For a second consecutive year, our longtime local film festival South by Southwest (SXSW) has gone virtual due to the ongoing global pandemic. For movie, music, and technology conference enthusiasts around the world who have never been able to attend in the past, this actually works out nicely. For SXSW Film, this means opening up one of the world’s best-curated festivals to a wider audience that can enjoy films from the comfort and safety of their homes. Hopefully next year we’ll be back to roaming the crowded streets of downtown Austin, waiting in line for hours outside the Paramount Theatre, and sneaking into parties on the various balconies of the InterContinental Hotel. But for this year, we’re delighted to be attending virtually in our ongoing quest to discover great films and share those discoveries with you.
To wit, we’re kicking off this year’s festival — as we’ve done since we began covering it in 2007 — with a list of our most anticipated movies. Below, our SXSW crew highlights twenty-one titles that we’re particularly excited to see.
Alien on Stage
After an awkward attempt to bring Ridley Scott’s Alien to their community theater stage, a group of Dorset bus drivers must contend that their utterly sincere production is more comedy than dread-filled sci-fi drama. The lark catches wind, and suddenly, they’re invited to a famous West End theater to perform their ridiculously earnest production. How the hell are they going to pull it off? The documentary Alien on Stage goes into the whos and whys, slowly building to the big night where another bout of failure might await. From what little we’ve already seen, their bubblegum and shoestring special effects inspire admiration and anticipation. If they can grab a cheer with their chestburster sequence, everything that comes after is a success. (Brad Gullickson)
One of the films headlining the festival is Charli XCX’s quarantine documentary, Alone Together, which follows the pop star in isolation as she puts together her 2020 album How I’m Feeling Now in the span of forty days. The film is meant to explore the struggles in trying to create and connect with others while living through the seclusion of the COVID-19 pandemic and is the feature directorial debut of music video directing team Bradley&Pablo. In a world not necessarily desperate for films forcing us to relive the unpleasantness of lockdown, it will be interesting to see how the pop star’s take fares as a hybrid COVID/music doc. (Brianna Zigler)
Broadcast Signal Intrusion
The sci-fi thriller Broadcast Signal Intrusion has a lot going for it right out of the gate. The synopsis alone is highly intriguing: “In the late ’90s, a video archivist unearths a series of sinister pirate broadcasts and becomes obsessed with uncovering the dark conspiracy behind them.” It tells us very little but just enough. Director Jacob Gentry (Synchronicity) was part of the filmmaker collective that gifted genre fans with 2007’s The Signal, so anything he touches will automatically be worth a watch. (Rob Hunter)
Eco horror is one of my favorite subgenres, and while it comes in numerous varieties, from animal attack films to movies about nature turning against people, the core theme remains the same: humanity isn’t going to be the top dog forever. The South African feature Gaia sees a park ranger cross paths with a man and his son living a survivalist lifestyle deep in the woods, and soon all three are under attack by something from even deeper in the forest that’s evolved in unexpectedly threatening ways. It may end up being a straightforward monster movie, which would still be awesome, but I’m hoping it’s got something to say about our pisspoor stewardship of this planet. (Rob Hunter)
How It Ends
It is difficult to shake the notion that this pandemic has set us all in a bit of an apocalyptic mood. Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein’s How it Ends promises to explore that feeling with a young LA woman’s final day on earth and her commitment to making it count by partying her head off. The film stars Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny (On the Basis of Sex), and Whitney Cummings. Based on Lister-Jones and Wein’s light-hearted filmography with quirky, feel-good films, like Lister Jones’s Band Aid and Wein’s Breaking Upwards, it’s safe to assume this will be as entertaining as its premise, with a potential gut-punch and sobering moral lesson on the side. (Aurora Amidon)
I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking)
I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking), directed by relative newcomers Kelley Kali and Angelique Molina, brings attention to the homeless crisis, which is growing in America by the second. The film follows a recently divorced woman who is forced into homelessness and tells her eight-year-old daughter that they are merely on a little camping trip to shield her from the grim reality. This enticing premise, which recalls The Pursuit of Happyness, promises to tug on some heartstrings while shedding light on some critical injustices in the United States. (Aurora Amidon)
Travis Stevens’ debut horror feature, Girl on the Third Floor, was a gooey bit of ick that was hard to shake. It pretty much guaranteed we’d be interested in whatever he did next. That follow-up, Jakob’s Wife, also deliciously re-teams genre icons Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden (from the Stevens-produced We Are Still Here) as a drifting married couple torn asunder by a malevolent guru. The synopsis guarantees a high body count, and I’m here for every bloody frame, but it’s the promised battle between Crampton and Fessenden that holds the most enticement. These two actors are gonna tear into each other. Jakob’s Wife stands tall amongst the other Midnighters selections, having already acquired RLJE Films and Shudder distribution. Not that we needed a seal of approval to trigger salivation here. (Brad Gullickson)
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