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Alex Cameron’s “Reflections” shows the existential truth of SXSW

Not everyone is going to get famous.
April 10, 2014, 5:16am

Thousands of hopeful musicians make their way to South By South-West each year hoping to strike it lucky and garner the frenzied buzz that the Austin festival is best known for. But for every club or stage that has a packed out audience, somewhere else is a band playing to an empty room. While playing his solo project Alex Cameron took up the cause of the lesser-known musical acts and channelled it into the short film Reflections. The result is a strange, shaky, and poetic commentary on life at SXSW.

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Noisey: Tell us how the film came to be.

Alex Cameron: My partner Candy May and I planned to shoot everything we did at SXSW and around America. Roy my saxophone player was there too. I gave him my frequent flyers. I said he was my brother in law. There was minimal editing. We wanted a true depiction of the SXSW experience. Our main concern was how to document the experience. Are the photos of bands and singers in front of their crowds or at a local restaurant enough? Are hashtags enough? Those things seem to resonate at a dirty frequency. It sounds like that dark shameful thought, “I hope someone accidentally finds this”.

So we created a story out of the footage: A man performing in Austin at that time of year. When he arrives, he has to roll the dice. There is no rebellion when such a clear-cut outcome is at stake. Attaining success. Earning his bread. A man can even forget about love when his bread is at stake.

The film’s great, it’s almost neo-noir in theme, did you have an inspiration for that?

Our vision for it was specific. We were getting very little sleep. Roy was smoking synthesised THC. He said it gave him angry thoughts. Over seven days and multiple shows we were very tired. The video was inspired by that. Capturing small movements—generating this calm in isolation that you can experience with fatigue. A pause as time keeps passing. I wrote the poem as I edited with those experiences in mind. I wanted to express a tone of clarity within the video. The contrary nature of reality television and Facebook fan pages was also an inspiration. They present twisted visions of reality. They are so heavily edited. The only true reflection we could think of was in myth. The myth of SXSW. And the man's experience as he journeys through the myth. He essentially wants a calm, a sense of love, finding that through struggling with his ambition proves difficult.

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Did you have the idea of the film before you went to SXSW or was it the result of the experience once you got there?

We had our vision. But the idea came slowly over the course of the week. It's a busy time, and it passes rapidly. A lot of the final edit was created because of the way Simone shot it. Extended shots, clip after clip. It came together quickly. I edited the film in an apartment in NYC. It was easy because I love what Candy does. New York was a wonderful place to think and write.

We chose the camera for a reason. We wanted a small digital camera with a digital zoom. They have a charm to them. I get the impression they will go forgotten, these weird small cameras. Videos of football games, now unwatchable because of poor quality and poor camera handling. Some feller placing the camera on a bench or washing machine and doing filthy things in front of it.

The common perception of SXSW is this musical event where everyone hangs out and all of the acts get great recognition and exposure. Is that just the façade that it presents?

I think it does all of those things that you mentioned. People do ask you how the press is, i.e. will anyone hear about what you're doing? People place a value on that. Rightly so. It's valuable to have people talking about you. It does present one issue. There is no quality control. Lots of young bands turning up, playing music to no one. It costs them the same amount of money. I get the impression that it's those acts that fund the whole operation. That and the Doritos stage. I am cynical, but I want to believe in SXSW—I need to.

In the film you mention that you self-funded your way there, so obviously you thought it was necessary for you to go. Are you glad that you went?

Yeah. We were very happy to have the opportunity to work and write as we travelled. I have caught myself at certain points of life wondering where to place value. Value in time, value in money, value in experience. Where does it all end up? Doing what I love costs me money. That is clear to me now. But it costs old Terry the same amount to fly his drones down at the park on Sundays. We do what we love. There shouldn't be this accountancy for value. How much value should be placed on reality? Myth and fiction are beautiful things themselves. I never want to forget that I learn more about myself through fiction than reality.

Follow Mitch on Twitter: @MitchMaxxParker