Programming at the 20th annual SXSW Film swung into full-force on Saturday, the second day of the festival.
SXSW Film kicked off its first full day of programming on Saturday with dozens of premieres and showings across seven main downtown venues. It was a misty morning with the evening bringing talk of an impending thunderstorm, but nothing could have discouraged me from a day that included a raunchy rom-com, a heartfelt documentary and an intimate look into the life of one of the most iconic drag queens of all time. The day’s films featured plenty of winning moments interspersed with a few disappointments.
Narrative Spotlight: The Bounceback
The Bounceback will never be better than it was in Austin, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. The movie opened to an enthusiastic crowd on Saturday at the Paramount Theatre. Director Brian Poyser, a SXSW vet, was there to introduce the much-anticipated rom-com starring Ashley Bell, Zach Cregger, Sara Paxton and Michael Stahl-David. The film will screen again on Fri. 3/15 at 9:15 PM at the Stateside Theatre and Sat. 3/16 at 4 PM at the Rollins Theater.
Set in Austin, The Bounceback was perfect for SXSW Film in many ways. It celebrates some iconic Austin locations while following the story of Jeff (Cregger), who returns to Austin in a desperate attempt to run into his ex-girlfriend Cathy (Bell), who he finds out is visiting town for the weekend. Of course, he’s pseudo-stalking her on Facebook when he makes the big decision to try and run into her not-so-accidentally on Austin’s streets.
The two traipse across Austin with Stan (Stahl-David) and Kara (Paxton), friends of Jeff and Cathy who have also recently broken up. Much of the film is about the exes navigating relationships and coming to terms with their new, separate lives. It’s an interesting premise, but it’s a bit predictable. While The Bounceback offered some golden moments and great laughs, Poyser has also adopted the raunch-for-raunch’s sake attitude that is characteristic of so many contemporary comedies.
While introducing the film, Poyser reminded the audience that “yes, air sex is a real thing.” It’s even a real thing that started in Austin—but its weight in the movie is somehow too heavy, winning the audience’s laughter with mediocre mime instead of cutting, intelligent dialogue. However, the stars of the film do shine. Sara Paxton and Addison Timlin are particularly strong. They make the film an entirely more enjoyable experience and add some unexpected depth to characters that seem a bit flat otherwise. The end won’t shock you, but it might leave you smiling.
Visions: These Birds Walk
The Edhi Foundation provides a wealth of services to the needy residents of Pakistan. Abdul Sattar Edhi, who founded the social services organization in 1951, is a compelling philanthropist who is revered worldwide, and by all rights These Birds Walk exists because of his diligent work.
But this isn’t a documentary about a philanthropist. It’s a doc about young runaways fighting to survive in one of the world’s most dangerous countries. The film was directed by Bassam Tariq and Omar Mullick. It will screen again at the Violet Crown on Tuesday 3/12 at 9 PM and Thursday 3/14 at 3:45 PM.
These Birds Walk wins audiences over from the moment that it starts. We develop strong affections for Omar, Shehr and the other young runaways who are featured in the film and whose lives seem so very different from our own. Despite these differences, the film will speak to a wide audience. It Is strong both visually and emotionally with particularly intimate close-ups on the young boys.
Even though the doc takes place in Pakistan, filmmaker Bassam Tariq felt it important that his opening day audience know that the reason the kids in the doc have run away from home is “the same reason why any kid runs away in America.” Mullick and Tariq have done an excellent job of drawing out the vulnerability and desire to love and be loved that is central to childhood. These Birds Walk resonates long after it is over.
Documentary Spotlight: I Am Divine
I looked forward to I Am Divine all day long. After all, surely it would draw one of the most diverse and lively crowds at all of SXSW Film. Director Jeffrey Schwarz didn’t disappoint with this funny and touching documentary about the life and career of Harris Glenn Milstead, better known to the world as Divine, the muse of iconic director John Waters and one of the first divas of gross-out cinema. The doc will screen again on Weds. 3/13 at 9:30 PM at the Stateside Theatre and on Thurs. 3/14 at 11:15 AM at the Alamo Slaughter satellite venue.
Schwarz’s documentary relied on interviews with Divine’s friends, family and co-stars in order to illuminate how the larger-than-life drag queen lived. Archival footage and recorded interviews with Divine are also used throughout the doc to chronicle the development of the star. I Am Divine fills a serious gap in drag-related documentaries and has the distinction of being the first new film about Divine since his death in 1988.
I Am Divine is about more than just the singular drag queen. It’s also a documentary that helps contemporary audiences understand how an entire cinematic aesthetic was conceived and developed. Be ready to laugh and cry while listening to John Waters, Mink Stole and a host of characters from the drag underground reflect on the life of Divine.