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SXSW 2019 Film Festival: My Picks

The 2019 SXSW Film Festival starts next week and I’m thrilled to be attending this year for the very first time. Many thanks to SXSW and Rotten Tomatoes for this amazing opportunity. I’m furiously building my itinerary with plenty of great films, panels, interviews and new experiences. Follow me here and on my social media for all the details.

I would have to clone myself a dozen times to experience a significant chunk of SXSW has to offer. But alas there is only one of me. I did my best to curate a list of films that piqued my interest. I’m focusing primarily on documentaries, movies directed by women, Spanish-language cinema and indie films in general. 60 % of the films screening at SXSW are directed by women which is a fantastic feat. Here is how my current slate of films breaks down:

  • Documentaries: 9
  • Films Directed by Women: 9 (out of 15)
  • Narrative: 6
  • Spanish-Language: 3

Now on to my SXSW picks!

Sunset Over Mulholland Drive

  • Directed by Uli Gaulke
  • SXSW Documentary Spotlight

If you know me it’ll come to no surprise that this new documentary about residents of the Motion Picture & Television Fund home is my #1 pick. I’m a big champion for elderly and the residents of MPTF all have amazing stories to share about their contributions to the entertainment industry. I had the honor of visiting my friend Lillian Michelson at MPTF last year. Gaulke’s documentary follows a group of MPTF residents as they collaborate on new projects. I’ll be reviewing this one over at my classic film blog Out of the Past.

 

The Yellowknife dump. Still from the documentary Salvage.

Salvage

  • Directed by Amy C. Elliott
  • SXSW Documentary Spotlight

Elliott’s new documentary explores the open landfill of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada and the group of townspeople who salvage items from it. Yellowknife dump is one of the only open dumps in North America and regulations to control it pose a threat to the local community. I’m very curious to see what this film has to offer in terms of insights into what the objects we throw away have to say about us as a society. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Stay tuned as I’ll have an interview with the director as well as a review!

Trailer

 

Tread

  • Directed by Paul Solet
  • SXSW Documentary Feature Competition

What drives someone to the breaking point? Paul Solet’s new documentary Tread takes a look at Marvin Heemeyer, the Colorado man who in 2004 ran a fortified bulldozer through his hometown, systematically destroying homes and businesses. This bizarre case has always intrigued me and Solet’s film offers various perspectives in an attempt to answer the biggest question: why?

 

The Beach Bum

  • Directed by Harmony Korine
  • Starring Matthew McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher, Stefania Lavie Owen, Jimmy Buffett, Zac Efron, Martin Lawrence
  • SXSW Headliner

There will be big competition for the Headliners at the festival and while I’m happy to watch those at a later date, I can’t pass up the opportunity to see a Harmony Korine film at SXSW! I love Korine’s Spring Breakers and Mister Lonely and am excited for his latest movie. The Beach Bum stars Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, a free spirit who marches to the beat of his own drum. It features a stellar cast! I’m ready for another quirky yet subversive story, Korine-style.

Trailer

 

I am Richard Pryor

  • Directed by Jesse James Miller
  • Documentary Spotlight

Docs about 20th Century entertainers are my jam and I’m hoping to get a chance to see this one about legendary comedian Richard Pryor. I’m especially curious to see how this film explores his life and career in the context of the era.

Trailer 

 

Sister Aimee

  • Directed by Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann
  • Starring Anna Margaret Hollyman, Michael Mosley, Andrea Suarez Paz, Julie White, Amy Hargreaves, Macon Blair, Lee Eddy, Blake Delong, John Merriman, Nathan Zellner
  • SXSW Festival Favorites

Inspired by the story of 1920s evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, Sister Aimee looks like a fun twist on a bit of obscure 20th century history. I reviewed The Miracle Woman (1931) over on my site Out of the Past which stars Barbara Stanwyck and is also inspired by McPherson. Would love to examine how these two films compare with each other and what Sister Aimee has to offer to a contemporary audience.

 

Being Impossible

  • Directed by Patricia Ortega
  • Starring Lucia Bedoya, Belkis Avilladares, María Elena Duque
  • SXSW Global

Director Patricia Ortega’s drama explores the intersection between religion and gender. The story centers around a young religious dressmaker who discovers she was born intersex. Her parents kept her corrective surgery a secret and raised her as a girl. I love South American films and the exploration of identity and gender definitely piqued my interest. Would love to see how this compares with Lucia Puenzo’s film XXY (2007). 

 

La Mala Noche

  • Directed by Gabriele Calvache
  • Starring Nöelle Schönwald, Cristian Mercado, Jaime Tamariz, Ariana Freire, Diego Mignone, Gonzalo Gonzalo, Christian Cabrera, Javier Ordóñez
  • SXSW Global – World Premiere

This Ecuadorian/Mexican thriller is about a prostitute trying to escape the seedy underworld run by her mob boss. La Mala Noche is perhaps the darkest film in my line-up and I’m excited to see what director Calvache has to offer!

Trailer 

 

Days of the Whale

  • Directed by Catalina Arroyave Restrepo
  • Principal Cast: Laura Tobón, David Escallón, Carlos Fonnegra, Christian Tappan, Julián Giraldo, Natalia Castaño, Margarita Restrepo
  • SXSW Global

Another South-American film directed by a woman! My fingers crossed that I can fit this one into my schedule. The story follows two friends, graffiti artists, who plan to paint a mural of a whale to cover up a threatening message. I’ve been hungry for more Colombian cinema ever since I watched Karen Cries on the Bus (2011) last year.

 

Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy

  • Directed by Elizabeth Carroll
  • SXSW Documentary Feature Competition

Nonagenarian Diana Kennedy has spent the better part of her life researching and documenting the history of food and cuisine in Mexico. This new documentary explores her life’s work which includes nine Mexican cookbooks and her unique lifestyle (she’s lived off the grid since the 1970s!).

 

Sakawa

  • Directed by Ben Asamoah
  • SXSW Visions

I’m fascinated by internet scams and those spam e-mails we all get in our inboxes trying to extort us out of our life savings. This new documentary follows the story of three Ghanaians who are turning to the internet fraud as a source of livelihood. I’m hoping this film touches upon the ramifications of this sort of “career” and how it’s judged, or not judged, in another culture.

 

Qualified

  • Directed by Jenna Ricker
  • SXSW Documentary Spotlight

I love sports documentaries especially when the subject is a woman! Director Jenna Ricker’s new film for ESPN explores the career of Janet Guthrie, the first female race car driver to qualify for the Daytona 500 and Indy 500.

 

South Mountain

  • Directed by Hilary Brougher
  • Starring Talia Balsam, Scott Cohen, Andrus Nichols, Michael Oberholtzer, Naian González Norvind , Midori Francis, Macaulee Rusnak Cassaday, Isis Masoud, Violet Rea, Guthrie Mass
  • SXSW Narrative Feature Competition

Set in the Catskills, this drama tells the story of a family coming apart at the seams. The film’s star Talia Balsam is a big draw for me but I also love that this film is written and directed by a female filmmaker.

 

Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall

  • Directed by Alfred George Bailey
  • SXSW 24 Beats Per Second/Documentaries

Jim Marshall photographed some of the biggest names in the history of music: Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, etc. This new documentary offers a look at the man behind the camera. I love stories about people behind-the-scenes. Pair that with some pop culture history and I’m sold!

 

Strange Negotiations

  • Directed by Brandon Vedder
  • SXSW 24 Beats Per Second/Documentaries

As someone who walked away from a strict, conservative Christian upbringing, I’m fascinated by stories of others who have done the same. Vedder’s new documentary paints a portrait of David Bazan, a former evangelical Christian and member of the band Pedro the Lion.

Slamdance: We Are Thankful

Joshua Magor’s We Are Thankful is a meta docufiction movie about a young man from the KwaZulu Natal region of South Africa, who aspires to become a professional actor. Siyabonga “Siya” Majola dreams of a career and life outside of his small township of Mphopomeni. When he hears that a director, Joshua Magor, is shooting a film in a nearby town he sets out to meet him. We follow Siya as he navigates thrown his township, borrowing Wi-Fi, getting help writing an e-mail in English, asking locals for funds to help pay for his trip, etc. He finally meets the director who is interested in Siya and his story. Majola and Magor play themselves as they reenact the circumstances that led up to their meeting. Magor was going to film another story but was inspired by Majola’s journey that he decided to make the film about the making of the film instead.

We Are Thankful is an interesting experiment in blending documentary and narrative feature in a self-referential way. It’s only confusing if you think too much about this aspect of the film. Accept it as is and enjoy the journey. Dwelling too much on its existence will take you out of the story.

The cinematography in We Are Thankful is stunning. There are lots of great shots of the township and in one scene the camera lingers on a waterfall allowing the viewer to take in the beauty of the setting. This gave the film a strong sense of place. It’s very much a slice of life kind of movie and a way for the viewer to experience Siya’s world. It’s a quiet film and some might find that off-putting. Not much happens and the pace of the story is rather slow. Settle in, be patient and you just might be rewarded.

We Are Thankful/Siyabonga was part of Slamdance 25 as a Narrative Feature Official Selection.

Slamdance: The Beksinkis: A Sound and Picture Album

When it comes to cursed families, a few names come to mind: the Kennedys, the Grimaldis, the Hemingways, Bruce and Brandon Lee. Now add to that list the Beksinski family. Famous in their home country of Poland, the Beksinski family included: Zdzislaw Beksinski, a celebrated Polish artist known for his macabre paintings and sculptures, his son Tomasz, a well-known radio presenter, movie translator and journalist, and his wife Zofia, the devoted matriarch who created a balance in a household with two very eccentric figures. Tragedy first struck the family in 1988, when Tomasz survived a plane crash which left one person dead and many injured, including himself. The experience left Tomasz, who was already prone to depression, shattered. A decade later, another blow to the family came with the sudden death of Zofia. A year later, on the eve of Y2K, Tomasz committed suicide. His father found his body. The final and most brutal tragedy of the Beksinski’s family story came in 2005 when Zdzislaw was stabbed to death over a dispute with a teenager about a small loan.

“I’ve started to use my camera as a diary, because I’m too lazy to write it.” 

Zdzislaw Beksinski

Needless to say that the story of the Beksinskis ended with great sorrow. When Zdzislaw died, he left behind hours and hours of home video footage. Everything from personal conversations, footage from art shows, family trips, important and mundane moments in the life of the Beksinkski tribe were all recorded. Fascinated by technology, Zdzislaw decided to forego the route of a traditional diary to create a video archive instead. Director Marcin Borchardt spent three years sifting through 300 hours of archival footage and the result was his documentary: The Beksinkis: A Sound and Picture Album. This living scrapbook is a portal into their world. In the era before social media, these recording were not fabricated for public consumption. According to Borchardt, this is what makes Zdzislaw’s footage so authentic. No one is putting on a show. The viewer is drawn into an intimate space where the Beksinskis have have deep conversations, especially about their son’s depression.

“I’m finished. I’m a wreck. I’m no good for anything any more.”

Tomasz Beksinski

Borchardt’s documentary offers a compelling portrait of a creative and tortured family. It reminded me of Sophie Fiennes’ documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami which is entirely comprised of home video. However, I found Borchardt’s approach a lot more engaging. It does require some patience of the viewer to sit through stitched footage to make sense of what we’re being shown. The upside to this documentary is that while there is no real context provided, Zdzislaw narrated a lot of his footage so we hear the story of the Beksinksis through his words.

The Beksinskis: A Sound and Picture Album had it’s US premiere at Slamdance 25.

Slamdance: Boni Bonita

Boni Bonita, directed by Daniel Barosa, is a Brazilian-Argentine film, mostly in Portuguese, about a rebellious young woman and an aging musician. The story takes place over nine years, starting in 2007 and ending in 2016, and follows Beatriz (Ailin Salas) as she struggles with the loss of her mother, her complicated relationship with her father, self-harm and the musician who seems just out of her reach. Rogerio (Caco Ciocler), has his own struggles. He lives in the shadow of his grandfather’s musical success and has casual rendezvous with women as a way to avoid something more meaningful. Over the years Beatriz and Rogerio reunite at Rogerio’s summer home. The film explores what it means to come of age and also to go through a mid-life crisis.

The title is a reference to a song by classic Argentine singer Alberto Cortez. Rogerio plays the song for Beatriz and often calls her “Bonita”. Filmed over three years, Boni Bonita was shot in 16mm, super 16mm and digital. An inventive technique that gives the film a grainy, fuzzy appearance, as though we were watching filtered memories. According to the director Barosa, the story is based on his own experiences of the indie music scene of Sao Paolo Brazil.

I couldn’t engage with Boni Bonita no matter how hard I tried. I enjoyed the mixed media style and Ailin Salas’ performance in particular. The characters and the story didn’t draw me in and I couldn’t help but feel disconnected.

Boni Bonita is distributed by Nimboo’s Films and had its premiere at Slamdance 25 as part of the Narrative Feature Competition. It’s the only film from Latin America at the festival. Boni Bonita was a finalist for the Guioes, selected for the French Workshop Eave on Demand and a finalist for best original screenplay at the Havana Film Festival among other honors.

Slamdance: Slip Road

A man drives down a slip road into the woods. With him inside the vehicle is a mysterious creature. They exchange no words. The car stops when the man encounters children, all dressed in white, who proceed bang on the car from the outside. Once they disappear, he makes his way through a group of adults who are partying in front of a bonfire. The creature is waiting on the other side of a muddy pond. It’s time for the man to fulfill his end of the bargain with the creature and continue his journey.

Slip Road is an ominous and mysterious short film that begs the viewer to extrapolate their own meaning from the series of events in the story. I saw the film as a metaphor for creation and sacrifice. The slip road and the children represent a birth. It’s also the first sacrifice the man must make. He must ignore the children, and the prospect of being a father. He then makes his way through the party but choses not to participate. When he brings a sacrificial offering to the creature, a baby wrapped in a white blanket, the creature drowns him and another version of the man appears. To me this represented more sacrifice. The man must abandon the party life if he wants to fulfill his end of the bargain with the creature and become a creator. I also reinterpreted the whole film as the abandonment of one way of living in order make way for another.

Slip Road was written, produced and directed by Australian filmmaker Raphael Dubois. It stars Izaak Love as the man ‘Wendell’ and Sohaib Zaman as the creature. There is no dialogue but some powerful yet quiet performances from the two stars. It’s beautifully shot with stunning imagery. I was very excited to see this after watching the trailer and it was even more mysterious than I expected.

Slip Road premiered at Slamdance 25 as part of the Anarchy Shorts series.

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