Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sarah's SXSW Review: Women Filmmakers

I am a big fan of movies, but that should go without saying. I have been attending the SXSW Film Festival for the last five years. In my younger days, I would average about 4-5 movies a day plus parties. This year, having to juggle work and SXSW, I decided to take it easy and just watch no less the one movie a day, no more than three. But what to watch. Last last Friday I sat with my SXSW guide book in my lap completely overwhelmed. "They all look good," I thought to myself. Then I remembered that Women In Cinema had a wonderful list of all the females in the festival that directed movies and I thought, "what the hell, I'll just try and see as many as these movies as possible."

Unfortunately I didn't get to see everything I wanted but that's the nature of the beast. It seems like SXSW tries to have like 10 awesome things going on at the same time so that you always have options. What I did get to see, was awesome. Before we go any further, I should just say that I'm not a film critic. I actually have mixed feelings about people who hold that profession. I am a film lover and a filmmaker. I'm very sympathetic to all things on the screen because I understand the blood, sweat and tears that go into it. I completely respect movies that get made. So if you're here to see some bitch-fest of a review, go some place else. I also subscribe to the if-you-can't-say-anything-nice-don't-say-anything-at-all. So there.

After reading the description of the film, I didn't really know what to expect but Electrick Children completely caught me off guard. It was a wonderful film about a young Mormon girl from a fundamentalist Utah community, discovers a forbidden cassette tape with rock music on it. Having never heard anything like it, she has a miraculous experience and three months later, claims to have had an immaculate conception from listening to the music. Her parents arrange a marriage, but Rachel runs away to the closest city, LAS VEGAS, to search for the man who sings on the tape, thinking he has something to do with her mysterious pregnancy. (Description from site,

Writer/Director Rebecca Thomas did an amazing job creating a heartfelt film with moments of truth and joy. Julia Garner, Rachel, and Rory Culkin, Clyde, carried this movie for me. Their performances were spot-on and their friendship/relationship in the film kept me wanting more. It's been days since I've seen the movie, but I keep thinking about the part in the movie where they are in his bed. Just beautiful. Julia Garner is a serious actress and I look forward to more from her. Even though I walked into this film thinking that an immaculate conception story wouldn't be able to be done well, I walked out thinking that this film nailed it. Thank you Rebecca Thomas for making a unique film with a terrific story.


Despite a lack of obvious similarities between Siberia and Tokyo, a thriving model industry connects these distant regions. GIRL MODEL follows two protagonists involved in this industry: Ashley, a deeply ambivalent model scout who scours the Siberian countryside looking for fresh faces to send to the Japanese market, and one of her discoveries, Nadya, a thirteen year-old plucked from the Siberian countryside and dropped into the center of Tokyo with promises of a profitable career. After Ashley's initial discovery of Nadya, the two rarely meet again, but their stories are inextricably bound. As Nadya's optimism about rescuing her family from their financial difficulties grows, her dreams contrast against Ashley's more jaded outlook about the industry's corrosive influence.

GIRL MODEL is a lyrical exploration of a world defined by glass surfaces and camera lenses, reflecting back differing versions of reality to the young women caught in their scope. As we enter further into this world, it more and more resembles a hall of mirrors, where appearances can't be trusted, perception become distorted, and there is no clear way out. Will Nadya, and the other girls like her, be able to find anyone to help them navigate this maze, or will they follow a path like Ashley's, having learned the tricks of the labyrinth but unable to escape its lure? (Written by Kristina Aikens on

GIRL MODEL blew me away. It is a powerful documentary that is beautiful and a little alarming. This isn't Tyra Banks' modeling world. At first I had a hard time eating fries while watching these very thin girls but as the film went on, I ate almost every fry in the Alamo Drafthouse basket. The film balances the story of the 13 year old model, Nadyia and the ex-model/model scout, Ashley. The juxtaposition between Ashley, who hated being a model as a budding woman and struggles to be happy and Nadyia, who is struggling to just get by is shocking and be a model. The moment that sticks with me is when Ashley is showing off the home she bought with her modeling money and introduces the world to her "real life" dolls that can wet themselves. Shortly after that we are back with Nadyia who is crying to her mother on the phone.

The whole time I watched it I was surprised how these young girls were being treated. It made me feel pretty uncomfortable. I left the theater feeling a little hopeless, wishing there was something more that could be done. Filmmaking duo, David Redmon & Ashley Sabin, did a great job telling the story of Nadya and Ashley while also putting heart and pushing a social issue in the face of the viewers.


Seeking escape from his stalled relationship and unhappy place in the world, a recently pink-slipped music teacher sets out to hike Kentucky's Sheltowee Trace Trail. Among the verdant hills of Appalachia, he encounters various strange characters and becomes the reluctant companion of a gregarious father and son who ultimately help him rediscover what he's been missing. (SXSW Short Synposis)

This film was a terrific breath of fresh air. It was beautiful and melodic. The writing and characters were sincere and felt tangible. Director, Martha Stephens did a great job putting her unique touch on a very common coming-of-age/quarter-life-crisis story. One of the best parts of the film that made it relatable, was the people James met on his journey. Like life, even if you only meet someone once, he/she can still have a lasting impact on your story and perspective at that moment. I loved the ending but because of my love for movies, I won't say what it was. Understandably some people didn't like it because it is (questionably) not a happy ending, depending on your person preference. Martha, if you ever read this, just know, I think your ending was great. I agreed with your comment during the Q & A.

What a treat. Created by and starring Lena Dunham (“Tiny Furniture”), the new HBO series GIRLS takes a comic look at the assorted humiliations and rare triumphs of a group of girls in their early 20s. The cast also includes: Allison Williams, Jemima Kirk, Zosia Mamet, and Adam Driver. Dunham, Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner Executive Produce the series, which debuts in April, on HBO. (SXSW Short Synposis)

I love love love love loved this. I'm so happy I got to see GIRLS during SXSW. I'm considering making friends with someone who has HBO just so I can watch the rest of this series. While I wasn't sure what to think about writer, director, Lena Dunham after seeing Tiny Furniture, I am now a huge fan of all things that she does. I also feel like we should be friends. Lena, next time you're in Austin, let's get a drink.

GIRLS is an honest and funny look at the quarter-life-crisis that 20-somethings feel in the post-college, recession world. I can at least relate to it. I wasn't sure what to think about the title at first because I thought it was a little mean to refer to these adults as just "Girls" but after watching the first 3 episodes I understand it's comic and well, pretty accurate name. This is a show about learning to grow up and understand what that really means.

I predict great success for this show. It offers the honestly witty voice of Lena Dunham with some of the comic flavor of Judd Apatow. People keep comparing it to Sex in the City which I guess I see but these are two separate shows people! I mean both shows follow women who live, work and date in the city. One show is in Manhattan and the other is in Brooklyn. One show follows women in their 30's and 40's and the other follows women, sorry "Girls", in their 20's. Don't take my word for it, just watch the show. You won't be disappointed.

Surprisingly not what I expected. DOLLHOUSE explores a night in the life of a group of street teens from Dublin's inner city who break into a house in an upper class suburb. The break-in quickly moves into a night of frenzy, driven by a series of revelations that will leave lasting marks on each of them, and resulting in an emotional conclusion that they will carry with them. (SXSW Short Synposis)

This film was strangely intriguing. I kept asking myself why was I routing for this group of teenagers to destroy more. Something about the destruction was beautiful. At one moment in the movie, the whole group comes together to glue all of the furniture and stuff on the girl's room to the ceiling. I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending. It has definitely stuck with me, like the short synopsis says. Writer/Director Kirsten Sheridan definitely seems to have something to say about the nature of youth and class, destruction and creation but I'm not sure what that is but I'm excited to talk about it with others.

My favorite thing I saw at SXSW was this movie. WONDER WOMEN! The Untold Story of American Superheroines traces the fascinating evolution and legacy of Wonder Woman. From the birth of the comic book superheroine in the 1940s to the blockbusters of today, WONDER WOMEN! looks at how popular representations of powerful women often reflect society’s anxieties about women’s liberation. "WONDER WOMEN!" goes behind the scenes with Lynda Carter, Lindsay Wagner, comic writers and artists, and real life superheroines such as Gloria Steinem, Shelby Knox and others who offer an enlightening and entertaining counterpoint to the male dominated superhero genre. (SXSW Short Synposis)

I loved this movie for so many reasons. I felt like I learned something and had a great time doing it. This was a very well polished documentary by director Kristy Guevara-Flanagan. This film touched my inner Wonder Woman struggling in a male dominated world. This is a film people, men, women, need to see.

I did veer off from my female filmmakers schedule and did see some other stuff. I am not going to list and review everything but here are the four that stuck out to me.

Additional Festival Favorites:

I have a special connection to Trash Dance since Andy Garrison is a friend and one of the men in the film, Lee, is a colleague of mine at Travis High School. Sometimes inspiration is found in unexpected places. Choreographer Allison Orr finds beauty and grace in garbage trucks -- and in the men and women who pick up our trash. She joins city sanitation workers on their daily routes to listen, learn, and ultimately to try to convince them to collaborate in a unique dance performance. Hard working, often carrying a second job, their lives are already full with work, family and dreams of their own. But some step forward, and after months of rehearsal, two dozen trash collectors and their trucks perform an extraordinary spectacle. On an abandoned airport runway, thousands of people show up to see how in the world a garbage truck can "dance." (SXSW Short Synposis)

This was jaw-dropping enjoyable. I found myself smiling the whole time I was watching this movie. It seriously gave me a whole new perspective to what the Waste Disposal industry does on top of opening my eyes to the beauty in the ordinary. I laughed and was on the verge of tears. Just see this movie and then you'll know what I'm talking about.


I felt a special connection with GAYBY because writer/director Jonathan Lisecki came to the Women In Cinema panel first to attend but then ended up joining the panelists for a great discussion. I'm so glad I happen to see Gayby earlier during SXSW. I had another special connection with this movie because I am friends with actress, Anna Margaret Hollyman, who was also in the SXSW bumpers. She's just a lovely bad ass. I digress. Jenn and Matt are best friends from college who are now in their thirties. Single by choice, Jenn spends her days teaching hot yoga and running errands for her boss. Matt suffers from comic-book writer’s block and can’t get over his ex-boyfriend. They decide to fulfill a youthful promise to have a child together… the old-fashioned way. Can they navigate the serious and unexpected snags they hit as they attempt to get their careers and dating lives back on track in preparation for parenthood? "Gayby" is an irreverent comedy about friendship, growing older, sex, loneliness, and the family you chose. (SXSW Short Synposis)

GAYBY was just delightful and fun. I was relieved that I didn't do a lot of the film festival cliches. It was beautifully shot, was well made, well acted, well written and most of all, it was funny. Jonathan Lisecki did an amazing job with this film.


My favorite fiction film that I saw at SXSW. “WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. "Safety Not Guaranteed". I have only done this once before.”

When an unusual classified ad inspires three cynical Seattle magazine employees to look for the story behind it, they discover a mysterious eccentric named Kenneth, a likable but paranoid supermarket clerk, who believes he’s solved the riddle of time travel and intends to depart again soon. Together, they embark on a hilarious, smart, and unexpectedly heartfelt journey that reveals how far believing can take you. (SXSW Short Synposis)

This was such a fantastic movie. I can't begin to tell you. I am such a fan of everything about this movie. I loved the characters, the writing, and the story. I just had such a great time watching this movie. I love everyone in it. I know this isn't the best review. Sorry. I just want to gush that I love this movie.


3 bands, 6 cities, 1 train, and thousands of miles of track…BIG EASY EXPRESS captures a musical journey. Harkening back to the days of jubilant railroad revivals, three bands set out in April 2011 to tour America by vintage train. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Mumford & Sons climbed aboard amid the rail yards of Oakland and set out for New Orleans on a “tour of dreams.” BIG EASY EXPRESS documents the bands’ railway adventures; the high canyons, joyous crowds, blasted skies, late-night laughter, endless music…and a train that was bound for glory. (SXSW Short Synposis)

I had a special connection with this movie because I went to the Railroad Rival Tour in Marfa, TX last year. The concert was such a magical experience that I was thrilled to relive it on the silver screen. As far as music docs go, this one nails it. It truly captured the spirit of folk music on a train. I was a little disappointed this didn't mention the fact that the whole part of west Texas was on FIRE during the during of their time spent in Texas but, it wasn't about that, it was about the music.



  1. This is a fabulous post! So many films I hadn't heard of... Many thanks, Marian

  2. Love all of your reviews Sarah!