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The SXSW Film Festival kicks off on Friday with a studio comedy, "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," but it's the smaller movies that really stand out at this essential celebration of new American cinema. From "Tiny Furniture" to "Weekend," low budget movies that have premiered with little to no buzz at SXSW often wind up among the more significant sleeper hits of the year (and a few grow even bigger than that). Documentaries like last year's big winner "Beware of Mister Baker" reflect the funky, hip vibe of the festival, which is also jam-packed with interactive and music festivities. With such distinctive characteristics fueling its program, SXSW guarantees exposure for a rich collection of movies largely made beyond the standards for mainstream sensibilities. The latest edition is poised to deliver an exciting combination of new talents and established names. Here's a sampling of the movies that Indiewire's team is looking forward to checking out at this year's festival.

"12 O'Clock Boys" (Directed by Lotfy Nathan)

The documentaries at SXSW tend to stand out from the activist-driven productions that dominate most other festivals by focusing on unique character studies. First-time director Lotfy Nathan's "12 O'Clock Boys," which tracks a 13-year-old lower class Baltimore resident who idolizes the local urban dirt bike gang, is the paragon of that tradition at this year's festival. Nathan's painstakingly crafted portrait of the dirt bike community renders a lethal obsession in lyrical terms, creating a luscious paean to the lust for danger as the ultimate escape from societal restrictions. Like the SXSW breakout "45365," it's also a portrait of a world that seems at once in tune with the harsher realities of daily existence and one step ahead of them by finding the beauty in chaotic impulses. [Eric Kohn]

"Before You Know It" (Directed by PJ Raval)

It might not be a sexy topic like same-sex marriage, but one of the biggest and often ignored issues facing LGBT communities is the fact that there is a rapidly aging population within them that is not properly being cared for. 
There are an estimated 2.4 million LGBT Americans over the age of 55. As a demographic, they are 5 times less likely to access social services than their heterosexual counterparts, half as likely to have health insurance coverage, and 10 times less likely to have a caretaker if they fall ill. And unfortunately there is not much attention being paid to them by their younger LGBT counterparts (or anyone else, for that matter). Which is one of the reasons that PJ Raval's documentary "Before You Know It" is such a crucial new edition to the LGBT doc canon. Following three different LGBT seniors each facing a different array of issues, it affectingly personifies a increasingly forgotten generation of queer folks. [Peter Knegt]

"Haunter" (Directed by Vincenzo Natali)


Canadian director Vincenzo Natali has an uncommonly smart approach to genre, one grounded in strong characters and resonances to larger themes. 2010's "Splice" was an unsettling mad scientist tale as parenting nightmare, while 1997 cult favorite "Cube" was a dystopian imagining of a mysterious torture chamber/deadly human experiment into which a group of strangers has been dumped. His Midnighter take on ghost stories, "Haunter," sounds just as promising in concept, as it starts with the dead rather than the living, centering on a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) who's the only one in her family to realize that they're just reliving the day of their death over and over again. [Alison Willmore]

"Hey Bartender" (Directed by Douglas Tirola)

For subject matter alone, "Hey Bartender" is a perfect alignment of content and platform at SXSW. And then there's the cultural overload of mixologist imagery: The white oxford rolled above elbows, revealing tattooed forearms made lean and ropy through the maracas of cocktail shaking, now has all the iconography of a Ikea uniform. However, director Douglas Tirola -- who produced a compelling exploration of independent pro wrestling in 2012's "Fake It So Real" -- wants to take the trend a step further by exploring the stories of those who are trying to ride the trend to brighter and better futures. [Dana Harris]

"Holy Ghost People" (Directed by Mitchell Altieri)

Sharing its title with Peter Adair's 1967 documentary about an Appalachian Pentecostal region in which faith healing and snake handling are common practice, this film uses a similar setting as a backdrop for a thriller about a girl who enlists an alcoholic ex-Marine to take her to a remote religious community in hopes of finding her missing sister. Director Mitchell Altieri, who as half of The Butcher Brothers has made gory horror flicks in the past, seems to be aiming for something less slasher-centric in this effort, and the recent films "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Sound of My Voice" have demonstrated that topics of faith and closed, cult-like groups can provide rich material for indie films. [Alison Willmore]