SXSW Movie Recap

With South By Southwest finally over, Media Morgue's intrepid inside contact, (Codename: Nefertari) has been able to compile an analysis of the films she managed to catch during the fest. Which really means that because we are too cheap to buy our own pass to the event, we bribed her into giving us her notes.

So listed below are four films that may or may not be coming soon to a theater near you. (but really should)

After dreaming of going to SXSW film festival ever since I moved to Austin in the summer of 1999, I finally got a pass to attend. This is a big deal; a big awesome festival. No, it’s not an “A” festival like Sundance, Cannes, or Toronto, but it sure has the spirit of an “A” festival. Morgan Spurlock, who was showing his documentary Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden, said it best about people at SXSW: they come to the festival, because they really love movies. There are very few Paris Hiltons’ showing up just to get free swag during the festival. In fact, I was a little disappointed with the contents of the “goodie bag,” they gave out to all badge holders. Oh well, you can’t have it all.

On the opening day of the festival, I almost went to see Sony Picture’s new movie 21. This might have been a SXSW rookie mistake. I’m still not sure if it is, but I’m going to say that it is. Here I have a chance to see tons of movies that may never see the light of day after this festival. I had to make a decision right then and there to skip the Hollywood movies, and see the “real” stuff.

My first movie to kick off the festival was Second Skin. A documentary by Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza, that follows average people seriously involved in MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). As a chick gamer, I had to see this movie. I knew I was either going to hate the movie, because the director would paint gamers in a horrible light, or I would love the movie because it would final give gamers the credit we deserve. After watching it, I have to say that this movie achieved the latter. Yes, gamers can be weird or normal, gaming can become addictive, but in the end, gaming can do something to people that other things can’t. Several couples started dating (or married) after meeting while playing World of Warcraft. One beautiful moment in the movie is when a man, who is paralyzed from the waist down said how he enjoyed the freedom of playing WoW online. In that world, he can walk, run and even fly, things he obviously cannot do in real life. Overall, I absolutely adored this movie. I absolutely hope they get distribution and I can see it again.

Joshua Z. Weinstein’s documentary Flying on One Engine is about Dr. Sharadkumar Dicksheet who every year goes to India for six months to perform free surgeries of children with clef lips. Dr. Dicksheet is wheelchair bound, lost his larynx to cancer, and meagerly lives in a small rodent infested apartment in Brooklyn. In America, he is like anyone else, but when he arrives in India, he is treated like a god. This movie was so moving. You can tell that this man lives, just so he can go to India and help out the children. Every year he tries to do more surgeries than the year before. According to the documentary in India, a child who is physically deformed is seen as a society outcast. These kids cannot go to school, when they grow up they are not allowed to get a job or even marry “normal” people. Beyond just fixing these helpless children, Dr. Dicksheet just wants to give them a chance to live and function in society. As deep as the subject matter seems, there were a lot of light hearted moments and some great laughs. Dr. Dicksheet talks about being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize eight times, and how he is a bit bitter loosing to Mother Teresa. He complains that she never did the actual work like washing the poor and homeless, where as he actually does every surgery himself. In this movie I imagined that no one in Hollywood could write such an amazing character. This kind of movie makes me love documentaries.

In a Dream was one of my favorite documentaries at the SXSW festival. Director Jeremiah Zagar paints such a beautiful and personal picture in his documentary. Zagar was asked in the panel following the movie, if the finished movie was what he intended on making. His response was an obvious “no.” Before making the movie, his mother, who also plays a big role in the documentary, told him to “do something on his father.” Seven years later, In a Dream was finished. Though not until Zagar’s dad open up about being molested as a child did he think this project was going to be anything other than a piece about his father’s work. The movie does start out showcasing Isaiah Zagar’s beautiful mosaic murals all around his home and parts of downtown Philadelphia, but later it turns more serious. We find out about Isaiah’s unstable personality and the effects it has on the family, the affair with his assistant, and his other son (Jeremiah’s older brother) ends up going to rehab for substance abuse. In a Dream won in the Emerging Visions competition at SXSW, and rightly so. Not only was this documentary gorgeous to look at, but it really was a beautiful story that touched my heart. I know that sounds cheesy, but deal with it. Jeremiah Zagar’s dad and brother were at the screening when I saw the movie, and I felt like I knew them after seeing the movie. I wanted to just go up to them and hug them. At the end of the movie, Jeremiah was talking about the title of his movie. In the movie there is the struggle, of “what they [his parents] created versus what the reality is; the dream is what they created together.” And all of us in the audience, for two hours, got to be in that dream.

Rainbow Around the Sun was the first narrative film that I saw during the festival. It is a “Musical Odyssey of a man finding himself by losing his mind.” I am going to call it a rock opera, because I think that sounds cooler. Essentially, Matthew Alvin Brown wrote the album, Rainbow Around the Sun as a response to his dad dying. Later, he approached Kevin Ely and Beau Leland, the directors, to adapt it into a movie. What was first going to be just fifteen music videos, Ely and Leland help develop the idea of having an over arcing story to tie the songs together nicely. Making a movie musical is hard. The genre has been done so well, that it is tough join the ranks of movies like Moulin Rouge, Chicago and Sweeney Todd (just to name a few recent successful musicals). Regardless of being obviously low budget, but not in a sad way, I still really liked this movie. I even bought the soundtrack afterwards. It’s great! There are a lot of really catchy songs. Plus Matt Brown’s performance was great. I’ve seen him perform live when he was part of a comedy troope, and he’s just gotten better. So for no other reasons, you should see this movie because of the music and because of Matt. The picture itself should intrigue you a bit.

That concludes my favorite movies of the 2008 SXSW film festival. There were so many great movies, it was hard to choose. The one honorable mention is Crawford. It’s a perfect example being in the right place at the right time. Hope you enjoyed reading my reviews and hopefully you could tell how much fun I had at this festival.

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