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Thursday, Sep 8, 2011
A mix of art house experiments, mainstream confections, grand costume dramas, sex-soaked character studies, apocalyptic horror, intimate human drama, political satires, rock 'n' roll documentaries, and a little Werner Herzog for good measure.

There are hundreds of movies and just not nearly enough time. At best, and this is in itself a butt-numbing goal to have set for myself, I will sit through 30 films over the next ten days. I have mapped it all out, and things are looking good. A mix of art house experiments, mainstream confections, grand costume dramas, sex-soaked character studies, apocalyptic horror, intimate human drama, political satires, rock ‘n’ roll documentaries, and a little Werner Herzog for good measure.


But, it isn’t just films, of course. Half of the people I know who look forward to this festival every year are getting geared up for a little Canadian stargazing (which means slightly less effective stalkery but with free health care). There are parties, there are industry events, there are press conferences, red carpets, “secret concerts”, and all sorts of stuff you can do that is TIFF minus the actual seeing of films. I, as a rule, try to avoid most of this stuff. I don’t get invited to much, anyway, but even some of the stuff I do get the call for I will skip. Frankly, I’m always too exhausted from watching eight hours of movies that day and trying to write up five reviews before bed that night to think about trying to look cool by myself at a party. Let’s face it: getting drunk and maybe brushing past Emily Blunt would be awesome, but not that awesome.


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Wednesday, Jun 15, 2011
by Nik Ruckert
Riveting and emotional, the film Senna tracks his life on and off the race course.

A man turned in his theater seat and announced to the woman sitting next to him that he was preparing to get emotional during this screening, and that he might even cry.


The screening was that of The Warrior director Asif Kapadia’s new documentary Senna at IFC Center in Manhattan—the second film in Raphaela Neilhausen and Thom Powers’ Stranger than Fiction documentary series—and it drew something of a mixed crowd: documentary fans, series pass holders, and inquisitive Formula One racing devotees.
 
After a brief introduction by host Powers, the curtains were shut in front of the screen, then pulled back again, and the movie began. The audience was literally driven through Ayrton Senna’s racing life, beginning with go-karts in his early teens, and through his Formula One races—the first of which he won on the track, but the decision was made, based on a technicality, to call it in favor of Alain Prost, a future rival of Senna’s.


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Monday, Apr 25, 2011
The Miners' Hymns issues a silent yet evocative reminder about labor economy.

Just about thirteen months ago, the company Massey Energy made its name world famous when an unfortunate tragedy occurred at one of their coal mines in West Virginia. Twenty-nine people lost their lives in an explosion. Massey, with its repeat violations, and other companies, through the practice of mountaintop removal, have been problematic for the universal image of the laborious miner. Pollution of the water table in West Virginia has pitted families against members over one of the communities’ few viable occupations. But without our miners’ tireless and dangerous work, our country, as well as other ones, would never have achieved the modern industrial state, let alone reached the industrial revolution.


The Miners’ Hymns by Bill Morrison combines archival footage from various British sources to stir up some melancholy for the heyday of mining. This film takes primarily black and white footage placed (sensationally if not accurately) chronologically to show the routine of the miner by day and the overall trend of mechanization in mining itself. Even without having previous knowledge of the film, a viewer of Morrison’s careful selection will come away understanding the strong and cohesive narrative. Miners move from home to workplace with apparent uniformity to their actions. But there is a moment a worker is free from the Taylorism as he kisses a lantern for good luck. Scenes of undulating coal and giant cogs turning transform into trucks involved in large scale mining.


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Wednesday, Mar 23, 2011
by Faith Korpi
Jury and audience agree: Natural Selection is the SXSW Film Festival's Narrative Feature Prize winner.

The latter half of SXSW is the most intense as thousands upon thousands of music fans descend upon Austin. The film portion of the festival is the only one that runs all nine days, which means we get to see/tolerate interactive geeks the first five days, followed by the grungy music hipsters the last 4 days. We film goers do stare and judge from the long screening lines.


The awards were announced midweek, and the winners left many scratching their heads. Most had neither seen nor heard much about these films (particularly Natural Selection which swept the awards with seven wins).


Roger Ebert was on the jury for Narrative Features, and Lisa Schwarzbaum was on the jury for documentary features. Both are people who know their stuff. So of course, I had to check these movies out. As it seems, the thousands of other South By film attendees did.


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Tuesday, Mar 22, 2011
by Faith Korpi
The Beaver's world premiere at SXSW leaves an audience wondering if they enjoyed it or not.

Any of my line-shyness is now gone. At the beginning of the week you have to work for an opening to talk to the person standing next to you in line. Now, with the end of the festival in sight, there’s a level of urgency. What movies haven’t you seen yet? What movies have you seen that were good that I haven’t seen? It’s protocol to now get in line and immediately ask, “So, what’s good?”. No superficial “How are you?” or “Where are you from?”, people just get right to it.


The first film announced in this year’s SXSW film line-up was The Beaver, “that Mel Gibson movie with the puppet” is the popular synopsis. There clearly was a high level of shared trepidation going into this screening on the part of the audience, the press, and even the director/star Jodie Foster.


This was the film’s world premiere and also highly unusual as it was the first time it was screened in front of an audience. Almost every film has test screenings. Foster said she felt like she needed to “keep it safe” until people were ready to see it, and even now she realizes not everyone is ready, or even willing to see it.


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