Nonfiction lineup features films on Michael Brown, Bill Nye, Armistead Maupin, guitarist Bill Frisell, artist Lance Letscher and the unlikeliest man to ever play James Bond
The SXSW Conference and Festivals opened today in Austin, Texas, perhaps the world's foremost gathering of artists and innovators from across the spectrum of film, music, interactive and tech, politics and more.
The event running from March 10-19 will draw a strong contingent from Hollywood alone, including Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Franco, director Ridley Scott, Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Octavia Spencer, Melissa Leo, Anthony Anderson, Pierce Brosnan, director/producer Lee Daniels, writer/producer Jill Solloway and many more.
The documentary lineup will showcase new work from an international array of filmmakers, including Nanfu Wang, whose documentary Hooligan Sparrow was shortlisted for the 2017 Academy Awards.
Dylan, a charismatic young drifter who left a comfortable home and loving family for a life of intentional homelessness.
Nanfu's sophomore feature I Am Another You -- the title coincidentally echoes the 2016 documentary Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You -- paints a portrait of "Dylan, a charismatic young drifter who left a comfortable home and loving family for a life of intentional homelessness," as the SXSW program describes it. "Fascinated by his choice and rejection of society's rules, Nanfu follows Dylan with her camera on a journey that takes her across America and explores the meaning of freedom - and its limits."
I Am Another You screens in competition, along with nine other world premieres, an exclusive group culled from a total of 973 documentary submissions, according to the festival.
These are the additional films in competition, with thumbnail descriptions provided by SXSW:
>Bill Frisell, A Portrait (Australia) (World Premiere)
Director/Screenwriter: Emma Franz
An intimate, behind-the-music portrait of one of the most unassuming yet influential creative artists of our time, guitarist Bill Frisell. Frisell said of the film, “It’s like the inside of my brain!”
>The Blood is at the Doorstep (World Premiere)
Director: Erik Ljung
After Dontre Hamilton, a black, unarmed man diagnosed with schizophrenia, was shot 14 times and killed by police in Milwaukee, his family embarks on a quest for answers, justice and reform as the investigation unfolds.
>Dealt (World Premiere)
Director: Luke Korem, Screenwriters: Bradley Jackson, Luke Korem
Sixty-two year old Richard Turner is renowned as one of the world’s greatest card magicians, yet he is completely blind. This is an in-depth look at a complex character who is one of magic’s greatest hidden treasures.
>Let There Be Light (Canada) (World Premiere)
Director/Screenwriter: Mila Aung-Thwin
Let There Be Light follows the story of dedicated scientists working to build a small sun on Earth, which would unleash perpetual, cheap, clean energy for mankind. After decades of failed attempts, a massive push is now underway to crack the holy grail of energy.
>Maineland (China, United States) (World Premiere)
Director: Miao Wang
Chinese teenagers from the wealthy elite, with big American dreams, settle into a boarding school in small-town Maine. As their fuzzy visions of the American dream slowly gain more clarity, their relationship to home takes on a poignant new aspect.
>Mommy Dead and Dearest (World Premiere)
Director: Erin Lee Carr
Child abuse, mental illness, and forbidden love converge in this mystery involving a mother and daughter who were thought to be living a fairy tale life that turned out to be a living nightmare.
>Served Like A Girl (World Premiere)
Director: Lysa Heslov
Five women veterans who have endured unimaginable trauma in service create a shared sisterhood to help the rising number of stranded homeless women veterans by entering a competition that unexpectedly catalyzes moving events in their own lives.
>The Secret Life of Lance Letscher (World Premiere)
Director: Sandra Adair
Witness the collision of memory, color, and chaos in this unprecedented journey through the visionary mind of collage artist Lance Letscher.
>The Work (World Premiere)
Directors: Jairus McLeary, Gethin Aldous
Set entirely inside Folsom Prison, The Work follows three men during four days of intensive group therapy with convicts, revealing an intimate and powerful portrait of authentic human transformation that transcends what we think of as rehabilitation.
Nonfiction films are not limited to the documentary competition category at SXSW. The Documentary Spotlight section features a baker's dozen of films including Spettacolo by directors Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen.
Spettacolo tells the remarkable story of a small village in the Tuscan hills where each year the townspeople put on a play of their own creation, which reflects whatever social or political issues the community is wrestling with.
It's a festival that I think really appreciates how many different things documentary can be.
Malmberg returns to SXSW having won the festival's grand jury prize for documentary for his 2010 film Marwencol.
"It's a festival that I think really appreciates how many different things documentary can be, that it's not just social issues, it's not just celebrity. There's not just music, there's not just art, but it's all those things," he told Nonfictionfilm.com.
Joining Spettacolo in the Documentary Spotlight section is Jennifer Kroot's film The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, a documentary about the acclaimed author of the "Tales of the City" series and other books.
Viewers may be surprised to learn about Maupin's experience in the Vietnam War, his (non-sexual) relationship with the late Sen. Jesse Helms and his (sexual) relationship with Rock Hudson.
My writing didn't really flourish until I came out. It's very impossible to keep a huge secret in your heart and be a good writer.
These are the additional films playing in the Documentary Spotlight section:
>Barbecue (Australia) (World Premiere)
Director: Matthew Salleh
Barbecue is about more than grilling a piece of meat. It’s a ritual performed religiously across the world. For some it’s a path to salvation. It is the pride of nations. And the stories told around the fires become a way to bring the world together.
>Bill Nye: Science Guy (World Premiere)
Directors/Screenwriters: David Alvarado, Jason Sussberg
A famous television personality struggles to restore science to its rightful place in a world hostile to evidence and reason.
>Disgraced (World Premiere)
Director: Pat Kondelis
The untold story of the summer of 2003 at Baylor University that exposes the attempted cover-up, and the corruption that became the most bizarre scandal in college sports history.
>Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web (New Zealand) (World Premiere)
Director: Annie Goldson
Discover the story of the most wanted man online.
>Meth Storm: Arkansas USA (World Premiere)
Directors: Craig Renaud, Brent Renaud
With unparalleled access on both sides of the law, METH STORM: Arkansas USA is a thrilling non-fiction cops and robbers drama told from inside the American drug war.
>Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo (UK) (World Premiere)
Director: David Fairhead, Screenwriters: David Fairhead, Keith Haviland
At the heart of the Apollo program was the special team in Mission Control who put a man on the moon and helped create the future.
>Muppet Guys Talking – Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched (World Premiere)
Director: Frank Oz
Five of the original Muppet performers come together for the first time ever to share behind-the-scenes secrets of the Muppets. Includes rare performance footage, surprising stories and insights into how Jim led his team to produce legendary work.
>Pornocracy (France) (North American Premiere)
Never before have we watched as much porn as today yet the traditional porn industry is dying. The arrival of web sites showing amateur clips has transformed the way porn is made and consumed. Behind this transformation lies one opaque multinational.
>Stranger Fruit (World Premiere)
Director/Screenwriter: Jason Pollock
What happened on August 9th, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri? On that hot summer day, Officer Darren Wilson killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Stranger Fruit is the unraveling of what took place that day, told through the eyes of Mike Brown’s family.
>Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall (World Premiere)
Director: Katherine Fairfax Wright
After building an empire on YouTube, Todrick Hall leaps beyond his comfort zone and deep within his own backstory to create his most dazzling and vital work yet, but with only a few weeks and a few coins, will he crush it or will it crush him?
>Walk With Me (UK) (World Premiere)
Directors: Max Pugh, Marc J. Francis
Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, Walk With Me is a cinematic journey into the world of a monastic community who practice the art of mindfulness with Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh.
The Visions section of SXSW is home to more documentary films including director Mike Ott's California Dreams, which premiered at the Berlin Directors Week last month. Ott's main character is Cory Zacharia, an aspiring actor who is hard to define but certainly one of the most memorable people to be featured in a documentary film in quite a while.
George Lazenby, familiar to fans of James Bond movies as 007 in On Her Majesty's Secret Service is the subject of Josh Greenbaum's film Becoming Bond. Lazenby made his film debut in that 1969 thriller, taking over the Bond role from Sean Connery. Despite an offer of six more Bond films and a sack of money, he walked away from the role.
These are some of the additional nonfiction films on tap at SXSW:
>Ramblin’ Freak (World Premiere)
Director: Parker Smith
In the wake of a devastating personal tragedy, a struggling would-be filmmaker finds a revealing home video in an old camcorder purchased on eBay and takes off with his cat on a cross-country road trip to find its owner: “The Man Whose Arms Exploded” Cast: Parker Smith, Gregg Valentino
Director/Screenwriter: Theo Anthony
Across walls, fences, and alleys, rats not only expose our boundaries of separation but make homes in them. Rat Film is a feature-length documentary that uses the rat—as well as the humans that love them, live with them, and kill them.
SXSW always provides a platform for music-related documentaries. These are among the titles playing in the 24 Beats Per Second section:
>As I Walk Through The Valley (World Premiere)
Directors: Ronnie Garza, Charlie Vela
As I Walk Through The Valley is a journey into the underground music scene of Texas’ southernmost border-region. Follow four generations of Valley musicians as they struggle to find a voice of their own in the land of charro beans and Tejano legends.
>G-Funk (World Premiere)
Director/Screenwriter: Karam Gill
G-Funk is the untold story of three childhood friends from East Long Beach who helped commercialize hip hop by developing a sophisticated and melodic new approach – merging Gangsta Rap with elements of Motown, Funk, and R&B.
>Give Me Future (aka Incoming Transmission) (United States, Cuba)
Director: Austin Peters
Cuba as you have never seen it before.
>A Life in Waves (World Premiere)
Director: Brett Whitcomb, Screenwriter: Bradford Thomason
A Life in Waves explores the life and innovations of composer and electronic music pioneer, Suzanne Ciani.
>Long Strange Trip
Director: Amir Bar-Lev
Emerging from the Bay Area’s vibrant 1960s counterculture, the Grateful Dead were a motley crew whose unique sound sprang from an eclectic blend of influences: bluegrass, folk ballads, R&B, free-form jazz, classical, and jug band.
>May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers (World Premiere)
Directors: Judd Apatow, Michael Bonfiglio
An intimate portrait of the acclaimed North Carolina band the Avett Brothers, as they create their hit album “True Sadness.”
>Residente (Armenia, Burkina Faso, China, Georgia, Mongolia, Niger, Russian Federation, USA)(World Premiere)
Director: René Pérez Joglar
After taking a DNA test, Latin America’s most decorated artist – Rene Perez (AKA Residente), embarks on a global adventure, to trace the footsteps of his ancestors and record his latest album.
>Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s Third Live… and More(World Premiere)
Director: Benno Nelson
A celebration of the musical legacy of Memphis’ best-known secret – Big Star – performed by a collective featuring members of Big Star, the dB’s, Let’s Active, the Posies, R.E.M., Semisonic, Wilco and Yo La Tengo with the Kronos Quartet and more.
Believe it or not, there's more! For the full lineup of films -- narrative/fiction and nonfiction, click here.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.