Beyond the tech, music, and brands, South by Southwest is one of the year's biggest film festivals.139 movies are screening in Austin this year, including a whole host world premieres. Along for the ride is a whole host of TV premieres, documentaries, and even a few unfinished shorts and full-length features. We're on the ground to cover as much as we can. In between the tacos, of course.
Jan 23, 2017
"If you don't know who Slenderman is, you're living under a rock," remarks one of the dozens of teens appearing in YouTube videos that are excerpted in Beware the Slenderman. It's the first hint that the documentary is going to try to do the impossible: explain the internet, and its seedy underbelly, to people who... live under rocks. In other words: primarily offline.Read Article >
The uncanny disconnect between what feels culturally ubiquitous on the internet and what is truly something everyone in the physical world knows about is central to the argument that many of the documentary's speakers make in one way or another: the internet has a unique ability to blur lines between reality and fantasy in the minds of children, even after the age at which those lines should be crystal clear. It's a fascinating claim, if impossible to prove.
Mar 29, 2016
Biographical music documentaries usually fall in one of two categories: there are the worshipful nostalgia pieces, made for fans by fans, that seek to immerse the viewer in a completist bubble bath of hits and ephemera; then there are the elegiac tributes, following a familiar skyrocket-and-crash narrative of an artist who tragically left the world too soon. Both ultimately cement the untouchable reputation of the artist in question, even if the path is a little unpleasant.Artist & Repertoire, an exhaustively sourced new documentary about Mo'Wax Records founder and UNKLE mastermind James Lavelle is a little of both, but it's anything but a deification. Cobbled together from innumerable hours of personal and footage from Lavelle and former collaborator DJ Shadow (aka Josh Davis), as well as archival interviews, first-time feature director Matt Jones builds a decade-spanning narrative of an artist's rise and fall that just so happens to run parallel to the rise and fall of the record industry.Read Article >
In 1986 two aspiring documentary filmmakers took some video equipment from a local cable access channel, and headed to the parking lot of a Judas Priest show in Largo, Maryland. John Heyn and Jeff Krulik filmed the tailgating crowd as they partied, drank, and professed their love for all things metal. The result was Heavy Metal Parking Lot, a bizarrely perfect, 16-minute time capsule showcasing the passion (and yes, sometimes the aggressive stupidity) of teenagers at an ‘80s metal show getting all kinds of fucked up.Read Article >
But decades before the internet made sharing video clips as simple as posting to Twitter or Facebook, something special happened. Heavy Metal Parking Lot caught on, not through official distribution channels, but through an underground network of fans that would dub VHS copies and pass them along. I remember first seeing it in the 1990s, when a friend-of-a-friend got a copy, and even then it was wild, like watching a real-life version of This is Spinal Tap. According to legend, the short eventually became a favorite of Nirvana’s, in constant rotation on the band’s tour bus.
When Netflix first started making its own television shows it may have seemed like a lark, but the company has nearly single-handedly changed the way we watch television. People started binge-watching with DVDs, sure, but releasing an entire season of an original show at one time fundamentally altered the way we consume and talk about the medium, and even how it’s made (it’s hard to imagine the slow burn of Bloodline lasting long even on a cable network).Read Article >
Now that the company has been getting into original movies, it’s fair to wonder if they’ll have a similar impact. With Netflix unable to get its films into major theater chains, many of its feature-length releases are skipping theaters altogether, resulting in films that are essentially optimized for home viewing. The upcoming Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is a great example of what that may end up looking like. It’s not a film that you’d necessarily want to shell out $10 for, but if you’re looking to put something on so you can Pee-wee and chill, it’s the perfect fit.
"You mind if I smoke?"Read Article >
I’m sitting outside a trailer in Austin, TX, a few days into the South by Southwest film festival, talking with director Ilya Naishuller. There’s a relentless energy about the young Russian filmmaker in the Ray-Ban aviators; he leans forward intensely one moment, then jumps up the next to demonstrate what it was like to play a particular moment in his feature debut, Hardcore Henry. Naishuller never stops — and neither does his movie.
The entertainment industry’s lack of representation, diversity, and opportunity has come under increasing criticism over the past few years, and at Gale Anne Hurd’s Tuesday SXSW keynote, the producer behind characters like Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor took the issue head-on. In an indictment of gender bias as it exists in the business today, Hurd described her own experiences as a woman blazing trails in producing sci-fi and fantasy movies, and told the crowd that while things like pay inequality are still huge issues, there is still a path forward for aspiring filmmakers regardless of gender.Read Article >
If there’s anyone that can speak with authority on the subject it’s Hurd, who’s spent the last 35 years producing films like The Abyss, The Terminator, and now TV shows like The Walking Dead. But she started on the very bottom rung when she began working as an assistant for low-budget producer Roger Corman in the 1970s. Over the course of her career, which she detailed in her opening remarks, there were few female role models in the industry to look up to, and she spent years working her way up the ranks with Corman, during which she met a then-modelmaker named James Cameron. The COO of Corman’s company at the time was a woman named Barbara Boyle, who helped Hurd and Cameron get their first film greenlit by Orion Pictures: The Terminator.
Mar 15, 2016
In the opening moments of Outcast, Cinemax’s new series from The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, we see a 10-year-old boy named Joshua (Gabriel Bateman) eat the bloody remains of a cockroach. The stomach-turning image of the demon-possessed boy sets the tone for this supernatural horror show. But it’s when we meet the boy’s mother Betsy and teenage sister Mindy, bickering almost stereotypically about whether or not Mindy can go out that night, that things take a turn. There’s anxiety and even exhaustion in the argument, the kind that gives the sense that it’s not an entirely happy home. That a demon can creep its way into this familial milieu speaks to where Kirkman is going with this series. Everyone has their demons — these folks just also have real ones.Read Article >
Outcast, based on his ongoing comic series of the same name, is Kirkman’s third TV series after The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. Here, it’s demons instead of zombies, but the writer is no less interested in exploring the human condition in the face of horror. As in TWD, there is a deep wellspring of sadness and anger underpinning the character interactions onscreen. His first show sought to make a statement about how desperate people will act when their world collapses around them. In this show, it’s abuse and the scars it leaves behind.
Mar 15, 2016
When the pilot for AMC’s upcoming series adaptation of Preacher screened at SXSW yesterday — to rapturous applause from the fan-heavy crowd — much of the focus was on directors and executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. But the secret weapon of the show is writer/showrunner Sam Catlin, a veteran of Breaking Bad with credits like the infamous bottle episode “Fly” to his name.Read Article >
Tackling an adaptation of Garth Ennis’ comic — a violent horror-drama about a Texas preacher named Jesse Cutler (Dominic Cooper) who goes on a hunt for God with his ex-girlfriend Tulip and an obnoxious Irish vampire called Cassidy — may not sound like the most obvious follow-up to the story of Walter White. After all, the pilot episode of Preacher features a boy who’s missing half his face and has Tom Cruise explode off-screen after being possessed by a mysterious alien force. But there’s some shared DNA there, and not just in the way both shows mix dark comedy and drama: Preacher is shooting in New Mexico on the same stages that Breaking Bad once did, and Catlin’s brought along some of his previous collaborators, including editor Kelley Dixon and composer Dave Porter.
Mar 15, 2016
Director Mike Flanagan introduced his second feature film, Hush, at the Alamo Drafthouse screening I attended this weekend saying, "this screening that you're seeing, here in this theater, is the best one so far." Aside from the noxious combination of the Drafthouse's pizza and beer-infused seat cushions, and 100 people who had been sweating buckets in Texas all day, it was easy to see what he meant. The theater was perfect for a horror movie — pitch black, all screen, not an extra square foot of space. The sound was incredible, and Flanagan's competent but unsurprising home invasion thriller became a physical, exhilarating experience in that setting.Read Article >
Sound is crucial to Hush, which takes its name from its deaf and mute protagonist, a YA thriller writer named Maddie (played by the film's co-writer Kate Siegel). Maddie lives alone in the woods (as people in horror movies tend to) and her only connections to the outside world are a friendly neighbor who's learning to sign (though Maddie can read lips) and Skype dates with her sister in New York. She's struggling to finish her second novel, as the voices in her head are whispering seven different endings for the book.
Mar 15, 2016
It can be easy to forget the human element behind robotic spaceflight. When we send complex, exploratory probes deep into space, much of the focus centers around the spacecraft themselves — that thing that travels through the Universe — and less on the spacecraft's makers at home on Earth. Everyone remembers the Curiosity rover on Mars, for instance, or the New Horizons spacecraft that flew by Pluto. But the names of the engineers and scientists who made those robots are harder to recall. In the end, these great minds are overshadowed by the fame of their own creations.Read Article >
The new web series called Moon Shot aims to shine the spotlight back on these scientists and highlight the human stories behind space travel that can sometimes be forgotten. Produced by J.J. Abrams, the series follows nine of the 16 teams competing in the Google Lunar X Prize competition, an international contest to send the first privately funded lander to the surface of the Moon. Each six or seven-minute episode follows one member from a team. Within that short time frame, we get an intimate glimpse into what drives each of these competitors, along with the unique reasons they feel compelled to send a robot to the lunar surface.
Mar 14, 2016
I was beginning to have the itch, a low-level anxiety that occurs on the third or fourth day of a film festival when you haven't seen anything you feel terribly strongly about one way or another. SXSW, in addition to being a premiere showcase for brands, bands and media outlets, happens to have a huge and often formless-feeling film lineup, but last year I had a pretty good track record. The festival's proximity to music and tech culture has resulted in an unofficial tendency toward great music documentaries and outside-the-box genre films, some of my favorite subgenres. This year, though, it was hard to find anything to grasp at in the overwhelming program of mumble-horror, internet horror, iPhone movies, and meditative dramas about the nature of relationships and technology.I had seen the excellent Mo' Wax Records documentary Artist and Repertoire earlier in the day, but the itch was still lingering. So last night, exhausted from a day of walking and needing refuge from the deafening churn of 6th Street at peak cocktail hour, my boyfriend and I decided to do a little festival roulette. We walked up to the Ritz, scanned the schedule for the next feature screening, and went into Dead Slow Ahead sight unseen. The title suggested horror — maybe zombies, maybe slow-moving zombies — and the only detail I had about it was that it was part of the SXglobal lineup, so we'd probably be reading some subtitles. There was no strategy involved, but strategy hadn't helped me too much so far.Read Article >
All I can say is we were very, very lucky.
Mar 14, 2016
At SXSW this weekend, Jake Gyllenhaal charmed his way to raucous laughter and exuberant applause for a movie that was frankly awful.Read Article >
Demolition, written by Bryan Sipe and directed by Dallas Buyer's Club and Wild's Jean-Marc Vallée, tells the story of Davis Mitchell, a man who can't bring himself to appropriately grieve the sudden death of his wife, and so starts literally demolishing everything he can. Like, with a sledgehammer. It starts with the refrigerator his wife asked him to fix, then moves on to the bathroom stalls at work, his computer, and eventually the basic structure of his house. Get it? He's destroying his life so he can rebuild! And that's it. That's the entire movie.
Mar 13, 2016
Writer/director Jeff Nichols' priorities, on the surface, are no mystery. The Take Shelter director is interested in the American South, the inner lives of children, a murky sense of mysticism, Michael Shannon. He's not particularly interested in spelling things out for an audience, a tendency that has arguably been one of his virtues as a storyteller. But with Midnight Special, his first film since 2012's Mud, he's jumping right into the colorful realm of '80s-style sci-fi adventure. The film follows Alton, a young boy with unexplained powers, and his family who fight to protect him from the FBI and a cultish religious group, both of whom seek to gain or control his abilities. The premise feels familiar, but Nichols' elliptical style remains fully intact. The result is a film that is as engaging as it is mystifying, a lyrical, impressionistic take on a genre with the emotions left in HD.Anytime a comparatively low budget genre film comes up on the radar, the film world braces itself for a fresh auteur to be crowned prince of the next multimillion dollar franchise film — at one point, Nichols himself had been in talks to director DC's Aquaman. But he eventually backed out, unable to reconcile his highly personal vision with Warner Bros.' Now on his fourth feature, Nichols is more confident, and less amenable to the wills of a studio. Midnight Special was in post-production so long that he had time to make a whole other feature film: Loving, due later this year, is based on the story of Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple sentenced to prison in 1967. But there's a lot riding on Midnight Special, which is as deliberate a swing for mainstream appeal as Nichols has attempted thus far. The film premiered last night at SXSW; I spoke to the Arkansas native in New York last week.Read Article >
Mar 12, 2016
Richard Linklater has never cared about plot in his movies and he’s never really concerned himself with adhering to genre, either. What Linklater loves to do is is simply hang with his characters, and whether it’s the ‘70s teens of Dazed and Confused, the constantly evolving relationship of Jesse and Celine in the Before Sunrise series, or the 12-year-trek of Boyhood, the results have been consistently wonderful. Through some magical form of cinematic alchemy, Linklater’s single-minded focus on characters translates into engaging moviegoing experiences that feel both incredibly personal yet undeniably universal.Read Article >
Given how I’ve felt about his work, I was excited to kick off my SXSW by seeing his latest film, Everybody Wants Some!! (two exclamation points, just like the Van Halen song). The long-gestating project has been described — and is being marketed — as a “spiritual successor” to Dazed and Confused, and the comparison is apt. It’s about a freshman’s first few days after arriving at college on a baseball scholarship, and it’s all too easy to imagine Dazed’s Jason London in the lead role if the movie had been made 20 years ago. The outrageous characters are there, as are the raucous shenanigans, all accompanied by Linklater’s fondness for both nostalgia and stoner humor. It all clearly works exactly as Linklater intended, but there’s just one tiny problem: hanging out with these characters can actually be pretty annoying.
Mar 12, 2016
The plot of the episode centers around Glazer's character — recently fired for tweeting a bestiality video from the corporate Twitter account of her Groupon-like employer — somehow making her way into the Clinton campaign.Read Article >
Jacobson and Glazer wrote the episode without a part for Clinton initially, and said they reached out through a couple of lucky connections — their executive producer, Amy Poehler (who portrayed Clinton on Saturday Night Live for several years), and the director of the episode (who had a friend on the Clinton campaign). "You know that meme of Hillary texting? That's us, she's texting us," joked Glazer.
Mar 11, 2016
SXSW is often more of a marketing free-for-all than an actual conference or festival, so if you're a company that's trying to promote the upcoming Blu-ray release of one of the biggest movies of all time, what do you do? You bring a life-sized TIE Fighter to Austin, Texas, of course.Read Article >
Here at SXSW Disney has erected a 20-foot tall TIE Fighter to promote The Force Awakens, which is coming to home video next month. (The behind-the-scenes documentary that's part of the release, humbly titled Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey, is having its world premiere at the festival on Monday.) The display comes as a bit of surprise, with Disney building it in relative secrecy last night near a collection of food trucks that's known during the festival as "SouthBites." Sadly, you can't actually sit in the thing, but if you're here in Austin and want to get tacos and then hang with a First Order stormtrooper, you know exactly where to go.
Mar 10, 2016
Netflix's latest movie acquisition is Hush, a micro-budget thriller from director Mike Flanagan that's premiering at SXSW this weekend. Flanagan also wrote and produced the movie, which stars co-writer Kate Siegel as a reclusive author suffering from hearing loss who's being hunted by a masked killer. (The movie also stars The Newsroom's John Gallagher Jr., Michael Trucco, and Samantha Sloyan.) Veteran horror producer Jason Blum (Unfriended, Periscope horror movie Fifteen) co-produced the movie, and he's also worked with Flanagan on projects like Oculus and the upcoming Ouija 2. Hush is going to debut in Austin on March 12th (this Saturday), and it'll be made available on Netflix on April 8th.Read Article >
"Hush is a great example of what happens when you give an incredible filmmaker like Mike Flanagan creative freedom to tell a fun and original scary story," said Blum in a statement. "We had a great time continuing our relationship with Mike and Intrepid [Pictures], and are psyched to share Mike's movie with genre lovers all over the world on Netflix." Hush isn't the streaming giant's only movie debuting in Austin next week: Paul Reubens' Judd Apatow-produced comeback Pee-Wee's Big Holiday is premiering at SXSW before hitting Netflix on March 18th.
Feb 2, 2016
With South by Southwest 2016 little more than a month away, the festival has finally announced its feature film lineup. The event will show 139 new films, showcasing the talents of young and established filmmakers and documentarians from around the world. Some of the highlights include Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some, the "spiritual successor" to 1993's Dazed and Confused, and the world premiere of Pee-wee's Big Holiday, which makes its debut before landing on Netflix later this year.Read Article >
These films, which will be shown in 12 separate sections during the festival, were all selected from a pool of 2,456 selections, making them the absolute cream of the crop. SXSW will also announce the films to be shown in the Midnighters, Festival Favorites, and Special Events categories next week along with the Short Film Program. All told, it's going to be a very eventful conference when it kicks off on March 11th.