The SXSW Film Festival is an annual March tradition in Austin, TX, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the prominent movie carnival to cancel its planned programs in 2020. Well, don’t mess with Texas because SXSW was back in 2021 (March 16 – March 20), albeit online.
We enrolled in SXSW this year and caught 18 movies, and although we didn’t see nearly everything, here are our five favorites.
“Alien on Stage” – A group of enthusiastic – but sometimes apprehensive – Dorset, UK bus drivers and staff wish to put on a play, but not “Hamlet”, “Rent”, or “The Book of Mormon”. These everyday men and women attempt to bring the iconic 1979 horror film “Alien” to the stage, including the starship Nostromo, the Xenomorph XX121 (aka: The Alien), and the infamous chest-bursting scene. What??? Directors Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer’s documentary captures this seemingly impossible task, as their film feels like a real-life “Waiting for Guffman” (1996). The movie’s tagline is: “In Dorset, no one can hear you scream.” Great stuff!
“The Fallout” – Jenna Ortega delivers an affecting performance as a teenage survivor of a brutal school shooting, and writer/director Megan Park sets the majority of her movie after the tragedy occurs. Even though Vada (Ortega) wasn’t physically hurt, the screenplay effectively deep-dives into the emotional aftershock of the massacre. In a March 2021 interview, Park said, “If I was 16, I’d be so anxious, I couldn’t leave my room. I couldn’t stop thinking about that perspective and that side of the story.”
“Hysterical” – The stand-up industry has marginalized female comics for decades. These women have coped – both onstage and offstage – with “concrete ceilings”, but over the years, they have successfully swung sledgehammers and smashed them. Well, almost two dozen comediennes – including Nikki Glaser, Sherri Shepherd, Kathy Griffin, and Margaret Cho – share their personal stories in director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins’ funny and enlightening doc. She packs lots and lots of rich history, B-roll, and intimate revelations into 87 minutes.
“Introducing, Selma Blair” – Selma Blair has starred in big movies, like “Cruel Intentions” (1999), “Legally Blonde” (2001), and “Hellboy” (2004), but her part in director Rachel Fleit’s documentary is her most important and urgent role yet. Doctors diagnosed Blair with Multiple Sclerosis, and she opens up her home and soul to Fleit’s camera that captures the physical and mental day-to-day anguish, as well as the ongoing fight to stay alive. This profoundly moving doc had this critic in tears throughout so much of the 90-minute runtime. A heartbreaking and inspiring film.
“Recovery” – Set during the very beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, two sisters (Whitney Call and Mallory Everton) hop in their car and drive from New Mexico to Washington to fetch their grandma from her nursing home that has a rash of infections. Jamie (Call) and Blake (Everton) frequently remind us of the dreary misery of COVID precautions, but the film – written by the two stars – is a flat-out hilarious road trip and a cross between “Clerks” (1994), “Booksmart” (2019), and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983). Call and Everton are a riot!