Catch 'em if you can at SXSW this year.
We've scoured the catalog of this year's SXSW and put together this list of 11 features and shorts we can't wait to see at the festival.
Directors: Chris Caldwell and Zeek Earl
I might be cheating a bit here with this one, since I, uh, watched this last night, but man, Prospect lives up to the hype. A trailer dropped for it earlier this week and I was already receiving excited texts from friends intrigued by its hauntingly beautiful aesthetic. Making a low-budget sci-fi is an incredibly tricky thing to do, especially one as original as this. There generally just isn’t enough money to sink into all the production design and visual effects that the genre demands. For that reason, you have to be extremely thoughtful about which aspects of the production you feel necessary to highlight in order to build a world. In Prospect, the level of thinking that co-directors Chris Caldwell and Zeek Earl went through pervades each and every frame. In addition to writing and directing the feature, which is based on a short of the same name, Earl actually took on the role of cinematographer as well. The footage is nothing less than stunning. When all is said and done, it’s easy to see this one landing on Netflix or a streaming service, which is unfortunate because it deserves to be seen on the big screen. So if you find yourself in Austin for SXSW, make sure to put this one on your radar as one to see. —Jon Fusco
Director: Julia Hart
Section: Narrative Spotlight
At least four of my top 10 favorite films are in the sci-fi category, and they’re all directed by men. With Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time hitting theaters this week, and Julia Hart’s movie premiering at SXSW, there’s some new blood coming into the genre—and I’m here for it. Fast Color is Hart’s second feature and it’s about Ruth, a woman with unspecified “extraordinary abilities” who can no longer control said abilities and is on the run from a group who wants to exploit this fact. She ends up back at her childhood home and, apparently, a family drama ensues in the midst of this science fiction narrative. A good sign for the film is that it has a great team behind it: it’s produced and co-written by Hart’s husband, who happens to be Jordan Horowitz, producer of a little ditty called La La Land. The film’s cinematographer is Michael Fimognari, who shot Ry Russo-Young’s Before I Fall. That film looked so good that I titled my article about it “Achieving Hollywood-Level Visuals with an Indie Budget.” —Liz Nord
Director: Nosipho Dumisa
What would be an intriguing way to take on a revered Hitchcock classic like Rear Window? Replace the bored photographer in 1950s Greenwich Village with a wheelchair-bound man in the fictionalized hard-knock world of Cape Flats, South Africa. Then have the writer/director be an edgy South African Zulu filmmaker who can add clever twists to the original thriller concept. What film would this be? Nosipho Dumisa’s feature debut, Number 37. Whether you loved the original Hitchcock treatise on voyeurism or not, the world premiere of her brutal, gritty remix should make for a very exciting watch. —Oakley Anderson-Moore
Director: Jenn Wexler
Placed snugly and firmly in the Midnighters section, The Ranger is the debut feature from director Jenn Wexler. If you've been a fan of the recent string of fiercely independent genre films on the festival circuit, there's a good chance Wexler has had her name attached. As a producer with Larry Fessenden's New York-based Glass Eye Pix, Wexler was just nominated for the John Cassavetes Award for producing Ana Asensio's Most Beautiful Island (which won the Narrative Competition prize at SXSW last year). Placed snuggly and firmly in the Midnighters section, The Ranger arrives as her directorial debut. I've been following The Ranger from afar-ish as it participated in many film development and financing markets over the past two years, and through its journey, I've viewed concept trailers, early artwork, and stills, and I'm excited to see the finished film on the big screen. Based on a thesis script written by a colleague at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Wexler looks to the past for her first official stab behind the camera. The poster for the festival dropped this week, sporting the tagline: “Each year millions visit our national parks. Not everyone gets to leave.” And if that doesn't get you excited, what will? From the look of things, it's a grunge-filled genre throwdown featuring punks versus a local ranger in a….slasher film? An action adventure barn-burner? I’m not totally sure. Wexler is quoted as saying, “There should already be some ’80s movie about punks that go up against a park ranger; I always loved the concept.” Comparisons to Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room seem warranted, but Wexler will make it her own, and I'm excited to see it after the Austin sun has long gone down. —Erik Luers
Director: Joel Potrykus
I first met Joel Potrykus four years ago, when he had driven a questionably tuned-up van containing the cast and crew of his sophomore film Buzzard from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Austin, Texas. Cavalierly sitting on the pavement on a busy downtown street, amidst honking cars and Interactive badgeholders, he explained that a film has to have a heart and soul. “Cranes and jibs, that’s all hairspray,” said Potrykus, correlating high production value to awful 80s hair bands, to the vexation of many a No Film School reader. True to his word, his films exude a fierce, delightfully provocative attitude that jumps out of the screen at you, no hairspray required. Potrykus is the real deal, an American original. Relaxer, the fourth film from his Sob Noisse posse, about a guy trying to beat Pac-Man level 256 before the Y2K apocalypse, is not to be missed on the opening night of the festival. —Oakley Anderson-Moore
Director: Jim Cummings
Section: Narrative Feature Competition
There’s a lot to be excited about for sci-fi horror film nerds this year (and really every year) at SXSW. That being said, my most anticipated film has nothing to do with science fiction or horror. Instead, it’s got to be the feature length version of Jim Cummings’ masterful short Thunder Road. If you haven’t seen the Sundance award winning original, stop reading this article, go to Vimeo and watch it right now. It’s a masterclass on how to do a short: one location, one actor, one monologue and pretty much just one take. The setup is truly as simple as it comes, which just goes to show the real strength of a successful short comes from strong writing and captivating performances. In this case, Cummings effortlessly provides both. I’m personally interested in seeing how he takes this one scene short and extends it into a full length story, because the world of the short seemed so expertly contained. One has to think, however, that Cummings had been planning on making this feature all along and isn’t just riding a wave of success after Sundance. —Jon Fusco
Director: Sarah Daggar Nickson
Section: Narrative Spotlight
I knew little about this film before noticing its inclusion in the initial SXSW line-up announcement, but as a just revenge story filled to the brim with topical, socio-political subtext, I'm interested in checking it out. The logline is intriguing: "A once abused woman, Sadie, devotes herself to ridding victims of their domestic abusers while hunting down the husband she must kill to truly be free." The film stars Olivia Wilde, an actress who has been challenging herself with harder-hitting material over the past five years (she's really good, for example, in Reed Morano's directorial debut, Meadowland), and according to the film's IMDb page, a lot of men (the abusers?). To say this film could be a conversation starter is an understatement, and depending on how graphic it gets regarding the "hunting" aspect of the narrative, an uncomfortable look at the blurred lines that often appear when the topic pertains to vigilante justice. The film signals the feature debut of Sarah Daggar Nickson, a filmmaker who has made some well-received shorts, and one of the producers is indie powerhouse Lars Knudsen, already a seven-time Spirit and Gotham Award nominee. The film's materials haven't revealed much more storywise thus far, and that's how it should be. —Erik Luers
Directors: Various, including Marshall Curry, Leah Galant, Mohammad Gorjestani, and Charlie Tyrell
Section: Short Film Program
We often talk about the age of Peak TV, but I’d argue that it’s a pretty darn golden hour for nonfiction shorts, as well, with more diverse voices making more work and more mainstream outlets showing it. This year’s doc shorts lineup looks to be a stellar example of nonfiction’s rise. It features work from no less than Oscar-nominated Marshall Curry (whose Night at the Garden can already be seen online here), but also lesser-known names with equally compelling offerings. I love everything I’ve ever seen from Bay Area-based Mohammad Gorjestani, whose Sister Hearts profiles a former prisoner who created a program to help other ex-offenders. And when the lineup features projects with titles like Death Metal Grandma (Leah Galant) and My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes (Charlie Tyrell, narrated by David Wain), how could I not be intrigued? —Liz Nord
For more, see our complete coverage of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival.