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SXSW: 7 Must-See Music Documentaries At This Year’s Festival

SXSW: 7 Must-See Music Documentaries At This Year's Festival

READ MORE: SXSW Reveals Features and Episodics Lineups; New Judd Apatow and Alex Gibney Make the Cut

Unlike Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and other more traditional film festivals, South by Southwest traces its roots back to the music industry. Founded in 1987, SXSW began as a music festival, a launchpad for up-and-coming musical talent, and a discussion platform for the music industry at large.

Over the past two-and-a-half decades, with the addition of a robust film and interactive program, SXSW has transformed into a multimedia showcase with a knack for featuring creative work that exists at the crossroads of multiple disciplines — music documentaries being one such example. This year is no exception. We went through the line-up and picked out seven wacky-sounding music documentaries that we plan to check out at this year’s SXSW.

READ MORE: 10 Cool and Crazy Must-See Films at SXSW 2015

“Breaking a Monster”

Documentary Feature Competition
Director: Luke Meyer

Why we’re jazzed:
The subject of this documentary, Brooklyn-based heavy metal group Unlocking the Truth, is a band like none other. Made up of three wildly talent boys in their early teens, Unlocking the Truth landed a $1.8 million deal with Sony last year; this is after they played Coachella and Warped Tour. No big deal. According to the logline published on the SXSW website, “Breaking a Monster” charts the boys journey towards and through stardom, “transcending childhood to become the rock stars they always dreamed of being.” If Sacha Gervasi’s “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” is any indication, however, “transcending childhood” is probably a gross overstatement because — as the middle-aged members of the eighties heavy metal band Anvil demonstrate over the course of Gervasi’s 2008 documentary about their attempt to revitalize their career — childish shenanigans never go out of style. No doubt Unlocking the Truth will get into its fair share of mischief in “Breaking a Monster.”

“All Things Must Pass”

24 Beats Per Second
Director: Colin Hanks

Why we’re jazzed:
Most recently seen in the first season of FX’s anthology series “Fargo,” Colin Hanks — that is, Tom’s son — isn’t exactly a known figure in the documentary world. Perhaps his interest in the history of music — in the case of “All Things Must Pass,” the rocky demise of the famous Sacramento-based music retail chain Tower Records — is akin to his father’s passion for military history. Or maybe his fascination originates from the fact that he grew up going to the Tower Records location in West Hollywood. Either way, it should be intriguing to see how much, if at all, Hanks’ personal connection to the entertainment industry plays into the way he constructs Tower Records’ sad narrative (the film’s Kickstarter page describes the story of “the rise and fall of Tower Records”).

“Theory of Obscurity: a film about The Residents”

24 Beats Per Second
Director: Don Hardy

Why we’re jazzed:
We posted the trailer and poster for this film a couple weeks back. If those items weren’t enough to pique your interest in the mythology around The Residents, whose members’ identity remain anonymous to this day, then we can’t help you. Director Don Hardy was given exclusive access to archive material for use in the film by The Residents’ management entity, The Cryptic Corporation — meaning you get to experience the group’s world from the inside out. Even if you haven’t the slightest clue about The Residents, you can probably tell that the access allotted by this film is indeed a privilege.

“A Poem is a Naked Person”

24 Beats Per Second
Director: Les Blank

Why we’re jazzed:
More than 30 years after being finished, “A Poem is a Naked Person” will finally receive a release — beginning with its first real premiere at SXSW. Acclaimed documentarian Les Blank, who passed away in 2013, shot the film while living at Leon Russell’s recording studio compound in Oklahoma from 1972 thru 1974. Following Blank’s death, his son Harrod facilitated the remastering and release of the film by reaching out to Russell, Janus Films and the Criterion Collection.

“Danny Says”

24 Beats Per Second
Director: Brendan Toller

Why we’re jazzed:
Former record executive and band manager Danny Fields worked with Iggy Pop, The Ramones, Jim Morrison and the Velvet Underground, among others, so there is no doubt he has accumulated a rich catalog of stories to share over the course of “Danny Says,” a documentary that charts his time in the music business. In contrast to last year’s “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon” — Mike Meyers documentary directorial debut examining the career of the storied talent manager, who also happened to be Meyers’ longtime friend — “Danny Says” centers on a subject who, for the most part, worked in a very particular music scene: punk. It should be fascinating to see how the conventions of punk echo throughout the film.

“Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove”

24 Beats Per Second
Director: Joe Nick Patoski

Why we’re jazzed:
From it’s subject to it’s director, “Sir Douglas and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove” is a Texas film through and through. The subject of this film, musician Doug Sahm, began performing country music at an early age and eventually went on to experiment with rock n’ roll, tex-mex and blues among other genres. Not unlike Sahm, director Joe Nick Patoski appears to have a penchant for experimentation as “Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove” will be his directorial debut — though Patoski is no stranger to the world of music, having written books on Stevie Ray Vaughan, Selena and Willie Nelson, as noted by The Texas Monthly in a post published last week with the film’s trailer.


24 Beats Per Second
Director: Alexander Dunn

Why we’re jazzed:
The history of music, no matter the century, would be incomplete without a discussion about the technology that made it possible. Since the early 1980s, the Roland TR-808 drum machine has served as the steady hand guiding music production — not only fostering the evolution of hip-hop and electronica, but also the public’s consumption of popular music. The interviews run the gamut — everyone from Afrika Bambaataa, to the Beastie Boys, to Questlove, to Diplo.

Honorable Mention

“Human Highway” (Director’s Cut)

Special Events
Director: Dean Stockwell, Neil Young

Why we’re jazzed:
“Human Highway” may not be a documentary, but the fact that Neil Young wrote, co-directed and starred in the film, and that SXSW plans to show his preferred cut, allows for a meta-narrative to emerge around the whole experience — something that we are absolutely down for. The plot of the film revolves around a man named Otto (played by Dean Stockwell) who, much to his chagrin, inherits a failing business run by his recently deceased father. Hoping to make some fast cash, Otto hatches a plan to set the the business, which is a a roadside diner, on fire in order to collect the insurance payout. Young plays a caricature of himself in the role of Otto’s dim-witted employee, Lionel Switch.

READ MORE: 6 Highlights From the SXSW 2015 Lineup

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