Last year I (Bill C) participated in SXSW online and this year I was back to live attendance from 3/10 until 3/18 (and the Softball tournament and BBQ on Sunday the 19th!). Overall SXSW is still recovering from the pandemic. with a smaller footprint. For the film festival this was most evident in the downtown Austin area as there were 4 fewer screens. The 2 Alamo Ritz screens were gone as the Alamo gave up those theaters during their pandemic caused bankruptcy reoragnaization (the space has now been taken over by a Joe Rogan owned comedy club). SXSW also didn’t use the Hideout space and for some reason they didn’t set up a theater in the Convention Center. But, despite this, they still had 12 screens at its peak (although some were not very convenient) and a strong lineup of films with most having film makers in attendance with Q&As. Music was definitely smaller than previous years with fewer bands/venues and a continued trend fewer well known bands.
These are not in any particular order.
John Wick 4 – This was the world premier and the director and Keanu Reeves were in attendance. The movie is too long at 2:47 but for fans of the franchise it its very entertaining (but this is best seen in a crowded theater where the audience is hooting and hollering at he action). I asked a question during the Q+A but the director didn’t know how many people were killed in the movie (my guess is in the hundreds!).
Joy Ride – Very funny. Think of Bridesmaids with all Asian/American women cast/writers/director. This comes out in July and will be a big hit
Theater Camp – A very funny mockumentary about a summer theater camp in the Adirondacks. Molly Gordon (Booksmart) and Ben Platt (Pitch Perfect) were two of the writers and it was inspired by their days as theater camper’s.
Flamin’ Hot – Eva Longoria’s successful directorial debut is a biographical drama with some good comedic moments about a Frito Lays maintenance worker who helped invent the flaming hot line of products that successfully appealed to the Latina market. Frito `Lay disputes elements of the story (although the subject of the story did go on to a successful 40 year career as executive at Frito Lay).
Self Reliance – Another movie with a successful directorial debut by actor Jake Johnson, Jake and Anna Kendrick star in this dark comedy about a person trying to win a million dollars in a dark web reality show.
The Long Game – A very good drama set in the 1950s in Del Valle, Texas about a Latina high school golf team trying to break racial barriers. A very uplifting movie.
The Lady Bird Diaries – This doc is based on hours of audiotapes made by Lady Bird Johnson that were not made publicly available until after her death. The doc makers did a great job of matching the audio with historical video footage. One of Lady Bird’s daughters was at the screening and was very emotional and clearly loved the job the doc makers did.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie – A moving documentary about Michael J. Fox, his career and his battle with Parkinson’s. Fox was at a Q&A and is inspirational in his determination to live his life and help others. The director did a great job of using clips from Fox’s career that coincided with events at different stages of his life.
The Luckiest Guy in the World – This was the first 2 episodes of an upcoming 4 episode entry to the ESPN 30 by 30 series. This was directed by award winning director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) about UCLA/NBA star Bill Walton. James and Walton were there for a Q&A. Walton was enjoying all the attention at the Q&A and was answering questions even if directed to James! If you’re a Walton (or hoops history) fan you’ll enjoy this series when it comes out in June.
You Can Call Me Bill – William Shatner of Star Trek fame. This touches on his career and his musings on life. He just turned 92 and was there for a Q&A (and was a featured speaker earlier in the week). I didn’t really love this doc but included it because I am impressed with how much energy he has!! He was all over the stage during the Q&A and his earlier session and is definitely still all there!
Music Focused Documentaries
Joan Baez I Am A Noise – Centered on Baez’s final concerts as a performer this doc explores her career and personal life (which included a lot of challenges). Pretty good!
Hung Up On a Dream – The story of The Zombies! They’ve been performing together since 1961! This was good but about 10 minutes too long. Later in the week we saw them in concert and they were great!
Love to Love You, Donna Summer – Another entertaining (but too long doc)! The Disco Queen in retrospect was super successful for a pretty short time and had an interesting life.