Arianne’s SXSW Film Round-Up

Now, this will be my last SXSW article. I have to say, I watched a lot during the festival but made the decision not to write about all of them. I wrote full reviews for some of them, then did my television round-up and now this round-up. 

These are some of the films I saw during the festival, not all of them, but those that I found myself enjoying a lot and wanted to talk a little bit about them. They aren’t in any particular order, so here are a few films that you should be on the lookout for.

Executive Order directed by Lázaro Ramos.

Dystopian films aren’t new, they are even overdone. We could describe Executive Order as a dystopian film, but it is so much more. Executive Order takes place in a dystopian near-future in Brazil where an authoritarian government orders all citizens of African descent to move to Africa – creating chaos, protests, and an underground resistance movement that inspires the nation. It’s not difficult to see what this film is about and the commentary about racism and class is the best part of the film. It’s a feature that is at times hard to watch because it isn’t difficult to see how it could actually happen in our lifetime. The thing is, Executive Order fails at developing its character. While the subject matter is the best part of the film, the characters feel flat and you never can truly identify with them because of how underdeveloped they are. That being said, once you can look past that and see the film for what it is, it’s one that stays with you as the credit rolls, leaving you to ponder about what you have just watched.

The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson directed by Leah Purcell.

The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson might not be perfect, but it is a feminist western film like we haven’t seen before. Leah Purcell (Wentworth) created a film, based on the play she adapted from the short story, that might have some pacing issues but, at the same time, you can’t fault it because it tries so hard. Purcell created a film that is all about Johnson and her reclaiming her identity. Her identity from her abusive husband, from the cops but also from white people who hid her indigenous origin from her when her mother dies in childbirth. It’s a story that is easy to understand why Purcell wanted to tell and act in, reclaiming her own people and showcasing a side we don’t see often enough. Western films are almost always about men and yet, The Drover’s Wife is nothing like that, it’s about Molly Johnson and her children surviving in the Australian Outback, it’s about the colonization of Australia and the destruction of a culture, it might look like a simple western, but it is a commentary that we all need to listen too and understand. Maybe not perfect, but so important.

The Fallout directed by Megan Park.

In her directorial debut, Megan Park really knocks it out of the park. The Fallout, which won the Narrative Feature Competition Grand Jury Award, the Narrative Feature Competition Audience Award and the Brightcove Illumination Award for Park herself, is difficult to watch and yet, you can’t look away the whole time. When high schooler Vada must navigate the emotional fallout she experiences in the wake of a school tragedy the relationships with her family, friends and view of the world are forever altered. What is so hard about The Fallout is how real it is, it’s one of those films that you know will hit home for too many kids, who have been traumatized for the rest of their lives because of a school shooting. But The Fallout isn’t about the act of the school shooting but the aftermath, the emotional toll it takes not only on those who experience it but those around them. Jenna Ortega (You, Yes Day) is a standout and gives one of the best performances of her young career. Maggie Ziegler also shines and proves that with the right director, she can be an extraordinary actress. What is incredible about The Fallout is the way the film navigates its subject, never showing you the action, always just showing you the emotional fallout of it all. It’s hard to imagine how life must feel after an event like this and Park is able to showcase that. 

(Plus, the score from Finneas O’Connell is one of the best I have heard in a very long time.)

Swan Song directed by Todd Stephens.

Todd Stephens’ Swan Song is the movie I didn’t know I needed. There’s something to be said about queer cinema and how underrepresented the older generation often gets. There’s really not a lot of films that follow older gays and Swan Song is the film that we have been waiting for. Starring the incredible Udo Kier, Swan Song tells the story of an ageing hairdresser who comes back to his town to style one of his former clients for her funeral. Stephens crafts a film that is not only feel good but also heartbreaking, with Kier getting to be his fabulous self. Yes, Swan Song is sad, but it is about a man getting back a little bit of his life but also seeing how the world changed without him, it’s a heartbreaking tale about growing old and everyone you know leaving you behind. By the end, Swan Song breaks your heart but you are okay with it because the ride was so enjoyable.

Recovery directed by Mallory Everton and Stephen Meek.

Recovery might be the only COVID film I have enjoyed. Here’s the thing, COVID movies will be here for a while, but most of them, are just not for me. I am living through this, I don’t want to have to watch it. And yet, Recovery was funny and entertaining and maybe the only COVID film that I will ever enjoy. Roadtrip films are something that I often find myself enjoying because they can be so simple and yet, so effective. Recovery might center around COVID but somehow I never found myself annoyed by that, I understood why it was necessary and the comedy worked so well that I often forgot about it all. It felt real but also surreal, the chemistry between Whitney Call and Mallory Everton elevated the film and created a comedy that I will not soon forget. It might be about COVID in the end, but Recovery might just be the one film I will forgive for that.

How It Ends directed by Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein.

When How It Ends premiered at Sundance, everyone I knew that saw it told me I was going to love it. It seemed to be right up my alley in terms of comedy, but the thing is, maybe I went in with a little too much expectations. Yes, I enjoyed How It Ends but I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to. It’s clear that this film was made in the early days of COVID, because of how everyone is always six feet apart and no one touches in the film, it’s also clear to me that this would have worked better as a web series about a women’s last day on Earth before the end of the world. How It Ends gives Zoe Lister-Jones a platform but it also doesn’t do her justice. Some of the jokes are hilarious but because the film feels so disconnected, I found myself wanting it to move along. The problem with How It Ends is the way it is paced and the fact that the whole time I felt like I was watching a web series where every clip had a cameo and not a cohesive feature film. But, that being said, How It Ends does have its funny moments, some of the segments had me hollering, but others just felt redundant. Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeny, who worked on The Craft; Legacy which Lister-Jones wrote and directed, have chemistry and hold this movie together, but sometimes it just isn’t enough. I truly wanted to love this one, but I ended up just liking parts of it.

You can read Alex’s review right here.

The Sparks Brothers directed by Edgar Wright.

I knew nothing about Sparks, I truly only went into the film knowing that this was directed by Edgar Wright. By the end, I had downloaded their whole catalogue on Spotify and I have been obsessed with them and their sound. The Sparks Brothers retells the musical journey of Ron and Rusell, two brothers who together have spawned 25 studio albums over five decades. It is a great introduction to the brother themselves but also to their music. The Sparks Brothers showcases the good and bad time of a five decade career, showcase how truly innovative this band is and how so many of the bands we listen too have spawned from their creativity. Edgar Wright directs a documentary that is clearly made from a fan’s perspective, but it has so much heart that you fall in love with these two brothers who just wanted to make music no matter what. Their talent and perseverance might have helped them along the way, but their personality is really what stood out to me, the film showcasing it with neon lights to tell us who these two men are.

Hysterical directed by Andrea Blaungrunf Nevins.

As someone who tried stand-up comedy for a while and gave up after experiencing a side of it that I just couldn’t cope with, I was intrigued by Hysterical. A documentary about female stand-up, their struggles, the history and most importantly the talented women who inhabits it. Hysterical doesn’t shy away from hard topics, just like the women don’t on stage. It showcases the sexism that exists in the stand-up world, the misogyny of it, the racism of it, how women have to fit in one box and when you try to get out, then you are shunned. These women don’t hold back and I am grateful for that because their comedy deserves the platform that Hysterical gives them. From legends to newcomers, the documentary tries to give a light to some deserving comics while also praising those of the past. Kathy Griffith and her controversial Donald Trump picture, the comic who confronted Weinstein in a bar or even breast cancer. Hysterical tackles so much and has so much heart that by the end, I was in awe of it and the women in it.