The March Madness movie season continues, with the Berlinale swiftly followed by Texas’ premiere film festival, SXSW. We were lucky enough to bag a front row digital ticket to the event, which presented over 75 features across various strands. Despite strict geo-blocking, a confusing website layout and expiring screener links, we managed to sort through the large amount of features to find ten standout entries. Ranging from scrappy yet adorable documentaries to accomplished debut features, here are ten films to put on your radar from SXSW Online 2021.
Alien on Stage by Lucy Harvey & Danielle Kummer
It’ll be hard to find a more heart-warming tale than this story of chain-smoking bus drivers from Dorset whose amateur production of Alien makes it all the way to the West End. A reminder that great art — and artists — can seemingly come from anywhere, if given the right opportunities.
Ninjababy by Yngvild Sve Flikke
As the title suggests Ninjababy occupies similar unwanted pregnancy ground as last year’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always or Unpregnant. Yet where those films centred on the issue of abortion access, Yngvild Sve Flikke’s delightful adaptation of Inga H Sætre’s Fallteknik graphic novel sees its irreverent Norwegian heroine kick against convention (and social niceties) as she hunts for solutions to the sudden curtailing of her party lifestyle.
Dear Mr Brody by Keith Maitland
Michael Brody, Jr, the heir to a margarine fortune, had a simple dream: he would give away his vast $25 million fortune to anyone who wanted it. The only problem: the insane demand. DN alum Keith Maitland’s Dear Mr Brody shows how the 70s hippie was inundated with thousands of letters, ranging from simple requests to desperate pleas, laying bare the difficulties of millions of Americans during the Nixon era.
See You Then by Mari Walker
A simply two-hander that explores a long-lost reconnection between two former lovers, See You Then is a touching reverie on love, friendship and trans identity. Allowing the two women to simply talk and listen (or not listen) to one another, it asks about the difficulties in relationships and finding yourself in the process.
Lily Topples the World by Jeremy Workman
Lily Topples the World plunges us into the surprisingly deep world of professional domino player Lily Hevesh, featuring both a touching story of finding one’s place and some of the most deeply satisfying constructed destruction committed to screen.
Here Before by Stacey Gregg
Andrea Riseborough, one of the most exciting and dynamic British actresses around, pulls out a pitch-perfect Northern Irish accent for Here Before, a ghost story filled with local flavour. With so much cinema from the region unable to escape the shadow of The Troubles, it’s refreshing to see a straight-up mystery movie that makes the most of the country’s rain-bleached and moody landscapes.
Luchadoras by Paola Calvo & Patrick Jasim
El Paso is one of the safest cities in the USA. Across the border, Juarez is the most dangerous city in Mexico. Violence against women is basically an epidemic. Luchadoras follows female wrestlers as they try and carve out an identity for themselves despite these difficult conditions.
Islands by Martin Edralin
Probably my favourite film of the festival, Islands gathers its power through its simple observation of gestures, which seem to accumulate throughout the film to quietly devastating effect. Telling the story of a closed-off Filipino immigrant living in Canada, it’s a quirky yet effective fable about the need for human connection.
The Lost Sons by Ursula Macfarlane
A slick, very ‘American’, TV production, this CNN film follows a case of a kidnapped child that only gets stranger as the movie progresses. With the amount of material and backstories here, it could’ve easily been a ten-part miniseries.
Potato Dreams of America by Wes Hurley
Mileage will vary with the approach taken in Potato Dreams of America, a gay coming-of-age story that subverts traditional American immigrant tropes. Russians characters speak in English throughout, the characterisation is deliberately cartoonish, and the set-dressing purposefully alienating. Yet behind this unrealistic construction is a heartfelt exploration of queer identity that both surprises and delights.