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SXSW 2024 Preview: A Requiem

It was love at first sight in 1990 when I first began visiting (and occasionally living in) Austin, TX — and then a year later, Richard Linklater’s classic indie Slacker (and, in 1994, the South by Southwest music festival’s launch of a Film and Multimedia conference) helped to focus the world’s attention on the famously weird, once upon a time bohemian paradise.

Since then, I’ve attended nearly every SXSW (including the online-only editions during the long strange trip of the COVID years), but a 2024 visit’s not in the cards — ironically (in part) because the AI enthusiastically evangelized by the event’s tech bro contingent has innovatively helped to strangle the income of freelance writers like me.

Yet despite the skyrocketing cost of living that’s forced most of the slackers out of Austin in favor of start-ups (and Joe Rogan’s “anti-woke” comedy club), SXSW nevertheless remains an international gathering place for established and nascent cinematic voices, and so here are the films (by catalog category) that I’d be queueing to see from March 8–16 in Austin if I still had the means and motivation to return to my old stomping grounds for the festival’s 2024 edition.

HEADLINERS are the celebrity-studded screenings reflecting SXSW’s new identity as Hollywood-by-Southwest (including not one but two 2024 premieres of big budget retreads of 1980s IP (The Fall Guy and Roadhouse starring Ryan Gosling and Jake Gyllenhaal, respectively, as well as Dev Patel’s upcoming Universal actioner Monkey Man).

Monkey Man

However, those seeking more offbeat fare (and slightly less crowded venues) might enjoy…

Babes, a comedy about a woman getting unexpectedly pregnant after a one-night stand, then seeking guidance from her married, mother-of-two best friend has the comedy pedigree of Better Things co-creator/star Pamela Adlon behind the camera directing a project written and starring Broad City co-creator Ilana Glazer.

Babes

Meanwhile, Y2K (cowritten and directed by former SNL oddball Kyle Mooney) promises to satisfy cravings for dial-up nostalgia with a tale of high school friends crashing a potentially apocalyptic New Year’s Eve party.

NARRATIVE AND DOCUMNTARY FEATURE COMPETITION

Of the SXSW premieres in this category vying for prizes and buzz, We Strangers (written and directed by Anu Valia) stands out for its intriguingly topical wealth gap premise of a cleaning woman (played by the mono-monikered thespian Kirby) who tells a lie that spirals out of control in a wealthy Indiana community.

We Strangers

We’re All Gonna Die (written and directed by Freddie Wong) also stands out with a story about a road trip to retrieve some missing bees that likewise promises to include a “massive alien tentacle” looming over the Earth.

We’re All Gonna Die

Turning to the documentary side of the competition, only a cad would root against the Austin-based subjects of director Julie Lunde Lillesæter An Army of Women as they fight a flawed system that allowed their rapists to go free.

An Army of Women

After that dramatic tale, however, a more upbeat option might be We Can Be Heroes (by directors Carina Mia Wong and Alex Simmons), which profiles a Live Action Role Playing (a.k.a. LARP-ing) summer camp for a ” group of neurodivergent, queer, and self-proclaimed nerdy teenagers.”

We Can Be Heroes

A House Is Not A Disco (director Brian J. Smith’s tribute to New York’s queer mecca, Fire Island) also sounds like a surefire (non-MAGA) crowdpleaser…

A House is Not a Disco

…though my personal pick for the most intriguing premise of all the films in competition (not to mention the entire festival) would have to be Grand Theft Hamlet (by Pinny Grylls and Sam Crane) about a pair of actors attempting to stage a full production of the eponymous Shakespearean tragedy within the ultraviolent world of GTA gaming.

Grand Theft Hamlet

Narrative & Documentary Spotlight

Moving on to features receiving either world, North American, or U.S. premieres which aren’t competing for the SXSW jury, Arcadian‘s post-apocalyptic Irish family menaced by mysterious creatures and Cuckoo‘s spooky German Alps town full of secrets both caught my eye…

…but since I’m always a sucker for looping existential brain teasers, I’d probably skip both for a screening of writer/director Shannon Triplett’s Desert Road about a woman who crashes her car and keeps winding up back at scene of the wreck no matter which direction she travels in search of help.  (Plus, best of all, the story somehow leads to an appearance by Rachel Dratch, which can only improve the film even if it turns out the big “twist” at the end is simply that the protagonist was dead the whole time.)

Desert Road

As a New Englander, I’ll likewise keep my eyes open for the love story High Tide (set in Provincetown, MA), while Timestalker‘s exploration of “the eternal humiliation that is the search for love, spanning the most romantic epochs of history” might be worth a visit to the Rollins Theatre or the Alamo Lamar 6 (two of the SXSW venues that HAVEN’T yet been turned into “anti-woke” “comedy” establishments).

But, again, I’d likely skip either for The Greatest Hits by writer/director Ned Benson about a woman who’s literally transported in time when she hears certain songs — a premise so great it’s astonishing that nobody’s ever used it in a movie before (unless I’m forgetting something remarkably obvious).

Next, shining the Spotlight over to the 2024 line-up of documentaries, Cheech & Chong’s Last Movie sells itself for fans of the classic stoner comedy duo, the schadenfreude is sure to be strong with The Truth vs. Alex Jones, and How to Build a Truth Engine (about why humans are so susceptible to misinformation and what can be done about it) sounds like the perfect antidote for the rage I’d surely experience viewing the #21stCenturySoAwful double feature of The Antisocial Network back to back with Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion.

Yet the Documentary Spotlight screenings I’d likely stand in line for the longest would be Dickweed (which had me at “Two people got kidnapped. One man lost his dick”), Secret Mall Apartment (about eight young Rhode Islanders somehow living exactly where the title suggests), and Billy & Molly: An Otter Love Story (because I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying).

Billy & Molly: An Otter Love Story

Midnighters, Visions & Festival Favorites

Given the time slot (and all the free beer) at SXSW, I’ve rarely if ever made it to the fest’s Midnighters horror screenings — yet if I timed my napping correctly and could only attend one, I’d be tempted by either the titular creepy wooden doll in writer/director Damian McCarthy’s Oddity or the kids in Family hoping to cure their sick father with help from a good spirit until “something else comes instead.”

Oddity

Meanwhile, I’m not exactly sure what qualifies certain SXSW films as Visions, but Dead Mail is certainly a catchy title for a thriller about a 1980s postal investigator investigating a bloody note and Sew Torn seems to have an intriguing Choose Your Own Adventure hook.

As for the Favorites, one of my long-time festival rules is that it’s hard to go wrong with Bigfoot or director David Zellner and Sasquatch Summer has both.

Sasquatch Summer

Additionally, having directed my own indie about an end-of-the-world party, I’m always intrigued by films like Gasoline Rainbow, which features a similar premise (not to mention a pretty boss title).

TV Premiere, Global & 24 Beats Per Second

Finally, rounding out the festival’s other three categories, the cinematic subjects sell themselves in Billy Preston: That’s The Way God Planned It, Black Twitter: A People’s History, Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told, and Ren Faire — plus I’m also curious about the image of the folder labeled “Digital Vagina” in the listing for Spanish writer/director Patricia Franquesa’s provocatively titled My Sextortion Diary.

My Sextortion Diary

So, if you’re in Austin this year and happen to see any of the above films (or any of the shorts, indie pilots, standup showcases, art, and music on the 2024 itinerary), be sure to stop by the Driskill hotel lobby and have a margarita on the rocks in honor of a FOG! geek who’ll be missing the ghosts of Austin terribly this year.

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