Tag Archives: SXSW

SXSW 2021: Sound of Violence

Alexis is a helpful, happy little girl at the age of 10, and although she’s lost her hearing in an accident, she still loves to listen to music. But when she not only witnesses the brutal murder of her mother, but intervenes, managing to kill the assailant with a meat tenderizer, something very strange happens. The experience awakens synesthetic abilities; spontaneously recovering her hearing, Alexis also discovers that she can “see” sound – the sound of violence in particular.

Cut to: Alexis (Jasmin Savoy Brown) is now a young woman, pursuing her passion through academia. Everything seems to be going well for her, despite having been orphaned and survived a tragedy at such a young age. But not even Alexis’ closest friend and roommate Marie (Lili Simmons) knows that Alexis’ hearing is once again in flux, and before she loses it again, she’s determined to complete her masterpiece. Of course, the addictive synesthesia that haunts and inspires her requires some increasingly gruesome sound design. The music she creates is accompanied by orgasmic cinematography, fueling her obsession with bloody, graphic violence and its beautiful sounds.

Sound of Violence is indeed a horror film; Alexis may be a composer, but the pursuit of her music sends her on a killing spree that will rank this film quite high in terms of gore. You’ll come to distinguish the sounds of hearts being perforated, skin being peeled from bone, bloody stumps still plucking at stringed instruments, blood pouring out of orifices from too much song. It’s a symphony unlike any other. It pushes past conventional boundaries, and I’ll admit, the movie lost me on more than one occasion, having asked of me just a little too much. But those inclined to horror will appreciate the marriage of savagery and sound – not music to my ears, perhaps, not exactly a pop tune meant for radio, but a rare orchestral piece whose movements will surely awaken something in you.

SXSW 2021: WeWork Or The Making And Breaking Of A $47 Billion Unicorn

Adam Neumann really, really wanted to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. Or Jesus Christ. I’m not sure which he thought was more attainable, but either way he founded a real estate company and ran it like a tech company, and he was its messianic leader.

Maybe you know about WeWork. Not long ago, it was the next big thing in terms of office space. Aimed at freelancers, entrepreneurs, and start-ups, it wasn’t just a flexible, communal place to work, it was a lifestyle choice. Adam Neumann claimed he wanted to change the world, but first, he’d change the way we work. Charismatic like a cult leader and with an inflated sense of self also like a cult leader, Neumann talked a big game, attracting clients, employees, followers, and crucially, investors. And office space was just the first stop on his quest to dominate the world; next came housing, and education. But as WeWork readied for an IPO, a company that was once valued at an astounding 47 billion dollars went from magical unicorn to bloated corpse in a brisk 6 week death spiral that shocked the heck out of everyone.

What happened? Hulu’s glad you asked, and they can’t wait to tell you all about it.

SXSW 2021: Recovery

I watched this movie on a whim as the logline hadn’t particularly called out to me. But you know what? A single sentence movie synopsis can’t convey the charm and warmth and quirkiness of its stars.

Two directionless sisters brave a cross-country road trip to rescue their grandmother from a COVID outbreak at her nursing home.

See? It doesn’t sound terrible but I’m not sure I’m terribly invested in another COVID story. They’re already a dime a dozen on the indie circuit and truthfully, we don’t even have enough perspective or even closure on this stupid pandemic to really tell its stories. But in Recovery, COVID quarantine is merely the setting. The true meat is this delightful road trip with two sisters who I wish I knew in real life. Blake (Mallory Everton) and Jamie (Whitney Call) are fun and funny, down to earth in offbeat ways that are interesting and endearing rather than annoying. The actresses each have their own distinct style but their chemistry together is effortless and effervescent.

I loved the writing, I loved the two leads. Recovery isn’t so much about plot as it is a showcase for two talented actresses, and an opportunity to hang out with friends. An actually funny COVID comedy: who saw that coming? Breathlessly paced with an almost manic energy, Recovery will be a fun time capsule some day, but it’s got a humour that transcends the pandemic. I can’t wait to see more from these two.

SXSW 2021: We Are The Thousand

I grew up in a small town where absolutely no concerts that I didn’t perform myself were ever given. NO ONE came to town and of course we didn’t even blame them. I was lucky, though, to live a very drivable distance between several large cities, which means I didn’t miss out on much. I saw tonnes of shows (not in the last year – I miss live music!) but not everyone is nearly as lucky. Take the good people of Cesena, Italy. They were fed up with being passed over for concerts and they did something about it.

Anita Rivaroli’s We Are The Thousand documents Cesena’s attempt to lure the Foo Fighters to perform in their town by staging their own concert – 1000 musicians playing Learn to Fly at the same time. Go behind the scenes to see the year’s worth of preparation that goes into a four minute song as volunteers figure out logistics, equipment, and financing on the fly – after all, this has never been done before.

Watch the thrilling ensemble of 250 drummers, 150 bass players, 350 guitarists, and 250 singers, known collectively as Rockin’1000, on the warm day one thousand musicians learned to play together. Can this many drummers really play in sync? Can that many guitarists be convinced not to engage in musical masturbation? And even if they can, will it work? Will Dave Grohl hear their plea? Will Foo Fighters play their town?

We Are The Thousand is a heck of a great way to find out.

SXSW 2021: Fucking With Nobody

After losing a directing gig to her nemesis Kristian, Hanna teams up with her sister and counterculture friends to create a phony Instagram romance between herself and young actor Ekku. Hanna and her friends have lofty ambitions for their Instagram account; self-described ‘social anarchists,’ this “art project” will challenge the traditional, heteronormative power structures of romantic love. Everyone’s super on board, even Hanna’s and Ekku’s current boyfriends, who are both witnesses and participants.

Of course, what starts as a commentary on how easily intimacy can be faked on social media quickly snowballs into something else entirely as Hanna and Ekku begin to rack up views. With a real following, they have a platform to really say something, but instead seem to lose the thread of their original intent.

In a complicated and complicating meta twist, film director Hanna is played by Fucking With Nobody writer-director Hannaleena Hauru. The part of her boyfriend is played by real life boyfriend (and co-writer, and co-cinematographer) Lasse Poser. Fiction and reality blur and the narrative lines become difficult to parse and perhaps more trouble than they’re worth.

This movie about making a movie (about making a movie?) bites off more than it can chew, and though I normally admire hunger, this kind of gluttony was hard to watch and ultimately unsatisfying.

SXSW 2021: Disintegration Loops

William Basinski may not be a household name, but among avant-garde ambient music composers, there are few who stand shoulder to shoulder with him. Best known for The Disintegration Loops, an elegy to the 2001 attacks, Basinski reflects on his legacy as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

The music consists of found sound sources, shortwave radio, and delay systems recorded on tape loops that, when played repeatedly as he transferred the sound to a digital format, gradually deteriorated as they passed over and over the tape head, the ferrite eventually detaching from the plastic backing, with increasing gaps and cracks in the music as it played on. The crumbling tapes leave a haunting musical memorial of their own demise. The mournful sound, produced by catastrophic decay, became the soundtrack for the terrible aftermath of the terrorist attacks. A resident of New York City, Basinski watched the towers fall from the roof of his building, and dedicated the album to the victims.

The events of 9/11 are eerily paralleled in the documentary as it is shot during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interviews over Zoom are threaded with shots of a dramatically empty New York City, and Basinski is once again composing music for the time.

SXSW Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America

Racism is bad. Inarguably, unequivocally bad. And yet it’s had a persistent history in the USA (and most other places, but this is about racism in America) and is baked right into its constitution, making it all but impossible to shake.

This documentary doesn’t need to convince you that racism is bad. Jeffery Robinson is a lawyer, which makes sense, because he’s exceptionally good at building a case. America is on trial, and Robinson is the crusading prosecutor with such compelling and relentless evidence you can’t help but convict.

Although Robinson’s approach is very fact-based, his stories add up to something as moving as it is convincing. I could go on and on but the truth is, this is a strong documentary that deserves to be seen, end of story.

SXSW 2021: Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break

Paul Dood (Tom Meeten) is an odd duck, a middle aged man working part time at a second hand shop but a full time dreamer. An aspiring triple threat (singing/dancing/acting), his act has garnered very little attention on social media but this hasn’t deterred him from his ambition of auditioning for a competitive talent reality show, or from live streaming nearly every aspect of his life via a chest cam. His greatest champion, his mother/roommate Julie (June Watson), applauds his every move, despite a glaring lack of talent, and sews all his tacky, out of date, sequined costumes, of which he is terribly fond.

When the reality show is in his town holding auditions, it is of course his top priority to wow the judges and dominate the stage, but his journey there, pushing his ailing mother in a wheelchair, is fraught with bad luck and a series of unfortunate encounters which make him late for the audition, which he leaves humiliated and broken, and that’s before he realizes it’s killed his mother. Used to being disappointed, Paul returns to his dismal life, but one day at work, something in him snaps. Taking an extended lunch break, he seeks revenge on the selfish people who made him late that fateful day.

If Paul Dood wasn’t so pathetically funny, you’d call this is a horror. Five pretty spectacular and fairly graphic murders are about to take place. Yet Paul’s bumbling ineptitude and soul-crushing resilience mean these murders are more slap stick than terrifying. But do remember that Paul’s chest cam is always filming, and if his singing and dancing didn’t get many views, a murder spree sure will, no matter how sloppily executed.

Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break is low-budget and uneven, yet I found as I watched that I was drawn to the character and entertained by his hijinks. It’s not a perfect film but if you give it a chance, it’s warm and silly and I couldn’t help but join in the fun.

SXSW 2021: Kid Candidate

Hayden Pedigo is a 24 year old experimental musician who makes weird performance art videos that go semi-viral. His go-to character is a politician, and he gets just enough attention from these silly uploads that he decides to actually run for city council, as if having played one on Youtube somehow makes you qualified.

Pedigo may have honourable intentions, and he certainly loves his city, Amarillo, Texas. He’s even got a couple of ideas for improving things – almost, though not quite, some policy. But he does not have the heart for shaking hands and kissing babies or giving speeches or raising money or being criticized or talking to people. It’s going to be quite an uphill battle campaigning against an incumbent backed by the town’s elite, not to mention their very influential dollars.

It’s great to want to fight corruption and to unite communities, but let’s be real: Pedigo doesn’t actually stand a chance. And like its subject, Kid Candidate lacks the vision and ambition to really make a go of things. However, film maker Jasmine Stodel does get one thing right. She backs a youth movement that’s attempting to be the change they want to see. Maybe their inexperience and naivete mean they’ve failed today, but they’ve seen how dirty the game is, how rigged the system is, and they know the only way to change it is from within.

SXSW 2021: The Lost Sons

In early 1960s Chicago, newborn baby Paul Fronczak is taken from his mother’s hospital room and vanishes. Months later, a toddler with a black eye is abandoned in Newark, New Jersey. His foster parents call him Scott, and local police are astonished when no one comes forward to claim a missing child. Recalling the snatched baby in Chicago, they do the math and send little Scott to Chicago, where his parents reclaim him, restoring the name Paul, and immediately burying the disturbing truth of his disappearance. Paul doesn’t even discover that he was kidnapped until he’s 10, and his mother quickly shuts down any follow up questions.

Middle aged now, and with a child of his own, Paul once again attempts to open up this mysterious chapter of his life. This time he’ll circumvent his parents and follow the trail of his birth and disappearance down some fascinating paths – fascinating to us, anyway; understandably it would be much more difficult to be questioning your own heritage and provenance and identity.

Director Ursula Macfarlane does an excellent job of setting up an improbable premise and then guiding us down its many fantastical twists and turns. It’s such a cliché to say something is stranger than fiction, but truly you couldn’t get away with such an incredible story if you were writing it from scratch.

Unfortunately, this documentary isn’t as tasty or as satisfying as you might think. It’s certainly packaged like a true-crime doc worth devouring, but it’s got several major ingredients going against it. First, the re-enactments are a little amateurish, and feel like they’re just adding bulk to a thin serving size. Second, if you’re already familiar with the story, there aren’t any big bombshells to make this worth your time. The few new details push the boundaries of relevance. Third, the story is frustratingly unresolved, the loose ends dangling tantalizingly in front of us just begging for closure. And finally, the biggest problem is with Paul himself. A former musician and actor, he clearly enjoys having an audience and several of his answers feel rehearsed and self-conscious. But at the same time, he’s also very guarded, rarely allowing us beyond his carefully bricked wall. His refusal or inability to display emotion makes it hard to connect with him, and we shouldn’t have to work so hard to feel empathy for a story like this. Paul is his own biggest obstacle, and while his story is remarkable, The Lost Sons isn’t anywhere near as engrossing as it should be.