We’ve spent several weeks getting ready to watch movies at SXSW 2015. Do you know what we’ve been doing this entire time? Watching movies. Yes, that’s the strategy: watch a bunch of movies in advance, then go and watch a bunch of movies. Then again, the advance movie watching does leave a little room for partying. More on that later.
One of the goals of all that advance movie watching is to spot trends and give you a list of must-see movies so that you don’t miss out if you’re attending. We’ll find all the hidden gems by the end of the festival, but getting some good ones out of the way early is a must.
Today I’m highlighting three documentaries that defy the notion that documentaries are always tough, gritty journalistic endeavors. Some of the highest profile docs of the past year have been challenging, essential and often grim stories about our world. But sometimes docs can also be a bit of fun: the kind of nerdy endeavors that qualify as real world escapism. The kind of real world escapism that also doesn’t involve any Kardashians.
It’s with this in mind that I’d like to present three very cool docs that are about to be big deals at SXSW. If you’re attending the festival, add them to your schedule. If you’re observing from home, add them to your watch list for later in the year.
The Last Man on the Moon
Eugene Cernan hasn’t been a household name for a number of years, but that doesn’t mean his story isn’t important. As an Apollo astronaut in the 1960s, he was part of a group that represented the height of achievement for the human race. As the last human to step off the moon, as Commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972, Cernan also represents the sad reality that in the years since we made trips to our closest celestial neighbor, humanity’s interest in traveling into space has waned.
The Last Man on the Moon is Gene Cernan’s story – a biographical look at the 12th and final human to ever step foot on the moon. He’s a fascinating and charismatic figure whose tireless nature still burns to this day. Director Mark Craig’s movie is an energetic, candid look at humanity’s race to the moon from a fresh perspective. It’s heartfelt and engrossing – the kind of nostalgic trip that takes any space nerd into rich territory and shows off the humanity behind those who made history. If you’ve got a thing for space travel and/or the wonders of human potential, Gene Cernan is your newfound icon.
There’s a good chance that many of you have collected something in your day. The kinds of personalities that unite around a publication such as this one are prone to pop culture obsession and addiction. Whether you’ve waited all day in the Texas heat to claim a limited edition Mondo poster, hunted through bins of comics at a convention looking for that one missing piece of your collection, or kept an action figure in its original packaging just in case, you get it.
Sneakerheadz is the story of a subculture cut from a very familiar cloth, only this one is all about the intersection of sports and fashion. There are those out there who wait in line for hours to buy a pair of sneakers only to keep them in the box as collector’s items. A world in which a pair of Air Jordans is valued at thousands of dollars. This documentary, featuring interviews with collectors, athletes and artists, explores the global phenomenon that is sneaker collecting. From the early 90s, when you had to “know a guy,” to today’s online boom, it’s hard not to see a little bit of myself in such a documentary. And not just because I just picked up a recently released pair of Nike Kyrie 1s. The addiction and obsession of collection is universal, whether you’re collecting high-end sneakers or Pogs.
What this doc from David T. Friendly and Mick Partridge also shows us is the darker side of this kind of industry. Riots outside of a Footlocker, kids murdered over their sneakers. The film never shies away from the more troubling elements that lurk around sneaker culture, but it also celebrates the passion of those who truly love it. It’s a well-balanced and honest look at a subculture that feels very familiar, even if you aren’t quite into fashion or sports.
Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made
Film nerds, this one is right up your alley. If you’ve spent time wandering about the Internet anytime in the past several years, you may know of this infamous fan film. In the early 1980s, three teenage friends – Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb – decided to use their weekends and summer vacations filming a shot-for-shot remake of Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. The industrious project has lived on through the years, becoming a viral sensation long before there was such thing as viral sensations.
Raiders! not only tells the story of how the adaptation came to be, it also accompanies Eric and Chris in their modern day quest to finish the film, which has long been missing the pivotal Nazi airplane fight. Through encouragement from the online community – including a successful Kickstarter campaign – they set out to make their final scene and complete their lifelong dreams.
There’s a minor Heart of Darkness vibe to the doc from Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen (and I do mean minor), as everything doesn’t quite go as planned with the shoot. We also get to see how the project both united and divided these men over the years. In the end, it’s a very fun look at one of the most industrious fan undertakings of all-time. Today we know only a world where fans remix their favorites on YouTube for a million hits or where anyone with access to a cellphone can make their own movie in their backyard. To see what these guys were able to pull off in the 1980s for no other reason than the love of a larger-than-life adventure film, is truly astounding. As a bonus, SXSW is also showing the finished version of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation as part of the film program.
There you have it, three documentaries you should see if you’d like to nerd-out at SXSW 2015. Now time to go find these parties…