Why SXSW Film Won’t Ever Be ‘The Same’ Again

“You can’t take something as really radically different in all of our lives globally and not be changed by it. You know, when people talk about going back to normal, it’s like that I don’t see that as possible in evolution.”

By Laura RiceMarch 16, 2021 11:48 am

The cancellation of the SXSW festivals in Austin in 2020 was a key indicator that the coronavirus was going to have a big impact on our lives.

“The cancellation itself, it felt like a tsunami,” SXSW Film Festival Director Janet Pierson said. “Waves coming at you, the ground underneath you. I mean, it was just so intense and the repercussions were so devastating for so many people and so many different areas.”

This year, SXSW is impacted again. It’s completely online. But that’s not fully a bad thing.

“It’s much more accessible to a lot of people who couldn’t travel, who couldn’t afford it,” Pierson said. “So it’ll be interesting to see how they feel about it.”

A pass this year gets you into everything – music, comedy, conferences, and 75 feature-length films. That number is a little more than half that of previous years.

“And we had no idea what the quality of the films would be like. And they were wonderful. They were excellent,” Pierson said.

And, yes, some touch on the coronavirus.

“We were kind of dreading what the pandemic films would look like,” Pierson said. “And we were really delightfully surprised by how inventive and good the ones that we selected are.”

Ayar: “Has a completely original, different take on a visual representation of COVID from the other films.”

Disintegration Loops: “It’s dealing with a musician [composer Edward Basinski] who was supposed to be on his biggest tour ever this year, you know, in his life. And most of the film takes place in Zoom call. But it’s so good and has this incredible archive footage and original footage as well.”

But there’s also plenty of escapism: the dark, the funny, and there’s music on film. This year, the three headliner films are all documentaries about musicians.

Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil: It’s a raw and intimate portrait of somebody who’s speaking about, very personally, about OD’ing and surviving, and her career and on her evolution to survive.”

Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free: “It’s about the filming of ‘Wildflowers’ like in 1994. And it’s just great. It’s so, once again, intimate – the music, it’s wonderful, the access to him, you know, everybody misses him so much and you just love love seeing this. It’s so fresh.”

Alone Together: “With Charli XCX, you’re seeing an artist who’s, you know, a really creative musician right now in the pandemic. Yeah. What what do you do? So she decides to record an album in it and it shows her really interacting with their fans in a really inspired way.”

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