SXSW 2015: Documentary Overview

sxsw-film-logoThis Friday, March 13, sees the kick off of the latest edition of SXSW, with the film program continuing through Saturday, March 21. I’ll be attending the first half of the festival, joining the hordes of film, music, and interactive professionals and fans who annually descend on Austin. In terms of nonfiction programming, the festival has increased the number of feature docs in its lineup after a bit of a reduction last year, with 68 out of 145 selections. The following section breakdown (excepting Festival Favorites and Midnighters) offers highlights of many of these:

brandTwo docs appear in the Headliners section, including Opening Night film BRAND: A SECOND COMING (pictured), Ondi Timoner’s exploration of comedian Russell Brand’s increasingly political engagement. Also on tap in this section is STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE, the latest biographical doc from the prolific Alex Gibney.

breakingThe cream of SXSW’s nonfiction crop vie against each other in the Documentary Feature Competition. I’m aiming to see all ten of the contenders, but am particularly intrigued by: Luke Meyer’s BREAKING A MONSTER (pictured), which follows the nascent celebrity of a junior high African American metal band; Ron Nyswaner’s SHE’S THE BEST THING IN IT, a candid profile of a Broadway character actress as she takes on a teaching job; Alex Sichel and Elizabeth Giamatti’s A WOMAN LIKE ME, which follows Sichel’s creative attempts to cope with a terminal diagnosis; Timothy Wheeler’s POACHED, about rare bird’s egg thieves; Samantha Futerman and Ryan Miyamoto’s TWINSTERS, on two young women who discover they may have been separated at birth; and Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber’s PEACE OFFICER, which explores the militarization of police forces.

raidersAmong the seventeen offerings in the non-competitive Documentary Spotlight are: Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen’s RAIDERS! (pictured), which follows the filmmakers’ efforts to complete a remake of a pop culture classic that they began as pre-teens; Jeffrey Schwarz’s TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL, a portrait of the former screen idol who hid his sexuality from the public; Malcolm Ingram’s OUT TO WIN, about out LGBT athletes; Alex Winter’s DEEP WEB, which explores the black market of the secret, underground Internet; Bernardo Ruiz’s KINGDOM OF SHADOWS, a character-driven look at the impact of Mexico’s drug cartel wars; Kevin Pang and Mark Helenowski’s FOR GRACE, a chronicle of the opening of one of the most anticipated restaurants in the country; Kevin Ford and Adrien Brody’s STONE BARN CASTLE, which follows the actor’s restoration of an upstate New York property; and Jerome Thélia’s BOUNCE: HOW THE BALL TAUGHT THE WORLD TO PLAY, an historical exploration of the origins of ball games.

bargeThis year, the fest’s innovative section, Visions, only includes four feature docs. The two that most pique my interest are Nelly Ben Hayoun’s DISASTER PLAYGROUND, a look at the protocols in place to protect the Earth from the dangers of outer space; and Ben Powell’s BARGE (pictured), which follows a journey down the Mississippi to New Orleans.

mavisMusic takes center stage in the 19 films of 24 Beats Per Second, which includes: Brendan Toller’s portrait of of an impresario, DANNY SAYS; John Bishop’s look at Japan’s first country music star, MADE IN JAPAN; Jessica Edwards’ profile of an iconic Civil Rights era performer, MAVIS! (pictured); Julien Temple’s study of a musician who unexpectedly beats a terminal illness, THE ECSTASY OF WILKO JOHNSON; Alan Berg’s look at the efforts of a Pentecostal singing family’s to crossover, THE JONES FAMILY WILL MAKE A WAY; the late Les Blank’s little-seen document of 1974 Oklahoma music, A POEM IS A NAKED PERSON; Colin Hanks’ chronicle of Tower Records, ALL THINGS MUST PASS; and Johanna Schwartz’s look at Mali musicians’ response to the banning of their music, THEY WILL HAVE TO KILL US FIRST.

kingsHalf a dozen feature docs appear in the fest’s international showcase, SX Global, including: Phie Ambo’s GOOD THINGS AWAIT, about a Danish farmer’s battle with authorities; Abner Benaim’s INVASION, an oral history of the US invasion of Panama; and Betzabé García’s KINGS OF NOWHERE (pictured), which follows three Mexican families contending with the destruction of their village.

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

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