Austin, TX’s SXSW kicks off this Friday, so for indieWIRE‘s curation of Hulu’s Documentaries page, we’re taking a look back at non-fiction works that screened at the popular and eclectic event, one of the key film festivals in North America.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “indieWIRE @ Hulu Docs” is a regular column spotlighting the iW-curated selections on Hulu’s Documentaries page, a unique collaboration between the two sites. iW selections appear in the carousel at the top of the page and under “Featured Content” in the center. Be sure to check out the great non-fiction projects available to watch free of charge.
Given that it began as a music festival, SXSW’s film component, which began in 1994, has always heavily drawn from that world. Andrew Shapter’s indictment of the American music industry, “Before the Music Dies,” premiered at the festival in 2006. The doc exposes the darker side of the music industry with its criticism of the crass construction of marketable pop stars over truly innovative and exciting artists.
The previous year, director Bradley Beesley premiered another music doc at the festival, “The Flaming Lips: The Fearless Freaks.” In the film, members of the Oklahoma City alternative band, their families, and some celebrity fans reveal their history and how they rose to international prominence. At the same time, they detail the impact drug addiction has had on them both personally and professionally.
Music figures prominently in Jennifer Venditti’s “Billy the Kid,” SXSW’s Best Documentary winner from 2007. The titular figure in Venditti’s coming of age portrait is a 15-year-old outsider living in small-town Maine and coping with parental abandonment, first love, and not quite fitting in – beautifully capturing the experience of being a teenager in vivid cinema verité.
Small-town life in Maine is the backdrop of another SXSW winner – Aron Gaudet’s “The Way We Get By” picked up a Special Jury Award in 2009 (Full disclosure: I was on the jury that recognized the film that year). Confronting aging, morality, and the need for a sense of purpose, three senior citizens devote their time to greeting arriving and departing US combat troops at the Bangor airport.
Further underlining SXSW’s championing of US films, another view of American life comes via Doug Pray’s “Big Rig,” which debuted at the 2007 festival. The doc offers a unique look at modern America through the POV’s of long-haul truck drivers, whose participation was solicited on-the-fly at truck stops. Their interviews reveal the stories and culture of truck drivers, and their experiences across the length of the country.
Finally, Elijah Drenner’s “American Grindhouse,” which premiered at last year’s festival, offers a distinctly SXSW-appropriate side of US history – the unexplored origins of American exploitation films. Drenner’s film delves into cinema’s early years to provide the context to understand later, more graphic, developments into the splatter and gore style that would come into prominence in the 1970s, and features interviews with a host of filmmakers, including John Landis, Joe Dante, Allison Anders, and Herschell Gordon Lewis.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Basil Tsiokos is a Programming Associate, Documentary Features for Sundance, consults with documentary filmmakers and festivals, and recently co-produced Cameron Yates’ feature documentary “The Canal Street Madam.” Follow him on Twitter (@1basil1 and @CanalStMadamDoc) and visit his blog (what (not) to doc).