Mar 7, 2023
Love them or hate them, major film festivals are the lifeblood of the indie film world. And, while there are other avenues of course, it’s always inspiring to watch how festivals like SXSW and Sundance can launch new and up-and-coming talent into the deepest folds of Hollywood productions.
For the record, I’m someone who loves these big film festivals, but can totally understand how gated they can feel. As part of our coverage of this year’s SXSW Film Fest, our goal is to help lift the veil on how these festivals work and highlight some of the best and most inspiring writers, directors, composers and filmmakers overall.
In that vein, to kick things off, let’s take a look at some of the most promising films premiering at SXSW Film 2023, and explore just why they matter and what filmmakers and video pros like yourself can learn from them.
Director: Lee Cronin
Synopsis: Evil Dead Rise tells a twisted tale of two estranged sisters, played by Sutherland and Sullivan, whose reunion is cut short by the rise of flesh-possessing demons, thrusting them into a primal battle for survival as they face the most nightmarish version of family imaginable
Why filmmakers should watch: The fifth installment of the Evil Dead film series, Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise should harken back to Sam Raimi’s original DIY cult horror favorite. From its cabin-in-the-woods origins, the Evil Dead series has always been about indie sensibilities and horror fundamentals which — for those looking to write or direct their own first horror short or feature — are required watching for mastering the perfect comedic-horror tone.
Director: Dan Covert
Synopsis: What defines a life? The iconic work of artist Geoff McFetridge is everywhere. But this film is more than a primer on his career—it’s about the choices we confront in trying to lead meaningful lives, and how we use our most precious resource: time. (World Premiere)
Why filmmakers should watch: If you’d like both a look into the modern documentary style at its best, and a lens into the creative process of one of the most influential artists of his era, this promises to be one of the most creatively inspiring films of the festival which should leave you brimming with ideas and inclination.
Director: Julio Quintana
Synopsis: Banned from playing at the club where they caddied, a group of Mexican-American high schoolers form their own golf team, build a one-hole course in the fields, and win the 1957 Texas State Championship against all odds. Based on a true story.
Cast list: Jay Hernandez, Dennis Quaid, Cheech Marin, Julian Works, Jaina Lee Ortiz, Brett Cullen, Oscar Nuñez, Richard Robichaux, Paulina Chávez (World Premiere)
Why filmmakers should watch: Everyone loves a feel-good sports movie. But more than that, everyone loves an indie feel-good sports movie with an up-and-coming director and a ready-to-breakout cast. The Long Game is a great example of how indie films can be fun and ambitious at the same time, and queue up its major players to find success in the long run.
Director/Screenwriter: Jake Johnson
Synopsis: Given the opportunity to participate in a life or death reality game show, one man discovers there’s a lot to live for.
Cast list: Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Andy Samberg, Natalie Morales, Christopher Lloyd, Wayne Brady, GaTa, Emily Hampshire, Mary Holland, Boban Marjanović (World Premiere)
Why filmmakers should watch: Continuing a long SXSW tradition of big name actors using the festival as a place to premiere their shots at directing, Jake Johnson moves from in front of the camera to behind it (as well as still in front of it) in his feature film directing debut.
However, unlike John Kranski and A Quiet Place (which premiered at SXSW in 2018), Self Reliance promises to move into drama but keep comedy as its base.
Directors: Jeremy Coon, Steve Kozak
Synopsis: Travel back to a galaxy far, far away—the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. Dive into the mystery of how it happened and why 45 years later it has become, much to the chagrin of George Lucas, the ultimate cult classic among Star Wars fans. (World Premiere)
Why filmmakers should watch: For a fascinating study into how cult fandom has evolved over the years from fringe enthusiasts to mainstream power brokers, this documentary on the long lost Star Wars Holiday Special should further lift the veil on how the most goofy of genre projects in the past hold significant meaning today.
Director: Veronica Ngo (Ngo Thanh Van)
Synopsis: A mysterious woman trains a trio of girls to take revenge on a criminal gang that abuses females. The three lady warriors risk everything to challenge this corrupt empire, before finally learning that their cause is not what they believed it to be.
Cast list: Dong Anh Quynh, Toc Tien, Rima Thanh Vy, Thuan Nguyen, Song Luan, Gi A Nguyen, Phan Thanh Hien (Festival Premiere)
Why filmmakers should watch: Another great thing about film festivals is that they give you a chance to watch cinema from outside of your usual purview and from the rest of the world. Furies by Vietnamese action filmmaker Veronica Ngo is a great example of a different slice of cinema which can spark all types of new film ideas and techniques.
Director/Screenwriter: Michael Lukk Litwak
Synopsis: Molli and Max In The Future is a Sci-Fi Romantic Comedy about a man and woman whose orbits repeatedly collide over the course of 12 years, 4 planets, 3 dimensions and one space-cult.
Cast list: Zosia Mamet, Aristotle Athari, Danny Burstein, Arturo Castro, Okieriete Onaodowan, Erin Darke, Grace Kuhlenschmidt, Michael Chernus, Aparna Nancherla, Matteo Lane (World Premiere)
Why filmmakers should watch: SXSW in particular has been quietly one of the best fests for launching under-the-radar ambitious sci-fi films, and following in the vein of 2018’s Prospect (which helped to launch Pedro Pascal), Molli And Max In The Future looks to continue this budding tradition with a fun twist on the space sci-fi with an added element of rom-com.
Showrunners: Aaron Zelman, Paul Lieberstein
Synopsis: Lucky Hank is a mid-life crisis tale set at Railton College, told in the first person by William Henry Devereaux, Jr. (Bob Odenkirk), the unlikely chairman of the English department in a badly underfunded college in a working-class American town.
Cast list: Bob Odenkirk, Mireille Enos, Olivia Scott Welch, Diedrich Bader, Suzanne Cryer, Sara Amini, Cedric Yarbrough (World Premiere)
Why filmmakers should watch: As streaming content has continued to grow both in popularity and importance, it of course makes sense that festivals like SXSW have shifted their programming to include more and more episodic debuts and features. One of the biggest new series making its premiere at SXSW this year sees Bob Odenkirk returning to the small screen with the promising AMC series Lucky Hank.
Director: Meredith Moore
Synopsis: An artist and VFX instructor connects with her aging grandmother, Margie, in a documentary short on collecting, artmaking, and obsessiveness as a way to enhance our realities. (Texas Premiere)
Why filmmakers should watch: Perhaps the best way to both break into film festivals, and scan the lineup for the truest of up-and-coming filmmakers, is to look at the shorts programs. One of the most exciting films this year from the documentary shorts program looks to be Meredith Moore’s heartfelt exploration into the art of collecting and artmaking within the family.
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