This year’s South by Southwest was the first in three years at which audiences could see films by or about Texans in Texas. It offered an impressive selection of documentaries, particularly from directors making their feature-length debuts. Here are three that left an impression on audiences and critics.
Bradley Jackson makes his feature directorial debut documenting the ups (5,714 strikeouts and seven no-hitters) and downs (such as an infamous scuffle with the Chicago White Sox’s Robin Ventura) of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan’s career. Capturing the Alvin-raised athlete’s larger-than-life presence on the mound over the course of 27 seasons with four major league teams, including nine with the Houston Astros and five with the Texas Rangers, is no easy feat in 102 minutes. But Jackson, a Houston native, does so with grace and thanks to appearances from fellow Hall of Famers such as Dave Winfield (who once got into his own scuffle with Ryan), former president George W. Bush, who was the owner of the Rangers when Ryan played there, and a soft-spoken 75-year-old Ryan. But the true star of the show might be Ruth Ryan—a firecracker of a woman and Nolan’s high school sweetheart and wife of 55 years. Nolan would probably agree.
The film is slated for theatrical release May 1, so be sure to check your local listings. —Maya Mojica
Your Friend, Memphis
The film, shot over five years by debut director David P. Zucker, follows Memphis DiAngelis, a high-spirited young man with cerebral palsy who’s living in Austin and pursuing his dream of becoming a filmmaker. But DiAngelis’s struggle for independence is buffeted by unrequited love, unemployment, the paltry resources available to some disabled Texans, and his relationship to his divorced parents—a bipolar mother who abandoned him twice and a father fearful of how the world will treat his son—who are concerned about his life after they are gone. It’s a wrenching but worthwhile coming-of-age tale that left me angry with Texas’s disability policies, hopeful for Memphis’s future, and eager for a sequel.
There are currently no plans for wider release, but keep an eye out for this one. —Jacqueline Knox
Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off
Yes, it’s about the legendary professional skateboarding phenom, but it’s also a poignant love letter to the sport and the athletes who put their lives on the line as they push its limits. The film, directed by Sam Jones and produced by brothers and University of Texas at Austin alums Mark and Jay Duplass, chronicles Hawk’s relationship with his parents, his early competition days, and how the sport has affected his health. It features interviews with Hawk and other pro skateboarders, such as Rodney Mullen and Lance Mountain, as well as members of Hawk’s family. But the film lacks detail on how his career affected his marriages and his children. It makes you wish the filmmakers had pushed Hawk a bit further. It’s best at getting inside the extreme mindsets of pro skateboarders in a way that would make fans of viewers who went in not knowing a kickflip from a pop shove-it.
Catch this movie on HBO and HBO Max on April 5. —Lauren Girgis