Ah the sun is finally out in Austin which must mean it’s time for SXSW to draw in thousands of ‘trendsetters’ and take over our town, a vast majority of whom will consider moving here permanently and adding to our already packed roads. Unlike any of the other festivals of the year, music and film, SXSW seems to have a higher proportion of people who annoy me. Music Venues are full of people more interested in being seen than seeing the bands there, film venues are full of would-be producers looking to make connections but talking rudely through films, especially at the Alamo venues, where the beer and food already make it loud enough. Interactive people are… really, does anything else need to be said? I often feel like SXSW: The Scene overwhelms SXSW: The Festival, especially film, which has been fighting for attention for the last few years. Add to that they keep adding things to the festival: sports, comedy, what not. That being said, SXSW Film is clearly the second most important festival in the US (right after Sundance, just as it is on the calendar) and this year’s schedule is full of exciting films and filmmakers, both rising stars and unheard of newbies.
While there are always a few head-scratchers, like SPY and GET HARD, that have little place in the film festival world (Get Hard is being released in two weeks!), the SXSW programming team exposes more new filmmakers to the world than any other, across every genre. This year there seems to be a special emphasis on SciFi, with more narratives and even docs about space or the looming apocalypse than I can remember in previous years. This includes the excellent THE VISIT which I saw at Sundance. Of course, Austin is a town that never can get enough SciFi, as seen by the launch of Other Worlds Austin last year and the ever-popular Fantastic Fest.
As far as special screenings go, do not miss the 30th Anniversary Restoration of THE BREAKFAST CLUB with Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy in attendance. Doug Benson and Master Pancake will be ‘interrupting’ one of the most important films of our generation, LEPRECHAUN 3.
Finally, Jonathan Demme returns to Austin for a collection of lost films from the early years of the scene, a similar but expanded (and restored) program to what he did when he came in for Austin Film Festival when I was Director of Programming. Those two films (that I remember Ryan Darbonne had to really scrounge to track down), INVASION OF THE ALUMINUM PEOPLE and SPEED OF LIGHT, have been fully restored and remastered and will screen with four more films in this homage to the October 1981 screening at the Collective for Living Cinema in New York City that was a defining moment for Austin filmmaking. Included in the program is a film by SXSW’s own Louis Black, FAIR SISTERS.
As for the regular films, here are 10 Can’t Miss Picks for this year’s SXSW:
Director: Alistair Legrand,
Screenwriters: Alistair Legrand, Luke Harvis
Cast: Ali Larter (Heroes, the Resident Evil films), Patrick Fischler (Mad Men), Arjun Gupta (Nurse Jackie), Merrin Dungey (Betrayal) and Joe Egender (American Horror Story: Asylum)
Science teacher to the rescue in this paranormal thriller! When a single mother and her two young children are tormented by an increasingly strange and intense presence, she turns to her science teacher boyfriend to help take on the violent forces that paranormal experts are too frightening to face. No trailer available so nothing to go on but this great cast of up and comers and producer Ross Dinnerstein who scores a one-two punch at SXSW with this film and The Nightmare (which I loved at Sundance). His past films are as diverse as Zach Penn’s THE GRAND, Jiro DREAMS OF SUSHI and outsider-art found footage horror film MR. JONES.
Section: Narrative Competition
Director/Screenwriter: Hannah Fidell
Cast: Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story), Ben Rosenfield (Boardwalk Empire), Lindsay Burdge (A Teacher), Joshua Leonard (Blair Witch Project)
A young couple in their early 20s, Dan and Mel, have known each other since childhood. Now their 6-year romantic relationship is put to the test when Dan receives an attractive job offer from the record label with whom he interns, and he must choose between a move forward and a future with Mel. Growth and temptation happen–but will their relationship remain part of their future? Former Austinite Fidell’s last film A TEACHER, was one of true standouts of Sundance and SXSW in 2013, mostly from the incredibly nuanced performances Fidell got from her actors in a heartbreaking story. This one looks to have similar opportunity to destroy my mood for the rest of the day.
8) RAIDERS! (World Premiere)
Directors: Jeremy Coon, Tim Skousen In 1982, two 11 year-olds in Mississippi set out to remake Raiders of the Lost Ark. After seven turbulent years, they finished every scene except one. 30 years later, they attempt to finally finish their fan film and realize their childhood dream. The story of the greatest fan film of all time (if you saw Backyard Blockbusters at Other Worlds Austin, you know a bit about this already), this is a sure-fire feel good doc about the spirit of youth and maybe why some of us throw ourselves into film forever. Unfortunately SXSW is only screening the original RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: THE ADAPTATION ONCE during the festival – I really think they need to be watched back to back. “You’re not just watching ‘RAIDERS’ but you are rooting for the kids to succeed.” Check out the trailer:
7) EXCESS FLESH (World Premiere)
Director: Patrick Kennelly
Screenwriters: Sigrid Gilmer, Patrick Kennelly
Cast: Bethany Orr, Mary Loveless, Wes McGee
Jill is obsessed with her new roommate Jennifer, a promiscuous and sexy hotshot in the LA Fashion scene. New to the city and recently single, Jill is unable to keep up as she binges and purges to stay thin; eventually hating herself and everyone around her. Her jealousy and rage spiral out of control — Jennifer has everything, and Jill wants to be just like her. If Jill can’t BE Jennifer, she must destroy her. Now that the term ‘single white female’ has become shorthand for something far more ominous, it’s time a film takes that to the next level. Director Patrick Kennelly is known for highly stylized and dark, surreal theatrical performances – he is a former winner of of the Princess Grace Award for Theatre, one of the top prizes in the art. No trailer, but a teaser is available, courtesy of Fangoria:
6) TURBO KID (Texas Premiere)
Director/Screenwriter: RKSS Collective
Cast: Michael Ironside, Munro Chambers, Laurence Leboeuf, Edwin Wright, Aaron Jeffrey.
In a post-apocalyptic future, The Kid, a young solitary scavenger obsessed with comic books must face his fears and become a hero when he meets a mysterious girl named “Apple.” Not your typical midnighter, this is a much more juvenile and joyous affair, like THE LAST STARFIGHTER and FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR somehow end up in the Mad Maxian post-apocalyptic world. Michael Ironside has been know to chew some scenery, and he does not disappoint here. Check out the trailer:
5) THE LAST MAN ON THE MOON (North American Premiere)
Section: Festival Favorites
Director: Mark Craig
When Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan stepped off the moon in 1972 he left his footprints and his daughter’s initials in the lunar dust. Only now, over forty years later, is he ready to share his epic but deeply personal story. Cernan’s burning ambition carried him to the spectacular and hazardous environment of space and to the moon. But there was a heavy price to pay for the fame and privilege that followed. As his wife famously remarked, “If you think going to the moon is hard, try staying at home.” The Last Man on the Moon combines rare archive material, compelling Visual FX and unprecedented access to present an iconic historical character on the big screen. I grew up going to the Cernan space center in suburban Chicago, so this was sure to be one of my picks, but I was surprised how compelling and human the story is, how close he came to never making it to the moon, and how easy it is to forget to dream. This film helps remind us. Check out the trailer:
4) SIR DOUG AND THE GENUINE TEXAS COSMIC GROOVE (World Premiere)
Section: 24 Beats Per Second
Director: Joe Nick Patoski
Screenwriters: Joe Nick Patoski, Jason Wehling
Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove tells the story of Doug Sahm, the wild man musicians’ musician and unsung hero of Texas music. A country music child prodigy and teenage rhythm & blues dynamo who caused a riot at his San Antonio high school, Sahm emerged as an international rock star leading the Sir Douglas Quintet. He landed in San Francisco just in time for the Summer of Love in 1967. He returned to Texas as the cowboy hippie rocker who built a burgeoning music scene in Austin before forming the Tex-Mex super group The Texas Tornados. A kinetic, quirky character with a solid sense of place as well as an innate wanderlust, Doug Sahm’s story is the story of Texas music. This is one of those how-is-there-not-a-film-already about him project, but there isn’t really. One of Dylan’s personal favorites, Doug Sahm is one of the first wild men in rock and roll. His hit 1965 “She’s About A Mover” is one of the greatest garage rock singles of all time, and he also delivered the country cool of Mendocino in 1969. A part of the Austin music scene before there was one, Sahm is a true legend. Check out the trailer:
Section: Festival Favorites
Director/Screenwriter: Andrew Bujalksi
Cast: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Michael Hall, Brooklyn Decker
Recently divorced, newly rich, and utterly miserable, Danny (Kevin Corrigan) would seem to be the perfect test subject for a definitive look at the relationship between money and happiness. Danny’s well-funded ennui is interrupted by a momentous trip to the local gym, where he meets self-styled guru/owner Trevor (Guy Pearce) and irresistibly acerbic trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders). Soon, their three lives are inextricably knotted, both professionally and personally.
One of my absolute favorite from Sundance, Austin’s own Bujalski delivers his most polished, most accessible, and really honestly his best film yet. It’s funny, it’s tender, it’s absurd. It’ll make you want to go home and start a work out routine. No trailer unfortunately, so you’ll just have to trust me.
2) DEATHGASM (World Premiere)
Director/Screenwriter: Jason Lei Howden
Cast: Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberley Crossman, Stephen Ure.
High School can be hell. Metal-thrashing Brodie is an outcast in a small town until he meets a kindred spirit in metalhead Zakk. After starting their own band, Brodie and Zakk’s resentment of the suburban wasteland leads them to a mysterious piece of sheet music said to grant ultimate power to whoever plays it. But the music also summons an ancient evil entity known as Aeloth The Blind One, who threatens to tear apart existence itself. It’s up to Brodie, Zakk and their mates to stop a force of pure evil from devouring mankind. Cawthorne played the lead in BLOOD PUNCH, one of the best films to ever play Austin Film Festival (I’m a little biased because I programmed it), he’s also a former Power Ranger. Exec Producer Ant Timpson (ABCs of DEATH) seems to have a hand in anything cool coming up from New Zealand, he also was one of the producers on TURBO KID. Trailer:
1) Ex Machina (North American Premiere)
Director/Screenwriter: Alex Garland
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander
A programmer at an internet-search giant wins a competition to spend a week at the private mountain estate of the company’s brilliant and reclusive CEO. Upon his arrival, he learns he has been chosen him to be the human component in a Turing Test—charging him with evaluating the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness, of the latest experiment in artificial intelligence. That experiment is Ava, a breathtaking A.I. whose emotional intelligence proves more sophisticated––and more deceptive––than the two men could have imagined. Alex Garland wrote the screenplays for 28 Days Later and Sunshine, and this is his long awaited directorial debut. Every film like this for me is just one more warning of the oncoming robopocalypse, so learn the lessons well and all hail our robot overlords. Gaze on the trailer in awe: