SXSW 2013: Documentary Overview

sxsw 2013 filmIn just five days, I’ll be back in Austin for another edition of SXSW, one of the bright spots on my annual festival calendar. It’s a trip I look forward to every year, warm and welcoming Austin serving as a fantastic way to transition from the winter cold of NYC – and oddly enough this past weekend, a chilly True/False in Columbia MO. With more than fifty feature docs spread throughout this year’s lineup, there will be plenty of films to keep non-fiction fans busy, in addition to panels, parties, interactive and music events, and some good Texas bbq. The following is a section-by-section look at some of the doc titles I’m most looking forward to checking out:

windmillEight world premieres made the cut from more than 900 submissions to gain a coveted slot in this year’s Documentary Feature Competition. I always try to see all of the films in this category, and I’m especially happy that the new films from a few friends are included here: E Chai Vasarhelyi’s visually stunning exploration of an annual Muslim pilgrimage, TOUBA, and AJ Schnack and David Wilson’s look at the family musicians of celebrated Branson MO, WE ALWAYS LIE TO STRANGERS. I’m looking forward to seeing Stephen Silha & Eric Slade’s BIG JOY: THE ADVENTURES OF JAMES BROUGHTON, on the Radical Faerie poet and filmmaker, and I expect audiences to connect strongly with Ben Nabors’ WILLIAM AND THE WINDMILL (pictured), the story of a young Malawian who finds unexpected opportunities after he teaches himself to build a windmill.

fredaThe Documentary Spotlight section presents nearly twenty new titles, including some SXSW alums: BEAR NATION’s Malcolm Ingram returns with his chronicle of NYC’s storied gay bathhouse that gave Bette Midler her start, CONTINENTAL; PELADA’s Ryan White presents his portrait of the Beatles’ longtime secretary, GOOD OL’ FREDA (pictured); and PJ Raval tells the stories of LGBT people in their twilight years in BEFORE YOU KNOW IT. Among the other titles from this section on my list are Jeffrey Schwarz’s eagerly anticipated biography on John Water’s inimitable muse, I AM DIVINE; Dan Hunt’s MR ANGEL, a portrait of FTM trans porn star turned activist Buck Angel; Eva Orner’s THE NETWORK, about Afghanistan’s first independent TV station; Josh Johnson’s REWIND THIS!, on the surprising impact of the home video revolution; Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller’s TINY: A STORY ABOUT LIVING SMALL, which follows families that have attempted to reimagine living spaces for a more sustainable world; Louis Alvarez, Andrew kolker, Peter Odabashian, and Paul Stekler’s GETTING BACK TO ABNORMAL, on race and politics in New Orleans; and Al Reinert’s AN UNREAL DREAM: THE MICHAEL MORTON STORY, on a horrific murder case and wrongful conviction.

these birds walkBoundaries are pushed in SXSW’s Visions section (formerly Emerging Visions), intended to celebrate innovative fiction and non-fiction. Among the documentaries here are Penny Lane’s impressive archival portrait of a troubled presidency, OUR NIXON; Michał Marczak’s fly-on-the-wall look at a ragtag group of well-meaning environmental hedonists, FUCK FOR FOREST; and Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq’s verité portrait of a Pakistani home for runaways, THESE BIRDS WALK (pictured).

hip hop hoaxMusic docs take center stage in the 24 Beats Per Second section. I’m already a fan of Doug Hamilton’s BROADWAY IDIOT, which charts the transformation of Green Day’s album into a hit Broadway musical; and am looking forward to seeing Jeanie Finlay’s THE GREAT HIP HOP HOAX (pictured), in which a pair of Scottish boys pose as authentic California rappers to unexpected success; Lily Kebler’s BAYOU MAHARAJAH: THE TRAGIC GENIUS OF JAMES BOOKER, a portrait of the ultimate outsider New Orleans piano legend; Sini Anderson’s THE PUNK SINGER, on whatever happened to Bikini Kill and Le Tigre’s Kathleen Hanna; and Stevie Nicks and Dave Stewart’s IN YOUR DREAMS – STEVIE NICKS, a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of the music legend’s titular 2010 album.

and who taught you to driveSXSW celebrates international film in SXGlobal, including the documentaries AND WHO TAUGHT YOU TO DRIVE? (pictured), Andrea Thiele’s crosscultural comic study of taking driving tests in foreign countries; and Otilia Portillo Padua’s DIARIO A TRES VOCES (THREE VOICES), a Technicolor-inspired melodramatic exploration of love across multiple generations.

no more road tripsHeadliners offers one documentary among its selection of “big names, big talent:” Stephen Finnigan’s HAWKING, an intimate profile of one of the smartest men in the world. Festival favorites includes a number of higher profile non-fiction that has previously appeared at fests like Toronto, Sundance, and New York. Finally, the eclectic Special Events features a handful of documentaries, including Rick Prelinger’s participatory road trip treatise made entirely of home movies, NO MORE ROAD TRIPS? (pictured); and the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne’s A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF WAYNE’S PHONE, the world’s first vertical iPhone movie.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Overviews, Recommendations

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