It’s that time of year when the worlds of film, music—and yes, even some optimistic activism–collide in Austin, Texas—South by Southwest (SXSW) kicked off March 11 and will run until March 20. While never a sleepy little cultural event, SXSW has grown over the years into much more than a music and film festival; it’s a gathering of tribes with unique keynote speakers and a unique and rambling atmosphere all its own.
And while it would be easy to get lost in the myriad events, workshops, and performers of various stripes (music and interactive arts come to mind), we here at Film Slate Magazine will focus on five film events from the Narrative Competition at SXSW you should be aware of.
“Hunter Gatherer” – The feature film debut from writer/director Josh Locy, this film tells the story of Ashley (Andre Royo), a man recently released from prison after three years. For him, the stint wasn’t that long, so things in the outside world should fall into place a little more easily than they do. But the uncertainty begins to creep in and he finds himself back at his mother’s house beginning all over again while he pines for his one true love. Royo, best known as Bubbles from HBO’s “The Wire,” is a magnetic screen presence and brings a certain level of nuance into his performance.
“Claire in Motion” – Written and directed by Lisa Robinson and Annie J. Howell, “Claire in Motion” digs deeper into the world of a man who suddenly disappears, leaving his family behind to pick up the pieces. Betsy Brandt (“Magic Mike,” “Breaking Bad”) is the titular character that won’t let the memory of her husband go, weeks after the investigation into his disappearance has been closed. But she begins to find out some troubling information about his life, especially a relationship he had formed with an enigmatic female grad student. “Claire in Motion” asks the question that we don’t often want to ask ourselves about the closest people in our lives: How well do we really know them?
“Before the Sun Explodes” – Directed by Debra Eisenstadt and written by Eisenstadt and Zeke Farrow, “Before the Sun Explodes” follows Ken (Bill Dawes), a failing comedian that passed his point of relevance about 10 years ago. His life seems to boil down to one night; a final pitch for a TV show idea that he won’t let die. A huge fight with his wife leaves him deflated and filled with self-doubt. With his career failing and his marriage in shambles, Ken falls under the spell of a charismatic comedienne named Holly (Sarah Butler), and he enters her world—but will he be able to get back out again?
“A Stray” – Set in the large Somali refugee community in Minneapolis, “A Stray” introduces us to Adan (Barkhad Abdirahman), a man in conflict with the world around him. He has been kicked out of his mother’s house and his friends are no longer enamored with him. Turning to his mosque (and crashing there as well) for help, God seems to answers his prayers and things in his life begin to turn around. One night while working at his new job, he hits a stray dog and takes it in. He is kicked out of the mosque because the animal is “impure,” and this forces him back into his old world to confront the path his life has taken.
“Miss Stevens” – This one should hit home with an audience filled with people in their early to mid-thirties. Past the point of youthful wandering, but not really ready to grow up, Miss Stevens (Lily Rabe) is accompanying three of her students to a drama competition. Directed by Julia Hart and written by Hart and Jordan Horowitz, “Miss Stevens” explores the world of the young (and not so young) adults who feel they should have everything figured out—but can’t quite get there.