A review of the 2017 SXSW Film Festival pocket guide

Before the madness of SXSW envelops Austin in a swirl of QR code coupons, there is the time-honored tradition of picking up one’s badge and bag. I am one of the lucky ones who lives in Austin and can pick mine up first thing Thursday before the fest begins. Friday, however, as flights from New York and San Francisco touch down, visitors to our fair city may find themselves in a line that winds its way through the convention center, hoping desperately some granola startup comes by with snacks.

Since I’m a bit ahead of the curve, I thought I might offer up some words on the most vital bit of printed material film festival attendees get after their badge: the pocket guide. Well, okay, SXSW has a great schedule app and all the info is on their website. Call me old-fashioned, but I still need the printed pocket guide to make my way from screening to screening. It never runs out of batteries, it’s even bigger than my phone screen, and I can doodle on it which is fun too.

Unless I’m misremembering pocket guides of years past (I hope I’m not because then this whole thing will have been a waste), major changes have come. It’s thicker than usual, and therefore no longer bound with a staple. SXSW has gone with what I’m pretty sure is a perfect binding for the spine. It could be a PUR binding but I’m no expert, just a man taking time out of his day to write about something inconsequential. The upshot is that the spine is now much more rigid than in years past.


Since there’s less give on the pocket guide it makes me wonder which pocket I could possibly put it in comfortably. In the past I have, indeed, put the pocket guide in my left back pocket, but really only for emergencies, e.g. when the line I’ve been standing on for an hour starts moving. When the pocket guide had staples, I could even sit on it comfortably. I have tested sitting on the 2017 book and, while I think I will be able to comfortably recline, I fear I’d be too anxious about the integrity of the spine to enjoy myself. What if it snaps? Then what?

You may wonder why they went with this thicker binding. Well, this year’s guide is chock full of way more info than at previous festivals. Each film has a much longer description, accompanied by a still image. It’s quite nice to have a still image with each film, but the result is more pages, so more flipping to find out a bit about a film.

Also the grid of films and where they’re playing moved from the front of the pocket guide to the back. This is neither a positive nor negative change, but I’m here to give you the facts on the ground.

The 2017 SXSW Film Festival pocket guide has some interesting tradeoffs. I don’t know if it will actually spend any time in any of my pockets thanks to the new, rigid spine. That’s the price of progress. Technically, the main compartment of my bag is a pocket of sorts; it wouldn’t make much sense to call it a bag guide I suppose.

Gonna be a long week…

Tags: SXSW