26 things you need to see at SXSW Film Festival 2022
OK, now the movies are back.
South by Southwest got the rug pulled out from under it in March 2020 — with the coronavirus pandemic yanking that particular carpet — and it kicked off a seismic stress event in the live entertainment industry. Movie theaters were among the victims, and even though they're back open, you could argue that the verdict is still out on what their recovery looks like. "Spider-Man: No Way Home" earning the GDP of a small nation is a good sign.
After two years of virtual programming, SXSW Film Festival is back in person, too, on March 11-19. And with a vengeance; there's nothing muted about this return. The star-studded world premieres and their red carpets are back. The up-and-comer visionaries with indie films in competition are back. Perhaps you'll be back, too. (Though several films also have online viewing options, FYI.)
Though SXSW programmers say they don't select films by theme, some common threads emerge on the schedule. The collective unconscious at work, perhaps. This year, filmgoers will find COVID-era cinema made with small casts in limited locations (like A24 thriller "Bodies Bodies Bodies" and Australian film "Sissy") and documentaries about history-making women (including films about Wendy Davis, Sheryl Crow, Tanya Tucker and ladies of "9 to 5").
There are local ties galore, including new projects from familiar faces like Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke, and global films from Ghana, Brazil, Iran and more.
And it's not just feature-length films. SXSW is home to lauded shorts programs (peep a documentary about Austin band Asleep at the Wheel); sneak peeks at your new favorite TV shows; and innovative new XR (or "extended reality") experiences.
We can't highlight everything in the SXSW Film Festival lineup this year, but we can point you toward the things our writers are most excited about. Here are the films you should check out.
ERIC WEBB'S PICKS
‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’
At this news organization, we do whatever we can to support Michelle Yeoh, queen of 1990s action and queen of our hearts. After bopping around recently as a memorable supporting player in blockbusters like “Shang-Chi” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” she’s the star in this wild ride through the multiverse from the filmmaker duo known collectively as Daniels. Their 2016 outing “Swiss Army Man” was somewhat dire (though visually inventive), but hey, call upon your faith in Yeoh. The trailer teases stunning eye candy, too. “Everything Everywhere All At Once” opens up this year’s SXSW Film Festival. World premiere. 6 p.m. March 11 at Paramount.
‘Bodies Bodies Bodies’
Indie tastemaker A24 threw several exciting bones into this comedy-thriller's bag. There’s an eclectic cast of talented young women — Rachel Sennott of god-tier comedy “Shiva Baby,” Chase Sui Wonders of the departed HBO teen drama “Genera+ion,” Maria Bakalova of the outrageous “Borat” sequel, Amandla Stenberg of a slew of Y.A. flicks — joined by choose-your-own-adventure heartthrobs in gossip column king Pete Davidson and 6-foot-5-inch gay icon Lee Pace. With comedians Aaron Jackson and Joshua Sharp on the writing team of director Halina Reijn’s film about a party gone deadly, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is the year’s “see it before everyone else becomes obsessed” pick. World premiere. 7:30 p.m. on March 14 at Paramount.
What a concept for a slasher: The cast and crew of a porno fight for their lives in 1970s West Texas. Sounds like a regular weekend in Marfa, to me. (According to festival programmers, Ti West’s “X” was not filmed in the Lone Star State.) Features character and indie actor standouts like Brittany Snow, Mia Goth, Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi and Jenna Ortega, who dazzled in 2021 SXSW prize-winner “The Fallout.” World premiere. 10:30 p.m. March 13 at Paramount; noon March 15 at Alamo South Lamar.
‘The Lost City’
Austin’s America’s sweetheart is back in the kind of fun caper we’d have expected from her 20 years ago. Sandra Bullock plays a romance novelist swept up in a real-life treasure hunt. Along for the ride: Channing Tatum as the beefy cover model from her books and Daniel Radcliffe as a lunatic billionaire. Some of my personal funny faves — Da’vine Joy Randolph, Bowen Yang and Patti Harrison — round out this adventure that looks like “Romancing the Stone 2022.” World premiere. 6:30 p.m. March 12 at Paramount.
‘The Pez Outlaw’
SXSW loves a documentary that follows someone with a weird obsession. This year, one that fits the bill is "The Pez Outlaw," the story of a man who uses the fall of the Berlin Wall as a gateway to financial success through an unlikely source: smuggling rare Pez dispensers. World premiere. 3:45 p.m. March 12 at Alamo South Lamar; 6:30 and 7 p.m. March 13 at Violet Crown; 9:15 March 16 at Alamo South Lamar; online screening available.
We love a comic book adaptation. This HBO Max miniseries — produced by Ava DuVernay, who also directs the first episode — takes a comic series that started in 2005 and runs straight toward America’s collective anxiety. Rosario Dawson leads a story about a second U.S. Civil War, which turns Manhattan into a demilitarized zone. World premiere. 4:15 March 13 at Paramount; online screening available.
Is there any show right now as strange, stylish and smart as Donald Glover’s “Atlanta”? If there is, it’s still a short list. For closing night, SXSW gets a sneak peek of the FX show’s third season, which finds Earn (Glover), Paper Boi (Bryan Tyree Henry), Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) and Van (Zazie Beetz) on a European tour. World premiere. 7:30 p.m. March 19 at Paramount.
‘Spin Me Round’
Promotional material leads me to believe that director Jeff Baena’s film involves Alison Brie riding through Italy on the back of a Vespa that’s driven by Aubrey Plaza. This, of course, is perfect. “Spin Me Round” reunites those three, who worked together in the outrageous nun sex farce “The Little Hours,” for a chaotic culinary comedy. World premiere. 6:15 p.m. March 12 at Zach; 4:15 p.m. March 15 at Alamo South Lamar; 4 p.m. March 16 at Rollins; online screening available.
‘What We Leave Behind’
Director Iliana Sosa presents this documentary love letter to her grandfather, Julián, who for years made a long trek from Mexico to El Paso to visit his family. World premiere. 6 p.m. March 11 and 2 p.m. March 16 at Alamo South Lamar; 8:15 p.m. March 12 at AFS Cinema; online screening available.
‘The Return of Tanya Tucker - featuring Brandi Carlile’
Two titans of country music who never knew a mold they didn’t wanna break, Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile, collaborate on a comeback album for Tucker. And lucky us, we get to watch. World premiere. 5:45 p.m. March 13 at Zach; 4 p.m. March 16 at Paramount; online screening available.
Definitely not among the more cheerful-sounding watches on this year’s lineup, but perhaps one of the most vital, director David Siev’s “Bad Axe” contains 2020 within 100 minutes. Siev’s family in rural Michigan grapples with the pandemic, neo-Nazis, pressures facing their restaurant business and their own trauma as an immigrant family from Cambodia. World premiere. 12:30 p.m. March 14 and 3 p.m. March 18 at Alamo South Lamar; 3 and 3:30 p.m. at Violet Crown; online screening available.
In the narrative feature competition, find this intriguing sci-fi entry from Canada. Director and co-writer Nyla Innuksuk transports the audience to the Arctic, where a group of Inuit girls battle an alien invasion. And also, party. World premiere. 12:45 p.m. March 13 at Alamo South Lamar; 3:45 and 4:15 p.m. March 14 at Violet Crown; 6:15 p.m. March 17 at Stateside; online screening available.
Lots of parties-but-also-mayhem on the lineup this year, yeah? Guess that’s what the end of the world is like. U.K. director/writer Reggie Yates takes SXSW back to New Year’s Eve 1999, as three London pals on the cusp of adulthood spend a night trying to find the best party ever. Wouldn’t you know it, they learn some lessons about themselves along the way? International premiere. 5:30 p.m. March 11 and 7:30 p.m. March 14 at Alamo South Lamar; 6:45 and 7:15 p.m. March 16 at Violet Crown; online screening available.
Guaranteed inspiration and Kleenex-fuel, I would wager, in director Daresha Kyi’s documentary competitor. Austin's Kimberly and Kai Shappley are featured in this chronicle of women raised in conservative, evangelical Christian ideology who reshape their entire lives to support their children in the LGBTQ community. It’s especially and sadly relevant, as Gov. Greg Abbott recently ordered a state agency to treat gender-affirming care as child abuse. World premiere. 3 p.m. March 13 and 12:30 p.m. March 18 at Alamo South Lamar; 4 and 4:30 p.m. March 14 at Violet Crown; online screening available.
'Shouting Down Midnight'
Another Austin tie for you. Director Gretchen Stoeltje documents former state Sen. Wendy Davis' historic filibuster over reproductive rights in 2013, and puts it in the context of the movement that followed. World premiere. 11:30 a.m. March 12 at Rollins; 6 p.m. March 17 at AFS Cinema; online screening available.
Disney+ free screenings
OK, this one isn’t the traditional kind of SXSW screening, but it’s definitely a fun one we’d be remiss to leave out. On March 12, Disney+ will take over the lawn at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. All day, members of the public can show up for screenings of the platform's big hit films, with no badges required. The flicks: “Jungle Cruise” at 11:30 a.m., “Cruella” at 3:30 p.m. and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” at 7:30 p.m.
MATTHEW ODAM'S PICKS
Film festivals offer an excellent opportunity to broaden and deepen your film knowledge by exploring world cinema with which you might not be very familiar. It’s one reason I’m looking forward to Kofi Ofosu-Yeboah’s film, the first Ghanian entry at SXSW and a tale of intrigue and heart, one the director has called “my part in a larger narrative of a people whose undying optimism against all odds continues to inspire my work.” U.S. premiere. 6 and 6:30 p.m. March 11 at Violet Crown; 2 p.m. March 13 at Alamo South Lamar; 4:30 p.m. March 16 at Alamo South Lamar; online screening available.
After I last saw Courtney Barnett perform at the Mohawk in Austin, I tweeted that I wanted to be the Aussie rocker. The raw power, the vulnerability, the humor, the guitar prowess, the stage presence: Barnett can captivate a crowd with a single song. It will be fascinating to see how and what she chooses to reveal in this 16mm documentary from her longtime collaborator, Danny Cohen. International premiere. 4 p.m. March 18 at Paramount; online screening available.
‘Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood’
One of the greatest American filmmakers of the last 30 years, Richard Linklater has pushed the medium with films like “Waking Life” and “Boyhood,” and the art jock has explored autobiographical terrain with “Dazed and Confused” and “Everybody Wants Some.” His latest melds imaginative technological form with personal storytelling in a film about the summer of 1969 in Houston that is “part coming of age, part societal commentary, and part out-of-this-world adventure.” World premiere. 8 p.m. March 13 at Paramount; noon March 19 at AFS Cinema.
Onetime Austinite Margaret Brown has proven herself a gripping documentarian, with films chronicling various facets of Gulf Coast life, with a portrait of the birth of Mardi Gras in the United States (“The Order of Myths”), and with a recounting of a natural disaster that plays out like both horror film and cultural anthropology (“The Great Invisible”). Here, she returns to her native Alabama to tell the story of the last known slave ship to arrive on the United States’ shores, and traces the legacy and lineage of the ship’s passengers. Executive produced by budding filmmaker Questlove of the Roots, expect a rich score that includes Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Texas premiere. Noon March 13 at Paramount; 6 p.m. March 18 at AFS Cinema.
They don’t grow sports legends in Texas much bigger than the Ryan Express. South Texas native Nolan Ryan owns parts of the Major League Baseball record book for eternity: his seven no-hitters are almost twice as many as second place Sandy Koufax, and his strikeout record won’t be sniffed by anyone in this era of pitch-count limits. Here’s hoping filmmaker Bradley Jackson can get the famously reticent Ryan to open up a bit, or at least get some amazing stories from his peers. World premiere. 2:45 p.m. March 12 at Zach; 5:15 p.m. March 13 at Alamo South Lamar; 6 p.m. March 16 at AFS Cinema; online screening available.
‘Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story’
With all due respect to my hometown, Austin is not the live music capital of the world. That argument hits its first roadblock about 500 miles east of town in a little city called New Orleans. Given the rich, star-studded, culturally influential roster of musicians to play Jazz Fest over the last 50-plus years, you know this film, executive produced by Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis, will move your feet and stir your soul. World premiere. 8 p.m. March 16 at Paramount; online screening available.
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‘The Last Movie Stars’
It’s always interesting to see the passion projects and pet ideas harbored by big-name artists. So, it was charming to hear Ethan Hawke had directed this docuseries detailing the careers and relationship of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. I guess it makes some sense: Like the two subjects, Hawke is a movie star who operates with grace, humility, good taste and respect for the art form. World premiere. 12:30 p.m. March 14 at Paramount; online screening available.
‘Master of Light’
How do we heal through art? How do we make sense of our lives? How do we reconcile who we are with where we came from? How do we get people to see us for who we really are? How do artistic traditions echo through centuries and across oceans? These appear to be some of the questions at play in Dutch filmmaker Rosa Ruth Boesten’s documentary about George Anthony Morton, a Black American painter who heads home to revisit the life he left behind before a stint in prison. World premiere. 1 p.m. March 12 at Alamo South Lamar; 3:45 and 4:15 p.m. March 13 at Violet Crown; 3:45 and 4:15 p.m. March 16 at Violet Crown; online screening available.
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‘They Call Me Magic’
Director Rick Famuyiwa has examined the Black experience in America on scales small (his winning portrait of adolescence, “Dope”) and large (the Anita Hill-centered “Confirmation”). Here, he turns his lens on one of the most charismatic and accomplished athletes (if not sports executives) in American history, as well as an entrepreneurial empire builder. Everyone loves Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and I reckon this movie will only amplify that esteem. World premiere. 11:30 a.m. March 12 at Zach; online screening available.
‘We Feed People’
Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear chef’s whites. At least, until the time comes to put on a rain jacket, mud boots or parka and confront food insecurity wrought by natural disaster and bureaucratic mismanagement. Arguably no chef has had a greater impact on the world outside of the kitchen than tireless Spanish chef José Andrés, whose World Central Kitchen gets a much-deserved spotlight here from Oscar-winning director Ron Howard. World premiere. 3:30 p.m. March 19 at Paramount; online screening available.