The 2016 SXSW Film Festival offered a wide variety in a diverse line up. Many movies I watched were very good, but these great movies deserve distribution so audiences can be entertained, inspired, and challenged with these documentaries and narratives hopefully sooner rather than later.
ACCIDENTAL COURTESY – DARYL DAVIS, RACE & AMERICA
The SXSW award winning feature documentary showcases the wise, humble, and fascinating Daryl Davis an African American blues musician who befriends Ku Klux Klan members! Accidental Courtesy – Daryl Davis, Race & America is thought provoking, encouraging, and relevant which teaches audiences to look beyond our differences to see humanity. Transformation can happen if we just listen to each other. A smaller studio would benefit from acquiring this documentary. It needs to tour the festival circuit first before opening. It is timely that Americans need to watch this now. I hope this makes it to Netflix one day.
Though this isn’t going to be a big hit, Collective: unconscious will develop a passionate following among die hard cinephiles that discover it. A truly unique cinematic experience about real dreams reenacted over a series of vignettes each directed by filmmakers with distinct style, the movie hypnotizes and allures audiences down the rabbit hole of obscurity. An experimental and bizarre, genre bending movie that make film festivals worth attending. I could’ve attended a higher profile movie that was screening during this time, but was grateful to have an unforgettable time watching Collective: unconscious. This belongs in the Oscilloscope library.
THE HOLLYWOOD SHORTIES
After The Wizard of Oz, actors in the dwarf community (the pre-PC term to “little people”) who moved to California struggled to adjust in Hollywood which is chronicled in The Hollywood Shorties. Typically cast as leprechauns or Ewoks in movies, some bonded over playing baseball and basketball and felt like they mattered. Their team briefly took America by storm and took priority over film roles. (“I turned down a role in Willow to play on the team,” one actor recalled.) Their rise and fall is fondly remembered in this amusing and insightful documentary on their little known history. Ideal for film buffs and sports fans, ESPN or the History Channel should consider acquiring it.
IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE
No documentary stuck with me quiet like In Pursuit of Silence which offers quiet moments and data driven conversations about how noise effects society, humanity, and planet earth. The geek in me enjoyed it and the high strung person in me appreciated the silent moments with calming visuals. It made me want to turn down my headphones and embrace softer moments. The contrast to watching this and stepping out into the noisy crowds made it even more impactful. When I found out it doesn’t have American distribution, it certainly made this list. This would find a good home with The Orchard or Gravitas Ventures.
JEAN OF THE JONESES
The lack of contemporary stories about African American women in this industry is discouraging, but Jean of the Joneses offers hope. A refreshing alternative to the type of movie I see at this festival, this intuitive, very funny, slightly melodramatic family dramedy features a talented ensemble of black women coming to terms with the death of the father they never knew. Balancing comedy and drama, the breakout role of Taylour Paige in the lead shines with a witty sense of assurance we rarely see. With a sharp insight and rich characters among a taut screenplay, writer/director Stella Meghie is a filmmaker to watch.
Three LA based feminist Latinas form a group of bike riders that cruise the streets in the documentary Ovarian Psycos. A “gang” to some, they bond forming a strong alliance confident to overcome the hardships of their life arranging from class-ism to sexism. A raw and vibrant exploration of a very niche group, they ultimately make their community better by empowering themselves and one another. With shades of 12 O’Clock Boys, Ovarian Psycos is a riveting yet poignant documentary about the women who ride and live life.
Greg Kwedar’s impressive debut narrative Transpecos about three officers the border drug war has brisk pacing, enthralling performances, and intense scenes. One will admire how the narrative unfolds especially during an unpredictable third act. No judgements are made about the politics surrounding this divisive issue, but an audience member voiced his abrasive anti-immigrant opinion during the Q&A. The director handled this unexpected and emotional moment so well, it affirmed his graceful maturity which was projected during Transpecos. Audiences also reacted positively to his discerning eye by awarding it the Audience Award in the Narrative Feature Competition category. If A24 is serious about launching the next generation of filmmakers, they should take a look at Transpecos.
WAR ON EVERYONE
After debuting at the Berlin Film Festival and appearing in the Headliners category, War on Everyone had a low key but loud North American premiere screening at the Zach Theater. This dark, gut-buster from John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Calvary) was one of my most anticipated releases and it didn’t disappoint. Like his previous work, War on Everyone satisfies twisted intuitions and macabre instincts. Alexander Skarsgaard and Michael Pena have excellent chemistry together as police officers in New Mexico that are rough around the edges. Featuring plenty of jokes, blood, laughs, and one flawlessly corny dance number, it is over-the-top, crude, and a lot of fun. Medium sized indie studios should be fighting over this one.