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SXSW will kick off this year's film festival with Demi Lovato docuseries about overdose, recovery

Eric Webb
Austin 360

A day after South by Southwest announced that Willie Nelson will be a keynote speaker for the first time, organizers dropped more big news involving a musical artist.

"Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil" will be the opening night headline film for SXSW 2021, the festival announced Thursday. It will be the world premiere of the docuseries. 

SXSW is moving online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and that also includes film screenings. This year's virtual panels and screenings will take place over March 16-20.

Pop singer Demi Lovato opens up about her struggles with addiction in the documentary series "Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil."

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A YouTube Originals production, "Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil" documents "every aspect that led to Lovato’s nearly fatal overdose in 2018, and her awakenings in the aftermath."

“It’s impressive and rare to see a pop superstar tell their story so authentically and without pretense,” said Janet Pierson, SXSW director of film, in a statement. “We’re privileged to present this intimate journey told with such vulnerability. Demi Lovato’s profound interest in mental health awareness is helping change the landscape of a crucial issue in this year of national and international trauma and loss.”

The series is directed by Michael D. Ratner and will hit YouTube on March 23.

X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene is the subject of the documentary "Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché."

In addition to "Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil," SXSW on Thursday announced a handful of other films set to screen through a virtual platform. Highlights include the world premiere of "Violet" (a holdover from last year's canceled festival, written and directed by Justine Bateman and starring Olivia Munn and Justin Theroux) and the North American premiere of "Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché" (a documentary about punk musician and X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene, directed by Paul Sng and Celeste Bell).

Other films announced as part of this year's film lineup include "Confronting a Serial Killer," a docuseries directed by Joe Berlinger; "The Hunt for Planet B," a documentary directed by Nathaniel Kahn; "Hysterical," a documentary directed by Andrea Nevins; "Jakob's Wife," a midnighter directed by Travis Stevens; "Luchadoras," a German film directed by Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim; and "Recovery," a narrative film directed by Mallory Everton and Stephen Meek.

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Each year, the SXSW Film Festival is a major destination for movie studios and networks premiering their upcoming films and episodic series. Last year's festivals and conference were early casualties of the pandemic. In the aftermath, SXSW teamed up with Amazon Prime Video to showcase a handful of 2020 film selections online.

The complete film lineup will be announced Feb. 10; the online screening platform will launch on Feb. 15, according to the fest.