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SXSW 2017: 13 Must-See Films At This Year’s Festival

From returning Austin favorites to newbie talents to watch for, we've got 13 films you can't miss at this year's festival.

Brace yourself. The annual multi-pronged South By Southwest Conferences and FestivalsSXSW, of course — is hitting Austin, Texas later this week for days and days of fresh film offerings (and music and interactive stuff, too, but we can only do so much here). With it comes the promise of a brand new season of festival-going, along with a slew of films to get excited about finally checking out (and, because it’s Austin, lots of tasty barbecue to enjoy).

From SXSW regulars like Bob Byington and Joe Swanberg to rising stars like Nanfu Wang and Laura Terruso to marquee names like Terrence Malick and Edgar Wright — and just about everything in between — this year’s SXSW Film Festival is offering up its most robust slate yet. We’ve picked out a baker’s dozen of worthy new features to add to your SXSW schedule.

Check out 13 new films from this year’s SXSW that you’re going to want to see ASAP.

“Song to Song”

“Song to Song”

It’s almost too perfect that Terrence Malick’s latest — billed as a music-fueled love story comprised of a dizzying amount of triangles, squares and other shapes we’ve yet to name — would bow at SXSW. Filmed in and around Austin and its thriving music scene, “Song to Song” partially takes place during the festival, and will surely thrill viewers who will recognize some hometown locales (“hey, I know that taco stand!”). But the film also boasts one of Malick’s most stacked casts yet (and that’s saying something), with Oscar nominees and winners like Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, and Ryan Gosling rounding out the starry set of marquee names (and they’re not the only ones, that’s all we will say…). Who wouldn’t want to watch these people do serious emotional damage to each other under beautifully lensed and deeply contemplative conditions? The film is set to open the festival, where it will undoubtedly be the hottest ticket in town. -Kate Erbland

READ MORE: SXSW 2017 Lineup: Drug-Addicted Lovers and Barbecue Lead Surprises and Hidden Gems

“Baby Driver”

“Baby Driver”

Let’s not beat around the bush: We need a new Edgar Wright movie. It’s been four long years since the singular British filmmaker last graced us with one of his manic, hyper-stylized, deliriously euphoric action comedies, a period of time which has seen us jump-cut from “The World’s End” to the end of the world in the blink of an eye. And now, in our darkest hour, the man behind The Cornetto Trilogy and “Scott Pilgrim” (and the really good version of “Ant-Man” we never got to see) is finally back in business. A high-octane new direction for Wright, “Baby Driver” tells a music-driven story about an ace getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) who runs afoul of some really bad dudes during a heist gone wrong. It might be the first film that the director has made in America, but don’t expect him to go all Hollywood on us — despite a star-studded cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx, “Baby Driver” promises to crackle with the unique wit that has made Wright so easy to miss. -David Ehrlich

“The Strange Ones”

“The Strange Ones”

One of the best shorts of the last 10 years, Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff’s “The Strange Ones” is an ominous, compellingly elliptical story about two young shaken siblings whose road trip raises suspicions when they stop off at a dilapidated motel. Now, six years later, Wolkstein and Radcliff have expanded that indelible short into one of SXSW’s most exciting features. Starting with the same central idea and stretching it in all directions, this new version fleshes out the dark energies of the original without losing the soul of what made it special in the first place. “Magic Mike” alum Alex Pettyfer stars as Nick, a rugged and ragged guy who’s driving his prepubescent brother (James Freedson-Jackson) towards an unknown vacation destination somewhere in America’s leafy interior. But what begins as a terse, mildly suspicious sojourn from one rest stop to another soon disintegrates into something even more real and sinister than anything the short film may have suggested. -DE

“The Ballad of Lefty Brown”

“The Ballad of Lefty Brown”

Jared Moshe made a successful jump from producer to director with “Dead Man’s Burden,” a taut, minimalist Western in tune with the genre’s best traditions. He’s poised to continue on that path with another dose of old-school oater, this one starring Bill Pullman in the title role of a sidekick to legendary gunslinger abruptly killed early on, forcing Lefty to take charge of his life. If Moshe’s cinematic, 35mm imagery in “Dead Man’s Burden” is any indication, he’s got an eye for recreating the epic sweep of classic Westerns on an intimate scale, as well as an instinct for screenplays engineered to fit the barren setting. Life imitates art, as Pullman’s too often relegated to supporting roles on the big screen, so “The Ballad of Lefty Brown” could very well chronicle a comeback in more ways than one. -Eric Kohn

“Sylvio”

“Sylvio”

Viral internet celebrities have made the uneasy transition to films before, but it’s safe to say that none are like Vine star Sylvio, a man in a gorilla costume. The ongoing saga of the mute ape in shades is perfect fodder for six-second snapshots, which veer from goofy punchlines to more melancholic looks at Sylvio’s lonely existence. But creator Albert Birney and regular SXSW actor-director Kentucky Audley (“Open Five,” “Sun Don’t Shine”) have managed to expand Sylvio’s saga into a surreal saga that’s suggests “Office Space” by way of “Sesame Street,” following Sylvio through its boring job as an office collector to his newfound online fame and the identity crisis he experiences as a result. Unearthing genuine pathos and savvy commentary on the entertainment industry from a patently absurd concept, “Sylvio” is pure SXSW — the kind of movie nobody would ever dream up, but somehow, somebody did. -EK

“Hot Summer Nights”

“Hot Summer Nights”

Say you knew him when! Timothée Chalamet, the star of Elijah Bynum’s feature directorial debut “Hot Summer Nights,” is already a SXSW regular, thanks to his charming turn in Julia Hart’s 2016 debut “Miss Stevens,” but he’s destined to hit it big in the coming months, when his transcendent turn in “Call Me By Your Name” hits theaters. But before that coming-of-age offering arrives, Chalamet is back at SXSW with a teen drama of another stripe, with Bynum using some of teen cinema’s greatest tropes — a wild summer! an out-of-your-league crush! a cool new friend! — to kit out his “Nights.” Adapted from Bynum’s own Black List script, the film has a few other twists up its sleeve, including a full-force literal hurricane — but getting on the Chalamet train early should be reason enough to check this one out.  -KE

“Drib”

“Drib”

While a majority of the “What is truth?” discussions have centered on international headlines over the past year, “Drib” seems to be taking aim at advertising, a realm where that question is central to any brand’s success or failure. Tackling the story of an energy drink’s recent marketing strategy, Kristoffer Borgli looks to do so in a doc hybrid format that will ostensibly keep corporate lawyers at bay. With an on-screen cast that includes Brett Gelman (between this and “Lemon,” he’ll have a busy time in Austin), it sounds like a film that seems like a perfect fit for our current age. -Steve Greene

“Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall”

“Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall”

Katherine Fairfax Wright (along with co-director Malika Zouhali-Worrall) made one of the best films of 2013 with “Call Me Kuchu,” a profile of LGBT activists in Uganda facing threats from government- and media-advocated action. Here, Wright is turning her focus to the work of Todrick Hall, the former “American Idol” contestant who has become a high-profile YouTube creator and performer of all trades. “Behind the Curtain” chronicles the creation and release of “Straight Outta Oz,” Hall’s visual album that formed the basis for a 2016 international tour. As an overview of a work of art and an examination of Hall’s cultural cachet, this could easily end up as a festival audience favorite. -SG

“Fits and Starts”

“Fits and Starts”

One of the best surprises of 2015 was “Hello, My Name is Doris,” an off-kilter comedy starring Sally Field as an older woman looking for love (and facing her hoarding problem) after the death of her mother. Directed by Michael Showalter, it was based on a short by Laura Terruso, who served as co-writer and co-producer with Showalter. Terruso now heads to SXSW as writer/director of her first feature, “Fits and Starts,” which stars Wyatt Cenac and Greta Lee as a literary couple navigating complications that arise from their varying degrees of success. When the couple attend an artist’s salon in Connecticut together, they must contend with everything from condescending advice to a former lover’s insistent insinuations. Starring a cast culled from the greatest hits of “High Maintenance,” Terruso will use her incisive wit to skewer a subject ripe for satire and familiar to many. If her past credits are any indication (before “Doris,” Terruso was a producer of Madeline Olnek’s lesbian hustler farce, “The Foxy Merkins”), “Fits and Starts” could be the greatest indie comedy of the year. -Jude Dry

“Infinity Baby”

“Infinity Baby”

The description of Bob Byington’s “Infinity Baby,” while pointedly sparse, reveals something about the film’s humor in its brevity. Simply billed as “a comedy about babies that don’t age,” the script is by Onur Tukel, a fixture on the indie film scene as an actor as well as director. Tukel’s deliciously absurdist satire, “Catfight,” premiered at TIFF last year and stars Anne Heche and Sandra Oh as two self-centered rivals who beat each other senseless into comas. Byington has a penchant for offbeat comedies, having written and directed “7 Chinese Brothers” (2015), “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (2012), and “Harmony and Me” (2009). The new film stars some of Byington’s usual suspects, such as Nick Offerman, Megan Mulally, Kieran Culkin, and Kevin Corrigan. “Infinity Baby” marks the first collaboration between indie comedy staples Byington and Tukel, and the marriage promises to be a fruitful one. -JD

“Rat Film”

“Rat Film”

You don’t need a documentary to tell you the city of Baltimore has a race and inequality problem, but can you really trace those problems back to their roots by studying the history of how the city dealt with its rat “problem”? “Rat Film” is not like any movie you have ever seen before. Filmmaker Theo Anthony has cooked up something wholly original using a handful of seemingly unmixable ingredients, but in his hands becomes a punk rock stew that is as nourishing as it is tasty. -Chris O’Falt

“I Am Another You”

“I Am Another You”

Nanfu Wang came to America to learn filmmaking and quickly put those skills to use, returning to China the summer after graduating NYU to make the 2016 Oscar shortlisted feature film “Hooligan Sparrow.” Yet even before then, while she was still a student, she started filming “Another You.” In her second feature she explores her new home country through the eyes of Dylan, a young Floridian who leaves the comforts of his home and family to become intentionally homeless. Whereas in “Sparrow” Wang paints a frightening portrait of repression and government control in China, her fascination with a drifter becomes her wide-eyed and personal journey into what it means to live in a free society. -CO

READ MORE: ‘Baby Driver,’ ‘The Strange Ones’ and More Join 2017 SXSW Lineup

“Spettacolo”

“Spettacolo”

If you’ve seen Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen’s beloved 2010 documentary “Marwencol,” their followup is likely already at the very top of your SXSW must-see list. Returning to the topic of dealing with trauma through art — the subject of “Marwencol” had suffered a brain injury and created beautiful stories with figurines in his backyard — the filmmakers bring us into a tiny hill town in Tuscany where the citizens turn their town’s issues into theater. Every summer for the past 50 years, the villagers have tackled the topics they are grappling with — trauma from World War II, the women’s movement, divorce, the loss of their identity as farmers, tourism threatening their heritage, housing developments and the post office closing — in an effort to have a frank conversation and attempt to build communal understanding. -CO

SXSW runs from March 10 – 19 in Austin, Texas.

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