Thursday, July 18, 2024

A Preview Of The 2023 SXSW Film Festival

Perhaps the timing was a sign: This year’s Oscars will be held during the 2023 SXSW Festival, last year’s version of which hosted the premiere of current presumptive Best Picture winner “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” Going into this year’s festival, anticipation for another hit like the Daniels’ mad multiverse saga is high. While at first glance, nothing in this year’s festival lineup looks like the kind of Earth-shattering critical and audience smash sensation that A24’s 2022 release was, it’s also important to note that even “Everything Everywhere All At Once” looked far from a future Best Picture winner on paper. What hidden gems might this year’s SXSW hold? While I’m excited to try to get my eyes on Sundance hits “Talk To Me,” “Theater Camp,” and “The Starling Girl,” let’s look through my ten most anticipated SXSW premieres.

​Black Barbie: A DocumentaryBlack Barbie

As the scope of what kinds of stories get told onscreen widens, our perspectives have been widening alongside it. Add “Black Barbie: A Documentary” to the list of stories that should have been told years ago but are only just now seeing the light of day, and almost by pure luck: First-time filmmaker Lagueria Davis’s aunt Beulah Mitchell worked on the assembly line at Mattel for years before asking co-founder Ruth Handler why they weren’t making dolls that looked like her. Taking a personal story to expose fault lines in our society is a time-tested documentary formula, and it looks like “Black Barbie” has several important stories to tell about the African American experience and how corporations have shaped it… and sometimes maybe even vice versa.


Matt Johnson’s telling of the story behind the BlackBerry devices that dominated corporate culture in the early ’00s got some great word of mouth across the pond at the Berlinale. Its screenplay earned positive comparisons to the Oscar-winning “The Social Network.” The film traces the ups and downs of unlikely business partners Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, played by Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton, respectively. The prospect of these two long-undersung actors leading a film is great enough. Still, the ensemble around is pretty formidable as well: Cary Elwes, Michael Ironside, Saul Rubinek, and Rich Somner.


Poised to become the breakout comedy hit of the festival, “Bottoms” is the latest collaboration between this year’s SXSW queen Rachel Sennott and her “Shiva Baby” writer-director Ema Seligman, who have split co-writing duties this time around. The plotline is comedy gold: Two unpopular high school seniors (Sennott and “The Bear” breakout Ayo Edebiri, who are also former collaborators from the web series “Ayo and Rachel Are Single”) decide to start a fight club to impress and hook up with cheerleaders. Everything about “Bottoms” brings to mind 2019’s cult classic “Booksmart,” and if Seligman and Sennott’s prior collaboration is any indication, “Bottoms” will be able to survive that comparison. As I’ve been saying since seeing “Shiva Baby” at TIFF 2020: It’s Rachel Sennott’s world; we’re all just living in it.

​Citizen SleuthCitizen Sleuth

I’m not the biggest documentary person, so catching them at film festivals always feels weird. But the subject of “Citizen Sleuth” is too juicy to pass up. The story of the Mile Marker 181 podcast and its host, Emily Nestor, was one of the wildest rides of the internet age, beginning as a young, ambitious, but inexperienced girl from WV working with a local family trying to get justice for their dead daughter and ending in a spectacular flameout that involved figures from across the true crime world, FBI complaints, cyber-stalking, and a nasty falling out between Nestor and the family she was supposed to be helping. This documentary’s existence even played a part in the story, and now, here it is for all the world to see. What perspective the film chooses to take will be fascinating, as there are plenty of angles from which one could come at this story. Is first-time director Chris Kasick up to the task? I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

​Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among ThievesDungeons And Dragons

To be honest, we should all just do our best to forget that the last attempt to translate the tabletop role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons” to film in 2000 exists. Even so, it’s incredibly easy to look at this attempt and wonder why the makers of “Game Night” and “Horrible Bosses” were the ones chosen to write and direct it. However, the film boasts an impressive cast (Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Sophia Lillis, Justice Smith, Hugh Grant), and the trailer’s tongue-in-cheek humor looks like a lot of fun. With plans for a whole D&D franchise with a TV show and marketing tie-in products, a lot is riding on the success of this film. Can it capture the fun, hilarity, and camaraderie of playing D&D the way Critical Role and “The Legend of Vox Machina” has in recent years? We only have to wait until the festival’s opening night to find out!

​Evil Dead RiseEvil Dead Rise

Sam Raimi’s original “Evil Dead” trilogy is one of the great horror franchises. Fede Álvarez’s 2013 reboot (which also premiered at SXSW) sufficiently upped the ante on the series’ trademark gore. This completely new story involving the flesh-possessing demons of the ancient Necronomicon moves from an old cabin in the woods to a cramped apartment in Los Angeles, as road-weary Beth pays what is sure to be a most memorable visit to older sister Ellie and her three kids. The trailer makes this look like a creepy-crawly, bloody good time, but will it bring back more of the comic zing Raimi brought to the original films?

​Late Night With The DevilLate Night With The Devil

David Dastmalchian is one of our most interesting actors, and he finally gets a leading role in this bonkers-sounding entry to the festival’s Midnighters section. The premise is as follows: Reeling from the death of his wife a year before and desperate to regain his dwindling audience, syndicated television talk show host Jack Delroy (Dastmalchian) decides to host an on-air exorcism on Halloween night, 1977. The film chronicles the filming of the live broadcast, which presumably does not go well. Brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes’s debut feature, “100 Bloody Acres,” was a pretty funny low-budget horror comedy, and I can’t wait to see what they can do with a bigger budget and a decade more of experience.

​I Used To Be FunnyI Used To Be Funny

It looks like the main draw for this dark comedy is Rachel Sennott as a stand-up comedian and au pair struggling with PTSD debating whether or not to join the search for a girl she used to babysit, but look closer, and you may be more excited by the promise shown by the film’s first-time feature writer-director, Ally Pankiw. With writing credits on TV sensation “Schitt’s Creek” and directing credits that include episodes of “The Great” and “Shrill” and the full first season of Netflix’s “Feel Good” in addition to music videos for MUNA and Janelle Monae, she looks poised to break out in a big way.


There are very few actors that I will follow anywhere, and Tilda Swinton is at the absolute top of that list. The woman is a true artist, signing on to projects that inspire her with people who inspire her, and even when the film doesn’t end up being great, the chameleonic performer is never less than insanely watchable. Her latest film casts her as “an erratic art-world outcast” who gives a job to writer-director-star Julio Torres’s struggling aspiring toy designer in his last-ditch attempt to stay in the US on a work visa. As if Swinton’s belief in Torres wasn’t enough, the young comedian is already an Emmy nominee and WGA winner for “Saturday Night Live,” so he clearly has the talent. With A24 behind his debut feature, it looks like the transition from TV sketch comedy to cinema will go smoothly.


I’m a simple man: I see mustachioed Taran Egerton, and I buy my ticket. But on top of that, “Tetris” promises to be a wild “truth is stranger than fiction” story of how everyone’s favorite block-stacking video game made its way out of Soviet-era Russia. The glimpses of video game-style graphics in the trailer look like just the kind of stylistic flourish this kind of film needs to distinguish itself. Here’s hoping “Stan & Ollie” director Jon S. Baird has the visual panache to pull this off and make a film about a game that’s as much fun as playing the game.

Which films are you most looking forward to at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW)? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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