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SXSW 2017 film guide: movies that know their places

It’s all about set and setting, right? And shooting. And some other stuff.

Eyeball balloons placed in a line across a desert
Repellent Fence by art collective Postcommodity, installed 2015 in Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Sonora
Photo by Michael Lundgren, courtesy of Postcommodity.

Unlike many other aspects of SXSW Festival and Conferences, the film screenings don’t always fall easily into categories of obvious interest to Curbed readers.

Except: we’re obsessed with places—what defines spaces, from tiny homes to huge metropolitan areas, what makes them distinctive, and what kind of stories do they encourage to unfold in them?

With that in mind, we offer a list of films screening at SXSW 2017 that we have a hunch will convey a strong sense of place. Some are narratives; some are documentaries. Some are about the places they’re set, while others tell stories to which their particular settings are essential, if seemingly backgrounded. A couple of them address subjects—homelessness, energy, the environment, design—that are familiar to our readers. (Plus, we had to throw in documentaries about late, famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hare, who lived in Austin, and artist Lance Letscher, who still does.)

And, frankly, some are in here because they were shot, made by Austinites, and/or are set in Austin or in other parts of Texas—some of our favorite places.

[Note: Shorts are not included, but most of the Virtual Reality programming would be on this list if they were. Film descriptions and information are from the SXSW website; film titles are linked to their scheduled screening times and theaters.]

Narratives

Assholes (World Premiere)

Director/Screenwriter: Peter Vack

Adah and Aaron are recovering addicts who are struggling to stay sober. After meeting in their psychoanalyst’s waiting room, they fall in love, relapse on poppers, and become the biggest assholes in New York City. Cast: Betsey Brown, Jack Dunphy, Peter Vack, Patrick LaBella, Jane Brown, Ron Brown, Eileen Dietz.

La Barracuda (World Premiere)

Directors: Julia Halperin, Jason Cortlund, Screenwriter: Jason Cortlund

A strange woman comes to Texas to meet her half-sister and stake a claim to the family music legacy—one way or another. Cast: Allison Tolman, Sophie Reid, JoBeth Williams, Luis Bordonada, Larry Jack Dotson, Butch Hancock, Bob Livingston, The Mastersons.

Earth (with live score by DakhaBrakha) (Ukraine)

Director: Alexander Dovzhenko

Earth. This 1930’s silent film tells the story of farmers resisting Stalin’s plan to collectivize their farms. This performance features DakhaBrakha playing their own live score for this classic of Soviet cinema.

Going to Brazil (France) (International Premiere)

Director: Patrick Mille, Screenwriters: Julien Lambroschini, Sabrina Amara, Patrick Mille

Four childhood friends are reunited at a wedding in Rio. But when they accidentally kill a young man during a party that gets out of hand, they are forced to flee the city in a crazy adventure. Cast: Alison Wheeler, Vanessa Guide, Margot Bancilhon, Philippine Stindel, Patrick Mille.

Hot Summer Nights (World Premiere)

Director: Elijah Bynum

A lonely teenage boy is sent away to Cape Cod where he befriends the town rebel, falls in love and becomes entangled in a drug ring all over the course of one summer in 1991. Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe, Maia Mitchell, William Fichtner, Thomas Jane, Emory Cohen.

Inheritance (World Premiere)

Directors/Screenwriters: Laura E. Davis, Jessica Kaye

A woman learns her estranged father has died and returns with her brother and new lover to her childhood home of Belize, where she must face her past while fighting for intimacy in the present. Cast: Jessica Kaye, Daniel Ahearn, Mark Webber, Shamira Gill-Card, Myrna Manzanares, Louis Oberlander.

Lane 1974 (World Premiere)

Director: SJ Chiro, Screenwriters: SJ Chiro, Clane Hayward

At 13 years old and the eldest of three kids, Lane struggles to keep her family together as her iconoclast mother moves without warning through the communes and dusty back woods of Northern California. Cast: Sophia Mitri Schloss, Katherine Moennig, Sara Coats, Linas Phillips, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sarah-Eve Gazitt, Annette Toutonghi, Harry Curtis, Ronin West, Shayla Timbermoon.

Mr. Roosevelt (World Premiere)

Director/Screenwriter: Noël Wells

After a death in her family, struggling LA-based comedian Emily Martin returns to Austin. There she finds herself in the awkward position of staying with her ex and his new girlfriend until the funeral, while trying to close old doors from her past. Cast: Noël Wells, Nick Thune, Britt Lower, Daniella Pineda, Andre Hyland, Doug Benson, Armen Weitzman, Sergio Cilli.

Most Hated Woman In America (World Premiere)

Director: Tommy O’Haver, Screenwriters: Tommy O’Haver, Irene Turner

Darkly funny, true story of the rise and untimely demise of Madeline Murray O’Hair—crank, swindler, iconoclast, and America’s most outspoken atheist. Cast: Melissa Leo, Adam Scott, Juno Temple, Vincent Kartheiser, Josh Lucas, Peter Fonda.

Paris Can Wait (U.S. Premiere)

Director/Screenwriter: Eleanor Coppola

A devoted American wife (Diane Lane) with a workaholic inattentive husband (Alec Baldwin), takes an unexpected journey from Cannes to Paris with a charming Frenchman (Arnaud Viard) that reawakens her sense of self and joie de vivre. Cast: Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard, Alec Baldwin.

Patti Cake$

Director: Geremy Jasper

Straight out of Jersey comes Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, an aspiring rapper fighting through a world of strip malls and strip clubs on an unlikely quest for glory. Cast: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty.

Song to Song (World Premiere)

Director: Terrence Malick

In this modern love story set against the Austin, Texas music scene, two entangled couples — struggling songwriters Faye and BV, and music mogul Cook and the waitress whom he ensnares — chase success through a rock ‘n’ roll landscape of seduction and betrayal. Cast: Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett.

The Strange Ones (World Premiere)

Directors: Lauren Wolkstein, Christopher Radcliff, Screenwriter: Christopher Radcliff

Mysterious events surround the travels of two brothers as they make their way across a remote American landscape. On the surface all seems normal, but what appears to be a simple vacation soon gives way to dark and complex truths. Cast: Alex Pettyfer, James Freedson-Jackson, Emily Althaus, Gene Jones.

Tormentero (Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico) (U.S. Premiere)

Director: Rubén Imaz, Screenwriters: Fernando del Razo, Rubén Imaz

Romero Kantún is a retired fisherman, who lives mired in nostalgia, but feels that it is time to reclaim what he lost decades ago, when he discovered the great oilfield that ended fishing on his island and won him the fishermen’s rejection. Cast: José Carlos Ruiz, Gabino Rodríguez, Mónica Jiménez, Waldo Facco.

Documentaries

As I Walk Through The Valley (World Premiere)

Directors: Ronnie Garza, Charlie Vela

As I Walk Through The Valley is a journey into the underground music scene of Texas’ southernmost border-region. Follow four generations of Valley musicians as they struggle to find a voice of their own in the land of charro beans and Tejano legends.

California Dreams (North American Premiere)

Director: Mike Ott

A look at how the American Dream and Hollywood affect those they touch. Cast: Cory Zacharia, Patrick Llaguno, Neil Harley, Kevin Gilger aka K-Nine Dog the Impersonator, Carolan J. Pinto, Mark Borchardt

The Challenge (France, Italy) (North American Premiere)

Director/Screenwriter:Yuri Ancarani

In The Challenge, the director crosses the Persian Gulf to accompany a falconer to an important competition. Among SUVs, Lamborghini, private jets and Mad Max-like dune bashing contests, the film tells the story of an intense weekend in the desert.

The Cloud Forest (Mexico) (World Premiere)

Director/Screenwriter: Mónica Álvarez Franco

A small community in Veracruz is the guardian of one of the ecosystems facing the most risk: the cloud forest. By redesigning their needs, education and relationship with other people and with nature, they search for a simpler and sustainable life.

Disgraced (World Premiere)

Director: Pat Kondelis

The untold story of the summer of 2003 at Baylor University that exposes the attempted cover-up, and the corruption that became the most bizarre scandal in college sports history.

G-Funk (World Premiere)

Director/Screenwriter: Karam Gill

G-Funk is the untold story of three childhood friends from East Long Beach who helped commercialize hip hop by developing a sophisticated and melodic new approach – merging Gangsta Rap with elements of Motown, Funk, and R&B.

Helvetica: 10th Anniversary Screening

Director: Gary Hustwit

The pioneering design documentary Helvetica premiered at SXSW in 2007, and kickstarted a wave of dozens of design films that have been released since. Join director Gary Hustwit for this special 10th Anniversary screening of Helvetica.

Hype!: 20th Anniversary Screening

Director: Doug Pray

Hype! rocks the definitive story of the birth and explosion of the Pacific NW music scene known globally as “grunge.” With humor and intense live performances, “Hype!” immerses you in the vibrant subculture and media madness of early ‘90s Seattle.

I Am Another You (World Premiere)

Director/Screenwriter: Nanfu Wang

Through the eyes of a young drifter who rejects society’s rules and intentionally chooses to live on the streets, Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang explores the meaning of personal freedom – and its limits.

Let There Be Light (Canada) (World Premiere)

Director/Screenwriter: Mila Aung-Thwin

Let There Be Light follows the story of dedicated scientists working to build a small sun on Earth, which would unleash perpetual, cheap, clean energy for mankind. After decades of failed attempts, a massive push is now underway to crack the holy grail of energy.

Le Ride

Director: Phil Keoghan, Screenwriters: Phil Keoghan and Louise Keoghan

Television personality Phil Keoghan retraces the 1928 Tour de France riding an original vintage bicycle, with no gears, as he tells the forgotten ‘underdog’ story about the first English speaking team to take on the toughest sporting event on earth.

Maineland (China, United States) (World Premiere)

Director: Miao Wang

Chinese teenagers from the wealthy elite, with big American dreams, settle into a boarding school in small-town Maine. As their fuzzy visions of the American dream slowly gain more clarity, their relationship to home takes on a poignant new aspect.

Meth Storm: Arkansas USA (World Premiere)

Directors: Craig Renaud, Brent Renaud

With unparalleled access on both sides of the law, METH STORM: Arkansas USA is a thrilling non-fiction cops and robbers drama told from inside the American drug war.

Paa Joe & The Lion (Ghana, United Kingdom) (North American Premiere)

Director: Benjamin Wigley

A true story about the art of love and death. A thought provoking and cinematic documentary film rooted in the universal themes of love, death and legacy set against one of the most beautiful art-forms in the world – Ghana’s very own fantasy coffin.

Ramblin’ Freak (World Premiere)

Director: Parker Smith

In the wake of a devastating personal tragedy, a struggling would-be filmmaker finds a revealing home video in an old camcorder purchased on eBay and takes off with his cat on a cross-country road trip to find its owner: “The Man Whose Arms Exploded” Cast: Parker Smith, Gregg Valentino

Rat Film

Director/Screenwriter: Theo Anthony

Across walls, fences, and alleys, rats not only expose our boundaries of separation but make homes in them. Rat Film is a feature-length documentary that uses the rat—as well as the humans that love them, live with them, and kill them.

Residente (Armenia, Burkina Faso, China, Georgia, Mongolia, Niger, Russian Federation, USA) (World Premiere)

Director: René Pérez Joglar

After taking a DNA test, Latin America’s most decorated artist—Rene Perez (AKA Residente), embarks on a global adventure, to trace the footsteps of his ancestors and record his latest album.

Served Like a Girl (World Premiere)

Director: Lysa Heslov

Five women veterans who have endured unimaginable trauma in service create a shared sisterhood to help the rising number of stranded homeless women veterans by entering a competition that unexpectedly catalyzes moving events in their own lives.

The Secret Life of Lance Letscher (World Premiere)

Director: Sandra Adair

Witness the collision of memory, color, and chaos in this unprecedented journey through the visionary mind of collage artist Lance Letscher.

Spettacolo (World Premiere)

Directors: Jeff Malmberg, Chris Shellen, Screenwriter: Chris Shellen

Once upon a time there was a tiny hill town in Tuscany that found a remarkable way to confront their issues – they turned their lives into a play.

Through the Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film

Director: Sam Wainwright Douglas

Through The Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film follows art collective Postcommodity as they construct Repellent Fence, a two-mile long outdoor artwork that straddles the U.S.-Mexico border. Postcommodity consists of three artists who put land art in a tribal context. In 2015 the artists worked with communities on both sides to install a series of 28 huge inflatable spheres emblazoned with an insignia known as the “open eye” that has existed in Indigenous cultures from South America to Canada for thousands of years. The artwork crossed the border a mile in each direction and symbolized a suture stitching together cultures that have inhabited the land long before borders were drawn.

Episodic

New work created for non-theatrical platforms, including serialized TV, and web series

The Son (World Premiere)

D: Tom Harper

Based on the New York Times best-selling and Pulitzer Prize finalist novel, The Son is a sweeping family saga that spans 150 years and three generations of the McCullough family. Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Jacob Lofland, Henry Garrett, Paola Nunez, Carlos Bardem, Zahn McClarnon, Jess Weixler, David Wilson Barnes, Sydney Lucas (World Premiere)

Film Screenings [SXSW]