SXSW gets plenty of attention as a music and tech festival, but it also quietly boasts one of the better film festivals in the country. In previous years, SXSW Film premiered headliners like Joss Whedon’s much-anticipated Cabin In The Woods and special early screenings of movies like Bridesmaids and Furious 7. But in addition to the above-the-fold titles that dominate headlines, the festival’s lineup tends to run plenty deep. Some of the big-name premieres take a while to come out—last year’s audience award winner Hello, My Name Is Doris, for instance, only sees its theatrical release this Friday—while the deep cuts can become theatrical hits like 2014’s What We Do In Shadows.
This year’s edition of the festival has its share of big names—Judd Apatow is bringing the long-anticipated new installment in the Pee Wee Herman franchise, while Key & Peele are debuting a rough cut of their forthcoming Keanu as a midnight screening—but one part of what SXSW Film has always done well, from when it was a small festival playing to locals in the nineties to its current incarnation as an international fest with plenty of cachet, is keeping Texas films, Texas topics, and Texas filmmakers at the fore. Here are some of those events worth paying attention to:
Everybody Wants Some (directed by Richard Linklater)
Linklater couldn’t be riding much higher than he is right now. His last three films, Boyhood, Before Midnight, and Bernie are among his most well-regarded, so it’s something of a surprise that he’d follow that up with a “spiritual sequel” to his 1993 hit Dazed and Confused, which—while well-loved—isn’t exactly Oscar bait. Everybody Wants Some definitely appears like it could be one of the better movies named after a David Lee Roth-era Van Halen song (shout-out to Tim Robbins’s 1999 film Cradle Will Rock, though), but since it’s having its world premiere at SXSW, no one can say much more about it than “sure looks like a Dazed and Confused kind of movie” at the moment.
Midnight Special (directed by Jeff Nichols)
Jeff Nichols has been steadily rising as a writer and director over the past few years—Take Shelter and Mud were both critically beloved—and the Austin-based filmmaker’s new one has a powerhouse cast including Adam Driver (fresh off Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Kirsten Dunst to tell a dark sci-fi story about a father on the run from the government.
Sidemen: Long Road To Glory (directed by Scott Rosenbaum)
The documentary slate at SXSW often has a music focus, and this year is no exception. There are plenty of music docs on the list this year with a Texas angle—including films about Austin’s Broken Spoke and the Austin City Limits television series—but Sidemen: Long Road To Glory tells a Texas tale with broad appeal. New York director Scott Rosenbaum documents the life of a handful of blues sidemen—including Austin’s legendary Pinetop Perkins, who played on Sixth Street until he was in his nineties. Also, it’s narrated by WTF podcast host Marc Maron, who presumably keeps the rambling about his personal life to a minimum, which should be novel for fans.
Preacher (directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg)
Preacher is based on the cherished graphic novel by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, which told the story of a West Texas preacher who finds himself in possession of unexpected supernatural powers—kicking off a cross-country adventure full of angels, demons, and things somewhere in-between. Preacher has always been a longshot for television—it’s full of the sort of blasphemy that people tend to organize boycotts around—but the story (which opens in West Texas, spends a long stretch in a small East Texas town, and climaxes in San Antonio) is a Texas tale through-and-through. It’ll be fascinating to see if Rogen and Goldberg can pull it off before its May premiere on AMC.
Slash (directed by Clay Liford)
Austin director Clay Liford’s Slash is a timely feature: interest in nerd culture is at an all-time high, anyway, which makes a rom-com set at an erotic fan fiction convention a good choice for SXSW. Liford’s been working as both a director and a cinematographer for some time—his previous film, Wuss, premiered at the festival in 2011—and Slash looks to be a follow-up that’s worth the wait.
Trapped (directed by Dawn Porter)
The story of the rise in laws designed to restrict abortion in state legislatures has been well-told—but not yet on film. Director Dawn Porter (who was nominated for an Emmy for her 2013 doc Gideon’s Army) goes behind the lens to look at laws—including, prominently, Texas’s HB2—that have resulted in abortion clinics throughout the nation being forced to close. At the SXSW screening, Porter will be joined to discuss the laws with former state senator and 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis, whose filibuster of HB2 helped bring the issue to national prominence—and turned Davis from a part-time legislator to a national celebrity.
Silicon Cowboys (directed by Jason Cohen)
Texas’s history in the eighties tech world has finally been given its due in recent years—AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire is built around that backdrop, as is this documentary from Jason Cohen (not the one who used to write for Texas Monthly). Silicon Cowboys tells the true story of how Compaq launched in Houston and died in 2013, eleven years after it was bought out by Hewlett-Packard. Cohen’s got an Oscar nomination under his belt (for the 2014 short doc “Facing Fear”), and the story itself is compelling enough to make it worth a watch on its own.
Transpecos (directed by Greg Kwedar)
The border is fertile ground for storytelling, and Austin filmmaker Greg Kwedar taps into that vein for a thriller about border patrol agents played by Matador star Gabriel Luna, Triple 9‘s Clifton Collins Jr., and Johnny Simmons. One of the joys of SXSW is seeing first-time filmmakers pull it together, and Kwedar—who’s worked on projects including the cycling documentary Rising From the Ashes—looks to make the leap to helm with this film.
The Liberators (directed by Cassie Hay)
There are some stories with a hook so good that, the moment you hear about it, you need to know more. The documentary The Liberators, from first-time filmmaker Cassie Hay, is definitely one of them. Nazis! Art thieves! Dogged German detectives! The film tells the story of some of the pieces of art that were seized by the Nazis during World War II, and the art detective who tracked them down forty years later—through the New York art world and into the oil fields of Texas. Hay, a sixth-generation Texan from Denison, has a hell of a story on her hands, and her time as an assistant in Hollywood (on projects like The Leftovers, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Following, and Law & Order) suggest that she might be better equipped to tell that story than most first-timers.
Tower (directed by Keith Maitland)
Keith Maitland’s having a big SXSW this year. He’s got two documentaries premiering at the festival. And while A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story looks like something worth seeing, Tower—his animated doc about the Charles Whitman shooting at the University of Texas Tower fifty years ago—seems downright essential. With mass school shootings in the public consciousness now more than ever, a film that looks at the history of the first one could be downright instructive as we attempt to understand the phenomenon.