The best film I saw this year at SXSW was not a documentary, but it was made in the style of one. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows is a hilarious mockumentary about a foursome of vampires living together as flatmates in Wellington, New Zealand. I mention it not only because I think most doc fans appreciate a good mockumentary but to note the irony since the best documentary I saw this year at SXSW was made in the style of a narrative. Actually, I’m trying to not make that claim these days. I should instead say that it was not made in the conventional documentary style.
In general it felt like a weak year for the doc program. I didn’t love any of the jury award winners (some at least make my honorable mentions spotlight below), was disappointed in not only the quality of many premieres (especially the absolutely worthless Wicker Kittens) but also the lack of many bigger buzz titles from Sundance in the festival favorites section (it baffles me that Simon Chinn was in town but without The Green Prince). I didn’t hear a lot of talk of docs I missed, though I left still curious about Yakona, The Immortalists, Print the Legend and definitely PULP, which is pretty much the only music doc I heard any positive chatter for.
Due to a few reasons, including the fact that I was covering other stuff for Film School Rejects and because there wasn’t a good vibe anyway, I didn’t see a whole ton of nonfiction at SXSW this time around. I don’t think I even caught more than ten features, and I saw about the same number of shorts. But I can vouch for the following five titles with a bit of additional praises for parts of other docs below.