SXSW Film Fest 2021 was a Blast – Here are Some of Our Favorites

Last week was a whirlwind of screenings, Q&As, and roundtables, as it always is during SXSW, but unlike most years the whole thing was virtual, conveyed through an app. It still feels a little odd to participate in film festivals virtually though it must be said that many fests now have it down pretty well. There is no substitute for the person-to-person interaction, the line conversations, the impromptu meetings, etc, but the ability to watch six or more movies a day is pretty unique to the at-home experience. We saw a bunch of unique films this year and, as usual, we wanted to highlight a few of them for you so that you can keep an eye out for them as they make their way into theaters and/or home viewing setups.

Here are some of the best and most interesting films that AFS Lead Programmer Lars Nilsen saw at SXSW ’21.

“Not surprisingly all but one of my picks are docs. It was an especially good class of non-fiction films this year. There were many fine Austin-made films as well, some of which AFS had the honor of providing funding or other assistance for. I am not including these here, not because they were not excellent, but because they have received a fair amount of attention elsewhere.” – Lars Nilsen

DELIA DERBYSHIRE: THE MYTHS & THE LEGENDARY TAPES (Dir. Caroline Catz) 

The life and times of the electronic music pioneer who was a key contributor to the music and other sounds created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Only a small amount of footage exists of Derbyshire but director Caroline Catz has added dramatic reconstructions of recording sessions and other key moments to help give us a portrait of an artistic pioneer who climbed some pretty steep walls to help change the landscape of modern sound. Catz has also enlisted the aid of composer Cosey Fanni Tutti to remix and reimagine some newly rediscovered tapes of Derbyshire’s memoirs.

I’M FINE (THANKS FOR ASKING) (Dir. Kelley Kali, Angelique Molina)

The subject matter of this film sounds a little grim – a young mother who lives with her daughter in a tent because they can’t afford a home has to hustle up a few hundred dollars and gets sidetracked continually. In fact, there’s a lot of joy and humor in this sharply observed narrative film. While the struggles are shown in a realistic manner, there is a haze of optimism that hangs over the picture and keeps things from getting too depressing. We have faith in the woman and in the power of her will to succeed.

LUCHADORAS (Dir. Paola Calvo, Patrick Jasim)

This is something of a real-life superhero film. In the community of Ciudad Juarez, just across the border with El Paso, the violent crime rate is astronomical, and women are especially vulnerable. Against this backdrop, we meet several female wrestlers from different backgrounds, of different ages and even of different heights – one of them is a little person. As we come to see how they cope in this environment—putting on shows, trying to get to America, and teaching self-defense classes for women—we gain respect for their struggle and the character that allows them to fight through it.

WHEN CLAUDE GOT SHOT (Dir. Brad Lichtenstein)

In this documentary, we see the many facets of a single, seemingly senseless crime. A Milwaukee man is approached by a would-be carjacker with a gun. The driver speeds off but is hit by a bullet fired by the pursuing thief. The victim undergoes a painful surgery to reconstruct his jaw but recovers. The young thief however continues his spree and is shot in the spine. The rest of the film shows us their parallel stories. The victim, a successful businessman and middle-aged law student had some similar run-ins with the law as a young man and he tries to forgive and help. The now-disabled teenage perpetrator does not seem willing to meet in the middle. This is their surprising and moving story.

WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED: A HISTORY OF FOLK HORROR (Dir. Kier-La Janisse)

Kier-La Janisse is a legend in the field of film programming and as a film critic – her book House of Psychotic Women is a key influence on modern horror criticism and its intersection with trauma in the lives of fans and makers. Alongside her other work, she has made a large number of what she calls “bibliodocs” which use collectors’ footage, newly created video, and her own narration to tell stories of subjects she personally cares about deeply – subjects have included Bubblegum music and the creative life of Lee Hazlewood. This is a bibliodoc with relatively supercharged means. It is about folk horror and not just the folk horror of the British Isles. This is a comprehensive and long (over three hours) film that will make the viewer consider the themes of folk horror films in new ways.

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