It’s that time of year in Austin again. Spring is nearly here. The Obamas are coming to town. Locals are buckling down and stocking their pantries, preparing to stay at home for the next two weeks. It’s the SXSW Film Festival! I’ve gone to SX most years for over a decade. While I’m not a local who’s been going since the beginning, I have seen the festival grow and change in many ways. While traffic gets continually worse and the boundaries of the festival expand ever farther across the city, my excitement for the great slate of films never wanes.
Here are the films I’m most excited about at SXSW 2016.
Keanu (Work-In-Progress) http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_FS20714
Without a doubt, this is one of my most anticipated movies of the year. If you’re not familiar with comics/writers Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, then I’d suggest checking out their innovative Comedy Central sketch show, Key and Peele, which ran for five seasons. Also check out their work in the later half of season one of Fargo. This, their feature debut as stars (they’ve both had numerous supporting roles in other films), tells the story of two best friends and their adorable kitty cat, Keanu. Clearly influenced by the recent action hit – and one of my favorite movies in recent years – John Wick, this comedy promises lots of great banter between K&P, as well as some fun action sequences.
The Liberators http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_FS19407
“Medieval art treasures seized by the Nazis go missing at the end of World War II. Were they destroyed in the chaos of the final battles? Or were these thousand-year-old masterpieces stolen by advancing American troops? For over forty years, the mystery remained unsolved.” (sxsw.com) Sold! The past couple decades have seen a spat of great art world documentaries (The Rape of Europa, Tim’s Vermeer, The Art of the Steal, among many others). This one promises to not only delve into that world, but to deliver something of a caper to boot.
Silicon Cowboys http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_FS19504
Academy Award-nominated director Jason Cohen brings us another story from the annals of Silicon Valley. Recent film history has been stuffed to the gills with tales of computer and technology history, from The Social Network to multiple films about Steve Jobs in a span of several years. This one tells the story of relative outsiders, Compaq, “an unlikely upstart who altered the future of computing and helped shape the world as we know it today.” (sxsw.com)
As you may have noticed from many of my reviews and my anticipated films in this piece, I really like documentaries. Kirsten Johnson, the director/cinematographer and subject of this film, has shot many of the best docs of the past decade. From the Oscar-winning Citizenfour to Darfur Now, if you’re a fan of modern docs, you’ve likely seen her work. This memoir about her time behind the camera all over the world is described as “an extraordinary and deeply poetic film, drawing on the remarkable and varied footage that [Johnson] has shot and reframing it in ways that illuminate moments and situations that have personally affected her.” (sxsw.com)
Under the Sun http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_FS19774
I have a special interest in North Korea. The place simultaneously fascinates and enrages me, and I will read or watch anything that can give insight about this hermit kingdom. This film follows eight-year-old schoolgirl Zin-mi as she prepares to join the Korean Children’s Union. Not surprisingly, Russian director Vitaly Mansky encountered non-stop interference from the government-assigned handlers (a nuisance familiar to anyone who has ever read a book or watched a documentary about North Korea). Thus far, I’ve seen docs about this strange country made by filmmakers from England, the U.S.A., Denmark, and the Netherlands. I’m eager to see the Russian (one of N.K.’s closest allies) perspective.
Midnight Special http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_FS19356
Austin-based, Arkansas-born filmmaker Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) brings his latest to SX, a “genre-defying film as supernatural as it is intimately human.” (sxsw.com) Nichols has yet to make a film that I don’t like, and he looks to be returning to the combination of science fiction/family drama which made Take Shelter one of the best movies of the year it was released.
My Blind Brother http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_FS19570
“Love for the same woman creates a rift between an over-achieving blind athlete and his resentful brother.” (sxsw.com) SXSW has increasingly become a haven for comedy (stand-up and podcast recordings are folded into the Film portion of the festival), and each year seems to bring at least one standout (Obvious Child, Trainwreck, and Bridesmaids are among some of the alums). With this cast (including Obvious Child’s Jenny Slate), writer/director Sophie Goodhart’s feature directorial debut holds a lot of promise.
Beware the Slenderman http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_FS19396
You may remember the news story in 2014 involving Slenderman. I know I do. On May 31st of that year, two 12-year-old girls made a pact to kill one of their classmates after a sleepover. When they were caught, they told police that they’d done it as a tribute to Slenderman, an internet boogeyman that they were convinced was real. Irene Taylor Brodsky’s documentary follows the families of the two perpetrators and their victim, exploring the impact that the darkest corners of the Internet has on its most impressionable consumers.
Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_FS19418
Daryl Davis is a successful musician and a world traveler. In addition to his love of music, Daryl has a slightly strange hobby: he likes to meet and befriend members of the KKK. Oh, by the way, Daryl is African-American. He finds that many of the people he meets have never met a black person before, and that this personal interaction sometimes has an amazing effect. This one sounds absolutely fascinating, and Mr. Davis sounds like an exceedingly brave soul.
My good friend, Igor Shteyrenberg, will be in town for his third SXSW as a representative of the Popcorn Frights Film Festival in Miami. I wanted to get some insight about what makes it such an appealing event from someone who has only experienced the city of Austin through the prism of SXSW Film.
Stephanie: This isn’t your first SXSW. What keeps you coming back?
Igor: SXSW Film Fest is a bastion of wonderful weirdness where you can sample a smorgasbord of lo-fi indies, thought-provoking docs, psychotronic midnight movies, and oh-so-much-more. There are few other Festival’s where you can catch early sneak peeks at upcoming releases, choice Sundance offerings, and dozens of works from potential next-big-thing directors in between Taco or “queso” meals.
S: You’re here repping the Popcorn Frights Film Festival. What kinds of films are you hoping to find?
I: We’re on the hunt for the most cool, twisted, beautiful, mind-bending, horrifying, and hilarious midnight genre films from around the globe.
S: What are some of your favorite SXSW Film Fest memories/experiences?
I: A midnight screening where one of the attending actors from the premiering film was either intoxicated or fully loaded on something extra sweet. Without any notice or inspiration, sudden shrieks would erupt from her direction frightening the audience all throughout the screening, which created a sort of immersive viewing experience unlike any other.
S: You’ve been to film fests all over the world, from Berlin to Jerusalem; what makes SXSW unique amongst all of the ones you’ve experienced?
I: That at any given minute of day or night, you may be astonished by some unbelievably shocking, surprising, or deeply moving movie or life moment.
S: Which movies, in particular, are you most excited to see?
I: Under the Shadow http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_FS20684
A white-knuckled freak-out that transcends spooky ghost story conventions and gets right under your skin.
collective: unconscious http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_FS19602
An anthology film presenting an unspeakably beautiful, terrifying nightmare spent inside the minds of five artists.
Midnight Special http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_FS19356
May it be the smartest, most stylish, and most outright entertaining science-fiction film of the year.
Morris from America http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_FS19809
A coming-of-age Sundance sleeper powered by ’90s hip-hop, ’nuff said.
Everybody Wants Some http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_FS19376
May Linklater shred the very fabric of what’s expected in a college comedy in this Dazed and Confused spiritual sequel, but have it succeed on its own terms — and be just as classic.