SXSW film highlights: Four documentaries, from true crime to the Grateful Dead, and the comic brilliance of Noël Wells

Noël Wells’ “Mr. Roosevelt” won the audience award for best narrative feature at South by Southwest.

From a disturbing tale about a disgraced college athletic program to a breakout performance from a brilliant writer and performer Noël Wells, SXSW offered plenty of gems this year. Below are the five highlights from the Statesman’s Matthew Odam

“Disgraced” Austinite Pat Kondelis’ documentary spends as much time detailing the cover-up of a murder as the murder itself. If you want to challenge any belief you might have in the purity of college athletics, sit with this disturbing tale of manipulative former Baylor basketball coach Dave Bliss and the equally tainted administration he served. You will leave with more sympathy for victim Patrick Denehy and his family than apparently anyone at Baylor ever felt. (Full fest review.)

“Long Strange Trip” Don’t let the four-hour run time intimidate you, director Amir Bar-Lev’s exploration of the Grateful Dead moves with the fluidity and pace of a concert, with even the occasional deviations seemingly perfectly suited for a story about the psychedelic band. At a time when much music feels corporatized and soulless and a brand of disconnected narcissism fuels many of our leaders, “Long Strange Trip” reminds you of the power of coming together to create powerful art and a vital sense of community. To paraphrase a line from Bar-Lev in our conversation with him, now would be a great time to “make America Grateful again.” (Interview with director Amir Bar-Lev.)

“Mommy Dead and Dearest” The  true-crime phenomenon has gripped American audiences in recent years. What’s different about Erin Lee Car’s documentary is that she spends less time unraveling a mystery while heightening the drama, instead choosing to simply stun audiences through her reveal of the details behind a crime clearly defined early in the film. (Full fest review.)

“Mr. Roosevelt” It seems silly to describe an artist with millions of YouTube views and a brief stint as a performer on “Saturday Night Live” on her resume as undiscovered, but after watching this film, you get the feeling former Austinite Noel Wells is just now at the precipice of taking off. She wrote, directed and starred in this movie that she wholly owns, with her cutting observational wit, eye for detail and the way she can transform from daffy goofball to sympathetic character full of vulnerable longing in an instant. (The audience award winner screens at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Alamo Ritz.)

“The Work” Like the work it portrays in the film, Gethin Aldous and Jairus McLeary’s documentary delves into a dark, personal space and returns with glimmers of hope and salvation. Groups of prisoners and civilians join twice a year to engage in a form of concentrated psychoanalytic work, breaking down personal and interpersonal barriers, shattering their masks of invincibility and finding belief in themselves and their fellow man. “The Work,” which won the jury award for best documentary at SXSW, could just as easily be described as “the network,” that thing that binds people together and connects us to something deeper and more profound. (Full festival review.)

 

Reader Comments 0

0 comments