If you're heading to Austin for the SXSW Interactive or Music festivals and have a Gold or Platinum badge, you can use it to get into screenings at the SXSW Film Festival, which starts today and runs all the way through the end of the Music fest next week. SXSW Film has made a name for themselves in recent years as a platform for both super-indies and cool studio features, but they also showcase some of the better (and, better yet, weirder) films from around the festival circuit. With that in mind, here are six films screening at SXSW that I've seen, that you absolutely must try to check out.
Trash Humpers — If Harmony Korine's last film, the celebrity impersonator fantasia Mister Lonely, was almost classical compared to the stuff for which he's best known (Kids, Gummo, disappearing for years at a time amidst rumors of drug addiction and failed attempts to make films in which he gets the shit kicked out of him by strangers), Trash Humpers has Korine swinging back the other direction. A series of non-narrative vignettes following a gang of elderly vandals (played by Korine and his wife Rachel, unrecognizable under layers of prosthetics), Humpers (the title should be taken literally) was shot by its actors on VHS, which was then processed to attain the look of a memento video long forgotten for good reason. In typical Korine fashion, the result is by turns exasperating, hilarious, and crazily beautiful.
Dogtooth — A bizarre, NSFW, shocking violent almost sci-fi film about language, set in suburbia–think Todd Solondz, but Greek. Sort of. The less said about Dogtooth in advance, the better –the fun of the film is in figuring out the rules of the world it presents as it goes along. But the trailer above will give you a taste of what you're in for.
The Red Chapel — The sleeper surprise winner of the World Cinema Documentary award at the Sundance Film Festival, Mad Bruegger's film about his attempt to make a film in North Korea under the guise of mounting a cross-cultural performance starring two Danish-American comedians has the feel of a real-life Borat. (Call it a genre: The Hidden-in-Plain-Sight Camera Stunt.) Chapel provokes any number of ethical questions–is Mads' exploitation of the developmentally disabled Jacob justified in his fight to expose the truth about North Korea? Does he really expose the truth about North Korea, or is he just making his own version of their propaganda — but rather than detract from the film's power, the debates it inspires make it more fascinating
And Everything is Going Fine — An experimental documentary by Steven Soderbergh about the writer/actor/performance artist Spalding Gray, Fine is compiled entirely of footage of Gray–interviews, home movies, footage of his one-man shows, including Jonathan Demme's filmed version of Swimming to Cambodia (above)–telling his own life story. Soderbergh made his own film of one of Gray's monologues, Gray's Anatomy, in 1996 but had fallen out of contact with the artist by the time he killed himself in 2004; Soderbergh has called this film, carved out over three years from Gray's complete archive, his “act of contrition.” It's spooky, but celebratory, and an essential document of Gray's work, life and the inextricable link between the two.
Taqwacore — If you see one film about Muslim-American punk rockers at SXSW this year, make it this one. Director Omar Majeed follows the real-life teenagers who were inspired by the writing of Michael Knight to form bands in defiance of traditional notions of both Islam and punk. The narrative version of Knight's writing, The Taqwacores, is also screening at SXSW, but the doc has one major advantage: it's full of real Taqwacore music.
Enter the Void — Shot entirely from the hallucinatory point of view of a druggy American living in Tokyo with his stripper sister (an oft-naked Paz de la Huerta), who gets shot 40 minutes into the film and carries on as a ghost, think of Gaspar Noe's protracted incest fantasy Enter the Void as a special effects sensation a la Avatar, but mostly set in Japan and with more drugs, abortion and orgies. Fuck James Cameron–this is truly cinema like you've never seen it before.