No matter how many films and related events you put on your calendar for the SXSW Conference 2017, you still end up missing something. The SXSW Conference encompasses Film, Interactive, and Music events and this year the three respective badges, with one or two exceptions, have equal access to events across the board.
Free Press Houston has chosen a handful of films and events to highlight; yet with over 100 features, documentaries and short subjects, it’s literally the tip of the iceberg. That doesn’t include the Game of Thrones wine tasting, Chinese technology symposiums at the Marriott and everyday round-the-clock parties that mean you will miss something else you had marked for that timeslot.
For The Hero, Sam Elliott reunites with his I’ll See You in My Dreams director Brett Haley. Elliott plays an aging movie star who stills has enough game to date young women. He’s also a chronic pothead and has just been diagnosed with cancer. Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter, Katharine Ross and Laura Prepon co-star.
Prevenge features Alice Lowe, familiar from British comedy television and movies and now writer/director, in a black comedy playing a pregnant serial killer. Between murders the voice in her head, which is actually her unborn baby, gives humorous yet deadly instructions. Lowe also wrote and starred in Ben Wheatley’s Sightseeers, another film that found fun in killing.
Wheatley himself pops up at SXSW with his latest Free Fire (opening April 17). Other mainstream offerings include Ridley Scott showing footage from the upcoming Alien: Covenant (opening May 19), and world premiere screenings of Baby Driver (new Edgar Wright film opening August 11) and Life (sci-fi actioner opening March 24). Not sure if you can classify any Terrence Malick film as mainstream but his latest Song to Song, starring Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman, also world premieres in advance of its March 17 opening. Parts of the film were shot in Austin.
The Most Hated Woman in America world premieres in advance of its March 24 Netflix rollout. Melissa Leo plays Madalyn Murray O’Hair at first as an activist angel who over the years morphed into a corrupt evangelical type even though her religion was atheism. O’Hair took the Bible reading in school issue to the Supreme Court in the course of the late-1950s and early-1960s. Her death in 1995 came after a former employee kidnapped her, her son and granddaughter. After several days, things went bad. The bodies that had been dismembered weren’t found for another six years. Joss Lucas, Adam Scot, Juno Temple, Peter Fonda and Michael Chernus also star. Leo becomes increasingly controlling over the course of her performance. At times her family life (she, her son and granddaughter are depicted as sleeping in the same bed) seems so bizarre that you almost begin to identify with her captors.
At an epic four-hours, Armin Bar-Lev’s warts and all documentary about the Grateful Dead, Long Strange Trip, examines the greater picture and the minutia of America’s most profitable touring band. The formation, the acid, the various members, the economics of encouraging free taping of concerts, Jerry Garcia’s downward spiral and the long haul of being a band are all given consideration in this Amazon Studios release. A lot of the archival footage is previously unseen.
Now for some under the radar titles:
- A Critically Endangered Species stars Lena Olin as Maya, a famous writer who feels her muse has permanently gone. She calls her agent and tells them to send published male writers for interviews. The writer she choses will inherit her estate and royalties. The catch is that Maya plans to kill herself.
- Pornocracy documents the online porn industry with the purpose of following the money. Ovidie, a former porn actress and filmmaker, traces how online porn took major revenue from the more established porn film industry. Ovidie also uses her advanced degree in philosophy to pontificate on the power of porn made by women for women.
- Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third Live … and More unwinds strictly like a concert film. There are snippets of talking head interviews, but they’re short and concise. The group of musicians that assemble to present tracks from the three Big Star releases include Mitch Easter, Brett Harris, Skyla Gudasz, Brett Harris, Mike Mills, Chris Stamey, Ken Stringfellow, Robyn Hitchcock, as well as the Kronos Quartet. The only living member of the original group, Jody Stephens, lays down some solid drum beats. Also a world premiere.
- Let There Be Light documents the various organizations trying to achieve hydrogen fusion. One consortium encompasses over three-dozen countries and will take a generation to build and operate at a cost of over $12 billion. Another group consists of a couple of large eyebrow scientists working out their theories in a storage rental unit with a bunch of machines and wires and duct tape. What does it mean to harness the energy of a star? Let There Be Light explains this and more. Also a world premiere.
- Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo captures the space race from the point of view of the technicians and a few astronauts who were calling the shots. News footage and NASA archives provide some candid behind-the-scene views of crucial moments of the various Apollo missions. Everybody smoked and as one person notes, “When you opened the door a cloud of smoke rolled out.” Also a world premiere.