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SXSW: Pretty Problems

Money doesn’t solve your problems, it just makes them prettier.”

Lindsay (Britt Rentschler) and Jack (Michael Tennant) are in a rut. Lindsay’s dreams of becoming a fashion designer have been put hold while she works a menial boutique job to pay back her student loan debt. Jack’s on probation and disbarred from being a working attorney putting him in a career limbo. As life continues to drag them down, Lindsay and Jack go through the  motions of their everyday lives, losing their romantic spark and any desire for intimacy.

Everything changes when one day Cat (J.J. Nolan) waltzes into Lindsay’s work. Cat is instantly taken with Lindsay and wants to boost her self-esteem and help her manifest her dreams. But Cat and Lindsay are from completely different worlds. Cat has more money than she knows what to do with and Lindsay can’t afford to do anything other than what she’s doing. Cat invites Lindsay and Jack for a weekend away in Sonoma County and the couple are thrust into a world of outrageous privilege. $300 bottles of wine, privately distributed tequila, a 1920s murder mystery game and a drug fueled disco party has the couple torn between their plebeian existence and the lifestyles of the rich and jaded. Fun is there to be had but not everything is as it seems.

Directed by Kestrin Pantera, Pretty Problems is a gratifying comedy with a decidedly poignant message. Its endlessly fascinating to watch how different social classes come together and ultimately clash because of their vastly different lifestyles and personal priorities. The rich people here are bored and emotionally numb. Lindsay and Jack are there for their own amusement and manipulation. Rentschler and Nolan play beautifully off each other and the surrounding cast of characters spotlight just how ridiculous the ultra-privileged lifestyle can be. 

Pretty Problems had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

SXSW: Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets

During the pandemic, many of us took an interest in the stock market out of sheer boredom and a desire to turn stretch our stimulus checks. Then in 2021, Reddit users who followed r/WallStreetBets took it a step further by buying GameStop (GME) and AMC stock changing the valuation of both companies and throwing the market for a loop. Directed by Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari, Diamond Hands (a term for those who hold onto a stock for longer than normal to let it grow) follows the story of Reddit users who overtook the market and the ripple effects it had in the financial world. The film is frenetic and difficult to follow unless you’re well versed in stock market lingo and spend a lot of time consuming short video content. Some of the subjects are a bit annoying but I’m glad they balanced out the tech bros with two women investors. Unless your super interested in the topic, this documentary is a pass.

Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival

SXSW: Clean

Sandra Pankhurst was an incredible woman. She lived through so much trauma in her early years, more than anyone should bear. Sandra knew how trauma could effect people and was inspired to start her business: Specialized Trauma Cleaning Services in Melbourne, Australia. Her team specializes in all kinds of cleaning, in particular hoarding cases and trauma clean-ups after suicides, murders and other sudden deaths. Having to deal with the death of a loved one is already such a burden, Sandra felt that she could help people by taking on the responsibility of cleaning up the aftermath. When she began her business in the 1990s, trauma cleaning was not an available service and she saw a crucial need that she could fill. Sandra and her team never judge or meddle. They’re just there to provide a valuable service.

Directed by Lachlan McLeod, Clean takes a two-prong approach telling the story of Sandra Pankhurst’s difficult life journey as well as that of her business. The subject of trauma cleaners is a fascinating one and anyone intrigued by the subject will find the documentary very rewarding. Sandra herself was charismatic and endlessly interesting. So many aspects of her life are explored including her traumatic adoption story, the search for her birth mother, her journey as a transgender woman, her health struggles and her triumphs as a business owner and public speaker.

The documentary feels disjointed, depends a bit too much on reveals and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Sandra was fiercely private in regards to some aspects of her life so there are some things that the filmmakers just couldn’t show. With that said, the filmmakers show a lot of respect for their main subject Sandra as well as her cleaning team and their clients. While the film might leave viewers wanting more, it’s still well worth a watch.

Clean had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

SXSW: Facing Nolan

Nolan Ryan is one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time. As a power pitcher he had one of the fastest pitches and broke record and after record, chasing Sandy Koufax’s milestones of most no-hitters and most strike-outs. Many of his records are still unbeaten and could stay that way. He played for the Mets and the Angels but found that his home state of Texas was calling and made the career move to the Astros and eventually the Rangers. He played a whopping 27 seasons. And while he didn’t finish on top, he did have a marvelous career that got better even when he reached his 40s. We don’t talk enough about how much of a baseball legend Nolan Ryan is… and one documentary sets out to fix that.

Directed Bradley Jackson, Facing Nolan is a charming documentary that is sure to please any crowd. At the world premiere, Jackson called it a love letter to baseball and to Texas. This film has a lot of heart and treats its subject with both reverence and tongue-in-cheek humor. Nolan is portrayed as a family man who was extraordinary talented but never let his career take him away from what mattered most to him. His wife Ruth Nolan is an integral part of his success and her story runs parallel to his throughout the film. Talking heads include friends and family, retired baseball players, particularly Nolan’s peers, journalists, experts and the man himself. The documentary does a great job creating both tension and laugh out loud moments. Viewers will come away from this film with newfound appreciation for Nolan Ryan’s extraordinary career.

Facing Nolan had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

Note to add: Facing Nolan will be released theatrically June 24th and digitally July 19th. Visit the official website for more details.

SXSW: Fire of Love

“When you can die at any moment… what do you leave behind?”

Directed by Sara Dosa, Fire of Love is a truly extraordinary documentary about two scientists who lived their lives on their own terms.

French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft boldly went where few scientists went before. After marrying in the 1960s, they set out to chase fire, traveling all over the world to study active volcanoes. Katia photographed, Maurice filmed, and together they captured some of the most stunning and frightening images of volcanoes. Over the decades the took calculated risks getting closer and closer to lava flows and craters. To fund their expeditions they would use their footage to publish books and release documentaries. The Kraffts were well aware that their passion would most likely lead to an early demise, which it did in June of 1991.  However, their absolute resolve to pursue their passion enlightened the public about the ways volcanoes work and the real dangers they pose.

Fire of Love envelops the viewer into the world of the Kraffts and gives us a close-up look at the awe-inspiring power of volcanoes. The documentary is composed of archival footage from the Kraffts and a voice-over narration that tells the story of their romance as well as their mutual fascination with volcanoes. The images are truly breathtaking. The writing is exquisite. The Kraffts story will make viewers contemplate what it means to live without fear.

Fire of Love had its Texas premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. The film is distributed by National Geographic and will stream on Disney+ at a future date.

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