Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 8th, 2023
It will be nice to head back to SXSW in person this year; the last time I traveled to Austin was in 2019. That was my sixth visit to Texas’ capital, and then COVID happened and I haven’t back until this year. Running March 10-19, the festival (which also includes music and tech, among other things) offers a wonderful array of varied films to watch (check out the full slate). Here are 10 that I am excited to see or have seen already and recommend (and there are many more that look great). Each title is hyperlinked to the movie’s SXSW page so you can look up more information.
Being Mary Tyler Moore (James Adolphis): Making his solo feature-directing debut, James Adolphus trains his lens on the great icon of 1970s television and beyond. Why would I not see this? I love Mary Tyler Moore’s work and she is long overdue for a documentary profile.
Black Barbie: A Documentary (Lagueria Davis): Director Lagueria Davis (1 in 3) tells us the story of the first Black Barbie, which apparently came about because her now-octogenarian aunt asked why there couldn’t be a Barbie that looked like her. Sure to offer important historical lessons.
Evil Dead Rise (Lee Cronin): I’m not a horror guy, but the trailer for this, which I’ve been seeing in theaters for months now, looks like a hoot. Plus, Sam Raimi’s original films were so much fun. Sign me up for more, please!
Fancy Dance (Erika Tremblay): I saw this at Sundance, where I also reviewed it. Here is an edited excerpt from that review: In Fancy Dance, from director Erica Tremblay (herself Seneca-Cayuga), we follow Jax (Lily Gladstone, Certain Women) and her niece, Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson), as they head to an annual powwow where Roki hopes to perform a dance that she would normally do with her mother, were she around. That journey, coupled with the mystery surrounding that mother’s disappearance, forms the narrative spine of the movie, anchoring Tremblay’s themes of native disenfranchisement. There’s nothing fancy here, just cold, hard truths.
Going Varsity in Mariachi (Sam Osborn/Alejandra Vasquez): I also saw this at Sundance, though I ran out of reviewing steam and never wrote anything. Too bad, as this is a pretty cool documentary about competitive mariachi performances with Southern Texas high schools. The music is terrific, and the kids are pretty awesome, as well. There’s more at stake than prizes here, as we also explore themes of race, ethnicity. and social standing. It all fits nicely into a powerful mix.
Little Richard: I Am Everything (Lisa Cortes): Another Sundance film! And this one I did manage to review. Once more, an excerpt: Richard Wayne Penniman (1932-2020), otherwise known as Little Richard, is one of the 20th-century’s greatest musicians, yet has never yet received a documentary treatment. Thanks to director Lisa Cortes (All In: The Fight for Democracy), that error is now rectified. Her profile of the star undertakes not only to highlight his artistic achievements, but to remind us of his status as Black and queer icon, both. Wop-Bop-A-Loo-Bop-A-Lop-Bam-Boom!
Molli and Max in the Future (Michael Lukk Litwak): You had me at When Harry Met Sally set in a sci-fi universe. Apparently mixing practical effects with state-of-the-art modern technology, this film, from another director making his feature debut, Michael Lukk Litwak, promises to be weird, delightful, and a charming combination of both. I am so here for that.
Queendom (Agniia Galdanova): I just watched an advance screener of this and look forward to reviewing soon. Director Agniia Galdanova makes her own feature debut with an intimate portrait of Gena, a transgender artist and activist who hails from Russia’s far east. Her performance pieces, in which she struts or crawls or rolls around in a variety of different landscapes, are quite visually evocative. Unfortunately for her, they are also viewed as quite political, and before long she is the subject of state harassment (on top of the bullying she is already used to receiving). As the war in Ukraine looms, what will her future look like? Watch and see.
Until Branches Bend (Sophie Jarvis): This film I saw at Toronto last fall, where I reviewed it for Hammer to Nail. Here’s another edited excerpt: When peach-cannery grader Robin ( Grace Glowicki, Tito) spies a beetle among a batch of peaches, she might just be the one that can save her community. If only they would listen.So begins Sophie Jarvis’s debut narrative feature. It’s a well-crafted, tense indie drama about what happens when one brave soul goes up against a system designed to squash all dissent. Unfortunately, such self-interest can be self-defeating, for what if the whistleblower isn’t just tooting their own horn? Still, when business interests are threatened, the first instinct of those in charge is often to hope for the best and ignore the worst. Stay tuned for what happens.
You Can Call Me Bill (Alexandre O. Phillipe): Three words: William Shatner documentary. That’s all I need to know. I grew up watching the original Star Trek series in syndication, and have been a lifelong fan ever since. Plus, director Alexandre O. Phillipe (Memory: The Origins of Alien) has a proven track record of making fascinating movies about topics we already thought we knew in full. Beam me up!