The South by Southwest film, music and interactive festival kicks off March 10 in Austin, Texas.
More than 50,000 people are expected to fill the city’s convention center, movie houses and music venues for the annual event.
South by Southwest CEO and co-founder Roland Swensen has had to deal with a recent controversy: the festival's contract with participants allows organizers to call federal immigration authorities if a band from outside the U.S. runs afoul of festival rules. Swenson explained that the rules, which were put in place in 2013, have taken on new meaning in light of the Trump administration's crackdown on immigration. According to Swensen:
We said right away, Yeah, this is confusing and not what we mean. We'll change it. But we were focused entirely on finding ways to make sure the bands didn't get caught at the border. We were doing things like organizing a network of attorneys in the cities of all the ports who they could call in case they got in trouble.
South by Southwest recently released a statement clarifying its stance regarding the language in the contract.
We hoped that we could assure assure everyone that, one, we've never kicked anybody out of the country; and, two, that we would come up with a easier-to-understand agreement for next year.
We also spoke with a musician on this year’s South by Southwest roster, Adam Torres. The Austin-based singer-songwriter was one of 35 artists who signed an open letter calling for the immigration clause in the South by Southwest contracts to be removed.
They promised to not use that clause in their contract next year. But to us that wasn't enough, given the sociopolitical climate of everything that's going on — especially in a city like Austin that has seen increased Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. I just talked with other bands and said [the SxSW statement] wasn't enough. We needed South by Southwest to retract that clause [immediately] and to promise not to cooperate directly with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.