Slowly but surely, South by Southwest has become one of the most important film festivals in the world. Cooler and less cuddly than Sundance (and with much higher cholesterol), Austin’s biggest party is a place where the alcohol flows faster than the distribution deals, and the indies still feel indie. In part, that’s because the filmmakers that break out of SXSW tend to be given time to nurture their talents and grow organically. This is the festival that gave us the Duplass brothers (the Duplai?), Lena Dunham and Gareth Edwards, and their out-of-the-box thinking makes it a safe bet that SXSW is about to give us someone else. In honor of this year’s festival, which kicks off on Friday and runs through Mar 21, here are the 10 SXSW films we’re most excited about.
Creative Control Not every festival is lucky enough to gets its own Primer, but Benjamin Dickinson’s Creative Control might be SXSW’s best shot at a low-budget sci-fi drama that vibrates with the same raw energy. The story of an advertising executive who’s work on a new generation of Augmented Reality glasses is bound to collide with his broiling crush on his best friend’s girl, Creative Control is a grounded portrait of what we’re really looking at when we see the world through its latest technology.
Deathgasm It’s called Deathgasm.
The Grief of Others Director Patrick Wang has been poised to break out ever since his epic but quietly wrenching 2011 drama In the Family revealed the scale of his storytelling prowess. This major under-the-radar talent is back with an adaptation of a Leah Hager Cohen novel about a family whose grief is disrupted by a mysterious stranger. The film isn’t populated with any famous faces, but it's likely to reward a blind leap of faith.
One & Two After knocking us out with a searing doc about impoverished kids trying make it in the American Midwest, Rich Hill director Andrew Droz Palermo shifts into fiction by transplanting the aching heart of his previous work into a story where anything is possible. Fronted by Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka and shot by Autumn Durald, the incredibly talented cinematographer who located Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto in a youthful haze, One & Two takes place in a remote farmhouse where two siblings with nascent superpowers hope to keep their family intact.
A Poem Is a Naked Person The late and legendary documentary filmmaker behind everything from Burden of Dreams to Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers, Les Blank was truly the gift that never stopped giving, and his death has apparently done nothing to change that. Shot between 1972 and 1974 and held without a theatrical release ever since, this warts-and-all portrait of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Leon Russell cuts between the intimacy of Russell’s musical community and the grand spectacle of his live performances.
The Sandwich Nazi Here's SXSW’s official description of The Sandwich Nazi: “Deli owner Salam Kahil is an art collector, a former male escort, an amateur musician and a sandwich maker to the homeless in Vancouver's poorest neighborhood but his true passion is talking about blowjobs.” We trust that the reasons for our enthusiasm are self-evident.
6 Years Hannah Fidell’s A Teacher (2013) was a tense little stunner about an obviously doomed relationship between a high-school kid and the woman who graded him. What makes 6 Years so intriguing is that it effectively inverts the premise: It begins with a seemingly perfect relationship between two bright-eyed kids and then chips away at the rosy veneer.
Trainwreck Judd Apatow has become an unlikely fixture at SXSW over the last few years, premiering “unfinished” cuts of his huge studio comedies and scoping new talent to expand his empire. This Is 40 may have been a tone-deaf misfire but Trainwreck—which stars screenwriter Amy Schumer as a woman who’s trying to conquer her fear of commitment—seems like an ideal next step for Apatow, allowing him to move out of his comfort zone without having to reinvent himself.
We Are Still Here Writer-director Ted Geoghegan certainly knows his shit: A PR wizard who doubles as one of the horror community’s most reliable Swiss army knives, Geoghegan has done everything from associate-producing The ABCs of Death 2, writing English dialogue for the South Korean thriller The Berlin File and directing magnificently titled films like Ghouls Gone Wild! His latest (and greatest) accomplishment is a sadistically tense horror throwback about a remote New England house that really needs a family. Starring scream queen Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator), who continues to show the kids how this stuff is done, We Are Still Here is everything that midnight madness ought to be.
Wild Horses Okay, so Robert Duvall isn’t exactly an up-and-coming filmmaker, but if you’re looking for a SXSW movie that isn’t about hipsters, monsters or hipsters who are monsters, Wild Horses is a pretty safe bet (it does co-star James Franco, though). The story of a Texas rancher (Duvall) whose idyllic existence is threatened by the looming shadow of a 15-year-old missing persons case, this saga of western justice promises to be the gruffest thing in town.