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SXSW: Short Films

While the 2020 SXSW Film Festival was canceled the films still live on. Recently SXSW announced their collaboration with Amazon Prime for an online film festival. They are currently in the process of allowing filmmakers to opt-in or opt-out and will host the festival at the end of April. As someone who refuses to use Amazon Prime, I was happy to see that you don’t have to have the service to attend the festival. It’s free to the public and all you need is an Amazon account.

Something that did not get as much fanfare was SXSW’s other collaboration with MailChimp which is hosting SXSW short films on their website. MailChimp Presents SXSW 2020 Shorts #SupportheShorts offers a variety of short films that would have been screened at the film festival. The categories include: Animated (7), Documentary (11), Made in Texas (8), Midnight (8), Narrative (15), Texas High School (15). It’s not clear how long these shorts will be available to view online. I hope it will be long term. Because I had press pass for the festival I was able to view many of these shorts ahead of time. Three of them I reviewed on this site. 

If you love short films as much as I do and want to know which SXSW shorts to watch, here are some recommendations:

Basic — dir. by Chelsea Devantez

A hilarious short about pettiness and dating in the era of social media. I laughed out loud and watched this one on repeat. A must see!

Read my full review of BASIC here.

Blackheads — dir. by Emily Ann Hoffman

A highly satisfying animated short film about a woman dealing with a break-up, a bad therapist and a giant blackhead.

Read my full review of Blackheads here.

Figurant — dir. Jan Vejnar

A short Czechian drama about a middle-aged man whose curiosity got the better of him as he finds himself hired for a mystery job. Amazing build-up and cinematography.

Read my full review of Figurant here.

Blocks — dir. by Bridget Moloney

An overwhelmed mom vomits lego blocks. Sounds crazy right? The overall theme of finding time for oneself really struck a chord with me. Don’t let the whacky concept turn you away from this one!

The Claudia Kishi Club — dir. by Sue Ding

In the 1980s/1990s there was a noticeable lack of Asian-American characters and those that existed were stereotypes. Claudia Kishi of The Babysitters Club books was a noticeable exception. A group of Asian-American artists and creators discuss the character’s impact.

Modern Whore — dir. by Nicole Bazuin

A retro style documentary with highly stylized re-enactments. Features a former sex worker describing her experience with escort message board review culture.

I’m Happy, I Promise — dir. by Mimi Cave

A whacky short comedy, told through a series of phone calls, about a nut-obsessed man who tries to ignore his past indiscretions.

Summer Hit — dir. by Berthold Wahjudi

Two exchange students from Iceland and Spain have a summer affair in Germany. What starts off as a meaningless fling blossoms into something much deeper.

Single — dir. by Ashley Eakin

A disability romance about a feisty young woman won’t take shit from anybody, including her blind date. The ending was so satisfying! 

Face to Face Timedir. by Izzy Shill

Perfect viewing for our quarantine culture. A woman calls up her new love interest for a sexy Facetime session. But things don’t turn out quite how she expected them to.

Lions in the Corner — dir. by Paul Hairston

A riveting documentary short about an ex-convict who starts a fight club to encourage youths to take out their battles in a boxing ring. His efforts help reduce needless violence and eventual incarceration.

SXSW: I Will Make You Mine

Rachel (Lynn Chen), Erika (Ayako Fujitani) and Yea-Ming (Yea-Ming Chen) have one thing in common: Goh Nakamura. All three women have romantic ties to the singer-songwriter. Rachel lives a cushy life with her wealthy caucasian husband. His marital indiscretions sour the relationship and Rachel rekindles her feelings for her childhood friend. Erika is a professor and Goh’s ex-wife. They have a daughter together, Sachiko (Ayami Riley Tomine), and the two are reunited when Erika makes arrangements for her father’s funeral. Yea-Ming is a free spirit. Like Goh, she’s a singer-songwriter. She’s been trying for years to make it in the music business and she gets some inspiration from Goh when he’s back in town.

I Will Make You Mine is a beautifully sensitive and lyrical film. It explores the deep emotional bonds of the past and how they can be reignited years later. The film was written, produced and directed by Lynn Chen who also stars as Rachel. It was shot in black-and-white and is Chen’s debut as a screenwriter and director of a feature film. Music is an important part of the film and both Goh Nakamura and Yea-Ming Chen (who play versions of themselves) perform. Yea-Ming sings a beautiful rendition of the title song and the credits roll with Goh performing a touching acoustic number.

“The feeling I most want to share with I Will Make You Mine is hope. Hope that it’s not too late to be the person you dreamed you would be.”

Lynn Chen

I Will Make You Mine was set to have its world premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Gravitas Ventures is releasing the film on demand and digital on May 26th. You can pre-order the film on iTunes.

SXSW: My Darling Vivian

Vivian Liberto Cash, Johnny Cash’s first wife and the mother of his four daughters, passed away on May 24th, 2005. This was a few months before Walk the Line (2005), the critically-acclaimed and award-winning Cash biopic starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon and Ginnifer Goodwin, was released. Vivian didn’t live to see the film nor did she want to. The script circulated and the way it portrayed Vivian was far from the truth. It created a myth about Vivian as a vindictive woman who tried to get in the way of Cash’s music career.

In reality, Vivian Liberto was a complex woman. A strong-minded woman who was fiercely private and devoted to her husband and her children. The daughter of Italian-American Catholics in San Antonio, Texas, Vivian first met Johnny Cash in 1951 when she was a teenager and he was an Air Force cadet. They had an instant connection and exchanged love letters when Cash served abroad. When he returned in 1954, they married. Cash’s career took off. They moved to California and into Johnny Carson’s old home. They had four children together: Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara. Vivian had a difficult time with Cash’s fame. It was intrusive and put Vivian on guard. Cash spent more and more time away from the family, started using drugs and started a relationship with singer June Carter that would eventually lead to Vivian and Johnny’s divorce. Vivian wasn’t the perfect mother but she did what she could to raise her four children. She re-married and wrote a book about her life. But her desire for privacy meant the world didn’t really know or understand Vivian. By the time her book published, it was too little too late. A new myth would eclipse the truth.

Filmmaker Matt Riddlehoover’s new documentary My Darling Vivian sets the record straight about the woman behind the legend. The film features extensive home footage and photos. Only Vivian’s four daughters Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara are interviewed. There are no other talking heads, no other family members, friends, pop culture experts, historians etc. This documentary keeps it in the family. It’s easy to watch this film and immediately get defensive of Vivian. You might reconsider your feelings on Walk the Line and how it portrayed her. Of course there is some bias but I was impressed how frank and open the four daughters were about their mother. They discussed both the good and the bad about their parents. My Darling Vivian is a well-rounded and fairly intimate film about a misunderstood woman.

My Darling Vivian was set to have its world premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Visit the official website for more information.

SXSW: Crestone

A group of SoundCloud rappers live in isolation in the desert of Crestone, Colorado. The end of the world is nigh and this group of friends spend those final days making music, getting tattoos, eating the last of their food stores and smoking weed. In Crestone they reconnect with themselves and their music. Their seclusion sparks their creativity. However, they ignore the warning signs that they must flee their remote haven. In the midst of it all, a woman director is filming them for her documentary, capturing their spirited rebellion.

“Performing and being became indistinguishable.”

“What does music sound like if there is no one left to repost and share it?”

Directed and co-written by Marnie Ellen Hertzler, Crestone is a hybrid feature film/documentary putting real SoundCloud rappers (Huckleberry, Keem, Mijo Mehico, Benz Rowm, RyBundy, Sadboytrapps, Champloo Sloppy, and Phong Winna) in an imaginary pre-apocalyptic world. Crestone is Hertzler’s debut feature film and it’s quite an auspicious start. Hertzler mixes filmmaking styles, enhances visuals with added designs and creates an inherently contradictory cinematic world by placing internet musicians in a remote natural landscape. So many of us right now are living in seclusion as the coronavirus spreads across the globe. In a weird way, I felt a connection with this group of rappers whose lifestyle is so completely different from my own with the exception of that I too am stuck in isolation and working on my craft.

“I am drawn to this group of people as a filmmaker because of their ability to completely and confidently reinvent themselves over and over. Their transformation isn’t simply a wardrobe change or a new playlist; it is an entire upheaval of their previous lives.”

Marnie Ellen Hertzler

Crestone was set to have its world premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Visit the official website for more information about this movie.

SXSW: The Donut King

Filmmaker Alice Gu’s new documentary The Donut King follows the dramatic rise and fall of Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian refugee who started a donut empire and the enduring legacy of one of America’s most beloved pastries.

Ngoy fled his native country in the mid-1970s during the Cambodian Civil War. He and his family made their way to California where they were taken in by a sponsor. It was there that Ngoy had his very first donut. It was love at first bite.

He immediately inquired about how to start his own donut shop and someone recommended that he get training at Winchell’s, a popular West Coast donut chain. He became a master donut maker and businessman, managing a Winchell’s and eventually opening his own shop. Ngoy was devoted to his business and made it a family affair. He kept overhead low and made shrewd business decisions. The smartest move he made was working with other Cambodian refugees by helping them finance their own donut shop. They would apprentice with him, learning the craft and in return “Uncle Ted” as he was affectionately called would co-own the shop. At one time Ngoy co-owned over 60 successful donut shops in the 1980s and became a millionaire. It was only a matter of time before the trappings of wealth lead to his downfall.

The Donut King is a wild ride. Ted Ngoy’s story is quite remarkable and the ups and downs will keep viewers glued to the screen. Gu’s documentary does a fantastic job building a portrait of this visionary, flaws and all, with extensive interviews with Ngoy himself, his wife, his two kids, other family members and colleagues. The Donut King is slick, alternating from talking head interviews, to short animations, archival footage and sexy shots of big fluffy donuts. If you watch this film and don’t immediately crave a donut, something is wrong with you. The biggest takeaway, however, is Ngoy’s journey as an immigrant forging a path for himself in America and helping others do the same.

The Donut King was to premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It received a Special Jury Recognition for Achievement in Documentary Storytelling. Find out more information about the film at the official website.

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