By Eric Kohn | Indiewire March 8, 2012 at 9:09AM
By now, you've probably heard that the SXSW Film Festival begins Friday with "The Cabin in the Woods." There's also a premiere of "21 Jump Street," Will Ferrell speaking Spanish in "Casa De Mi Padre" and a sneak preview of Lena Dunham's new HBO show. They'll dominate headlines and tweets the moment they hit town.
Good for them. Here's the real SXSW -- a list of the films that were largely made on the cheap, with little to no regard for mainstream demands, that we can't wait to see.
In addition to creating "Greg the Bunny," Sean Baker has had a remarkable second career as a director of small, neorealistic character studies: "Prince of Broadway" was a moving father-son story set in New York's Chinatown, while "Take Out" dealt with the plights of Chinese immigrants. His third feature, "Starlet," follows two women of different ages and backgrounds thrown into an unlikely situation together in the San Fernando Valley. Expect Baker's typical blend of low-key narrative and emotional weight to lead the way.
"The Do Deca Pentathlon"
Before sibling directors Mark and Jay Duplass started making studio movies with "Cyrus" and the upcoming "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," they were darlings of the American indie scene. They shot this (possibly semi-autobiographical?) movie about warring siblings after they made "Baghead" but before they made "Cyrus;" it's finally seeing the light of day, which means the Duplass brothers get a chance to remind everybody about their microbudget comedy roots.
"The Sheik & I"
Caveh Zahedi has always been a filmmaker who works off the beaten path, most recently in films like "I Am a Sex Addict" and the video diary "In the Bathtub of the World." His latest effort is likely to deepen his repertoire by exploring his experience with an assignment to create a film for the Middle East that was subsequently banned for its allegedly taboo content.
"[REC] 3: Genesis"
Spanish horror has known no greater franchise than the REC movies (remade in the U.S. as "Quarantine"), a found-footage series that follows a few people dealing with demonically possessed people in an apartment building. The third entry promises to move beyond the building where the first two movies took place and advance the story with flashes of wit and filmmaking invention (while hopefully keeping the fear factor in check).
Just a quick look at the cast for this movie (Billy Crystal! Dolph Lundgren!) should catch your eye. But it's the inventive world of Swedish director Jonas Akerlund that really makes it worth checking out. Akerlund has directed some of the more memorable music videos of the past 20 years, as well as the visually striking features "Spun" and "Horsemen." His third movie features a man named Franklin Franklin who avoids the city life, a delightfully strange scenario that holds serious promise.
This documentary about Jeffrey Dahmer, who was convicted of murdering 17 people more than 20 years ago, explores the Milwaukee setting where the crimes took place to unearth the nature of those ghastly events. The premise suggests both an unsettling exposé and a compelling portrait of the environment where Dahmer lived.
Described in the SXSW catalogue as "both fever dream and quiet trip," this first feature from director Tim Sutton looks like exactly the sort of quiet, perceptive character study that tends to break out at SXSW. The synopsis finds a teen settling into suburban Arizona and dealing with the usual feelings of alienation associated with that difficult age. The trailer, which contains a lovely soundtrack and evocative imagery, points to a movie that will almost certainly offer beautiful sights and sounds; whether it has more to offer remains to be seen.
SXSW's midnight section is usually a pretty wild place for extreme genre experiences. "Citadel" follows a young man traumatized by a gang's attack on his wife. When they threaten his daughter as well, he suddenly gets the chance to take initiative and fight back. Who doesn't love a good revenge story? This one sounds especially sweet.
Brothers Bill and Turner Ross rose to prominence in the documentary film community with their previous effort, "45365," a lyrical study of the titular zip code in Ohio. Their latest effort also promises a strong sense of place--in this case, the lively Mardi Gras scene in New Orleans, where a trio of boys wander a musical landscape and watch as the culture comes alive around them.
Jonathan Lisecki's comedy takes its inspiration from a short film of the same name that won several prizes on the festival circuit. As the title implies, the story revolves around a gay man trying to have a child with his close friend and dealing with all the awkwardness that entails. It's always hard to discern the quality of an Amerian indie comedy with a high concept and low budget, but judging by the popularity of the short, it's quite possible that "Gayby" will please the high-energy crowds at SXSW.