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SXSW 2017 Film Preview: What We’re Watching

The films, TV shows, and panels not to miss at the SXSW film conference.

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Crowds walk down Sixth Street during South By Southwest on Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Austin, Texas.
(Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)

The South by Southwest Film Festival is premiering a handful of star-studded features at the Paramount Theater this year, but Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is probably the only one with a lead actor who could easily sneak in a set at the Spotify House. Ansel Elgort, the 22-year-old star of the Fault in our Stars, who moonlights under the DJ name “Ansolo,” plays the film’s titular character Baby, a getaway driver who has to do one last job before getting out of the game.

It makes sense that Wright would cast someone with musical inclinations in his new film. Baby isn’t your everyday getaway driver. He’s also a victim of tinnitus who relies on a carefully curated playlists to drown out the ringing in his ears. Set photos show Elgort with an ever-present set of white headphones, and Wright himself said all action sequences were choreographed to a soundtrack numbering 35 songs. Rumor has it Baby Driver is inspired by a music video the English director filmed in 2003, making it a no-brainer to headline a festival that was first known for its musical output.

Baby Driver’s credits are full of more recognizable names than DJ Ansolo. Downton Abbey’s Lily James plays as the dream girl who inspires him to leave behind his life of crime, with Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Hamm as the gangsters that lure him back in.

With his Cornetto Trilogy—zombie-rom-com Shaun of the Dead, buddy-cop-mystery Hot Fuzz, and alien-invasion-horror-slash-mid-life-coming-of-age-drama At World’s End—Wright has showcased his skills at genre-bending, so Baby Driver will surely be more dynamic that it’s one last heist synopsis indicates. Hopefully we’re in for an adventure as manic and animated as his 2010 adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Barbecue
March 10 at Stateside Theater, 5:30 p.m.; March 12 at Alamo Lamar, 5:45 p.m.; March 14 at Stateside Theater, 2 pm.

The most mouth-watering offering on this year’s documentary slate is probably Barbecue, a feature by Australian filmmaker Matthew Salleh that bills itself as a “symphony of meat and fire in epic detail.” Filmed in 4K resolution and set against a dramatic orchestral score, Barbecue travels across the globe to show us how different communities and cultures approach the time-honored practice of grilling meat. We shouldn’t have to explain to our readers why we’re especially excited for this picture. After all, we’re the first magazine to have a full-time editor specifically dedicated to the smoked meat beat.

Song to Song
March 10 at Paramount Theater, 6:30 pm.

Reclusive director Terrence Malick probably won’t brave the sea of of press photographers and iPhone cameras to attend the premiere of his new feature Song to Song at the Paramount Theater this Friday, but a lot of other people will. Song to Song is the overdue result of Malick’s infamous shoots at Austin City Limits  and Fun Fun Fest in 2011 and 2012, and local film and music communities, as well as their fans, have long been curious to see how well Malick will capture the spirit of their town. Who knows how accurate it will be, but since Malick is the reigning king of magic hour photography, you can be damn sure it’s gonna be pretty.

American Gods
March 11 at Vimeo Theater,  11 a.m.

Anyone who’s seen his unforgettable turn as Deadwood’s foul-mouthed saloon owner Al Swearengen has probably said to themselves, “Ian McShane is a GOD.” But American Gods, the new Starz series premiering at SXSW this year, will be the first time the English actor has played an actual deity. Based on the beloved Neil Gaiman novel about an ex-con who gets a job with a mysterious hustler that turns out to be the Norse god Odin, American Gods is written and produced by Bryan Fuller. Having last given us NBC’s Hannibal, Fuller has more than proven that he knows how to shepherd good books to the small screen. With any luck, American Gods will be as inventive, morbid, lyrical, hilarious, visually dazzling as Fuller’s other work.

Featured Speaker: Noah Hawley
March 11 at Austin Convention Center 16AB, 3:30 p.m.

Austintine Noah Hawley is having a good year. Make that several good years, actually. The novelist/screenwriter/TV showrunner is currently riding high on rave reviews for his Marvel adaptation Legion, but last year’s successes include the second season of Fargo, which has earned him a handful of awards, and the book Before The Fall, which the New York Times said was one of 2016’s best suspense novels. For anyone who’s curious about how he does it all, Noah Hawley is one of the festival’s featured speakers.

The Blood is at the Doorstep
March 13 at Alamo Ritz 1, 4:30 p.m.; March 14 at Alamo Lamar A, 12 p.m.; March 16 at Alamo Lamar A, 7 p.m.

The Blood is at the Doorstep tells a story we’ve heard too many times before. In April 2014, Dontre Hamilton, a black schizophrenic man was fatally shot fourteen times by Milwaukee police. Hamilton was unarmed, and the cops were responding to a non-emergency call. The Blood on the Doorstep follows Hamilton’s family and presents an intimate portrait of loved ones searching for justice.

The Secret Life of Lance Letscher
March 12 at Alamo Ritz 1, 11:15 a.m.; March 13 at Alamo Lamar A, 5 p.m.; Alamo Lamar A, March 15, 9:30 p.m.

Sandra Adair has edited every feature film Richard Linklater has made since Dazed and Confused, so it’s safe to say she’s well versed in the structure of a good story. Hopefully that knowledge will translate to her directorial debut, The Secret Life of Lance Letscher, a documentary about an experimental collage artist from Austin that’s thrown it’s hat into the SXSW documentary competition this year.  

Building Tower
March 12 at Austin Convention Center 11AB, 2 p.m.

The 2016 documentary TOWER, which won last year’s SXSW Grand Jury Prize for best documentary feature, had a ten year journey from page to screen. Based on a 2006 story by Texas Monthly’s own Pam Colloff, TOWER blended archival footage, filmed reenactments and rotoscopic animation to present a haunting depiction of the 96 minutes that Charles Whitman terrorized the University of Texas at Austin’s campus in 1966. The film’s animation was particularly time and labor intensive. Rotoscoping is the process by which illustrators hand paint motion picture footage frame by frame, and Austin’s Minnow Mountain is one of the premiere studios currently offering the service. SXSW attendees have the opportunity to learn from TOWER’s editing, sound design, and animation teams about the creative process at the festivals Building Tower panel.

Mr. Roosevelt
March 12 at Paramount Theatre, 2:25 p.m.; 
March 14 at Rollins Theatre at the Long Center, 4:15 p.m.; March 15 at Rollins Theatre at the Long Center, 9:30 p.m.

Noel Wells is the only Saturday Night Live cast member in history to have gotten her start at the legendary Austin comedy venue Esther’s Follies. Since leaving SNL in 2014, the San Antonio-native and UT-grad has garnered acclaim as the love interest in Netflix’s Asiz Ansari series Master of None. Wells came back to Austin last year to film her writing and directorial debut, Mr. Roosevelt, a film about a struggling comedienne who returns to her college town and struggles with the changes she encounters in the “new” Austin. Hopefully there will be some good jokes at the Live Music Capital of the World’s expense.

The Son
March 12 at Zach Theatre, 7 p.m.

With Preacher, and Halt and Catch Fire, AMC indicated that it might be coming down with a case of Texas fever. Now, with it’s new series The Son, an adaptation of Philipp Meyer’s novel about a Texan ranching dynasty, which stars Pierce Brosnan, we’re tempted to ask the cable channel why it’s so obsessed with us. Not that we’re complaining. We’re still quoting Lonesome Dove, and couldn’t be more excited to see another epic western hit the small screen.

 

Veep: A Conversation with the Cast and Showrunner
March 13 at Austin Convention Center Ballroom D, 3:30 p.m.

How do you make a political satire about the White House when they White House already feels like a satire? There have been more than a few comparisons made between last year’s wild election and the show Veep, HBO’s ruthless, political farce about a vice president and her team who are comically bad at their jobs. All eyes will be on the show this year, which returns for it’s sixth season on April 16, and SXSW attendees will get some behind the scenes details when the cast (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky, Reid Scott, Matt Walsh, Gary Cole, Tim Simons, and Sam Richardson) and writer/executive producer (David Mandel) sit down for a panel.

The Big Sick
March 16 at Paramount Theatre, 3:15 p.m.; March 17 at Zach Theatre, 11:30 a.m.

Based on the real-life story of Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani and his now wife, writer Emily Gordon, The Big Sick is a romantic comedy about a couple who grow closer when the woman comes down with a mysterious illness that puts her in a coma. Written by Nanjiani and Gordon and directed by My Name is Doris’s Michael Showalter, The Big Sick premiered to rave reviews at Sundance earlier this year.

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