Neil Ferguson reviews the SXSW film festival by highlighting five of his favorite films from this year's roster.
This year’s SXSW film festival featured a wonderful roster of films from around the world. With hundreds of films in the lineup it’s impossible to see them all. If there was one disappointing portion of the programming it was the narrative shorts. As a filmmaker I eagerly anticipate the short film programming every year because it’s one of the only times when I get to sit down and watch multiple short films in a row. While I did see some great shorts (Texas Shorts were excellent), I found the roster of short films as a whole to be lacking this year, and often found myself discussing with other festivalgoers how it could be possible that many of this year's short films got accepted at all. For that reason I have decided to highlight five feature films I saw that really stood out. Obviously these films represent a very small portion of the film festival, but I would highly recommend seeing these films if you ever get the chance. The films are listed in no particular order.
1. Gimme the Loot
Adam Leon wrote and directed this wonderful film about two New York City graffiti artists who get an opportunity to tag an iconic NYC landmark. The only problem is that they need $500 to pull it off. The writing, acting, and look of the film are what really struck me and made this film so interesting. Despite being shot digitally, the film has a gritty yet vibrant look reminiscent of films such as Wild Style and Mean Streets. Jonathan Miller’s cinematography makes NYC a living, breathing organism that becomes as much a character as the actors. The film takes place during a hot and muggy summer, and you can practically feel the heat coming off the sidewalks. Adam Leon's script is filled with rich and naturally flowing dialogue. The cast of unknown but extremely talented actors play their roles perfectly. Keep an eye out for Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson, who play Sofia and Malcolm, the teenage graffiti artists and main characters of the film.
2. WE ARE LEGION: The Story of Hactivists
Brian Knappenberger’s documentary about the hacker group Anonymous is one of the more interesting documentaries I have seen recently. Part of the reason for this is because over the last few years “hacktivism” and Anonymous have made quite a splash in the media and have scared the hell out of the powers that run our society. Their bold actions against major credit card companies, banks, religious groups, and government agencies have led many to wonder who is behind this group. The film traces “hacktivism” from its beginnings on message boards such as 4Chan to the formation of Anonymous and similar groups. There is a large focus on group's connection to the Wikileaks controversy and the Occupy movement. Knappenberger does a fantastic job of placing everything in a timeline of events that make the film easy to understand. He also manages to humanize the people behind the movement, which is difficult to do since many of them do not show their faces. The film also raises the question of whether or not this new wave of hacking actually counts as a form of activism. This film will definitely draw a lot of attention when it’s released.
3. Beware of Mr. Baker
Most people know Ginger Baker as the drummer for the iconic rock band Cream, and maybe as a member of Blind Faith. Other than that there hasn’t been much information on the life of Mr. Baker...until now. The film sprouted when first-time filmmaker Jay Bulger wondered what happened to one of rock music’s most talented and notorious drummers. He tracked down Mr. Baker who, at the age of 70, was living on a ranch in South Africa. Bulger ended up writing an article about Ginger Baker for Rolling Stone, and then decided that his story was too interesting not to be a film. The film is a rollercoaster ride through Baker’s life as a drug addicted rock star who travels the world playing drums and leaving a trail of destruction wherever he goes. There are few rock stars besides Keith Richards who have lived a life as crazy as Ginger Baker and lived to tell about it. Sometimes music documentaries can be flat and just stick to the basic story of a band, but Bulger’s film chugs ahead at full speed and includes beautiful animation to compliment the story of Ginger Baker.
4. Nature Calls
Nature Calls was definitely not the best film I saw during SXSW, yet I found it to be hilariously stupid and thoroughly enjoyed sitting through such a goofy comedy. The film features an all-star lineup of comedic talent such as Patton Oswalt, Johnny Knoxville, Rob Riggle, Maura Tierney, Patrice O'Neal (RIP), and Darrell Hammond. When Assistant Scoutmaster Randy (Oswalt) sets out to carry on his father’s legacy by taking his tiny troop of boy scouts on a camping trip his plans are fumbled by his older brother Kirk (Knoxville), a successful ATM salesman. Kirk invites all of the boys over to his house to celebrate his adopted African son’s birthday and spend the night watching TV and eating junk food. Randy decides to get his troop back and bring them on the ultimate Boy Scout camping trip. What ensues is a ridiculously over-the-top adventure as Kirk and his gang of idiotic friends try to track down the scouts. This film was great because if it had been made with Eddie Murphy it would have been a cheesy high-grossing kids movie that no adult would find funny, but since it was made by a group of comedians it’s filled with cursing and dirty humor that will definitely get it an R rating. The kids who act in the film all do an excellent job acting and are able to keep up with the massive comedic talents. Nature Calls kind of feels like a kid's movie but it definitely isn't. Note: No trailer available for this film.
5. God Bless America
"It's a violent film about kindness." - Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait on his film God Bless America. That's really the best way to describe the Goldthwait's film about a middle-aged man (Joel Murray) who decides he has had it with a society obsessed with popular culture and humiliation, and takes matters in to his own hands by slaughtering those he feels are ruining society. When I first saw the trailer for this film months ago it completely blew my mind because it seemed like the film was speaking for anyone who has ever found themselves disgusted with American popular culture. I loved this film and upon seeing it on the first night of SXSW I was surprised to find that it’s about much more than a guy who goes on a killing spree. The film is extremely violent but somehow manages to give you a warm feeling about why it is important for people to treat each other with kindness and why human interactions still matter despite all of the time we spend in front of screens.