2013 SXSW Film Festival – 10 Films to Watch

Held in and around one of America’s great cities of Austin, the SXSW Film Festival & Conference offers a versatility only recently adopted by the other members of the festival circuit elite.  Having championed technology, Transmedia and independent music since its inception, SXSW Film boasts its place amongst the upper class of national film talent discovery destinations with a casual, trendy and forward thinking tradition.  This year sees no difference as SXSW Film offers up a host of film screenings across a vast spectrum of mediums, platforms and genres.  As a nexus of discovery and collaborative energy, SXSW Film celebrates the art and business of the possible, using shadows, light and the moving image to depict the range of possibilities the independent spirit is capable of.

We have selected 10 of this years standout films exclusive to the SXSW Film Festival.  Picking from the Narrative Competition, Documentary Competition, Headliners and Visions categories, these films all represent the powerful and entertaining scope of filmmaking.  From campy remakes to modern exploitation, from Documentary to Narrative, the 10 films featured on IndieWood/Hollywoodnt‘s list represent the best from one of the worlds great festival experiences.

1. Spring Breakers

Directed by: Harmony Korine

Cast: James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, Gucci Mane
Coming (even more) out of left field, Writer/Director Harmony Korine brings SXSW a film unlike any he has done before.  Working far from the Disney safety net, Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez lead a band of casual early 20 somethings enjoying spring break on the golden shores of the sunshine state.  As debauchery leads to degradation and the likes of James Franco‘s “Alien” and “trap” star Gucci Mane emerge, ‘Spring Breakers’ is sure to provide plenty to keep everyone talking well past mid-March.

2. Yellow

Directed by Nick Cassavettes
Cast: Heather Wahlquist, Sienna Miller, Melanie Griffith, Gena Rowlands, Ray Liotta
The son of Gena Rowlands and John Cassavette, Nick Cassavettes is a filmmaker who can confidently claim a prominent role as part of film royalty.  Despite this born into privilege, Cassavattes has carved out one of the more under-appreciated, diverse filmographies around with such films as ‘Unhook the Stars’, ‘The Notebook’ and ‘Alpha Dog’.  Now Cassavettes ventures into heavy psychological territory with the twisted mental landscapes of ‘Yellow’.  The virtue (or lack thereof) in low income employment lays the foundation for far reaching imaginative travel as a young substitute teacher engages her powers the mind to compensate for the thankless nature of materially based self-validation.

3. Evil Dead

Directed by Fede Alvarez

Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore
Back in 2009, Uruguayan amateur filmmaker Fede Alvarez made the viral short ‘Panic Attack’, a dystopian vision of giant robots annihilating the countries capital of Montevideo, on a budget of hundreds.  Cut to some 4 years later and the YouTube sensation is now a stateside science fiction/horror mainstay, leading to the much-anticipated re imagining of the 80s Zombie gorefest ‘The Evil Dead’.  If you have already seen the ultra disgusting Red Band trailer you know what you’re in for…Blood, Blood and MORE BLOOD.

4. Holy Ghost People
Directed by Mitchell Altieri
Cast: Emma Greenwell, Brendan McCarthy, Joe Egender, Cameron Richardson, Roger Aaron Brown

The elusive nature of backwoods faith is explored in ‘Holy Ghost People’ as an Appalachian search team encounters the spirit of the Holy Ghost alive and well at the “Church of One Accord”.  Where does self salvation ultimately lie, with rural sensibilities creating a world existing somewhere between devotion and control.

5. The Retrieval
Directed by Chris Eska
Cast: Ashton Sanders, Tishuan Scott, Keston John, Bill Oberst, Jr., Christine Horn, Alfonso Freeman

Set on the outskirts of the Civil War, a young boy embarks on his own unique march towards adulthood when commissioned to retrieve precious Northern bounty.  In the recent arcadian style of ‘Winter’s Bone’ and ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ comes a new coming-of-age tale of the impoverished and forgotten.

6. Swim Little Fish Swim

Directed by Ruben Amar & Lola Bessis

Cast: Dustin Guy Defa, Anne Consigny, Brooke Bloom, Lola Bessis, Olivia Durling Costello
Set within the confines of the all-to-familiar tiny NYC apartment, ‘Swim Little Fish Swim’ depicts the duality of modern existence and the choices impacting conventional and counter cultures.  A 19 years old, free spirited French artist arrives in Chinatown and immediately throws a married couples life upside down as they deal with her in ways appropriate to individual inclination.  A debut feature in the Narrative Competition from Ruben Amar and Lola Bessis (who also stars), ‘Swim Little Fish Swim’ offers a magical trek through maturation, utilizing a dreamlike ambiance made up of magic tricks and colorful characters.

7. Touba
Directed by E. Chai Vasarhelyi
Vivid 16mm Cinematography highlights this observationist account of the 1 million strong annual pilgrimage of Sufi Muslims to the city of Touba, Senegal.  As increasing ethnic and religious intolerance metastasizes throughout the world, the pacifist approach of Senegalese The Mouride Brotherhood provides the vivacity for this humanist visual poem, elevated by a lush color palette and an undeniably indigenous score.

8. Euphonia

Directed by
Danny Madden
Cast: Will Madden, Maria Decotis
Suburban monotony takes center stage in this film exploring the aural alternatives found every day, everywhere.  In ‘Euphonia‘, the loneliness associated with adolescence, where status quo based limitations frequently prove to be primary factors in the choice between accepted lifetime complacency and its alternatives, manifests into an existential crisis of phonic delusion.  A sensory highlight of the festival, Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 Filmmakers to Watch”  Danny Madden brings a film embodying the all-encompassing nature of creative possibility in contemporary film and media.

9. Milo

Directed by Jacob Vaughan

Cast: Ken Marino, Gillian Jacobs, Peter Stormare, Stephen Root, Mary Kay Place
Demonic possession is one of those “old reliable” film scenarios.  If done well, it is one where immediate on-screen thrill gives way to the psychological despair associated with faith based trepidation.  As the century progresses, a new crop of exorcism, last exorcism and last, last exorcism films has become a first quarter, multiplex staple offering nothing more than recycled scares, cheap thrills and stylistic bone snapping foley work.  In ‘Milo‘,’Party Down‘s Ken Marino knows this trouble all to well, unfortunately his demon lives deep inside one of his bodies most vulnerable organs, his colon.  A horror comedy of undeniably zany proportions, ‘Milo‘ may signify the possession genres final stumble into caricature territory.

10. Snap
Directed by Youssef Delara & Victor Teran
Cast: Jake Hoffman, Nikki Reed, Thomas Dekker, Scott Bakula, Jason Priestley
If there is one musical genre representing the cross media functionality of the 21st century it surely has to be EDM (Electronic Dance Music).  Long been a staple of International nightlife, EDM has only recently found its footing stateside with the emergence of wonky, wobbly drum&bass/garage hybrid DubStep.  Set amongst the underground world of this new musical sub culture, in all its hyper sensory glory, ‘Snap‘ intoxicatingly navigates the back alleys of after hours culture with psychological thrills and epic breakdowns in tow.


– Steve Rickinson


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