FIELD OF STREAMS celebrates SXSW 2019 with these past streaming festival classics
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Spring is back; and nothing spells springtime in Austin more than the annual SXSW Film Festival. For several days, the eclectic festival becomes the center of the film world with critics, filmmakers and all around cinephiles bearing witness to a bevy of titles which bring forward innovations in movie making while ushering in new and exciting talent. Since the mid-90s, SXSW has looked to showcase films which oftentimes have something to say, but more often than not strive to present uncompromised visions of stories typically seen as anything but conventional. Everything from Robert Altman’s swan song A Prairie Home Companion, to Jodie Foster’s tonal hybrid The Beaver to the Amy Schumer debut hit Trainwreck, the titles which SXSW has provided a platform of introduction for is endless as it is impressive. With this year’s titles include Jordan Peele’s Us and Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum (both already earning raves) among others, the visibility of SXSW as one of the film world’s most influential festivals is certain to continue.
In celebration of SXSW and the future classics we await for it to deliver in 2019, here’s a look back at a collection of past titles which made their debut as the fest and the different ways they challenged the boundaries and limits of their respective genres.
Would would have thought that the story of one of the worst movies ever made would turn out to be one of the most compelling and thoroughly enjoyable films ever to premiere at SXSW? The answer is debatable, but there’s no questioning that The Disaster Artist was one of 2017’s best. James Franco directed and starred as Tommy Wiseau, in the story of how the real-life aspiring actor with an undefinable accent and an endless stream of cash who rebuked the collective cold shoulder Hollywood gave him by creating The Room; a film so horrendously bad, it helped to redefine the cult classic. Franco’s acting and directing skills have never been stronger than they are here, bringing every one of Wiseau’s eccentricities to life while entertainingly recreating The Room’s many iconic scenes. Yet where The Disaster Artist soars however, is in the tender look Franco gives its main subject as a man longing for his own American dream who was determined for it to come true, no matter what.
THE CLEANSE (Hulu)
Movies like The Cleanse are what fests like SXSW are all about. The film stars Johnny Galecki as an average working stiff named Paul, who has decided to battle his depression by taking part in an exclusive weekend retreat which involves a cleansing treatment that is quite literally like no other. Written and directed by Bobby Miller, The Cleanse is wonderfully multi-toned, going from dark comedy to absurdist horror in the most delicate of fashions. The screenplay is impossible to predict, the cast, which also includes Anna Friel, Angelica Huston and Oliver Platt, are all given interesting parts to play and the film’s overall nature is nothing short of hypnotic. Yet The Cleanse does manage to address the issues which plague Paul and the others in a manner both creative and soulfully poignant, making even the most outrageous elements of the film feel real and honest. A surrealist fairy tale for the ages with highly resonant themes.
Writer/director Trey Edward Shultz put his name on the map with this feature-length version of his short film about a woman named Krisha (Krisha Fairchild), a recovering addict/alcoholic who returns home to visit her estranged family for Thanksgiving. Simply put, indie filmmaking rarely gets better than this as we journey with the title character as she wrestles with demons, both new and old. Krisha is full of so many themes which cannot help but feel forever universal, including guilt, regret, redemption, and fear. All of these are so brilliantly illustrated in Fairchild’s performance, which shows the novice actress to be a pro at commanding the screen and tapping into the essence of her character’s wounded nature. Schultz mixes his real-life family and friends in the film’s ensemble (and even takes a supporting role himself) along with deep pathos, not to mention the sheer overwhelming nature of finding yourself surrounded by so much family, as he constructs one of the most painfully real films to ever grace SXSW screens.
DEEP WEB (Epix)
Of all the docs to ever screen at SXSW, few carried as much debate and controversy as Deep Web. Directed by Alex Winter (yup!), Deep Web is a look at the creation and evolution of the Silk Road, the underground internet marketplace site where everything from guns to narcotics could be bought and sold. Keanu Reeves narrates the film which also chronicles the FBI’s determination to shut down the mysterious operation and bring to justice Ross Ulbrecht, the alleged mastermind behind it all. While Deep Web has its handful of techie moments, the doc manages to break away from such elements and emerge as a spotlight on the rise of the new internet. Winter provides a solid insight into the flip side the online world where a great many dangerous and unthinkable realites do indeed exist. The film isn’t a condemnation so much as an exploration for the most part, but earns its stripes as a truly worthwhile piece of documentary filmmaking when focusing on the accused himself and the cruel reach and grasp of the real dark web.
Honorary Austinite Elijah Wood’s emergence as a film producer was solidified when he made his SXSW debut with this dizzying and innovative thriller. In Open Windows, Wood plays Nick Chambers, an average joe who finds himself given access to the webcam of his favorite actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Lane) by a mysterious online user. Soon however, Nick realizes the grave danger Jill is in at the hands of this unseen madman, plunging him into a race across the city to save her. A thriller for today’s modern age, Open Windows plays on themes of voyeurism and a crippling dependence on technology brilliantly by placing its characters, whose very lives depend on them keeping their eyes on their respective screens, into a cat-and-mouse game like no other. This is especially true in Nick’s case with the frantic man racing all over the Austin streets while remaining firmly on webcam as per his host’s deadly instructions. What’s most novel about the movie however is how the majority of the film is presented almost totally through one computer screen or another, only moving into the real world for the final act in which the two filmmaking styles work together to make Open Windows an unforgettable genre entry.
There are countless services to explore and great things to watch on all of them. Which ones did we miss that you would suggest to us? And, as always, if you’ve got thoughts on titles we’re missing out on or new services to check out, leave a comment below or email us.
Till next week, stream on, stream away.