Is it possible that there are really 20 must-see films in a film festival that lasts less than a week? It’s very possible if that festival is SXSW, one of Paste’s favorite weeks of the year. As you might expect, given the festival’s and our special interest in music, there are quite a few music documentaries on the list. But there’s something here for everyone.
11. THE IMPOSTER
The Category: Festival Favorites
The SXSW Synopsis: “In 1994 a 13-year-old boy disappeared from his home in San Antonio,Texas. Three and a half years later he is found alive thousands of miles away in Spain with a shocking story of kidnap and torture. His family are overjoyed to bring him home. But all is not what it seems. He bears many of the same marks but why does he have a strange accent? Why does he look so different? And why doesn’t the family notice these glaring inconsistencies? It’s only when an investigator starts asking questions that this astonishing true story takes an even stranger turn…”
The Key Players: Director Bart Layton
The Draw: We’ve already seen this film and loved it. Director Bart Layton mixes elements of documentary and narrative filmmaking seamlessly in ways I’ve never seen done before. And every character he uncovers in the drama is more of a treasure trove than the last. It’s one of the most compelling films you’ll see all year, in any genre.
12. LOW & CLEAR
The Category: Emerging Visions
The SXSW Synopsis: “A story of friendship and life in the disappearing wilderness of the West, LOW & CLEAR follows two formerly close friends who re-unite for one last fly fishing trip to British Columbia. Over the course of their time together they come to understand how much they’ve each changed and how these changes now threaten their friendship.”
The Key Players: Directors Kahlil Hudson and Tyler Hughen
The Draw: We’ve also seen this film and loved it. Having two fascinating, outspoken, and often at-odds subjects helps. But most of all, the directors seem determined not to settle for a tone poem, but to tell a real story here. And it’s mesmerizing. The best documentary of the year so far.
The Category: Headliners
The SXSW Synopsis: “The definitive life story of Bob Marley – musician, revolutionary, legend – from his early days to his rise to international superstardom. Made with the support of the Marley family, the film features rare footage, incredible performances and revelatory interviews with the people that knew him best.”
The Key Players:Director Kevin Macdonald
The Draw: The Academy Award-winning director tackles one of the most iconic and mystical music figures of all time? We’re in.
14. SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
The Category: 24 Beats Per Second
The SXSW Synopsis: ”Searching for Sugar Man tells the true story of the greatest ‘70s US rock icon who never was, how he was rediscovered in a far off land and finally became the legend he always deserved to be. It is a story of hope, inspiration and the power of music.”
The Key Players: Director Malik Bendjelloul
The Draw: Another film we saw and loved. “The Story of the Forgotten Genius” is such a well-worn formula for music docs that it was parodied more than three decades ago in This is Spinal Tap. As Malik Bendjelloul begins to tell the story of Rodriguez, the Dylanesque folk rocker who released two apparently brilliant albums in the early ‘70s, then disappeared, it appears he’s on a familiar road. But he’s got a major ace up his sleeve.’
15. THE SOURCE
The Category: Documentary Feature Competition
The SXSW Synopsis: “It’s 1971 and communes and new religions are on the rise. The Source Family are an “Aquarian tribe,” a secretive but outlandish group of 140 beautiful young people who stroll Los Angeles in colorful robes, devotees of “Father Yod,” a controversial restaurateur-turned-spiritual leader with fourteen wives and his own psychedelic rock band. The Family lives in a mansion and operates a popular restaurant on the Sunset Strip, serving vegetarian cuisine to musicians and movie stars, pioneering a national trend. But their radical lifestyle instigates the authorities. Their demise is dramatic and painful, but Yod’s spirit lives on.”
The Key Players: Directors Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos
The Draw: If that description doesn’t grab you, we don’t know what will. We just hope the soundtrack is by Paste favorites The Polyphonic Spree.
16. SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS
The Category: 24 Beats Per Second
The SXSW Synopsis: “On April 2nd 2011, LCD Soundsystem played its final show at Madison Square Garden. Shut Up And Play The Hits documents this once in a life time performance and paints an intimate portrait of James Murphy as he navigates the lead-up to the show, the day after, and the personal and professional ramifications of his decision to consign the band to history.”
The Key Players: Directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern
The Draw: Another we can already recommend after seeing it. Lovelace and Southern used a staggering number of cameras and crosscut liberally to provide an experience that’s arguably even better than seeing the band live (okay, maybe not quite that good but…). And the scenes outside the concert footage are equally compelling.
17. TRASH DANCE
The Category: Documentary Spotlight
The SXSW Synopsis: “Sometimes inspiration is found in unexpected places. Choreographer Allison Orr finds beauty and grace in garbage trucks—and in the men and women who pick up our trash. She joins city sanitation workers on their daily routes to listen, learn, and ultimately to try to convince them to collaborate in a unique dance performance. Hard working, often carrying a second job, their lives are already full with work, family and dreams of their own. But some step forward, and after months of rehearsal, two dozen trash collectors and their trucks perform an extraordinary spectacle. On an abandoned airport runway, thousands of people show up to see how in the world a garbage truck can “dance.””
The Key Players: Director Andrew Garrison
The Draw: Are you kidding me? Choreographed garbage trucks? Who wouldn’t be curious?
18. UNDER AFRICAN SKIES
The Category: 24 Beats Per Second
The SXSW Synopsis: ”Under African Skies travels with Paul Simon back to South Africa on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his historic Graceland album. Paul reunites with the original band to give a reunion concert and to explore the story of the turbulent birth of the album. Featuring interviews with the key anti-apartheid activists of the time and such musical legends as Quincy Jones, Harry Belafonte, Paul McCartney, David Byrne and Steve Van Zandt, the film is both an anatomy of a profound artistic achievement and a meditation on the role of the artist in society.”
The Key Players: Director Joe Berlinger
The Draw: Another reason to be thankful for second chances, as we missed this one at Sundance as well. It seems everyone under 50 associates Graceland with their childhood, even if they were born after it was released. Berlinger produced one of the great music docs of all time (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster), so we’re looking forward to seeing what he does with Simon.
The Category: Midnighters
The SXSW Synopsis: ”V/H/S is a POV, found footage horror film from the perspective of America’s top genre filmmakers. In V/H/S, a group of misfits are hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house in the countryside and acquire a rare tape. Upon searching the house, the guys are confronted with a dead body, a hub of old televisions and an endless supply of cryptic footage, each video stranger and more inexplicable than the last…”
The Key Players: Directors Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and Radio Silence
The Draw: We’ve seen this one too. As you might expect, some of the chapters are weaker than others, but the strong ones—notably Joe Swanberg’s “The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” (a ghost story told through, of all things, a series of Skype video calls) and David Bruckner’s “Amateur Night” (a boys’-night-out-gone-oh-so-very-wrong tale)—make the wild ride more than worthwhile.’
20. ¡VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS!
The Category: SXGlobal
The SXSW Synopsis: “What would be the shortest route between Entre Ríos in Argentina and the Chinese metropolis Shanghai? Simply a straight line through the center of the earth, since the two places are antipodes: they are located diametrically opposite to each other on the earth’s surface. During his visits to four such antipodal pairs, the award-winning documentary filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky captured images that turn our view of the world upside down. These antipodes seem mythically connected, somehow united by their oppositeness. Kossakovsky’s movie is a feast for the senses, a fascinating kaleidoscope of our planet. ¡VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS! – Long Live The Antipodes!”
The Key Players: Director Victor Kossakovsky
The Draw: One of the smartest critics I know is Michael Tully, and one of the smartest festival programmers I know is David Wilson of True/False. Tully raved about this film, and Wilson gave Kossakovsky the only award of the entire festival. Looks like I’ve got a must-see on my list.
STUFF YOU SHOULD KNOW VARIETY SHOW
It’s a bonus entry because it’s not exactly a film per se, although the audience will see an exclusive preview showing of the pilot episode of the new Stuff You Should Know television series airing on The Science Channel this spring. But just as exciting are the acts lined up to take part in the live show, including Lucy Wainwright Roche, The Henry Clay People, and Crooks. Non-musical guests include John Hodgman and Eugene Mirman, and of course, Chuck and Josh themselves form the wildly popular SYSK podcast.