Salmon) & Joe + Kasey Diffie (Joe’s Microgreens)
  • Natalie Gazaui (Chef Consultant) & Gregory Mast (Central Texas Food Bank Garden)
  • Nicholas Yanes (Juniper + Uncle Nicky’s) & Perrine Noelke (Local Pastures)
  • Rhys Davis & Michael Fojtasek (Maie Day) & Marianna Peeler (Peeler Farms)
  • Kevin & Rosie Truong (Fil N Viet) & Travis Breihan (Smallhold)
  • Susana Querejazu (Lutie’s) & Hannah Gongola (H2Grow Farms)
  • Todd Duplechan (Lenoir + Vixen’s Wedding) & Ryan Gould (Geosmin Regenerative)
  • Zechariah Perez (Sour Duck Market + Odd Duck) & Montana Stovall (Dancing Bear Farm)
  • Ooni Chef Demos by Casey Wilcox (Little Trouble) & Christina Currier (Comedor)
  • Force of Nature Chef Demo by Katrina Ferraro and Freddy Diaz (Las Brasas)

Featuring a mix of savory, sweet, and plant-based options, all food and beverages are included with each ticket, allowing guests to roam and sample everything. Tickets are $100 for adults, while a new Young Foodies ticket option ($50 for ages 13-30) and free entry children 12 and under encourages the whole family to come savor and celebrate the best of Central Texas food.

“New this year, Field Guide will welcome guests of all ages!" says founder Lindsey Sokol. "We’ve created a food festival that puts education first in order to strengthen the food system for the future, including the next generation. Our goal is to present food in a way no one else in Austin is doing, where the local food system is the priority.”

For more information and to purchase tickets for the event, please visit fieldguidefest.com or follow along on social media @fieldguidefest.

Trendy boxing gym knocks out Cedar Park with more planned

Out of the Box

New or aspiring boxers who worry about punching above their weight may have a new solution that caters to all. Rumble Boxing, a gym that boasts clients including David Beckham, Selena Gomez, and Justin Bieber, is now open in Cedar Park, with plans to expand elsewhere in Austin in February.

Unlike the boxing-solo-before-dawn movie trope, Rumble offers group classes that make the sport accessible and fun, including some workouts that aren’t just traditional boxing (called “boxing-inspired circuits”). Boxers of all levels get together for something that looks in videos like a spin class with boxing equipment.

The gym calls it a “10-round, 45-minute fight,” but an explanation on the website reveals “fight” to be more of a metaphor. Some rounds involve punching bags, while others incorporate floor training with bodyweight and dumbbell exercises. The classes promise a balance of both; half and half throughout the class.

Ambiance plays a significant part in the experience, and the gym emphasizes its music and lights along with “the program, and the collective heartbeat of the room.” Although the program contemporizes boxing for greater accessibility, the core elements are still there. Boxers will learn “the six punches”: the jab, the cross, front and back hooks, and front and back uppercuts.

The system has proven popular so far, and not just with celebrities. In business since just 2017, Rumble has 35 studios in the United States, plus some in Australia and the Dominican Republic. In Texas, there are also locations outside of Houston and Dallas, with more set to open in both by March.

Rumble Boxing is now open at 12160 W Parmer Lane, Suite #150. Hours of operation vary by day and are available at rumbleboxinggym.com.

This professional development group is working to connect Black Austinites and keep them in Austin

Fellowing the Leader

Even though Austin is generally understood as friendly and good for transplants, it’s always hard to land in a new city and gauge your longevity there. Finding resources takes time and connections, and for new Austinites who experience social marginalization, it may not feel possible to thrive.

Seeking to create those connections, the African American Leadership Institute (AALI) is a professional development group focused on increasing civic awareness and leadership opportunities for Austin's Black population. According to the website, their mission is to "build a stronger Black Austin community by equipping exceptional leaders to live up to their moral responsibility ... to make life better for everyone in our city, state, and the world."

Established in 2021, the idea for AALI evolved out of the Leadership Austin model, which also provides civic leadership training and is in turn an evolution of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. After participating in the 2002 class at Leadership Austin, AALI founder Heath Creech noticed a pattern: Companies were bringing Black employees to Austin, but underutilizing their skill sets when they arrived. Feeling more like guests than active community members, those employees packed up and looked for a new place to hit the ground running.

Creech realized Black Austinites needed their own program like Leadership Austin, so he connected with BiNi Coleman, a strategist who prioritized Black leadership through her organization 212 Catalysts. Partnering with Leadership Austin to create a parallel system, the pair started AALI to target exceptional leaders through its annual Leadership Cohort. This group of annual fellows learns how to engage in intensive community building and “deep dives” into multiple issue areas — all with a lens toward the Black community in Central Texas.

In just two years, AALI has seen in its first two groups that a third of participants say they were thinking of leaving Austin, but decided to stay. To find people willing to offer the vulnerability to apply even while feeling untethered from the Austin community, AALI had to drop some pretenses that other organizations may use to ensure commitment to applying.

“[The] AALI launch committee … determined for one that our Northstar metric should be connection: Addressing this lack of belonging in the community,” says Coleman, now AALI’s CEO. “If people emphasize that they feel a greater sense of connection to the Black community, or the overall community, we are doing our jobs. So far, that's never been less [affirmative feedback] than 96 percent or so.”

The only eligibility requirement is that participants must live in the Austin MSA (the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos metropolitan area). The organization waived the minimum years of residence requirement. Applications could be written or recorded via video, to ensure that different communication styles made their strongest possible impacts. It’s working.

“We've had people that range from being … essentially homeless, and made it in AALI because they are relentless about being out in the community, and delivering basic needs to families and things of that nature,” says Coleman. “And then we have people that are corporate VPs, and we have people who are executive directors of nonprofits. In our inaugural year we had [Austin ISD Police Chief] Wayne Sneed, for instance. It really ranges the gamut.”

The 2023 fellows are no exception: Announced in January, the group of 34 includes an associate professor addressing education policy and philanthropy, the CPO of the Boys & Girls Club of Austin, the director of the Downtown Austin Alliance, a doula, multiple school principals, and more. Throughout the program, these Fellows’ main objective is to get to know each other and make themselves known, so when program leaders can offer connections to outside organizations, they know who to recommend. Coleman tells a story about Aaron Demerson of the Texas Workforce Commission speaking at a session, and having a meeting booked with one of the fellows within "a couple of hours."

AALI has further expanded its outreach by launching a one-day event, Black X Conference, which allows anyone who registers to join and make connections whether or not they plan to pursue a fellowship. Scheduled annually for the Friday leading into the Juneteenth holiday, this year's Black X Conference is set for June 16.

"People ... seem to just really enjoy it and it lights a fire beyond just connecting with each other" says Coleman. "They learn about all these different issue areas and the Black community history and lens ... and then they're connected. So now if they choose to activate, they'd have what they need: They've got the information, they're aware. They know where to get more information."

More information about the African American Leadership Institute (AALI), including a full list of 2023 fellows with LinkedIn pages, is available at aaliaustin.org.