Normally held annually in Austin, Texas, South-by-Southwest (SXSW) is a festival that combines various aspects of the arts — music, comedy, film and more. While the SXSW Festival is not one that the Film Beat usually covers, this year’s virtual format made it possible for us to engage with the films on the SXSW Online 2021 lineup. The virtual Film Festival featured films that represented a diverse range of topics and identities — we watched films that highlighted underrepresented identities, touched on crucial modern-day issues, challenged the boundaries of filmmaking or all of the above. With that, we invite you to check out the Film Beat’s reviews of some of this year’s SXSW films. — Kari Anderson and Sabriya Imami, Daily Film Editors

Jordan T. Parrott

“See You Then” 

“‘See You Then’ has a relatively short runtime, but the majority of the film is dark, quiet and hard to get through without being tempted to glance at your phone. It falls into the worst of mumblecore tendencies, and it lacks the momentum it needs to fully sell its emotionally effective, somewhat shocking ending.” Read more from Katrina Stebbins here.

Matt Huynh

“Reeducated”

“The film (and the article) is entirely hand-drawn by Matt Huynh, to incredible effect. Because truthfully recreating these spaces was essential to the success of both the article and the film, Huynh was an active participant in the reporting process … ‘Reeducated’ tells the Uighur story in a novel way, making an inconceivable experience accessible for new audiences.” Read more from Ross London here.

Courtesy of SXSW Online 2021

“Potato Dreams of America”

“Even if the film feels disjointed at times, there is a lot to be said about its ingenuity. Along with Hurley’s creative filmmaking, the story itself is engrossing, with enough cynical jabs and delightfully unexpected moments to keep it energetic and entertaining — not to mention a meta ending that brilliantly ties everything together.” Read more from Kari Anderson here

Courtesy of SXSW Online 2021

“The Oxy Kingpins”

“It is because of thorough media coverage that ‘The Oxy Kingpins’ feels like a waste of time. The only unique aspect of the film is the exploration of the Oxy underground and how dealers like Dimattio obtained such large quantities of a controlled substance. Unfortunately, the filmmakers stop short of a full investigation.” Read more from Ross London here.

Elo Company

“Executive Order”

“Sometimes the logical extreme of the film’s premise ventures into the illogical extreme. Capitú is a doctor and when the government troopers come for her, she’s in the middle of a procedure; the fair-skinned patient is left open on the operating table, as confused as the viewer is. Trumping all other quibbles is the fundamental nature of the premise itself: In removing all the Black people in Brazil, the government is deporting over half of the nation’s population, approximately over 100 million people.” Read more from Jacob Lusk here.

Joseph Yakob

“Introducing, Selma Blair”

“What makes ‘Introducing, Selma Blair’ so compelling is that no holds are barred. Honestly, I didn’t know much about MS prior to viewing this documentary but learning about it through Blair’s experience is truly shattering. Blair allows the audience to follow every step of her journey in which she reveals the good and the bad. Viewers get the fun, playful moments of her life, most of which center around her son Arthur but also the moments of sheer exhaustion, unbearable pain and continual hopelessness.” Read more from Sabriya Imami here.

Andrea Walter

“The Fabulous Filipino Brothers”

“At times, the dialogue feels generic and overdramatic, and the fact that the banter occasionally feels scripted is unfortunate; I have to assume that no one could improvise sibling teasing better than a group of actual brothers. That said, the best lines in the film are probably Theresa’s; she has some beautiful sentiments, which are elevated by Lapira’s gentle delivery. Writing aside, the directing, production and cinematography of the film are all excellent.” Read more from Kari Anderson here

Henry Loevner, Steven Kanter

“The End of Us”

“This is a film that feels like it should be very emotional — breakups are painful events, especially when it’s the end of a long-term relationship. Forcing the characters to reckon with this dramatic shift — in both their individual lives and their dynamic with each other — by confining them to the same space for months on end is an excellent setup for generating a big, emotional revelation from them. But, ‘The End of Us’ never capitalizes on this.” Read more from Mitchel Green here.

Courtesy Queensbury Pictures

“Broadcast Signal Intrusion”

“The dominoes are set up. You get the creepypasta-esque chills. You get the paranoid detective. You get the scent of blood on the wind. Sallying forth to the tune of noir trumpets, those dominoes wobble and wobble. ‘Broadcast Signal Intrusion’ winds up being about as cryptic as the intrusions with which James is transfixed. Reasons, motivations and explanations are obfuscated to create an uncertain atmosphere.” Read more from Jacob Lusk here

Jorrie van der Walt

“Gaia”

“A newcomer to the thriller genre’s “vengeful nature” category, ‘Gaia’ is a film of biblical proportions with sumptuous imagery and a premonitory tone. Directed by Jaco Bouwer (‘Die Spreeus’), the film is set in the South African Bush with English and Afrikaans dialogue. Taking simultaneous inspiration from surrealism and the breadth of Christian scripture — from Genesis to Revelation — ‘Gaia’ is a symbolist’s playground.” Read more from Ross London here

Courtesy of SXSW Online 2021

“The Return: Life After ISIS”

“‘The Return: Life after ISIS’ documents Shamima’s time in the camp, alongside a number of other women in a similar circumstance. Chronicling the journey from radicalization to emigration and ultimately to a sense of regret and disenfranchisement, ‘The Return’ raises important questions about a nation’s responsibility to its citizens, women’s agency and moral absolutism.” Read more from Ross London here.

Kristen Correll

“The Fallout”

“The film is superb on many levels, but most impressive is Ortega’s performance as Vada. The movie’s emotional impact hinges entirely on her shoulders, and she absolutely nails it. While it could have been very easy for the performance to come off as stiff and wooden, Ortega communicates the pain Vada is experiencing beneath the surface more subtly. The result feels far more truthful.” Read more from Mitchel Green here.

Courtesy of SXSW Online 2021

“Witch Hunt”

“The references don’t end there; rather, they constitute every aspect of the imagined oppression of witches in this world, from the Gestapo-esque Bureau of Witchcraft Investigation to the way that neighbors monitor each other closely for signs of wrongdoing. There’s also a literal border wall separating the United States from Mexico.

“The film takes the trauma of marginalized ethnic groups and applies all of it to a population made up of pale, white women whose only real distinguishing quality is their red hair. It’s difficult to tell what the goal of this is.” Read more from Katrina Stebbins here.

Courtesy of SXSW Online 2021

“Best Summer Ever”

“Alongside the representation of the disabled community, another highlight of the film is its cast. Wilson in particular has a very charismatic, charming magnetism on-screen as Anthony. I wouldn’t be surprised if he became the new teenage rom-com love interest in many new films — maybe the new and improved Noah Centineo?” Read more from Sabriya Imami here.

Courtesy of SXSW Online 2021

“Mau”

“The film culminates in a sequence of more recent projects, namely Mau’s 2004 exhibition ‘Massive Change’ and proposed 2019 follow-up ‘Massive Action.’ Per the Bruce Mau Design website, ‘Massive Change’ tried to answer the question ‘Can good design help solve some of humanity’s most urgent problems?’ The exhibition had a mixed reception. Some praised Mau for his commitment to positive evolution, though others dismissed the work as optimistic and utopian. I see both sides.” Read more from Ross London here.

HBO

“In the Same Breath”

“The access these camera operators offer can be stunning in its reach, as it spans from inside hospital rooms, right next to patients dying of the virus, to the inside of an ambulance carrying someone to the hospital, to small apartments and narrow stairways where the infected are seen being carried away on stretchers. This footage is gut-wrenching in its intimacy. It captures, in one instance, a woman being turned away from a hospital because it’s at full capacity. Her family members are left standing on the street, wondering if she will be able to survive the trip home.” Read more from Katrina Stebbins here

Courtesy of SXSW Online 2021

“Alone Together”

“If the album is the product of quarantine-inspired self-reflection and emotional openness, the film is a glimpse into the circumstances and environment that fostered this musical vulnerability. The documentary is highly personal, quilted together from moments of self-reflection and time with her boyfriend captured by Charli and her housemates on camcorders and cellphones.” Read more from Ross London here.

Courtesy of SXSW Online 2021

“The Spine of Night”

“It’s this quality — the suggestion of a fully articulated world just beyond the frame — that keeps the story endlessly fresh and interesting. Paired with ruminations on the nature and meaning of existence, power, and moral responsibility, the film becomes something truly worth paying attention to.” Read more from Jacob Lusk here.