From March 16-20, 2021, South by Southwest (SXSW) transformed into an online universe that aimed to replicate the in-person experience of this multi-sensory Austin extravaganza. Yes, I missed the in-person socializing, not to mention the Texas BBQ. But SXSW Online was an amazing experience for me. it was my first time covering the festival and I loved it.
It was really cool to have the chance to meet people from around the world in a digital space. The festival organizers came up with amazing ways to make connecting and engaging with other festival-goers very easy. We had live chats, shared XR experiences, Zoom MeetUps, AMAs, Clubhouse, and other social media channels to watch, listen and celebrate tremendous creativity and talent.
I found myself drawn to some of the panels that spoke to ways of re-imagining the community and connections in a post-Covid world. For example, in Life in the Vast Lane – Living Life on Four Wheels, Bob Wells, who played himself in the film Nomadland, offers practical guidance and hope for those interesting in adopting a nomadic lifestyle. Or the Live Music in Venues: What’s Next? and We Want Shows Again! Concerts in a Post-Covid World which educated me as to the possibilities of public gatherings in a post-Covid era.
I also really enjoyed the performances of some outstanding musicians. These streaming performances weren’t live, per se, but rather pre-recorded. The festival has opted to have artists record sets in the safety of their own homes (or other such safe locations), streaming these showcasing performances as if they were live. SXSW is known for platforming rising artists from every corner of the globe, and this year’s lineup had no lack of worthwhile emerging acts. Some of my favorites were: Brisbane, Australia native Jaguar Jonze (aka Deena Lynch), Indonesian indie act Grrrl Gang, Persian-NZ rapper CHAII, and Stockholm trio VERO.
Hopefully next year I will be able to go to Austin to watch all the talks, performances and meet all these creative people in person. And eat a lot of BBQ too, of course. In the meantime, I will let you guys with my favorite short films, documentaries, and feature films that I had a chance to watch at the festival.
Joe Buffalo is an Indigenous skateboard legend. He’s also a survivor of Canada’s notorious Indian Residential School system. Following a traumatic childhood and decades of addiction, Joe must face his inner demons to realize his dream of turning pro.
The film is extremely touching, engaging, and super well done. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. Joe is such a strong and interesting person. His story is really sad and the filmmakers captured his sadness in a very raw and honest way.
Sisters focus on two estranged siblings who are forced to confront each other as their comatose mother nears death. I really enjoyed this one. The film perfectly captured the love-hate relationship between these two sisters. The cinematography and the performances are both outstanding. And the chemistry between Sarah Burns and Mary Holland is amazing. And shoutout to whoever picked out the wig that the ailing mother is wearing in the film. That was a hilarious prop. Sisters is a lovely debut from the director and writer, Jess Brunetto. And I would love to see this short being expanded into a feature film.
Marvin’s never had coffee before
Marvin Wexler is lonely. When he realizes his co-workers all love coffee while he’s never even tried it, he vows to be a coffee aficionado before their next meeting. This film is a refreshing and hilarious story of one man’s journey to connect with other people in the Covid era. Very awkward at times but also totally sweet. The film was done with so much playfulness and I had a great time watching it. I’m excited to see what the director, Andrew Carter, will do next.
Nuevo Rico is unlike anything the animation world has seen before. It’s a Latinx-Futurism film that expresses something singular about who we are and where we’re going. A graphically bold, distinctly trippy animated short. The film aims to decolonize and builds a path towards narratives that give nuance and breath to our experiences. It’s also a really cool look into the world of reggaeton which I didn’t know much about and it was exciting to explore it.
The oxy kingpins
This documentary covers the untold story of how a network of pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, and retailers worked together to orchestrate and perpetuate the opioid crisis that has killed over half a million people in America.
This is a really important topic and the director Brendan Fitzgerald tells this story through two different perspectives; Alex Dimattio, a former OxyContin dealer who speaks to us after spending eight years in jail for dealing. And Mike Papantonio, a tough-fighting attorney who corresponds with Domattio while prepping a racketeering and conspiracy lawsuit against Big Pharma. The Oxy Kingpins is eye-opening and sometimes sickening! America’s opioid epidemic has killed 700,000 people over the last two decades, resulting in jail time for thousands of drug dealers, hundreds of pharmacists, and yet not a single executive from the pharmaceutical corporations truly responsible.
Malcolm Ingram directed this doc. examinating Kevin Smith’s groundbreaking career that took off with the release of his debut feature, Clerks, based on Smith’s experience working at the Quick Stop.
Clerk finds one of Smith’s longtime collaborators interviewing practically everyone in the writer/director/podcaster orbit. The story includes a lot of ups and downs, as Smith cheerfully admits. And it’s a beat-by-beat chronology in which even shameful entries on his filmography like Cop Out and Yoga Hosers get at least a mention, and where his other movies are remembered very fondly.
The film also introduces the many other ways Smith has grown his loyal fan base. His website was one of the first places in which a celebrity interacted directly with followers. It also shows how he started turning crowd-pleasing post-movie Q&As into full-blown speaking tours. His passion for weed and his near-death experience from a massive heart attack in 2018.
Kevin Smith has come a long way from his days working at the Quick Stop Convenience store in Leonardo, New Jersey. He's real. Which is quite hard to be these days. And this documentary captures that core of him throughout.
In a dystopian near-future in Brazil, 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.
Executive Order is strengthened by a strong cast as well as great character writing. For most of the film, we are with Antonio and André (Seu Jorge) in an apartment, and the two of them bring levity to the material. Enoch and Jorge have tremendous chemistry throughout the film and share some of the best scenes.
The film also succeeds in its plausibility, displaying an acute understanding of the slippery slope of disaster. And conveys strongly the terror in the streets as those who are targeted by this racist order get chased throughout the city.
For a dystopian film on a modest budget, Executive Order is a success. It takes a clever premise and effectively shows the dangers of putting the wrong person in power. And it can definitely lead to some interesting conversations, so it is worth checking out.
The end of us
After a savage breakup, two exes must continue living together when California issues its stay-at-home order for Covid-19. Now they’ll try to move on without moving out. The End of Us is great fun. The cast has great chemistry and the concept really worked for me. This is probably the only “Covid lockdown” film that I liked.
There is so much to relate regarding the pandemic. We all went through most of the same things the main characters of this film went through. I also loved the visual production. And I think they found the perfect house to shoot the film. Every shot was natural and interesting, and the costumes and props were on point. Overall, this is a really entertaining film and I totally recommend it.
This film starring the lovely Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass is so sweet. An honest portrayal of human connection. And it succeeds where other pandemic films have failed—in part because it has absolutely nothing to do with Covid-19.
The push and pull between the two characters over a series of video calls feels real. They argue they makeup, they learn each other’s triggers and embarrassing moments. You might expect the film’s format to tire viewers, especially after they’ve participated in so many Zoom meetings in the real world, but Morales and Duplass’s effortless chemistry makes it easy to forget you’re watching a series of video calls. Through their partially improvised performances, the two breathe life into a format that leaves a lot to be desired in terms of set design or visuals.
So much of Language Lessons subverts expectations: it’s a pandemic movie with no ties to the pandemic, and a rom-com that’s entirely, wonderfully platonic. Without any bells and whistles, the connection between its two characters lets the story shine. The end result is a simple film, but one with a lot of heart.