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SXSW Film 2013

(13 Mar 2013: — Austin, TX)

That headline is not a typo. Tuesday, the fifth day of SXSW’s film programming, found me doing a few things I usually do not: going to documentaries and being impressed with Paul Walker.


First up was the Napster doc Downloaded. In the works for almost a decade, this analytical summary of the rise and fall of the internet’s first music sharing software showcased past and present interviews with just about every individual involved. From the lawyers fighting for and against Napster, to the founder Sean Fanning himself, the sheer coverage was impressive.


In the post-screening Q&A, director Alex Winter discussed how he wanted the film to help people understand just how important Napster was to the Internet, music, and society in general. He argued in person and through the film that the effects of Napster’s development and destruction are still being felt today.


Downloaded

Downloaded


The relevance is unquestionable. There’s far too much evidence in the film, not to mention the memory of anyone old enough to have used Napster. It’s all laid out again for those too young to have lived through it, but I feel a bit like my father in regards to the film’s overall potency.


When I was younger, I went to the movies all the time with my dad. We would drive 45 minutes south to the nearest theater and see pretty much anything that was playing. We saw plenty of awful films and plenty of great ones, but one particular genre was basically off limits. Biopics.


When I wanted to see Ali in 2001, Will Smith was getting a ton of Oscar buzz, the film great reviews, and the trailer lots of play during the Chicago Bears games that my dad and I watched. So on the way to the theater that weekend, I brought up seeing Ali. My dad simply shook his head. I kept questioning him and eventually he said, “Why would I want to see that? I lived through it. I know the real guy.”


That’s how I feel about Napster. I lived through everything in Downloaded, and, while it’s worthwhile to have an accurate summary of the events for future generations, it didn’t unveil anything to me. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect was the filmmakers’ lack of depth, specifically in regards to Sean Fanning. There’s a moment late in the film where they touch on his depressed reaction to the court rulings, but we never get a thorough look at his thought process, despite what appeared to be total access for Winter and his crew.


The same cannot be said for the day’s second doc, We Cause Scenes. A straight-forward presentation of facts and “missions,” the documentary works as an entertaining introduction of Improv Everywhere, a comedy troupe who perform in public spaces.


Director Matt Evans only interviews a few subjects and key members of the troupe, painting an almost exclusively positive portrait of an organization that’s been met with a fair share of controversy over the years. The film shows a few angry fans, but seems focused on making Improv Everywhere and the film out to be nothing but a pure of heart, feel good experience.


We Cause Scenes

We Cause Scenes


That was fine with me. Founder Charlie Todd makes up at least 70 percent of the interview time and narration anyway. He walks us through his earliest, one-on-one pranks to the massive stunts he’s setting up today. It may not be all that entertaining for anyone who’s watched the “missions” already on YouTube, but even they should enjoy getting the participants’ commentary this time.


It’s relatively light fair for a SXSW doc, an appeasement I was thankful for after having my muscles and heart tensed in the previous screening, Hours. Starring Paul Walker as a father tasked with keeping his newborn daughter’s respirator functioning during the first 48 hours of Hurricane Katrina, the film was a heart-in-your-throat drama from beginning to end.


Now, I’ve been a vocal critic of Mr. Walker for some time now. Since the original Fast and Furious, I found him to be unconvincing and extremely bland. This belief was compounded by his subsequent films, most notably Timeline and Running Scared. A colleague recently pointed out that she thought Walker never really had a chance to prove whether be could act or not - he was just in bad movies.


Hours

Hours


After Hours, I have to agree. Either he a) was a bad actor who trained and improved, or b) I was simply too harsh on him for putting out garbage. He has the screen to himself for a majority of Hours and not a second went by when I questioned the character. Walker doesn’t get showy. He’s not Sean Penn, or another actor ready to chew up every scene thrown his way. He’s efficient in his emotions. Dare I say he’s more of a realistic leading man, considering most men are closed off and protective of their tears?


And believe me, there are plenty of opportunities for tears. I won’t spoil any of what I found to be a quietly compelling film, but Walker easily could have gone the “IS THAT MY DAUGHTER IN THERE?!” route of Sean Penn. Instead, he avoids hysteria and focuses on what he has to do - just like the character he’s portraying. It’s as un-showy a performance as you’ll find in an Oscar-ready role, and I thank Walker for it. I truly am humbled by his efforts.


And now I can unabashedly look forward to Fast 6 Fast Furious 666 (or whatever it’s called).

Ben Travers is an awards season analyst and prognosticator with a devout interest in all things film & TV. Mr. Travers lives in Los Angeles as an experienced writer and filmmaker with an extensive portfolio of coverage, including thorough reporting on the Academy Awards, weekly box office reports, and more reviews written than will ever be read. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa with degrees in both journalism and cinema.


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