Ever since a little documentary named Spellbound premiered at the South By Southwest Festival (SXSW) in 2002, after it was passed over by another unnamed prestigious festival, I have kept an eye on the non-fiction films that bubble to the surface down there in March in Austin, Texas. This year’s festival, which begins this Friday, is no different except that I’m going for the first time because I’ll be hosting a panel called Wake Up Streaming: The Future of Film Fandom.

There’s an awesome number of cool panels at SXSW this year. Although documentary won’t be the focus of mine, it will be relevant. I’ve got a great cast of speakers; film/gaming/web star Burnie Burns from Rooster Teeth, Annapurna Pictures creative director Johnny Dunn, Vimeo’s director of VOD, Peter Gerard, and Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League.

The future of documentary is being shaped by streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon. It’s on every filmmaker’s mind. Go with a streaming juggernaut and get chump change but an incredibly wide audience and, if you’re one of the chosen, a lush Oscar campaign? Roll the dice with a theatrical distributor? Which way do you go?

As a consumer, I can’t help but be frustrated by the selection of documentaries available for streaming. But is it unfair to want access to the complete works of the Maysles brothers? Perhaps. And it’s pretty neat that recent films like Winter on Fire, What Happened Miss Simone?, Cartel Land, The Look of Silence, The Wolfpack, Meet the Patels and India’s Daughter are all at my finger tips.

What we should expect from streaming sites will be part of our panel conversation. We’ll no doubt dip into docs. It’s worth noting that League, for one, is no lightweight in this field; his Alamo theaters are major exhibitors of documentaries and his Drafthouse Films also distributed Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence.

I’ll try to keep docs in the mix but there are plenty of other panels that will feature documentary. POV’s own Adnaan Wasey will be on one called Sucked into the Story: Virtual Reality and the News. I’m totally interested in that subject; the VR craze is cool and all, but with any new technology, the content and ethics boundaries are being drawn so there are a lot of rough spots. Another panel that covers similar territory is Ultimate Empathy Machine: 360 Storytelling in VR.

Adnaan is on another panel called Cinematic Apocalypse: Storytelling for Smartphones, where they’re going to discuss the use of phone cameras for multi-format, non-fiction storytelling. The list goes on and on, but this Saturday’s Documentary to Docu Series and Beyond sounds like one of the best, as does the conversation between doc legends Barbara Kopple and Joe Belinger, both of whom have documentaries screening at the festival, Miss Sharon Jones! and Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru, respectively.

Documentary screenings? Oh yeah, there are those. In tomorrow’s Soup, I’ll highlight the docs I’m most eager to see at this year’s chock-full SXSW festival.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen