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SXSW Sets Demi Lovato Doc as 2021 Opener, Plus New Joe Berlinger and Olivia Munn Projects

After the pandemic derailed its 2020 edition, SXSW is making its return with a full online experience.

Olivia Munn in Justine Bateman's directorial feature film debut, "Violet."


Mark Williams

After last year’s South by Southwest was among the first major events to be derailed by the pandemic, the annual series of conferences and festivals is making its return with a 2021 online edition. On Thursday, festival organizers announced the first nine titles in its film and TV lineup, including a docuseries exploring Demi Lovato’s near-fatal overdose, a true-crime miniseries from Joe Berlinger, and Justine Bateman’s directorial debut starring Olivia Munn and Justin Theroux.

SXSW will offer an online program of events from March 16-20, with film screenings, conference sessions, music showcases, exhibitions, meetups, and other virtual versions of the annual festival’s mainstays.

The opening night headliner will be “Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil,” from director Michael D. Ratner. Like his “Justin Bieber: Seasons” docuseries, the Demi Lovato title is a YouTube Original. The series explores “every aspect” that led to Lovato’s nearly fatal overdose in 2018 and her awakenings in the aftermath. With wide access to Lovato’s life, Ratner’s film is billed as an intimate portrait of addiction and the process of healing and empowerment.

“It’s impressive and rare to see a pop superstar tell their story so authentically and without pretense,” said Janet Pierson, SXSW’s director of film. “We’re privileged to present this intimate journey told with such vulnerability. Demi Lovato’s profound interest in mental health awareness is helping change the landscape of a crucial issue in this year of national and international trauma and loss.”

The series is produced by Ratner’s OBB Pictures and SB Projects. Scott Ratner, Kfir Goldberg, and Miranda Sherman also serve as executive producers for OBB Pictures. Scooter Braun, Allison Kaye, and Scott Manson executive produce for SB Projects. Co-executive producers on the project are Andy Mininger and Arlen Konopaki for OBB Pictures, Jen McDaniels, Scott Marcus and James Shin for SB Projects, and Hannah Lux Davis. Marc Ambrose serves as producer.

The complete film festival lineup will be announced February 10. The online platform with schedule will launch February 15.

Here are the announced selections so far.

“Confronting A Serial Killer”
Director: Joe Berlinger, Showrunner: Po Kutchins

Joe Berlinger’s newest docuseries, “Confronting a Serial Killer,” follows reporter Jillian Lauren who lures the most prolific serial killer in American history — Sam Little. The series will follow their unsettling and unlikely relationship. (World Premiere) (Episodic Premiere)

“Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil”
Director/Screenwriter: Michael D. Ratner

“Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil” is a powerful YouTube Originals documentary event, exploring every aspect that led to Lovato’s nearly fatal overdose in 2018, and her awakenings in the aftermath. (World Premiere) (Headliners)

“The Hunt for Planet B”
Director: Nathaniel Kahn

“The Hunt for Planet B” follows a diverse group of scientists on a quest to find another Earth among the stars. From the hi-bays of NASA to the edge of the universe and the bottom of the sea, the film offers a way to see our own planet with new eyes. (World Premiere) (Documentary Spotlight)

Director: Andrea Nevins

“Hysterical” is an honest and hilarious backstage pass into the lives of some of stand-up comedy’s most boundary-breaking women, exploring the hard-fought journey to become the voices of their generation and their gender. (World Premiere) (Documentary Spotlight)

“Jakob’s Wife”
Director: Travis Stevens
Screenwriters: Travis Stevens, Kathy Charles, Mark Steenland
Cast: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons, Mark Kelly, Sarah Lind, Robert Rusler, Nyisha Bell, Phil Brooks

The disappearance of a young woman threatens to change the beige and banal lives of Anne Fedder (Barbara Crampton) and her pastor husband Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden) forever.  (World Premiere) (Midnighters)

Directors: Paola Calvo, Patrick Jasim
Screenwriters: Patrick Jasim, Paola Calvo, Phillip Kaminiak

Luchadoras portrays the courageous female wrestlers of Ciudad Juárez, a city known for its high murder rate against women — who fight in the ring and in their daily lives to redefine the image of what it means to be a woman in Mexico. (World Premiere) (Global)

“Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché”
Director: Paul Sng, Celeste Bell
Screenwriters: Celeste Bell, Zoë Howe

The death of punk icon and X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene sends her daughter on a journey across the world and through her mother’s archives to reconcile their fraught relationship. (North American Premiere) (24 Beats)

Director: Mallory Everton, Stephen Meek
Screenwriters: Whitney Call, Mallory Everton
Cast: Whitney Call, Mallory Everton, Anne Sward Hansen, Julia Jolley, Baylee Thornock, Jessica Drolet, Stephen Meek, Tyler Andrew Jones, Tori Pence, Dora McDonald

Two directionless sisters brave a cross-country road trip to rescue their grandmother from a COVID outbreak at her nursing home. (World Premiere) (Narrative Spotlight)

Director/Screenwriter: Justine Bateman

A film development executive realizes that the “guiding voice” inside her head has been lying to her about everything. Cast List: Olivia Munn, Luke Bracey, Justin Theroux (World Premiere) (2020 Spotlight)

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