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Memo to Distributors: Buy These 2019 SXSW Films

These SXSW highlights still need homes. Here's our plea for somebody to pick them up.

“The Day Shall Come,” “Alice,” “Olympic Dreams”

The 2019 SXSW Film Festival launched plenty of buzz for many anticipated studio releases, from Jordan Peele’s “Us” to Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart,” but these movies don’t tell the whole story. The Austin gathering showcased 102 features and episodic across nine days, and it remains unclear where many of those titles will surface next. But even if they didn’t garner the same level of hype, many of the smaller-scale narratives and documentaries at SXSW 2019 deserve audiences beyond the insular film festival circuit.

These highlights may not generate massive deals, but in today’s malleable distribution landscape, there are many of ways that strong, original storytelling can find audience. Here’s our usual plea that buyers take a chance on these worthy films that still need homes.

“Alice”

The opening minutes of “Alice” make the case for Emilie Piponnier to be a movie star, and the rest of the movie keeps it up. As the eponymous centerpiece of the 2019 SXSW Grand Jury Prize winner, Piponnier dominates every frame, with a mesmerizing screen presence that pushes the drama well beyond its formulaic premise and visible microbudget constraints. Nevertheless, French director Josephine Mackerras’ understated debut operates on the same intimate wavelength as Piponnier’s simmering desperation — and, eventually, her newfound sense of pride — as a woman who becomes a sex worker to support her child. That premise may not change the world, but “Alice” succeeds as a sturdy window into one woman’s quest to take control of her oppressive world. If a festival breakout narrative counts for anything, it should advance the careers of the women on both sides of the camera. —EK

Sales Contact: Visit Films

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“Everybody’s Everything”

There are recognizable music doc elements in this film about the life and death of rapper Lil Peep (aka Gus Elijah Åhr): The rise to fame, the realities of the music business versus loyalty to the music scene that grew around him, the painful childhood that fed his music’s truth, and the drug abuse that ushered his demise. Peep only died at the age of 21 in November 2017 and the film — executive produced by his mother Liza Womack and Terrence Malick, an old friend of Lil Peep’s grandfather Jack Womack — is told through the emotional and fuzzy lens of mourning. It’s here that co-directors Sebastian Jones (part of Malick’s editorial team) and Ramez Silyan (a videographer who filmed and knew Peep) are able to find poetry in the wealth of raw, lo-fi archival images, as they explore Gus’ creation of his musical alter ego and the very open question of if the young idealist was capable of finding a balance between the two. The documentary should satisfy fans of his music while inviting new ones into the fold. CO

Sales Contact: UTA

“Extra Ordinary”

“Extra Ordinary”

SXSW

When someone like Will Forte calls your film “wildly stupid in the right way,” you know you’re on to something, and Irish directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman — who also go by the zippy acronym D.A.D.D.Y. — are definitely on to something with their feature filmmaking debut. “Extra Ordinary” follows lapsed medium Rose (the delightful Maeve Higgins), who has given up talking to ghosts until distraught dad Martin (Barry Ward) begs her to help find his missing daughter. Look no further than Forte as one-hit-wonder pop star Christian Winter, who has taken the concept of making a deal with the devil to literal ends, and is in desperate need of a teen virgin sacrifice to get him back on the charts. Blending genuine chills with gags that wouldn’t feel out of place in an Edgar Wright joint, Ahern and Loughman cook up a comedy that blends the supernatural with the a finely tuned sense of what makes being a human so funny and weird. Unexpectedly bloody, with a generous dash of late-in-life coming-of-age, it’s a wickedly fun first feature, and hopefully the sign of many more delightfully stupid things to come. —KE

Sales Contact: sales@endeavorcontent.com

“Frances Ferguson”

Austin filmmaker Bob Byington’s deadpan storytelling is an acquired taste, but his movies are always filled with fascinating doses of originality. “Frances Ferguson” follows “Infinity Baby” and “Seven Chinese Brothers” with layered, idiosyncratic Nebraska-set character study that suggests Alexander Payne by way of Jean-Luc Godard. Kaley Wheeles stars as the eponymous schoolteacher whose boring domestic falls apart in every imaginable way after she has a romantic fling with one of her students, and contends with a series of hurdles that include divorce, prison life, and therapy. Byington brings back his “Somebody Up There Likes Me” star Nick Offerman for a dry voiceover that lends this slim character study an immersive literary quality. As a filmmaker, Byington has never been this restlessly inventive, with subtitles and chapter headings creating a fascinating collage of meta-commentaries on Frances’ experience, illustrating the extent to which she sees herself as a hapless victim of a society that has no place for her. It’s a charming, wistful little movie that ranks as one of Byington’s most accessible works in some time. —EK

Sales Contact: byington.assistant@gmail.com

“Olympic Dreams”

It’s no fun watching a movie that retreads old territory, but “Olympic Dreams” draws on amazing sources to create a surprisingly gratifying result: “Medium Cool” meets “Before Sunrise” by way of “Lost in Translation,” director Jeremy Teicher’s two-hander about a romance at the 2018 Olympic Games has all the emotional beats and charm of the bigger-budget romcoms at this year’s SXSW. The first feature-length narrative shot on location at Olympic Games, the movie finds a note-perfect Nick Kroll as a lonely volunteer who bonds with a soul-searching cross-country skier (real-life athlete and filmmaker Alexi Pappas) as the pair wander the lively environment and contemplate their own mutual sense of alienation. Despite the experimental gamble of its non-fiction backdrop (and a skeleton crew composed of the filmmaker and his two actors, who share writing credits), “Olympic Dreams” manages to become a sweet, wistful, and affecting window into the unique ecosystem of competitive sports and the way they can become a microcosm of more universal struggles. Kroll gives his best performance as a well-meaning romantic uncertain about his future, while Pappas has all the jittery energy of a star whose acting career deserves to be as fertile as her athletic one. Kroll fans should be excited to see him expand his screen presence as a compelling dramatic lead, and sports enthusiasts should appreciate this fresh, personable angle on a well-documented global event. —EK

Sales Contact: dmcintosh@endeavorcontent.com

“The Day Shall Come”

Almost a decade ago, British satirist Christopher Morris took an exciting turn into the filmmaking arena with “Four Lions,” a subversive post-9/11 romp about bumbling Islamic jihadists whose murderous plot goes haywire with hilarious results. The movie’s brilliance stemmed from the way it poked fun at the terrorist’s slapstick endeavors without negating the tragedy of their murderous convictions. His long-overdue followup “The Day Shall Come” flips that equation, targeting a team of clumsy Miami-based FBI agents (including a funny, vulgar Anna Kendrick) whose bureaucratic process for taking on terrorists yields the same dysfunctional results. This time, Morris delivers a scathing and often very funny indictment of homeland insecurities. In these chaotic and confusing times, Morris’ wicked vision of dysfunctional powers designed to keep the country safe is more timely than ever. —EK

Sales Contact: ssaldana@filmnation.com

“Saint Frances”

Kelly O’Sullivan does double duty as writer and star of director Alex Thompson’s feature-length debut, the charming and bittersweet of Bridget, a young Chicago woman who scores a nanny gig for a lesbian couple shortly after getting an abortion. Those two events might seem disconnected, but as Bridget becomes more immersed in the couple’s domestic problems, her own anxieties find a new outlet in somebody else’s household. Whereas “Obvious Child” delved into similar terrain, “Saint Frances” goes beyond the abortion storyline to develop a more immersive character study that balances Bridget’s klutzy comedic antics with more serious, introspective undercurrents. It’s not a gamechanger, but “Saint Frances” is a smart, accessible crowdpleaser that bodes well for whatever its creative team does next. —EK

Sales Contact: Visit Films

“South Mountain”

South Mountain

“South Mountain”

SXSW

Director Hilary Brougher’s first film since 2006’s “Stephanie Daley” is a tender, intimate, and blatantly personal work about Catskills resident and community college teacher Lila (Talia Balsam), whose stable life is thrown into upheaval when her husband (Scott Cohen) confesses that he has had a child with another woman. The poetic fallout finds Lila exploring a romance with a younger man, plotting revenge on her husband, and roaming the astonishing natural scenery in her suddenly vacant home, as she comes to grips with an unexpected new stage of life when she least expected it. This wise, understated, and exquisite acting showcase was one of the most enticing entries in the SXSW narrative competition, precisely because its emotional power has been designed to sneak up on you. It deserves to be discovered beyond the insular festival circuit, as many audiences will relate to its gentle emotional trajectory and startling performances. —EK

Sales Contact: hbrougher@gmail.com

“Sword of Trust”

“Sword of Trust”

SXSW

Marc Maron gives his best performance in Lynn Shelton’s amiable romp, in which a quartet of Birmingham locals attempt to sell an antique weapon to conspiracy theorists who believe it proves the South won the war. As a downbeat pawnbroker with a tragic history, Maron combines his self-deprecating persona with genuine pathos to craft an authentic character at the center of the movie’s bizarre misadventure. Shelton’s improv-heavy approach turns the seemingly twisted subject matter into a charming look at neurotic people attempting to make sense out of bigotry and ideological extremism while confronting a bizarre array of Southern caricatures. No matter its cartoonish trajectory, “Sword of Trust” is grounded in the reality of its characters, and Maron’s ever-expanding fan base will be thrilled to see him deepen his performative talents. —EK

Sales Contact: UTA

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