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SXSW 2019: AMA and Festival Recap

As I finalize the last of my SXSW coverage I thought I’d take a moment to recap my experience at the festival. I did an Ask Me Anything call out on Twitter and got some great questions in response.


Karen @TheDarkPages on Twitter: What was it about SXSW that made you want to go?

Raquel: I’ve been wanting to branch out and try new film festivals for a while. The SXSW Film Festival appealed to me in several ways. I loved the focus on indie film. I was also interested in the variety of panels, conferences and exclusive events. Plus there were great opportunities for networking. It seemed to me a very press friendly festival with lots of opportunities for great coverage. I knew this was a place where I could take the next step in building my writing career. The press team was incredibly welcoming and I had some wonderful support from both SXSW and Rotten Tomatoes. I can’t deny that there was some appeal in visiting a city I’d never been to before: Austin, TX!


Jen @JenTCM on Twitter: What kind of festival is it, exactly?

Raquel: I’m still trying to figure that out! SXSW is several festivals combined. My focus was on the film festival side but there is also a Music Festival and an Interactive Festival. There was a trade show, a health & wellness expo and programming around food, technology, politics, TV, etc. There was so much going that it would be impossible not to find something that appealed to you.


Chuck @Chuck7703 on Twitter: How would you rate the accessibility of the film screenings? Have you been able to get in to the majority of films you wanted to see?

Raquel: I only missed out on three films. Two I opted out of to give myself a little break. The other missed film was a miscalculation on my part (time between screenings + distance between venues + afternoon rush hour traffic). Otherwise I got into everything I wanted to because I was willing to get in line early. SXSW is on two big loops and I took the shuttle to get from one loop to the other.

When arranging my schedule I made sure to reference the official map so I could build in travel time and pair screenings by venue whenever possible. Because everything is so spread out over the city, I found it difficult to attend more than 4 events per day. I saw at most 2 films per day and built in some time for writing and to attend other types of events. I spent quite a lot of time at the Austin Convention Center where I could use their facilities, grab a quick meal, access the Carnegie Mellon University Press Suite to do some writing and catch the shuttle.


Jackie @Jaxbra on Twitter: Your first time at SXSW, right? How do you find it compared to other festivals you’ve gone to? I mean, like how it was organized, the venues, panels, etc.

Raquel: This was indeed my first SXSW! Compared to other festivals this one can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. I was lucky that I got some great advice from SXSW veterans (thanks Alicia, Sterling and Danielle!). That helped immensely. I’m a methodical planner so I created a detailed itinerary which I kept on Google Drive and accessed daily. 

Take a look at the SXSW Shuttle Map . It shows you how spread out all of the locations are. The big movies screen at the Paramount and Stateside once and everything else screens three times at the various other smaller theaters. I only caught one big movie (The Beach Bum) but otherwise I’d have three time slots to chose from for every movie which made planning much easier. And the filmmakers/cast/crew usually show up to multiple screenings so you don’t necessarily have to attend the first one to see a Q&A. The panels and other events were either at the Austin Convention Center or they were held at nearby hotel conference rooms. SXSW made a lot of resources available to attendees including a live shuttle map (you could track the buses on GPS to see how long you’d have to wait), a mobile app with details on all of the events, and other online resources.

Getting into film screenings at SXSW was the most unusual system I have ever come across! There were multiple levels of access.

SXXPress Pass – Every morning at 9 AM CST, Platinum and Film Badge holders could grab available SXXPress Passes for tomorrow’s screenings via the SXSW mobile app. These let you cut the line. You have to be quick to grab these because they went fast and only a handful were made available. I only managed to get two of these and I heard other people say they couldn’t get any. At the venue, a SXSW volunteer would scan the SXXPress Pass on your phone and give you a red ticket. You’d wait in a lobby or in a designated area rather than waiting in line.



Filmmaker’s Ticket – If you’re a member of the press, you could get a filmmaker’s ticket and get in with the SXXPress Pass holders. When I was reaching out to film publicists about coverage, I would ask for a ticket. (Thank you to Alicia Malone for this tip!). I got into quite a lot of films this way but the process was quite awkward. I’d have to meet either the director of the film or the publicist at the venue to get the ticket. It resulted in a lot of texting, e-mailing, searching for head shots and looking at names on badges.


Primary access –For Platinum and Film Badge holders there was a separate line to get in. They were escorted into the theater after SXXPress Pass and Filmmaker’s ticket holders were seated. For this level of access it was important to get in line 45 minutes to an hour early to guarantee entry. Depending on the venue you’d either get in line and have your badge scanned or you’d go up to a group of volunteers, get scanned and then get in line. You’d then be given a queue card. 

Secondary access – Film wristband wearers would get into a second line that was seated after the group of SXXpress/Filmmaker’s Ticket holders and Primary Access line. There was also a third level of access but this was the biggest gamble and depended greatly on theater capacity and the popularity of the event. If any seats were left, these attendees would pay $15 at the door to get in.


Nikki @NikkiLM4 on Twitter: How does it compare, pace, people, venues, to TCMFF?

Raquel: SXSW is really on a different level than TCMFF. It’s like TCMFF X 12. It takes place over 10 days instead of 3-1/2. The SXSW venues are spread out all over the city, many of the films are shown 3x, the festival takes over the Austin Convention Center as well as several nearby hotels, Rainey Street bars and restaurants are transformed into SXSW installations, 6th street is closed down and is packed with attendees and revelers, etc. SXSW basically takes over Austin. It’s TCMFF on acid!


Karen @TheDarkPages on Twitter: What were your top three favorite things about SXSW?


  1. All screenings were open to the public and featured Q&As with the filmmakers. And I had so much fun photographing the red carpet premiere of The Beach Bum.
  2. Not going hungry. There were so many food options from dining service at the Alamo theaters to the food trucks and restaurants nearby and the eateries inside the convention center. Lots of healthy options too!
  3. Walking the first loop and taking the free shuttle to the second loop. It saved me a lot of money that would have otherwise gone to Lyft rides.


Marci @MarciK on Twitter: Any cool interactions with other critics/bloggers/writers? What has been your favorite non-film related experience at SXSW?

Raquel: I was mostly on my own but I did get to hang out with some friends most notably Sterling @filmlatelist, Robert @812filmreviews and Danielle @DanielleSATM. I chatted with people in line or on the shuttle whenever I could. I had a few negative experiences with some fellow attendees who thought it was okay to talk during the film. I also met a couple film critics who didn’t think I was worth their time and one who poked fun at my inexperience. 

I didn’t have many non-film related experiences. I did love partnering with Kingston Technologies. They were a fantastic sponsor to work with! Carlos and I went to the outskirts of Austin for some amazing Colombian food. It was nice to get away for a bit. And I skipped a screening to see D’Arcey Carden and Henry Winkler at a Twitter Improv event. It was cool to see Janet (The Good Place) and the Fonz (Happy Days) in person!


Vanessa @SuperVeebs on Twitter: What’s one thing about the festival that scared you?

Raquel: I was mostly concerned about my safety. I asked my husband Carlos, who traveled to Austin with me, to come pick me up after my last screening. We’d usually meet up at the Convention Center and walk back to the hotel together. I tried to be in or around groups of festival attendees. If I was by myself, I’d always be cautious and look for protected areas where police were on patrol.


Alejandro @alamofilmguy on Twitter: Any cool restaurants to recommend?

Raquel: I didn’t go to too many restaurants because I was too occupied with the film festival. However I did have amazing culinary experiences at Pelon’s (tacos and cocktails!) and Koriente (Korean food). I was really impressed with what the Alamo Ritz and Alamo Lamar had to offer. Many of my meals were at Alamo film screenings. They had a full menu with appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, pizzas, hot dogs but they also had salads and healthier food options too. I tried to focus on healthy eating throughout my trip to avoid falling asleep during film screenings and to keep my creative juices flowing. I never did get to have barbecue (which wouldn’t have put me right to sleep)! My husband waited in line for 4 hours for Franklin’s BBQ in Austin and said it was worth it.


Erin @MissErinMcGee on Twitter: What was your favorite experience??

Raquel: Getting mentored by Alicia Malone! I was invited to attend a private roundtable mentoring session for female film critics hosted by Alicia. I learned so much from this experience! She shared a lot about her career goals and how she achieved them and gave us amazing advice. She encouraged us to not compete but to instead build each other up. There’s room for all of us. If I had flown to Austin, TX and only been mentored by Alicia Malone and had done nothing else, it would have been worth the trip. That’s how valuable that experience was to me.


Maddy @Maddylovesherc1 on Twitter: Once it’s all finished, I’d like to know what films and events you enjoyed the most here?

Raquel: My top favorite films were as follows:

  1. Sister Aimee
  2. Qualified
  3. Salvage
  4. La Mala Noche
  5. Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy
  6. Days of the Whale

SXSW: Sister Aimee

On May 18, 1926, celebrity evangelist Sister Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared. Presumed drowned in Ocean Park Beach, Santa Monica, the news of her disappearance caused a national frenzy. Just as her devoted followers were ready to mourn her death, she resurfaced over a month later claiming that a woman named Mexicali Rose and a man named Steve kidnapped her and held her hostage. When she returned, the story of her escape raised some eyebrows and while Sister Aimee stuck to her story there were many who didn’t believe her tale. A case was brought against her in court but eventually dropped. What exactly did happen to Sister Aimee?

This story is 5-1/2% truth… the rest is imagination.

Written and directed by Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann, Sister Aimee is reimagines the events that happened during her disappearance. Based on truth, the film is primarily fantasy that blends elements of a period piece, a Western, a road trip movie, an LGBT love story and even features a climactic musical number. Anna Margaret Hollyman stars as Sister Aimee. Frustrated with the trappings of fame, she decides to fake her own death and runaway with her love Kenny/Steve (Michael Mosley). The two go undercover and travel to Mexico to start a new life together. Kenny hires Rey (Andrea Suarez Paz), a tough-as-nails Mexican woman who serves as their bodyguard and guide on the treacherous journey ahead. Along the way, the trio meet a variety of nefarious characters. Juxtaposed with the road trip scenes, is the investigation into Sister Aimee’s disappearance and the affect on her religious following. Aimee and Rey eventually get arrested and must plot their escape. 

If you’re looking for a Aimee Semple McPherson biopic, this is not it. Instead of a period piece about a fraudulent evangelist, I got a lesbian road trip movie instead. And let me tell you I was very happy with this. I attended the SXSW premiere of the film, settled into my seat, had a couple of mojitos and went along for the ride. Sister Aimee is my favorite film I saw at SXSW. Set in the 1920s, one of my favorite eras, with strong female protagonists and plenty of Latino characters… I was very happy with the end result! 

“As a Latino coming into a project… a period piece, it’s something that rarely happens. Apparently we didn’t exist back then… To have the freedom to not speak in an accent, when you speak in English or Spanish for the character… for me it was pretty revolutionary… [the directors] were very free to let the person be the person and not the stereotype.”

Luis Bordonada

Aimee is a complex character who evolves as the story progresses. Rey is just a bad ass through and through. I developed a massive crush on her. If I’m getting too personal in this review it’s because this film spoke to me on so many level and I can’t separate my emotional reactions enough to write an objective review. I just loved this movie. It does start off a bit slow but picks up. The performances, especially from Paz and Hollyman, were fantastic and Hollyman’s music and dance number is the highlight of the film.

Director-writer duo Schlingmann and Buck are partners in work and life and I wonder how much of their relationship worked its way into the script. In a Q&A after the SXSW screening, Schlingmann said the idea to make the film came to them from Anna Margaret Hollyman, who starred in their short film The Mink Catcher, who was interested in L.A. local history. The filmmakers did research and found the perfect subject for their debut feature-length film. 

For those of you, like me, who are very particular about period detail, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. The finger waves were a little too ironed on for my taste but I thought the costumes and the sets were on point. It was shot on location in Austin, TX and seeing it in that city added something special to the experience.

Sister Aimee is a brilliant road trip movie centered on empowered female characters and reimagines an obscure event from early 20th century American history.

Sister Aimee screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Festival Favorites series.

SXSW: Strange Negotiations

“There’s this push for your faith to be fully integrated into your person, into your identity.”

David Bazan on being Evangelical Christian

In 2006, Christian Rock star David Bazan left his band Pedro the Lion to pursue a solo career. Bazan’s entire world had been deeply entrenched in Evangelical Christianity. When he begins to question his belief and ultimately loses his faith he struggles to find a way to maintain his music career and support his family.

Director Brandon Vedder’s documentary Strange Negotiations follows Bazan a decade into his journey as he travels across the country as a solo act, performing in fan’s living rooms and in many other venues. There is this sense of community when you’re religious. It almost acts as a safety net. And when everyone in your life, your friends, your family, and your colleagues are in that world, leaving it can be incredibly isolating. The viewer goes on a road trip with Bazan and he becomes a spiritual guide. In interviews, we hear Bazan process his past, present and future within the scope of his religion and his personal struggles. Bazan’s story is juxtaposed with NPR coverage of the Evangelical movement in the U.S. and how that has effected the current political climate.

“I [saw] vulnerability as the antidote to all this anxiety and self-loathing.”

David Bazan

The cinematography in this film is absolutely stunning. I still have mixed feelings about the use of fancy drone shots but in this case it just plain works. The drone flies high above the barren landscape of the Bible Belt as we follow Bazan on his road trip. These shots are gorgeous, almost ethereal. It’s as if we’re seeing Bazan’s world from an angel’s point of view. The camera also gets right up into the personal space of its subject with Bazan being filmed in a tight frame while in conversation, driving through an urban landscape or in the intimate space of one of his performances.

Strange Negotiations is a poetic and deeply personal documentary about the loss of faith and the struggle to find oneself. If you’re someone, like me, whose struggled with faith, you may find a kindred spirit in Bazan. If the faith aspect doesn’t speak to you, it’s simply an interesting story about a musician at a crossroads in his life and career.

Strange Negotiations had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their 24 Beats Per Second documentary series.

SXSW: Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall

“These people have let you into their lives… to violate that trust is criminal.”

Jim Marshall (1936-2010)

In Jim Marshall’s illustrious career as the photographer to the stars, he captured some of the most enduring images of Rock-n-Roll legends. He elevated artists with quality photographs, capturing their images with a level of intimacy that required trust and an attention to detail that signaled respect. And that’s what these artists had with Jim Marshall, a mutual admiration. The musicians offered him their vulnerability and he in return showcased them as the rock stars they were.

In director Alfred George Bailey’s new documentary, Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall, we learn about the man behind the camera. From his early days making a photography scrapbook, to his legendary career as a celebrity photographer, this film charts the ups and downs of this talented yet difficult man’s life. It includes footage of Marshall reminiscing about his career as well as interviews with the people who knew him best including his former assistant Amelia Davis, fellow photographers, friends, musicians and a variety of experts. Notable talking heads include actor Michael Douglas (Marshall was an on-set photographer for the show The Streets of San Francisco) and Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Who did Jim Marshall photograph exactly? Everybody. In the documentary we learn about his work with some of the following artists:

  • Janis Joplin
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • John Coltrane
  • The Grateful Dead
  • Bob Dylan
  • Joan Baez
  • Jefferson Airplane
  • Ray Charles
  • Miles Davis
  • Crosby, Stills and Nash
  • Thelonius Monk
  • The Beatles
  • The Who
  • The Rolling Stones
  • The Doors
  • Johnny Cash

“Jim had an eye for the moment.”

Graham Nash

The biggest takeaway from this film is not the legends Marshall collaborated with, although that is pretty interest too, but the analysis of what it took for him to do his job and to do it well. We learn about how a photographer relates to his subject. Marshall was an active and passive participant. He blended in seamlessly with the scene yet was not afraid to plant himself into the personal space of his subjects. 

“He died like a fucking rock star.”

Amelia Davis

Jim Marshall was quite a character himself. His love of guns and his drug use got him into trouble. And his temperamental personality often ostracized those near and dear to him. There is a dark side to every great artist and Marshall was no exception. Yet his body of work speaks for itself.

Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall is a compelling portrait of a difficult man with great talent who made an impact on the careers of the 20th century rock stars we know and love.

Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their 24 Beats Per Second series.

SXSW: South Mountain

Relationships are messy. They’re not these uniform experience with clear beginnings, middles and ends. When you invest your emotions into another person and that partnerships ends, it’s not a clean break. Especially when children are involved. 

Director Hilary Brougher’s South Mountain is a beautiful, quiet film about a couple’s break-up and its repercussions. It stays true to the messy nature of family dynamics. It follows the story of Lila (Talia Balsam), an artist living in the Catskills with her husband Edgar (Scott Cohen) and their children. Lila has a lot on her plate. Her best friend Gigi (Andrus Nichols) is battling breast cancer, her adoptive daughter Sam (Macaulee Cassaday) is about to go on her first big adventure as a young adult and her husband Edgar just had a baby with his girlfriend Gemma (Isis Masoud) and is leaving the family. She has a brief affair with her daughter’s friend Jonah (Michael Oberholttzer) and tries to poison Edgar but rescues him just in time. As Lila’s world falls apart, can she put the pieces back together and find some semblance of happiness again?

At the world premiere of South Mountain at SXSW, Brougher spoke at length about the inspiration behind the film and what she hopes audiences will take away from the story. 

“This is definitely a piece of fiction. It’s not all auto-biographical. It’s made from a lot of scraps from a lot of people’s lives that I’ve known very closely. It’s made out of the stuff that is my life. We did that for practical reasons. It was what I hoped would be a way to give the audience something of value… All I have is my particular view of the world.”

Director Hilary Brougher

“For me the film is about sadness but it is not a sad film. The film is about “to be continued.” The film is about how we stay connected when we fall apart… Everyone will bring their own emotions to this film in their own experience. I’m sure my own experience is colored by getting to connect with all these people and having it be a very healing experience.”

Director Hilary Brougher

“I was involved in a project that destroyed me creatively. Even in making this film about why people stick around when things are bad, I was getting healed. For me there is great beauty and joy and transcendence in it but I understand that people are going to access it from wherever they are. I hope they feel the love. I hope it heals more than it hurts.”

Director Hilary Brougher

South Mountain is gorgeously shot and directed and there is a unique beauty in the subtlety of the performances. Everyone goes through their own kind of pain and I love how this is portrayed by the different characters. By the end of the film I did feel I needed the story explained to me so I was grateful for the director Q&A although a second viewing would have expanded my understanding.

In one memorable scene, the family is enjoying an outdoor barbecue while Edgar is inside watching his girlfriend give birth to his child via FaceTime. It looked so realistic I asked myself “did they really use a pregnant woman and film a live birth?” When actress Isis Masoud spoke before the SXSW audience she confirmed this to be true. The iPhone sequence is footage of her child’s birth spliced in with scenes she filmed at 8 months pregnant. Amazing!

South Mountain had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Narrative Feature Competition.

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