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SXSW 2023 Film Festival Sneak Preview

There are various traditions film lovers enjoy at the start of each new year, like applauding the Oscar nominations we approve of while complaining about the infuriating snubs (i.e., Bad Axe, which premiered at SXSW 2022 and was short-listed for Academy Award consideration yet fell short of a much deserved Best Documentary nod).

And speaking of SXSW, another winter tradition is previewing the Austin, TX festival’s vast number of film, TV, and VR screenings (not to mention comedy, cheese, music, and other events) while attempting to wrestle it all into some kind of theoretically plausible attendance schedule.

My personal strategy for navigating this cinematic smorgasbord involves subjectively filtering all the available offerings by subject matter, creative personnel, and how easy or difficult it may be to view a given project elsewhere)…resulting in my official 2023 Forces of Geek watch list, sorted by SXSW’s own stated programming categories.

HEADLINERS

a.k.a., movies likely to screen nationwide soon, though it’s generally more fun to see
them with the stars actually right there in the theater with you

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

As a former teen DM (and a current dragonborn paladin in semi-weekly Zoom sessions with a virtual party of murder hobo companions), this pick is indefensible as anything but shameless geekery.  Nevertheless, the trailer indicates Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley’s cinematic adaptation of the seminal RPG may be the first to capture the goofy fun of an inherently silly dice-rolling activity.  Here’s hoping for a natural 20.

Problemista

Come for the tale of an aspiring NYC toy designer from El Salvador, stay for a possible close encounter of the Tilda Swinton kind (hopefully joining co-stars Julio Torres and RZA onstage for a post-screening Q&A).

NARRATIVE & DOCUMENTARY FEATURE COMPETITIONS/SPOTLIGHTS

a.k.a., a first glance at the films likely to generate awards buzz and word of mouth later in the year

Mustache

With a cast including Rizwan Manji, Alicia Silverstone, and Hasan Minaj (plus a 13-year-old Pakistani American protagonist dealing with puberty and public school in the ’90s), writer/director Imran J. Khan’s  world premiere seems likely to be a coming-of-age crowd-pleaser.

A Disturbance in the Force

The Force will surely be with directors Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak as they debut this behind-the-scenes history of the unlikely ’70s variety show (and unmitigated disaster) known as The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Being Mary Tyler Moore

And for a documentary double shot of long ago, far away show biz reminiscence, director James Adolphus’s tribute to the titular media pioneer seems likely to be an inspiring treat marred only by the fact the beloved actress/director/producer (who passed away in 2017) won’t be there to enjoy it.

Black Barbie: A Documentary

Director Lagueria Davis offers another sure-to-be must-see look back at recent-ish pop cultural history through the lens of Mattel insider Beulah Mae Mitchell’s reflections on representation in the toy industry.

Confessions of a Good Samaritan

Documentarian Penny Lane shared compelling home movie footage of Tricky Dick with 2013 SXSW viewers of her film Our Nixon, raising expectations as she turns her cameras on herself to chronicle what happened after her decision to donate a kidney to a stranger.

You Can Call Me Bill

SHATNER!!!

MIDNIGHTERS

a.k.a., witching hour horror/bizarro future cult movies — though your tired Gen-X correspondent will probably only have the energy to get to one, and only if he manages to grab a nap beforehand.

Late Night with the Devil

Another promising ’70s story (this time from Australia) as a televised exorcism goes awry for those watching the broadcast (hopefully resulting in at least one of them shrieking, “Your mama eats kitty litter!”).

VISIONS

a.k.a., I’ve never quite figured out how this category differs from Narrative/Documentary Spotlight

The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster

Writer/director Bomani J. Story addresses real world horrors from substance abuse to police brutality with a film about a woman named Vicaria bringing the dead back to life.

Molli and Max in the Future

A simple love story might get lost amidst all the various SXSW offerings — but a rom-com (or maybe rom-dram?) spanning 12 years, 3 dimensions, and 4 planets featuring Zosia Mamet and a space cult definitely ups the ante.

24 BEATS A MINUTE

a.k.a., what’s a film and music festival without films about music?

 

299 Queen Street West

A documentary that will hopefully settle the question of whether my Canadian friends were right in the ’80s about MuchMusic being way cooler than MTV.  (And I’m guessing the answer is yes.)

Love To Love You, Donna Summer

A must-see documentary for loyal subjects of the immortal Queen of Disco.

GLOBAL PRESENTED BY MUBI

a.k.a. international films that aren’t listed with the international films in any of the other categories.

 

Kite Z to A

You had me at “daredevil rollerbladers and Vodou priests.”

The Ordinaries

The description of German writer/director Sophie Linnenbaum’s sci-fi dramedy is likewise intriguing, to wit: “Have you ever felt like a Supporting Character in your own life? What if you really are one…?”

FESTIVAL FAVORITES

a.k.a., previously screened at other fests but if you ain’t seen ’em they’re new to you!

Kokomo City

Black trans sex workers in NYC and Atlanta tell their own stories (rather than being talked about) in what the SXSW listing promotes as “a wildly entertaining and refreshingly unfiltered documentary” by director D. Smith.

Little Richard: I Am Everything

Sure to be the wop bop a loo boppest film at the fest.

TV PREMIERES, TV SPOTLIGHT & INDEPENDENT TV PILOT COMPETITION

I’ll probably have to catch up with these later, ’cause I have no idea how I’ll get to all the picks  I’ve already listed, especially if I squeeze in some music, comedy, short film, and virtual reality programming, though I’m fascinated to see what the wild imagination of Sorry To Bother You‘s Boots Riley will do with the premise of a 13-foot tall Black man in his upcoming series I’m A Virgo and I’ll also watch anything with Jesse Plemmons, so Love & Death‘s on my radar — but I should probably round out this preview with an independent TV pilot I might not get to see elsewhere, like…

A Guide to Not Dying Completely Alone

With so many TV screenings to choose from, this IndieGoGo-funded project by star/creator Kevin Yee rounds out my overloaded list as a “bitchy Eat, Pray, Love” about a queer Asian writer attempting to escape the show’s titular fate…

…and stay tuned for reviews of the projects I manage to see over the course of a whirlwind Austin, TX viewing spree from March 10-15, 2023!

 

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