No matter how many they’ve been through, there’s no feeling for a television or film creator like a premiere. Putting months if not years of hard work in front of an audience is the ultimate reward — and litmus test — for how that work will be received and remembered, as well as the unquantifiable validation of sharing all that blood, sweat, tears, and imagination.
March 10 marks the start of South by Southwest 2023, with another packed week of TV and film premieres that already have major momentum leading into the conference. Donald Glover’s latest incisively weird series “Swarm” will make its debut, A24 will present “Problemista,” Liza Mandelup toys with documentary format in “Caterpillar,” and the leads of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” reunite for Kelvin Yu’s “American Born Chinese” — to name but a few from a sorely enticing and packed schedule.
There are awards and panels throughout the week for studios to collect accolades and creatives to unpack their work, but the ultimate clout heading out of SXSW — like Sundance or Cannes or Toronto in their own time — is buzz. Was it worth the wait and the watch? Is this new artist one to keep an eye on; this old one still delivering the kind of work that built their career? Which films will be the talk of the town in coming months, and which series fervently binged or anticipated?
We don’t have all the answers (yet), but we know where to start. Here are 22 film and TV titles to check out at SXSW this year.
Samantha Bergeson, Jude Dry, Kate Erbland, Eric Kohn, Ryan Lattanzio, and Ben Travers contributed to this list.
KE HUY QUAN
There’s a lot to look forward to with “American Born Chinese,” the first adaptation of Gene Luen-Yang’s beloved graphic novel, but early buzz heading into SXSW focuses on a truly formidable cast. The lineup starts Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu — all up for Oscars that weekend for “Everything Everywhere All At Once” — and includes Ben Wang (“Chang Can Dunk”), Yeo Yann Yann (“Wet Season”), Chin Han (“Mortal Kombat”), Daniel Wu (“Reminiscence”), Taekwondo champion Jimmy Liu, and Sydney Taylor (“Just Add Magic”). Wang plays Jin, a teen boy who ends up caught in a war between Chinese gods (a stacked guest cast). Creator Kelvin Yu will unveil the SXSW premiere, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”). In a series about mythological beings and legends, it’s no secret that the superpower of “American Born Chinese” is bringing together Hollywood’s top Asian talent — an unforgettable and celebrated feat of its own. —PK
“The Arc of Oblivion”
Werner Herzog and Sandbox Films (behind this year’s Oscar-nominated “Fire of Love”) executive-produce the SXSW documentary entry “The Arc of Oblivion,” the new nonfiction feature from “The Search for General Tso” and “King Corn” director Ian Cheney.
This film explores an unusual quirk of the human race, which is how we seek to leave a trace of ourselves even against a universe that constantly recycles and erases its own tracks. In the backdrop, Cheney heads on a quest to build an ark in a field in Maine, while the film heads to salt mines in the Aps, fjords in the Arctic, and ancient libraries in the Sahara to illuminate mankind’s tendency to archive and keep records. The documentary blends stop-motion and talking heads from Cheney’s inner circle to dive into this uniquely human phenomenon — including filmmakers Herzog and “Cameraperson” director Kirsten Johnson. —RL
Leave it to SXSW to bring you the “Tuca & Bertie” reunion you know you needed, in a package you’d never expect. Ali Wong (who voiced the titular Bertie in Lisa Hanawalt’s award-winning animated series) and Steven Yeun (who played her boyfriend, Speckle) come together again for “Beef,” a black comedy about a road rage incident that sends the two primary drivers spiraling. Danny (Yeun) and Amy (Wong) are two very different people, with very different backgrounds, but once they’ve collided, their connection proves stronger than expected. The Netflix original series stems from creator and showrunner Lee Sung Jin, who’s previously written for “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Dave,” and — you guessed it — “Tuca & Bertie.” —BT
Filmmaker Emma Seligman was just 24 years old when she made her first feature – the riotously funny, closely observed “Shiva Baby” – which went on to become a pandemic-era box office success and an awards darling (including a big win at the Indie Spirits, where it picked up the lauded John Cassavetes Award). But Seligman, it seems, hasn’t let any of that go to her head, as her second film offers a twinned return to her roots: “Bottoms” will debut at SXSW (where “Shiva Baby” was meant to launch in 2020, before the festival pivoted to an all-virtual affair during the earliest days of lockdown) and will send Seligman and her “Shiva Baby” breakout star Rachel Sennott all the way back to, ew, high school.
Described, hysterically, as a “Fight Club” for queer high school outcasts, “Bottoms” follows Sennott (who also co-wrote the film with Seligman) and her BFF (played by “The Bear” breakout Ayo Edebiri as a pair of unpopular teenage lesbians who come up with a wild idea (again, lady Fight Club) to get them into close contact with their high school’s hottest cheerleaders. It’s a funny enough spin on the kind of high school sex romp that’s been in short supply in recent years, but early buzz holds that Seligman and Sennott also get downright weird and wacky with the premise to boot. If anyone can pull that off, it’s those two. –KE
Filmmaker Liza Mandelup’s 2019 documentary “Jawline” explored the strange exploits of a teen social media star whose rise to fame doesn’t pan out as planned. Her follow-up follows an even more unusual pursuit of happiness with mixed results: The movie, a hybrid documentary, follows a gay man who travels to India to have a procedure done to change the color of his eyes and make them glow. Even as that experience makes him feel more comfortable with himself, he realizes over time that it’s not the panacea he had in mind. Mandelup’s filmmaking promises a layered approach that explores both the personal desire for physical beauty and the murky nature of the cosmetics industry in a single, beguiling cinematic package sure to stir up conversation at this year’s festival and beyond. —EK
Ever since her breakout role as everyone’s favorite incompetent assistant on “Hacks,” the charmingly kooky Meg Stalter has been ready for a vehicle of her own. The oddball comedian gets one in the form of a queer comedy about a messy musician in an open relationship who flies to Portland in an effort to win her girlfriend back. The funky comedy is directed by Hannah Pearl Utt, who directed, wrote, and starred in the 2019 Sundance comedy “Before You Know It,” and written by indie producer Rhianon Jones, whose credits include “Shiva Baby,” “Circus of Books,” and “Palm Trees and Power Lines.” Whether on the strength of Stalter or the script, the project was exciting enough to attract powerhouse comedy talent Chelsea Peretti, Margaret Cho, and Darrell Hammond. With two funny women at the helm and a scene-stealing character actress taking the lead, “Cora Bora” is a needed addition to the queer comedy landscape. —JD
Gay comic Rightor Doyle has stolen scenes in some of your favorite TV comedies, from playing Gene Cousineau acting protégé Nick Nicholby in “Barry” to bit parts on “Girls” and “You’re the Worst.” He created the cult Netflix series “Bonding,” about a New York City grad student moonlighting as a dominatrix who enlists her gay BFF as her assistant, but now makes his feature directing debut with “Down Low.”
The comedy unfolds over one wild night, where a deeply repressed man, the twink who gives him a happy ending, and all the lives they ruin along the way collide. The film is written by Phoebe Fisher and “Euphoria” and “White Lotus” breakout Lukas Gage, who also stars along with Zachary Quinto, Simon Rex, Sebastian Arroyo, Christopher Reed Brown, Audra McDonald, and Judith Light. —RL
Eva Longoria is booked and busy. The long-time television star has spent the past few years making a serious pivot into directing, including stints on shows like “Black-ish” and “Why Women Kill,” plus the well-regarded Sundance documentary premiere “La Guerra Civil,” but it’s her narrative feature debut that fans have been eagerly anticipating the most. Styled as a biopic about former Frito-Lay janitor Richard Montañez (played by Jesse Garcia), the film follows the so-incredible-it’s-maybe-not-totally-true tale of the big-brained businessman inventing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos while literally cleaning the floors of the factory where the best-selling snack product was eventually made.
While Montañez’s Flamin’ Hot-specific claims have been repeatedly rebuffed, the meat of his story is true: he was a janitor who eventually became a massive business star, and Cheetos were a part of that. How Longoria will handle this alternately complicated and inspiring narrative remains to be see, but the film has been a long-time passion project for her, and a story well worth telling to the widest possible audience. –KE
“I Used to Be Funny”
Thankfully, Rachel Sennott’s comedy is just hitting its stride thanks to her back-to-back scene-stealing roles in “Shiva Baby,” “Bodies, Bodies, Bodies,” “Bottoms,” and now, “I Used to Be Funny.” Sennott stars as Sam, a part-time stand-up comic and full-time au pair who suffers from PTSD. When a teen she used to babysit goes missing, Sam debates joining the search party for her. Writer-director Ally Pankiw’s feature debut comes on the heels of her penning 13 episodes of Emmy-winning comedy “Schitt’s Creek” and directing episodes of “The Great” and “Shrill.” Pankiw is currently in pre-production on star-studded comedy series “Standing By,” directing David Tennant, Dan Levy, Samira Wiley, and Glenn Close in the slated satire on Heaven. —SB
“If You Were the Last”
Think dating on Earth is hard? Try it in outer space. Two astronauts, played by Zoe Chao and Anthony Mackie, wonder if they should spend their final days consummating their friendship after their space craft is set adrift. A flirty debate turns into an existential questioning as the duo face their impending demise. Kristian Mercado helms the film, marking his feature debut following a slew of comedy specials with stand-ups ranging from Ilana Glazer to Michael Che and Taylor Tomlinson. “If You Were the Last” is written by Angela Bourassa (“Turn Me On”) and also stars Natalie Morales and Geoff Stutts. —SB
After writing for a variety of series, from “One Tree Hill” to “Private Practice,” screenwriter Adele Lim was called in to put her unique stamp on what would become the massive smash hit “Crazy Rich Asians.” Three years later, she was co-writing the lush Disney hit “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Now, she’s leveled up again: directing and producing her first feature, “Joy Ride.”
Lim’s involvement – she’s dead funny and knows how to write about highly specific circumstances with wide appeal – is thrilling enough, but just look at the cast she’s assembled for the road trip comedy. Stephanie Hsu. Sherry Cola. Ashley Park. Sabrina Wu. Not too shabby. The film follows the mismatched foursome as they embark on a wild international trip that doesn’t just pack the laughs (it was, after all, produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg), but plenty of insights into what it means to be yourself. Sounds like the perfect crowdpleaser for the always-game-for-a-laugh SXSW crowd. –KE
Is monotony the worst thing that can happen to a person? “Lucky Hank” argues yes, in this adaptation of Richard Russo’s “Straight Man” starring Bob Odenkirk. Odenkirk plays Hank Devereaux, driven to the edge by the perceived mediocrity of his life and career running a college English department, alienating everyone around him in a misguided attempt to stay afloat. The series’ dark comedy tone comes directly from show runners Aaron Zelman (“Law & Order,” “Damages”) and Paul Lieberstein (“The Office,” , who will introduce the SXSW screening. Both creators come from a background of staunch drama or comedy but a filmography that toes the genre line more than most — a sensibility mirrored in the series. —PK
“Love & Death”
All is well and quiet in a small Texas town in the 1970s when a married man and woman start an affair just to feel something. Those familiar with the true story of Candy Montgomery (Elizabeth Olsen) know how this ends, but the series tracks events from the beginning; what happened to this seemingly content, all-American housewife whose thirst for excitement led her to the edge? The story is compelling on its own, but happens to be in the thrill-seeking hands of David E. Kelley (“Big Little Lies”) and directed by Lesli Linka Glatter (“Mad Men”) — both of whom will premiere the pilot at SXSW along with Olsen, Jesse Plemons, Lily Rabe, and Patrick Fugit. Krysten Ritter, Tom Pelphrey, Keir Gilchrist, and Elizabeth Marvel make up the rest of the cast, creating an intimate look at small town life and its demons. —PK
Typically, a religious devotee embarking on a crusade is cause for concern. Historically, the will of God has rarely been invoked without some level of bloodshed, and perhaps there will be in “Mrs. Davis” as well. But when the warring nun is played by Betty Gilpin and her primary opponent is a sentient artificial intelligence system threatening to take over the world, well, I feel pretty comfortable rooting for the habited zealot. Peacock’s mysterious original series comes from Tara Hernandez (“Young Sheldon”) and Damon Lindelof (“Crossing Jordan”), and its early screenings around Hollywood have sparked quite the buzz among industry-types. Its SXSW premiere, along with a featured conversation between the co-writers, will give our first impression of how general audiences react to the genre-bending creation. —BT
“The Luckiest Guy in the World”
“Hoop Dreams” director and two-time Academy Award nominee Steve James returns to ESPN Films for a docu-series on Bill Walton, the Hall of Fame basketball player and announcer. The four-part series will track the colorful character, on and off the court, from his start as a high school basketball phenom, into his glory days at UCLA, through a tumultuous NBA career and beyond. Walton, who still announces today, overcame a stuttering problem before embarking on his Emmy-winning career in broadcasting, and his wacky demeanor (paired with an oft-touted love of The Grateful Dead) only endears and alienates him further. But really, all you need to know is Steve James is making another basketball-adjacent documentary. Find a way to watch. —BT
This observational documentary follows a Russian performance artist named Gena, a 21-year-old from a small gulag village who stages radical drag performances on the streets of Moscow that challenge passersby, provoking questions about gender, queerness, and the state of LGBTQ rights in Russia. Using found materials to create inventive handmade looks, her dark and ethereal performances dig deep into her inner world and psyche, often taking an emotional toll. Filmmaker Agniia Galdanova captures a rare look at a radical queer activist poking the bear of Russian conservatism, guided by fearless producer Igor Myakotin, a BAFTA winner and Emmy nominee for his work on David France’s impressive 2021 film “Welcome to Chechnya.” With “Queendom,” Myakotin helps shed light on another vital queer story that pierces through the bleak reality of LGBTQ+ life in Russia. —JD
Irreverent and singularly outré queer comedian Julio Torres makes his feature directing debut with “Problemista,” in which he also plays a character modeled partly on himself. Alejandro is Salvadoran, like Torres, and a toy designer running out of time on his work visa in New York City while hustling as the righthand man to an eccentric art-world outcast, played by Tilda Swinton. And who else but to play such a role than the Oscar-winning actress who got her start working with the likes of art-world outcasts like Derek Jarman and Cindy Sherman?
Torres has elsewhere rounded up a uniformly impressive cast for the comedy, including RZA, Isabella Rossellini, and the great Greta Lee, who’s about to break big this year with the A24 release of “Past Lives.” A24 also distributes “Problemista” from the “Los Espookys” and “My Favorite Shapes” comedian who has, since leaving “SNL” as a writer during a four-time Emmy-nominated run, carved a uniquely weird voice unlike anybody else’s. —RL
Creators John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (“I Love You Phillip Morris”) are the ones responsible for reviving Kiefer Sutherland in an action thriller — this time as John Weir, a spy framed for murder. Naturally, that doesn’t sit well with John, and he moves to identify and hunt down the mysterious, powerful people behind his current predicament. Rob Yang, Charles Dance, Meta Golding, and Enid Graham costar. Requa and Ficarra will introduce the two-episode SXSW premiere. —PK
Screenwriter and lead actress Leah McKendrick makes her feature directorial debut with millennial coming-of-age dark comedy “Scrambled” about a woman who is confronted with her uncertain future after a doctor warns her fertility may be in jeopardy. McKendrick plays Nellie, who confronts all her regrets from exes to failed careers while going through the physically enduring and pricey process of freezing her eggs. While “Scrambled” marks McKendrick’s return to SXSW following her 2017 MeToo horror film “MFA,” it’s far from McKendrick’s only upcoming project. The multi-hyphenate talent is penning “Grease” prequel “Summer Lovin’” for Paramount and is writing the upcoming “I Know What You Did Last Summer” franchise installment, to be helmed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (“Do Revenge”). In another effort of nostalgia, ‘80s reboot “Troop Beverly Hills” is also on McKendrick’s horizon. —SB
Sundance Directors Lab alumnus Aristotle Torres’ “Story Ave” is one of the buzziest entries in this year’s SXSW narrative competition and for good reason: It promises a gritty New York coming-of-age drama basked in the authenticity of personal experience. The movie adapts the filmmaker’s 2019 autobiographical short film set in his native stomping grounds of the Bronx. Asante Blackk (“When They See Us”) stars as a teenage graffiti artist who attempts to mug an MTA worker (the ever-reliable Luis Guzmán), only to find himself engaged in conversation with the man and pushed to reconsider his life choices. As Hollywood struggles to represent Latino stories on a broader scale, this poignant drama aims to provide a necessary corrective. Co-produced by Jamie Foxx’s Foxxhole Productions, “Story Ave” is poised to launch the WME-repped Torres as a major director to watch, and an essential new storyteller. —EK
Directed and executive produced by Donald Glover, with fellow “Atlanta” veteran Janine Nabers serving as writer and showrunner, “Swarm” promises to fulfill SXSW’s mandate to “keep Austin weird.” Dominique Fishback (“The Deuce”) plays Dre, a mega-fan of the world’s most popular R&B singer who will stop at nothing to defend her honor and see her perform live. The eerie trailer foreshadows just how dangerous Dre’s obsession can get — mopping up blood, hiding bodies, you know, the usual stan behavior — and its late-night premiere at the Paramount Theater should tell us just how scared the rest of us should be when “Swarm” hits Prime Video the following Friday. —BT
Kit Zauhar’s 2021 debut “Actual People” announced the arrival of a perceptive young filmmaker capable of telling a subtle and immersive story with minimal resources. She continues to grow that talent with “This Closeness,” another microbudget drama that wields its lo-fi constraints with tremendous sophistication and insight. The entire story takes place within the constraints of a Philadelphia apartment, booked by a young couple (Zauhar and Zane Pais) for a high school reunion weekend; once there, they find themselves dealing with the awkward loner (Ian Edlund) who lives there. As tensions mount, the movie dances an elegant line between cringe-comedy and erotic thriller, with Zauhar’s character, an ASMR YouTuber, developing an enigmatic bond with their temporary roommate while her own relationship with her boyfriend hits an unseemly snag. SXSW is the ideal launchpad for this kind of no-frills narrative experience, the sort of movie that gets under your skin through the sheer intelligence of its filmmaking prowess. —EK
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