SXSW Film: Day 1 Highlights, Docs FTW!

Posted by Greg on Mar 17, 2021 in Movies |

THE OXY KINGPINS – "Alex & Papantonio" from The Young Turks on Vimeo.

Well here we are. SXSW is raging on and we are just plumb-tuckered out. We just finished participating in “Dream” (more on that later). For now, the film highlights from Day 1. It was a doc-heavy day. Not many, if any, narrative films to speak of so far. Highlights include:

1. The Oxy Kingpins
Shedding light on the opioid crisis is not new ground. 60 Minutes has mined that ground the last few years in a handful of pieces by Bill Whitaker among others. But Brendan Fitzgerald’s 80-minute documentary goes a bit deeper. A comprehensive and intimate look at the entire oxycontin supply chain the film is impacting, influential and highly indelible. Much of the doc is spent watching Pensacola law firm Levin Papantonio Rafferty pursue litigation in Nevada against big pharma and pharmaceutical retailers. Equal attention is also given to Alex, a former drug-dealer turned motorcycle entrepreneur. Alex’s candid confessions are searing while made-for-TV attorney Mike Papantonio is cinema magic. Brash, bold and brawny he’s a bull in a china shop hell-bent on making big pharma pay. For a feature debut The Oxy Kingpins is a knock-out. But maybe that’s by design. Fitzgerald is a 3x Emmy award nominee known for his work with Vice, Netflix and HBO. Those kinds of accolades are shown in spades. Highly recommended.

2. Dear Mr. Brody
We’ll just come out and say it, this got our Audience Award for best doc. An absorbing and heart-stirring look at the week-long media craze surrounding millionaire hippie Michael Brody Jr and his quest to give away $25 million in January 1970. In 90 engrossing minutes, director Keith Maitland ponders loneliness, insanity, drug use and the elusive search for community. The best films are the ones that leave you crying, ranting and hopelessly breathless. Dear Mr. Brody does that and more. Maitland’s 2016 feature Tower was one of the best films we saw that year and five years later he has surpassed those heights. Impact Partners continues to release films that provoke and challenge our psyche and Dear Mr. Brody is the latest example of that. Without a doubt this is a must-see.

3. Introducing, Selma Blair
Fair warning: get your tissues ready. A raw and deeply personal glimpse into actress Selma Blair’s battle with multiple sclerosis Rachel Fleit’s feature length debut is riveting, rewarding and rich beyond measure. From the opening frame to the end credits Introducing, Selma Blair is piercing, visceral and wholly grounded. Unvarnished and completely without pretense, Blair is self-deprecating, vulnerable and deeply wounded. Buttressed by her profound faith in God and a ferocity to live, Introducing, Selma Blair will renew your faith in humanity. Make no mistake about it this Discovery Plus feature is one that will be talked about by year’s end. Maybe even next year’s award season. Heck it’s got our vote!

4. Sasquatch
This Duplass Brothers-produced Hulu series meanders down the wormhole of questioning Bigfoot’s existence. Fueled by investigative journalist David Holthouse’s relentless pursuit of truth Sasquatch snakes through the towering redwoods of the Emerald Triangle and keeps you eager for the next frame. Director and lead producer Joshua Rofe caught our attention with the Prime Video docuseries Lorena and he’s done it once again here. Though we’ve seen only the pilot thus far we can assure you this will be a Hulu success and you’ll be mighty thankful we told you in advance.

5. Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil
The headlines will be that Demi now identifies as “queer” and “fluid.” And that “this is her most honest album to date.” But really this is all just a puff piece for her new album and her new business relationship with Scooter Braun. There’s a whole bunch of histrionics about her near-death experience but it’s all just a power-trip and an album promo vanity project. Not worth watching unless you consider yourself a die-hard Demi fan. Maybe we should be more sympathetic but Demi doesn’t swear off drugs or alcohol, in fact, she gives her loved ones more reason to worry. Maybe that will hook you, it didn’t hook us. That girl is a crazy talented vocalist but as the title suggests dances with the devil far too often.

6. Dream
So, yeah, about Dream. This was the only narrative that got us buzzing. Dream is a British-based, live online theatrical performance set in an entrancing medieval forest. Utilizing motion capture technology and animation the performance draws on the audience to inform how the actors respond. At the same time the movement of the performers fuel the virtual avatars in real time via Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. Drawing inspiration from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream the performance is backed by a symphonic score that plays off the actors’ movements. A multi-party partnership amongst Philharmonia Orchestra, Marshmallow Laser Feast, Royal Shakespeare Company and the Audience of the Future Consortium, Dream is a wonder to behold and shows a glimmering future for live theater beyond the traditional theater-going experience.

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