The feature film lineup for the SXSW 2014 Film Festival, held March 7-15, was announced today. This year's film festival and conference will include some new aspects -- an "Episodic" series made up of upcoming TV projects and SxSports -- but will keep focus on features (and shorts, although that lineup is released next week).
Some of the standouts I noticed in this year's programming: Now-Austinite David Gordon Green's Joe, the North American premiere of Diego Luna's Cesar Chavez (trailer), Beyond Clueless (a celebration of the teen movie genre narrated by Fairuza Balk), the American premiere of Alejandro Jodorowsky's autobiographical The Dance of Reality, and as previously announced, the world premiere of the Veronica Mars movie (from Austin's own Rob Thomas).
Updated April 9, 2013.
Slackerwood was everywhere at SXSW Film this year. Here's the master list of all our guides, features, interviews, reviews and whatever else we wrote (or photographed).
Continuing from Part One, here's Slackerwood's entirely frivolous gallery of red-carpet and post-screening Q&A photos from SXSW 2013. I've topped this page with one Austin-area star I know you'll recognize. Willie Nelson was on the When Angels Sing red carpet ... he plays a key role in the family-friendly holiday movie from Tim McCanlies.
Slackerwood's coverage of SXSW 2013 has focused on Austin and Texas independent films and filmmakers, which were plentiful at the film fest this year. In addition, we watched and reviewed other interesting indie features and documentaries, as well as some short films.
But today, I'm wrapping up our coverage with frivolous red carpet and post-screening Q&A photos of the Beautiful People -- the stars, and I don't necessarily mean Austin celebrities either. That's Olivia Wilde pictured above, on the Drinking Buddies red carpet, and I am consumed with envy for the dress she's wearing. (Yes, those are little airplanes.) Let's take a little break and look at some pretty pictures of stars at SXSW taken by our intrepid photographers.
Having said that, I'll kick things off with an independent filmmaker: Joe Swanberg, who brought his first feature (Kissing on the Mouth) to SXSW in 2005, the first year I started going to and writing about SXSW. This year he was at the fest with the movie Drinking Buddies (Rod's review), which stars Wilde, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston, among others.
The documentary Continental faces a tough challenge: Very little film footage or still photos exist for the legendary NYC bathhouse in its heyday. It's understandable -- this was not a place where many people wanted their pictures taken. But it means Continental has to drum up visual interest in other ways.
The movie takes us along on a breezy historical tour of the Continental Baths, one of the most well known and innovative bathhouses in New York in its prime. Steve Ostrow invested in the facility when it was a dark, dank warren of gay sex, and transformed it into a sophisticated gathering place and much cleaner, safer warren of gay sex. Eventually the Continental even drew a straight nightclub crowd for its concerts -- this is the place where Bette Midler launched her career.
Midler isn't one of the interview subjects -- she's represented only by still photos -- but many of the Continental's former employees and regulars happily recount tales of their time there. Interviews with Ostrow are the backbone of Continental, and in fact at times the story is not the history of the bathhouse as much as it is the history of the man who made it great, his work with the gay community, and his lifelong ambition to be an opera singer. He's such a magnetic interview subject that it's understandably why filmmaker Malcolm Ingram would focus on him.
To keep the documentary from being nothing but talking heads, Continental includes many contemporary shots of the hotel that used to be the home for the Continental, as well as the neighborhood surrounding it. It gets a little visually dull after awhile, but then I'm not sure what else Ingram could have done, unless he wanted to totally re-create the premises, a la Errol Morris? Which would have made for a very different movie. The rare footage and stills that do appear onscreen are fascinating -- I wish there were more.
The timing for An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story to premiere in Austin at SXSW could not have been more appropriate, if you know the news story it recounts. And how much you know about Michael Morton's life may dictate how much you enjoy this documentary from Houston writer/filmmaker Al Reinert (For All Mankind, Apollo 13). The film won the Documentary Spotlight audience award at SXSW earlier this month.
The short and incomplete version: Chris Morton, Michael's wife, was found beaten to death in their Williamson County home in 1988. Michael Morton was charged with the crime, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison. But he continued to assert his innocence. If you've paid attention to Austin-area news in the last week, you know how this situation has played out.
An Unreal Dream is structured as though Michael Morton is casually telling the story of his life to us. He sits at the front of a courtroom and shares his perspective as though we're seated right across from him. His narrative is enhanced by archival news footage, still photos and interviews with people who know him, from his lawyers to his fellow inmates. When his son Eric Olson appears on camera, and he and Morton start to talk about how Morton's prison sentence affected his child, it's heartbreaking.
I didn't know Morton's whole history when I saw An Unreal Dream -- I knew about how he fit in the Chris Morton murder case, and how that's transpired recently, but the details were new to me -- how long he was in prison, etc. And that's why I'm not including those details here, in case you aren't acquainted with them either. I can't say how well the story would hold the attention of a viewer who had closely followed the story over the years.
No matter how much of the background you know, the interviews will still hold your interest. I particularly liked Morton's original defense attorney, Bill Allison. Morton himself recounts his story with extremely personal details. He details his relationship with God in a way that is touching without being cloying or proselytizing.
I felt the documentary lagged during the years Morton was in prison and nothing was going on regarding the case. As interesting as the interview subjects are, they can't carry the film without more forward motion of the plot, so to speak. Fortunately, this interval is fairly brief and the momentum picks up again.
I was quite excited to hear that one of my favorite music documentaries at Sundance Film Fest was coming to SXSW 2013: Sound City, directed by Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl. This film was a perfect fit for Austin, with Grohl's focus on the human element of music as well as the vanishing technology and places that built and supported music for decades.
Grohl delivered an inspirational keynote at SXSW Music Festival -- which you can watch on NPR Music -- that expanded on some of our conversation just before the SXSW premiere. Grohl was joined by fellow members of the Foo Fighters, Lee Ving of Fear, and the Sound City Players. Find out what he had to say, as well as see other famous rockers who were on the red carpet, after the jump.
I work in high-tech so I'm no stranger to computer nerds, as they might have been called during the era in which the movie Computer Chess is set -- the 1980s, when computers were beginning to become portable. On the surface, this is a movie about "computers versus humans" in a chess tournament, but filmmaker Andrew Bujalski provides his actors with an environment for their characters to expand beyond nerdy stereotypes, giving the movie thoughtfulness and depth.
Computer Chess takes place at a weekend tournament where teams match their computers' best chess programs with one another, to see which is superior. The winning team will pit their computer against a human chess master. The programmers aren't the only people holding events in the hotel, however, and a weekend couples-encounter retreat provides some amusing contrast.
The film is shot and structured as though it were a documentary or found footage -- Bujalski even used a vintage video camera to shoot in black and white, to great effect. I wouldn't call it a "mockumentary" because it implies a level of screwball spoofery that isn't present. The "action" often pauses for characters to discuss whatever's on their mind, resulting in a slower pace than you might expect but also more fascinating characters and insights. The humor here is mostly subtle and sporadic, except for the couples-encounter scenes and a subplot about a character who can't find a place to sleep.
There's never a short supply of well known actors at SXSW Film Festival promoting their feature-length movies, but it's not often that you'll find stars representing short films. However, this year one short film stood out for its female-driven story supported by strong performances from familiar faces Anna Camp and Ashley Williams -- Sequin Raze, directed by former reality television producer and writer/director Sarah Gertrude Shapiro. The film won an Honorable Mention jury award for narrative shorts at SXSW.
Sequin Raze takes viewers behind the scene of a hit reality TV show as jilted contestant Rebecca (Camp) attempts to leave with her dignity while battling producer Rebecca Goldberg (Williams), who must get the "money shot" for ratings. The pair engage in a psychological battle from which only one woman can emerge victorious -- but at what price? This riveting film made such an impact on me that I'll never look at reality television in the same way. I spoke with stars Camp and Williams as well as writer/director Shapiro at SXSW earlier this month about Sequin Raze.
Slackerwood (to Shapiro): What can you tell us about the background and realization for Sequin Raze?
Sarah Gertrude Shapiro: Legally I can't be super-specific about what the inspiration was, but it was inspired by a moment in my life. I did work in reality TV, so there's obviously those parts of my life informed it a lot. I think it was a really poignant moment that kind of folded into the layers of all that and encapsulated all the struggles that I had during that time, and a lot of specific scars that I'm left with and I still struggle with based on that experience. It was more than a specific incident that I built off. It was all of these themes, ideas and feelings that I deal with in all of my work. It just became the perfect place to explore them.
Maryland native Fidell's follow-up to We're Glad You're Here (2010) takes a decisively different look at adulthood and loss of innocence. While the two films have the same star (Lindsay Burdge), A Teacher raises questions about the role educators have on a student's life, the idea of maturity and what constitutes an "adult." Burdge plays Diana Watts, an AP English teacher at an Austin high school whose consensual relationship with one of her male students (former UT student Will Brittain) spirals out of control.
A Teacher opens with Diana preparing herself to step in front of the classroom stage by going through her morning routine of jogging and driving to work. She loses herself in the motions of normalcy, with her reusable mug and J. Crewesque clothes, but this thirtysomething is far from normal. Or is she?