Spring break, spring break (I can’t even type that without hearing James Franco saying it in my mind) and it’s time again for SXSW. Many film festivals fill the Austin calendar, but none of them have the national importance and all-encumbering size of SXSW. This year SXSW can claim 89 World Premiere features (another 19 North American or US Premieres) amongst its 133 total. It’s also great to see the general sense of innovation, so well known at SXSW Interactive, making its way into the Film program as well with 70 first-time directors. These features, as well as the 100 plus shorts, will vie for attention in the midst of who knows how many bands performing showcases and free label sponsored shows, as well as companies launching tech products and oh, Julian Assange. The whole experience can be overwhelming, but when taken apart as just one of three events sharing publicity, the film festival is actually very user friendly. A free shuttle can drop you off in front of a majority of the venues and most films play 3-4 times so you never need to worry about missing something you really want to see. Films are spread across the whole day, from 11 am to past midnight, so if you aren’t interested in speakers and panels, you can fill your day with 5-6 films each if you are dedicated. And there is something for everyone. Janet Pierson, Jarod Neece, Claudette Godfrey and the rest of the SXSW programming team always try to give SXSW a depth that would impossible at a smaller festival. Music fans have the 24 Beats Per Second selection of films, horror and thriller fans can check out the Midnighters and those looking for a little more high art need only schedule some quality time in the Documentary Competition or SXGlobal.

If you are on the fence about what to see, check some of my picks below. And if I lead you astray, let me know. I’ll be tweeting my reactions to all the films, as well as my daily schedule, so follow me @bearsfonte.

Bears’ Southby Can’tMiss Picks

Among the Living – World Premiere Midnighter – Wandering around an abandoned movie set, a group of miscreant boys stumble upon a man in a clown mask dragging woman in chains through a field. The police won’t believe them, and now it seems like they are the next targets. Directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo count Dario Argento, Clive Barker and John Carpenter amongst their influences and have been hailed as the new wave of French horror.

Arlo & Julie – World Premiere Visions Feature – Written and Directed by Austinite Steve Mims, this comedy follows the effects of a mysterious puzzle on a couple, its interlocking pieces disconnecting them from reality and each other. The cast includes many recognizable Austin faces like Chris Doubek and one of my favorites, Ashley Spillers.

Before I Disappear – World Premiere Narrative Competition Feature – Shawn Christensen is a pretty successful guy. He fronted an amazing band (Stellastar*) and then took a break from that to write, direct and star in Curfew, which won the 2013 Live Action Short Academy Award. Before I Disappear is the feature length version of that story, and Shawn writes, directs, and stars again as Richie, who is a mess, but tries to pull it together for one day when his estranged sister asks him to look after his eleven year old niece.

Boyhood – Festival Favorite (premiered at Sundance) – Austin legend Richard Linklater began this unbelievable project in 2002 (I remember reading about it in the Chronicle) and has been filming every year, following one boy (and one actor) as he goes from 1st grade to 12th grade. A film of this scope will probably never be made again and everyone who has seen it tells me it’s amazing. Do not miss this opportunity to see this film at the Paramount with Linklater doing a Q&A in his hometown.

Open Windows – World Premiere Visions Feature – This update on Rear Window finds a lucky fan given the tools to spy on the world’s hottest actress from his own computer, or has he just been tricked into a much more devious plot? Director Nacho Vigalondo made Timecrimes and Extraterrestrial but now the terror seems to be more based in the reality of existing technology. And yes, it stars the hardest working man in independent film, Elijah Wood, and Sasha Grey, who just seems to get better with every opportunity she’s given.

Predestination – World Premiere Headliner – Peter & Michael Spierig, the identical twins who brought you Daybreakers, follow Ethan Hawke as he travels through time pursuing one criminal that has eluded him. According to the brothers, it’s based on a Robert A. Heinlein short story that many fans call “one of the greatest short stories of all time and the mother of all paradox tales.” Sounds like another Primer – get your brain ready to be blown.

Road to Austin – World Premiere 24 Beats Per Second Documentary – Could there be a more appropriate film for SXSW than a chronicle of how Austin became the Live Music Capital of the World, going all the way back to 1835 to start its journey? Directed by Gary Fortin, the film features interviews and an all-star performance featuring Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton, Eric Johnson, Ian McLagan, Joe Ely, and 40 other Artists led by Musical Director, Stephen Bruton.

Space Station 76

Space Station 76

Space Station 76 – World Premiere Visions Feature – I have to admit this film had me at the still. It’s a comedy about a group of people and robots living on a space station, but its that Battle Star Galactica / Buck Rodgers version of the future that lives on only in Tomorrow Land at Disney. Apparently a new Assistant captain arrives and the space station fills with lust and jealousy. First time director Jack Plotnick leads this cast that includes Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler, Matt Bomer and Jerry O’Connell.

What We Do In the Shadows – Festival Favorite Feature – This is my sure thing – I saw it at Sundance – it was the funniest film I saw all week. It is a mockumentary (think Christopher Guest) that follows a group of flatmates who have all the typical issues people who live together have… and are also vampires. Out on the town again looking for fresh blood and horribly out of step with modern fashion, the vampires initiate (i.e. turn) a new friend into one of their kind. Also, they have to do their laundry, which keeps getting stained with blood. Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement write, direct and star in this film that could only have come from New Zealand. Seriously, those Kiwis are crazy.

Shorts – Don’t go through the whole festival without checking out some of the Shorts Programs and see these films on the big screen, something that only happens really at film festivals. Highlights include the hilarious Verbatim (Shorts Program 1) where the entire dialogue is lifted from an actual deposition filed with the Supreme Court of Ohio, Random Stop (Shorts Program 2) a first person POV day in the life of a cop, the thrilling Jonathan’s Chest (Shorts Program 3) about a missing brother who returns in the middle of the night, and Dig (Texas Shorts) a fascinating view of the adult world through the eyes a child. Dig is the first short from Toby Halbrooks, who produced Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Upstream Color amongst other things. It tells the almost-story of Jenny who comes outside to find her Dad digging a hole in the ground. She doesn’t know why, and he won’t tell her, but she wants him to be able to dig that hole, despite the questions from the neighbors and her mother. I call it an almost-story because it’s so simple and yet so full of depth, and we only get her side of it, and being a child, we are left ultimately unsatisfied with the answers the world provides us. It’s one of the freshest shorts I’ve ever seen.


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