By Bears Fonte
SXSW has arrived, and although the filmmakers don’t get to see all the other films being submitted, the programmers certainly do. So now is a good to check in on all that is trending and zeitgeisting and hashtagging by glancing over the Film Program for this year’s SXSW.
GENDER POLITICS ARE SOMETIMES BEST SOLVED BY BAD ASS WOMEN KICKING BAD GUY ASS – I chose to celebrate International Women’s Day by previewing two of the films I was most excited about at this year’s festival, and like all the women in my life, they did not disappoint. This year, half of the Narrative Feature Competition was written and/or directed by a woman.
Director: Valerie Weiss
Writer: Casey Schroen
Synopsis: High school archery champion Lauren Pierce has just landed in Paradise Trails, a brutal juvenile correctional facility in the wilderness, after hospitalizing a boy in self-defense. But when Lauren learns how deep corruption runs at Paradise Trails under the pernicious rule of warden and bow-hunter Bob Patrice, she makes her escape, traversing the wilderness with rebellious inmate Rebecca Rolinski… with the warden’s stolen bow enough and evidence to close the doors at Paradise Trails for good. But they’ll have to survive both the elements and an increasingly desperate Bob, who’s hunting his prey to make sure his secret stays buried… even if he has to bury them with it.
BEARS TAKE: No Mockinjays here, this is a gritty action film with LGBT themes pulled from real life events. A great balance of tension and release, like it was directed by someone who knows how to hit the bullseye without a sight.
Director: Natalia Leite
Writer: Leah McKendrick
Synopsis: An art student struggling with creativity is violently raped by a fellow classmate. After attempting the traditional routes to cope with her trauma, she impulsively confronts her attacker – a decision that has deadly repercussions. Her world is turned upside down as a chilling reality is uncovered: she is one of many silenced sexual assault survivors on campus. A vigilante is born- retribution is the inspiration she’s been waiting for.
BEARS TAKE: Did THE HUNTING GROUND make you mad? Especially at all the talky-talk people not doing anything to change things… this movie is vicious for all the right reasons, crafting an anti-hero that you can’t help but root for, all the way to the bloody end.
THE MYSTERIOUS MAN IS JUST AS MYSTERIOUS IN PROFILE – My favorite documentaries are the ones that give you access to a person you would be afraid to have a conversation with, worrying that every sentence might break your world by its mere revelation of reality. When a filmmaker does it for me, I get to peek behind the curtains safely. Here are some of the people I can’t wait to meet.
Director: Luke Korem
Synopsis: Sixty-two year old Richard Turner is renowned as one of the world’s greatest card magicians, yet he is completely blind. In this documentary, Richard traces his journey from his troubled childhood, when he began losing his vision, to present day as he relentlessly pursues perfection while struggling with the reality that his biggest weakness might also be his greatest strength.
BEARS TAKE: Korem’s LORD MONTAGU proved that once he gets access to something, he knows how pull back the layers of artifice one by one, and it will be exciting to see him do that in the world of magic.
Director: Jon Nguyen
Synopsis: David Lynch takes us on an intimate journey through the formative years of his life. From his idyllic upbringing in small town USA to the dark streets of Philly, we follow as he traces the events that helped to shape one of cinema’s most enigmatic directors. David Lynch the Art Life infuses Lynch’s own art, music and early films, shining a light into the dark corners of his unique world, giving audiences a better understanding of the man and the artist. As Lynch states “I think every time you do something, like a painting or whatever, you go with ideas and sometimes the past can conjure those ideas and color them, even if they’re new ideas, the past colors them.”
BEARS TAKE: One question only, will we learn more about the infamous 2-3 hours of extra footage shot for DUNE that was never edited into the film by Lynch…. Probably not, he hates talking about Dune…
Director: Annie Goldson
Synopsis: The larger-than-life story of Kim Dotcom, the “most wanted man online,” is extraordinary enough, but the battle between Dotcom and the US Government and entertainment industry, being fought in New Zealand, is one that goes to the heart of ownership, privacy and piracy in the digital age. Three years in the making, this independent film chronicles a spectacular moment in global online history, dubbed the ‘largest copyright case’ ever and the truth about what happened.
BEARS TAKE: Wow I miss megaupload… this is probably the first person whose life touched me in a completely criminal way, and I can’t deny I don’t still reap the benefits on my iTunes everyday.
Director: Frank Oz
Synopsis: For the first time ever, five of the original Muppet performers come together to discuss the creation of their iconic characters under the visionary leadership of Jim Henson. With unexpected stories, rare behind-the-scenes footage, and important insights into how Jim led his team, this documentary gives a private glimpse into the true spirit of the Muppets and how a culture of innovation, hard work, and playfulness produced one of the most successful creative endeavors in history.
BEARS TAKE: Why do we always come here? I guess we’ll never know. Probably it’s because, despite completely flopping on SNL, the Muppets manage to bridge generations and bring comedy and rainbow connections to the inner child in us all. I’m going to go back there someday.
IT SUCKS TO BE AN IMMIGRANT – I think next year every other film made will be about refugees and immigrants, so it’s a good time to check in on stories filmmakers made because they had to, rather than because its on my feed once every five minutes.
Writer/Director: Ana Asenio
Synopsis: A psychological thriller examining the plight of undocumented female immigrants hoping to make a life in New York. Shot on Super 16 with an intimate, voyeuristic sensibility, “Most Beautiful Island” chronicles one harrowing day in the life of Luciana, a young immigrant woman struggling to make ends meet while striving to escape her past. As Luciana’s day unfolds, she is whisked, physically and emotionally, through a series of troublesome, unforeseeable extremes. Before her day is done, she inadvertently finds herself a central participant in a cruel game. Lives are placed at risk, while psyches are twisted and broken for the perverse entertainment of a privileged few.
BEARS TAKE: The last forty-five excruciating minutes of this film play out in real time, forcing the audience to agonize with our protagonist, a strong-willed woman who trust the wring people. Don’t get me wrong, I mean excruciating in the best possible way. This is a fearless portrait of a fearless woman.
Director: Miao Wang
Synopsis: Filmed over three years in China and the U.S., “Maineland” is a multi-layered coming-of-age tale that follows two teenagers of China’s wealthy elite as they settle into a boarding school in blue-collar rural Maine. Part of the enormous wave of “parachute students” enrolling in U.S. private schools, bubbly, fun-loving Stella and introspective Harry come seeking a Western-style education, escape from the dreaded Chinese college entrance exam, and the promise of a Hollywood-style U.S. high school experience. But as their fuzzy visions of the American dream slowly gain more clarity, worlds collide as their relationship to home and country takes on a surprisingly poignant new aspect.
BEARS TAKE: Its always true that the best way to see ourselves is through the eyes of others, especially if those others are trying to be us.
Writer/Director: Anthony Onah
Synopsis: Seyi, a 24-year-old Nigerian-American, works on Wall Street. Desperate to succeed because of his outsider status—due to class and race—he commits a crime, insider trading, which brings his entire world crashing down on him. Seyi’s troubled circumstances force him finally to confront his tumultuous relationship with his ailing father, his romantic relationship with his privileged white girlfriend, and his racial and immigrant backgrounds—with nothing less at stake for him than his soul.
BEARS TAKE: Insider Trading makes us all equals, and I can’t wait to see this most ‘white’ white collar crime in the hands of a someone we don’t see as traditionally having the opportunity. And the writer/director, one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Film for 2015, was born in Nigeria and studied biochemistry at Harvard, and will surely offer a fresh take.
Directors: Albert Birney, Kentucker Audley
Writers: Albert Birney, Kentucker Audley, Meghan DohertySynopsis: It’s the story of a small town gorilla, Sylvio, who is stuck in his job at a debt collection agency. Deep down he just wants to express himself with his hand puppet, Herbert Herpels, and his experimental puppet show that highlights the quiet moments of life. He accidentally joins a local TV program and a series of on-air mishaps threaten to shatter his identity, sending him on an adventure of self-discovery where reality and fantasy start to blend.
BEARS TAKE: So not typically an ‘immigrant’ film, but the story of a Gorilla trying to live the life of a typical small town human is an allegory for otherness. Charming and sweet, Sylvio is a hero for those creatives searching for an outlet.
PEOPLE SPEND THEIR OWN MONEY ON BAD IDEAS AND SOMETIMES THEY PLAY SXSW – seriously if you have a bunch of money you can do anything. If you have only a little bit of money, but you want to spend it all on one project, you can do anything. And somewhere, there is a festival that will embrace your questionable genius. Here’s a few mad genius projects that SXSW has curated. Watch at your own risk:
Director: Scott Glosserman
Writer: David Stieve, Scott Glosserman
Synopsis: If Christopher Guest ever turned his attention to psycho killers instead of folk singers and dog breeders, this is exactly the sort of movie he would make. Set in a world where Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and the like are not only real but celebrity role models for a disturbed hero, Leslie (Nathan Baesel), the movie examines his murderous passions through the eyes of a young filmmaker (Angela Goethals) and her crew…
BEARS TAKE: I’m going to be honest… I have no idea if this is real or not. I have not done any research and I don’t want to. I originally believed in the Blair Witch.
Writer/Director: Tommy Wiseau
Synopsis: Johnny is a successful banker who lives happily in a San Francisco townhouse with his fiancée, Lisa. One day, inexplicably, she gets bored of him and decides to seduce Johnny’s best friend, Mark. From there, nothing will be the same again.
BEARS TAKE: Nothing I can say about this film hasn’t already been said better by the denizens of fans that I will never understand. But don’t miss this rare chance to see this film out side of LA, and as a primer for…
Director: James Franco
Writer: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Synopsis: This is a true story about the making of “The Room” – the cult classic described as the “Citizen Kane of bad movies.” “The Disaster Artist,” directed by and starring James Franco, is a buddy comedy about two outsiders chasing a dream. When the world rejects them, they decide to make their own movie – and it’s a movie so wonderfully awful due to its unintentional hilarious moments, meandering plots and terrible acting.
BEARS TAKE: James Franco is my hero. He does whatever the fuck he wants, whenever he wants, with whomever he wants. The man does not sleep. He films like 57 films a year and none of them are ever not worth checking out. I LOATHE The Room, and therefore I think I will love this.
Director: Adam Mason
Synopsis: A savage satire of gender politics in America, Adam Mason is guaranteed to shock and offend with “PIG.” Created with actor and long time collaborator Andrew Howard, “PIG” is a virtuoso piece of pure cinema – with the vast majority of the film shot in a single, excruciating take. Less a narrative than a slice of madness – “Pig” pushes gender roles out to wild, lunatic extremes. Boasting a powerhouse performance from Howard in front of the camera and technically dazzling work from Mason behind it, “PIG” creates a truly uncomfortable sense of intimacy and has never been more relevant than in the chaotic time we live in now.
BEARS TAKE: Supposedly dug out of a garage at the request of SXSW programmer Jarod Neece… And the synopsis uses the word excruciating like I did a few paragraphs above but I’m not going to change my words because I think this meaning of excruciating is actually excruciating in the bad way.
IT’S SO HARD BEING CREATIVE (Bonus: Especially if you are White) SXSW’s favorite kind of story, often a thinly-veiled vomiting-forth of the writer or director’s own trial and tribulations, once they were called mumblecore, but this year’s batch has a gloss and sheen to it that means we’ve really hit the primetime, even if our dreams are stuck in neutral.
Director: Mike Ott
Synopsis: From acclaimed director Mike Ott comes the new documentary feature “California Dreams,” presenting five unique individuals in pursuit of a big life change. Through auditions set up in small towns across Southern California, the film shows genuine characters with big Hollywood aspirations who, for various reasons, have never had the opportunity to pursue it. No matter what the end game is, whether it’s fame, love, or a fleeting shot at immortality, this bitingly funny film reveals the strange and entrancingly hypnotic grip that Hollywood has, in some way or form, on everyone.
BEARS TAKE: How many times has this film been made, both as a narrative and documentary? But despite all this chronicling and story-telling of California beckoning the teenagers to come to her on buses, we are never short on people willing to reach for their fifteen minutes.
Writer/Director: Laura Terruso
Synopsis: David Warwik is a struggling writer who has been toiling away at the same novel for years. His wife Jennifer is a hot young literary figure, who has just released a new masterpiece. When her publisher invites the couple to an artists’ salon at his home in Connecticut, the pair embark on a twisted journey, and David must face his demons and try to “not be weird” among the waspy salon guests and competitive art set in attendance. He encounters a dentist with publishing aspirations, a book critic full of condescending advice, a fellow writer who may know his wife a little too well, an old “friend,” and a high powered bipolar literary agent who just might be able to help him…for a price.
BEARS TAKE: The only thing more depressing about not achieving your dreams is when those around you do … I’m looking at you Don Zolidis. I’m also excited the film diving into ‘otherness’ so atleast one of these stories is not about white people struggling with being white.
Writer/Director: Zachary Cotler, Magdalena Zyzak
Synopsis: The story of the final weeks leading up to the disappearance (and presumable death) of Maya Dardel, an internationally respected poet and novelist who lived, until 2016, in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Maya announces on National Public Radio that she is going to end her life and that young male writers may compete to become executor of her estate. The man who wins will inherit Maya’s home, land, books, unpublished manuscripts, and be expected to protect and promote her posthumous reputation.
BEARS TAKE: Yeah, I just looked that up to see if it was a real story. Would it matter? You can do it now, I’ll wait. Not enough films star Lena Olin, which is reason enough to see this, but coming from the writer of Redland, one of the most underrated looks at the depression I’ve ever seen, I am excited to see her next project.
Director: Parker Smith
Synopsis: In the wake of a devastating personal tragedy, struggling would-be filmmaker Parker Smith decides to take a road-trip across America. Intending to make a “lo-fi” documentary about his journey he purchases a decade old camera off of eBay, and is surprised to discover that it holds a long forgotten video tape containing strange home video footage of the notorious bodybuilder Gregg Valentino, a/k/a ‘The Man Whose Arms Exploded’. Convinced that Valentino’s odd tape found its way into his hands for some important existential reason, Parker sets off from Austin, Texas to New York to find the fading bodybuilder armed with only his beloved cat, two cameras and a minivan.
BEARS TAKE:If you pitched me this movie as a narrative I would say it’s too silly for public interest… but as a doc, I am strangely intrigued. Plus the meta nature of what seems to be making a documentary about making a documentary will either incredibly cloying and saccharine or completely charming. No matter what, the still tells me there is a cat in it…
Writer / Director: Terrence Malick
Synopsis: In this modern love story set against the Austin, Texas music scene, two entangled couples — struggling songwriters Faye and BV, and music mogul Cook and the waitress whom he ensnares — chase success through a rock ‘n’ roll landscape of seduction and betrayal.
BEARS TAKE: You already know whether you wantto see this film or not, and by the time this article posts, it will have already played, but no single synopsis in the film program so demonstrates my trend topic than this film, no film is more likely to be overhyped and over congratulated, and … just, ugh. Get over yourself Malick. Have a story already. (yes unpopular opinion I know but if I wanted to watch minutes a beautiful leaves glistening in the sunlight and I would walk outside).
SXSW takes over Austin for the next 9 days! See you at the screenings.