Super Meat Boy is your typical boy-meets-girl story. The protagonist goes to world's end, avoiding hazard after hazard, all in the name of rescuing his damsel in distress: Bandage Girl. Fez tells the story of namesake Fez, who makes his way through a Brazil-like world in search of love. Braid takes place in a time-shifting multi-dimensional universe. The lead character Tim travels through time and space solving riddles in order to save, yes you guessed it, a princess. Are these the titles of new indie movies that took SXSW 2012 by storm? No, these are descriptions of three independent video games covered in the delightful documentary Indie Game: The Movie.
We live in a culture of mass entertainment. We love our movies, our music, our sports and we especially love our video games. Alongside our love of mass entertainment we also love our underdogs. You know, the lady (or gentleman) who against all odds strives to overcome adversity and triumphs. Indie Game: The Movie is the story of video games and underdogs. In this case the underdogs are the people known as independent game developers.
One more time: It's the movies you see on a whim at SXSW, unplanned, knowing very little, that often end up being favorites. I was unable to make it downtown during the day last Monday, knew that parking after 1 pm would be impossible, and decided to have a night at Alamo Drafthouse Village. What I knew about Beauty Is Embarrassing was a friend's description: "It's about the guy who did set designs for Pee-wee's Playhouse." Which turned out to be not only inaccurate but also wildly missing the mark in terms of the movie's scope.
Beauty Is Embarrassing may have been my favorite film of SXSW this year (I keep changing my mind, which is a great dilemma to have). The documentary is about artist Wayne White, who did create and voice puppets for Pee-wee's Playhouse but has created so many more fascinating things. The movie uses clips from White's one-man show/presentation as a basis for structure -- in the show, he recounts a loose history of his artistic life (complete with banjo interludes), and the documentary provides more detail through interviews of colleagues and family, as well as time with White in his workshop/office (which I covet). And yes, there are clips of Pee-wee's Playhouse, including some fascinating behind-the-scenes video.
By Reid Connell
Editor's Note: Reid Connell won the Austin Film Society Intern blogging contest last semester. He won a badge to SXSW and shares his reflections on the the experience. --Agnes Varnum
As I sit in my living room on the Sunday after SXSW, sipping from a bottle of NyQuil, surrounded by dozens of cough-drop wrappers, I reflect on what exactly SXSW 2012 has taught me. I got the chance to see so many great movies, learn some great insight at a number of panels and share an experience like no other with some great people. Looking back this is what I've learned at SXSW.
When someone tells you to be wary of sicknesses lurking at SXSW, heed their advice.
I'm sick, very sick, have been all week. And whether it's from standing for hours in the rain or shaking strangers hands or spending too much time on Sixth Street, I only know one thing for sure; I have SXSW to thank. At the start of the festival I gawked at all the germ-a-phobes wiping their hands with Germ-X like it was some sort of religious obligation, now I envy them. I'm sure it could have been that simple and I wouldn't be writing this while coiled up in every blanket I have in the house.
However people decide they feel about the comparison about the similarity of Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas, if you watch Blue Like Jazz, there's certainly some validity to the argument that people in both cities are cut from the same cloth. Based on a novel of the same name, the movie Blue Like Jazz plays like the sort of coming-of-age tale that many sheltered adolescents no doubt experience when they first go off to college. It's the second novel from Donald Miller and is a collection of essays and personal thoughts written as he was experiencing college and learning more about God and nature.
As small-town Texas young adult Don (Marshall Allman) is choosing where to go to college, he learns that his mother has been having an affair with Don's friend, who's also the youth pastor at their church. This shock to the system leads Don to take his father up on his offer of free schooling at Reed College, one of the most liberal schools in the country. While there, he meets an unusual cast of characters who show him there's more to life than a strict Baptist upbringing, and he learns more about himself than he ever has.
The nostalgic British import Hunky Dory is a pleasant trip back to the 1970s with a dynamite soundtrack and strong acting that don't quite overcome the film's predictable, slightly syrupy story.
Set in summer 1976 in the Welsh coastal city of Swansea, Hunky Dory unspools the oft-told story of a rebellious, idealistic young teacher who battles her fellow teachers and the school administration to teach in a way that connects with her students. In this case, the teacher is Vivienne (Minnie Driver), a drama teacher determined to put on an unconventional end-of-year school musical -- a space-age rock opera version of Shakespeare's The Tempest.
The school's headmaster (Robert Pugh) is skeptical, as are Vivienne's fellow teachers, who regard their young colleague as a troublemaker for her enthusiasm and openness to new ideas. They're a hidebound lot of matronly schoolmarms and jaded, chain-smoking, painfully sexist men who wish Vivienne would stop trying to show them up with her energy and passion.
This year's SXSW Film Festival featured over a dozen music-related films between special screenings and the 24 Beats per Second program selections, but none fused together film and music like Cuban filmmaker Jorge Perugorría's documentary/narrative Amor Cronico. The film spotlights Grammy nominated singer/songwriter and actress Cucu Diamantes, a Grammy-nominated Cuban-American singer, songwriter, actress and philanthropist. Perugorria seamlessly blends together live concert footage of Cucu Diamantes' cabaret style performances across Cuba -- the first touring artist from outside the country in over 50 years -- with a narrative full of humor and homages to historical filmmakers and movies, including Cuban underground films.
Amor Cronico is a love story, but less about Gurapo's (Liosky Clavero) unrequited love for Cucu and more about Cucu's love for Cuba. All is not perfect for Cucu when she returns to her country of birth -- "too much of a Cuban to live in New York, too much of a New Yorker to live in Havana" and referred to as "the Crazy Red" and "Caribbean Mata Hari." Cucu's complexity relies on balancing her carefree artistic expression with her steadfast determination to be herself as demonstrated through her mantras -- "love performs miracles" and "you have to be who you are, and stand on your own two feet."
SXSW Film Festival is past now and the business is just getting started. On the second day of the fest, I took the time out to attend panels about how films will be seen and sold in the future. "Festribution" focused on how film festivals are beginning to get in on the action with distribution. Panelists included Chris Horton (Associate Director of Artist Services, Sundance), Jason Janego (Co-president of RADiUS-TWC), and Nancy Schafer (Executive Director of Tribeca Film Fest).
Horton mentioned something that's already been in the public sphere for almost a year now: Sundance Film Festival has created an Artist Services program which is designed to help films reach more audiences after their Sundance premiere. Just last week, Sundance announced the first ten films to be included in this program through a unique digital distribution deal through New Video. Any film that has played at Sundance, either this year or 15 years ago, qualifies to have their film placed on iTunes, Hulu, Amazon VOD, Netflix and Sundance NOW.
The most exciting aspect about this new development is that not only will it include recent Sundance films, but past films which never got their proper release after Sundance. As more festivals get hands on with the films that they curate, it could really open up the marketplace more for unseen films. Just this year after Fantastic Fest, Drafthouse Films announced that they would be distributing two of my favorite films from the fest (Klown and Bullhead). The gap between festivals and distribution is getting smaller every year.
There are few stretches of American road more familiar than the Sunset Strip, a street famous for its nightlife and infamous for its history. It's a mile and a half of legendary clubs, restaurants, stores and hotels, a boulevard with a name that evokes images both glamorous and debauched.
The documentary Sunset Strip captures the titular street in all its moods and guises, celebrating its colorful legends and explaining its history in fascinating detail. With its endless parade of photos, film clips and A-list celebrity interviews, the film pays loving tribute to a place that has mirrored American popular culture for nearly a century.
The Strip's somewhat lurid reputation dates back to its inception in the 1920s, when its location just outside the Los Angeles city limits -- and thus outside the LAPD's jurisdiction -- fostered a vibrant mix of nightclubs, speakeasies and casinos. Sunset Strip's simple, linear structure begins in this era, taking us back to a time when the road was barely more than a country lane. The Thirties, Forties, and early Fifties were a time of glamour and glitz, which the film documents with plenty of clips from movies of the era and glittering photos of Hollywood elites at the Trocadero and other legendary clubs.
My goal at every film festival is to see at least one film so stunningly original, powerful, entertaining and culturally relevant -- in other words, a film that so completely blows me away -- that I can declare it my favorite movie of the festival. For the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, that film is King Kelly.
Filmmaker Andrew Neel's biting cinematic statement about self obsession and online culture is, as they say, all that. King Kelly is intensely observant, cringingly funny and profoundly disturbing, a film that demands our rapt attention while viewing it and provokes shell-shocked sociological discussions afterward. It's the rare film that rises to a level above mere excellence -- it is, in a word, important.
And oh, how sorely we need more important films like King Kelly. We need more films that blast us with bitter realities, grab us tightly and shake us out of our perpetual slumber of indifference toward our own crumbling culture. We need more films that cleverly trick us into thinking they're entertaining us with humor when, in fact, they're issuing clarion warnings about our society's rampant dysfunction.
Some documentaries give insights into events of the past, while others take place in the present and comment on current events. The movie We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists definitely takes place in current times. You might not have heard about Anonymous, but there is some certainty that this group's actions have affected you or someone you know.
We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists gives historical and social context to a group of loosely affiliated hackers who participate in an activity known as hacktivism. The activities of this group occur in both terrestrial and online venues. The origin of Anonymous comes from a website called 4chan.org. 4chan.org is a website started by SXSW 2011 speaker Chris Poole, where people can post and comment on images uploaded by other users. Users are not required to sign up for an account and can simply post images and content under the name Anonymous. This is where the hacker group derived their moniker.
In the movie we learn that one of Anonymous’s earliest hacktivism activities was against the Church of Scientology. In 2008, a video of Tom Cruise talking about the Church of Scientology surfaced and in typical Church of Scientology fashion they tried to get it removed from the internet. The Church of Scientology is well known for attacking news organizations and websites critical of their organization. When the Cruise video surfaced, the Church of Scientology went on blast and sent numerous DCMA notices to websites and new organizations.