Photos: Celebrities lend star power to social causes at South By Southwest

Gwyneth Paltrow and Poppy Harlow discuss Paltrow’s lifestyle brand GOOP.  (Courtesy Elle Siebert)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez promotes “Knock Down the House,” a documentary on four women running for Congress. (Courtesy Kenny Fried)
Anna Kendrick promotes “The Day Shall Come.”  (Courtesy Elle Siebert)
Busy Phillips at “Get Busy Tonight.” (Courtesy Elle Siebert)
Danielle Brooks promotes “The Day Shall Come.” (Courtesy Elle Siebert)
Isla Fisher promotes “The Beach Bum.”  (Courtesy Elle Siebert)
Jimmy Buffett promotes “The Beach Bum.”  (Courtesy Elle Siebert)
Katie Couric with photographer Elle Siebert at Rally Health House. (Courtesy Kenny Fried)
Kendra Scott with Heather Mahoney at the International Women’s Day celebration.  (Courtesy Elle Siebert)
Kevin Costner promotes “The Highwaymen.”  (Courtesy Elle Siebert)
Kim Dickens promotes “The Highwaymen.”  (Courtesy Elle Siebert)
Martin Lawrence promotes “The Beach Bum.”  (Courtesy Elle Siebert)
Matthew McConaughey promotes “The Beach Bum.”  (Courtesy Elle Siebert)
Nick Kroll at “Get Busy Tonight” with Busy Phillips.  (Courtesy Elle Siebert)
Pej Vahdat promotes “The Day Shall Come.”  (Courtesy Elle Siebert)
Katie Couric and Rally Health C.E.O. David Ko attend a health panel. (Courtesy Kenny Fried)
Stefania LaVie Owen and Isla Fisher promote “The Beach Bum.”  (Courtesy Elle Siebert)
Zachary Quinto and Ashleigh Cummings at NOS4A2.  (Courtesy Kenny Fried)
Zooey Deschanel and husband Jacob Pechenik at the launch of Lettuce Grow.  (Courtesy Elle Siebert)


It was another banner year for celebrities at the annual South By Southwest (SXSW), bringing cutting-edge film, music and interactive content to Austin, Texas from March 8-17.

With more than a hundred feature films and television series either making their debuts or building on prior launch announcements, filmmakers packed the carpets and panels, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Seth Rogan, Charlize Theron and Lupia Nyong’o.

But unlike many prior years, SXSW 2019 also saw a higher level of political participation, mostly from the left. No fewer than a half dozen presidential contenders found themselves joined by a pair of individuals who recently rose to instant, albeit controversial fame in the form of New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and comedian Kathy Griffin.

Yet while most of these individuals were in town solely to promote their projects or kickstart their political aspirations, a handful of high-profile personalities used this celebration to publicize, promote and market their own personal and professional causes.

Katie Couric, former co-host of the “Today” show, anchor of the “CBS Evening News” and correspondent for “60 Minutes,” spent much of the first half of her week parlaying her public persona as an advocate for Rally Health, Inc.. The consumer-centric digital health company helps individuals to more effectively and efficiently manage their own health care.

“I started my own media company last summer with the goal of creating purpose-driven content designed to discuss the most important issues facing our country by collaborating with like-minded partners who have the same values and sensibilities I have,” Couric said. “Since my husband passed away from colon-rectal cancer and my sister from pancreatic cancer, I’ve been particularly interested in healthcare, health-and-wellness, medicine and science, looking for ways to help translate it so that people can gain a greater understanding of how to navigate it.”

Couric claims Rally Health puts more information and resources into the hands of consumers and allows them to play a critically important role in directing their own health care.

“As we all know, consumers have more power than ever before and they’re demanding that companies respond to that level of influence,” Couric said. “I learned first-hand when my husband was sick that you have to advocate for your own healthcare, and the tools Rally provides really puts people, patients and their families in the best possible position to understand a healthcare system that can be extremely complicated in order to make the best choices they possibly can.”

Just a mile down the road from Couric’s event, “New Girl” star Zooey Deschanel and her husband Jacob Pechenik unveiled Lettuce Grow, a service that provides consumers with all the equipment and maintenance necessary to create and operate their own urban farm.

“We do these vertical gardens, so you can grow in a very small space,” Deschanel said.

At a media preview event, Deschanel and Pechenik unveiled half a dozen vertical hydroponic farms, each containing a mix of edible flowers, herbs, leafy greens and vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, even watermelons. The idea is based upon the concept that the consumer can grow 20 percent of his or her food at home, using 95 percent less water.

”We couldn’t be more excited to finally bring Lettuce Grow to homes across the country,” said Deschanel and Pechenik in a joint statement. “It’s something we’re extremely passionate about – empowering people to grow a substantial portion of healthy, fresh food at home while also helping to reduce waste and create more sustainable communities. We hope to inspire people to develop a new, more healthy relationship with the food they eat.”

Created as a “plant subscription service,” this innovative hydroponic growing system is scheduled to hit the market in April.

Meanwhile, Gwyneth Paltrow took time away from the marketing and promotion of her personal lifestyle brand Goop to lend her star power to support the Vision Council‘s health event, a gathering designed to share tips for eye health and the latest in eyeglass fashion.

While Couric, Deschanel, Paltrow and others used the week to push their passion projects, several presidential hopefuls saw a platform to enhance their causes. Potential Democratic candidates Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Kobuchar, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee and Julián Castro all appeared on panels and as featured speakers.

On the right, Trump’s Republican primary challenger Bill Weld turned out, as did past Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is publicly mulling a 2020 primary bid. Even former Starbucks C.E.O. Howard Schultz, considering a run as an independent, made an appearance.

As for the rest of the big players, it was business as usual. Matthew McConaughey, Isla Fisher, Martin Lawrence and Jimmy Buffett promoted their upcoming stoner romp “The Beach Bum;” Costner and Harrelson were joined by Kathy Bates and Kim Dickens to support their Netflix Bonnie and Clyde film “The Highwaymen;” Anna Kendrick and Jim Gaffigan turned out to hawk the upcoming comedy thriller “The Day Shall Come.”

In the nonfiction world, Ocasio-Cortez and Griffin promoted their respective documentaries, “Knock Down the House,” a look at AOC’s successful run for Congress, “A Hell of a Story,” which chronicled Griffin’s infamous presidential severed-head gaffe that landed her in a whole heap of trouble, while kickstarting her own unique raison d’etre.

From McConaughey to Griffin, virtually every star of the stage and screen praised the festival as the appropriate venue to unveil their products, but Buffett perhaps put it best in reference to “The Beach Bum.”

“Somebody did a really good job deciding to open this movie at South By Southwest, duh,” Buffett said. “But I think it’s the right crowd to see it.”

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