With our coverage of the virtual edition of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival we decided to break it up into three parts capsule style of all the films that we saw throughout the past few days. We saw a wide range of films from emerging filmmakers with varying visions that made us feel like we were back in Austin again, just this time in the comfort of our own homes.
This is the first of the three recaps from our SXSW Film Festival coverage, find all of our reviews posted below.
Our Father (directed by Bradley Grant Smith)
The first film we took in from SXSW is Our Father, the directorial debut of Bradley Grant Smith. It’s a small personal affair, that sees two estranged sisters, Beta (Baize Buzan) and Zelda (Allison Torem). Their father just committed suicide, leaving their already troubled lives into even more dire straits. Beta is living out of her car after a rocky breakup and is heading to grad school, which she’s kept a secret from her family. Meanwhile, Zelda seems to be living as chaotic of a lifestyle as ever, with both of them realizing that neither of them have their life together.
They’re forced to reconnect with the family that they would never reach out to otherwise to try and sort out their affairs. During this they learn that their dad has a brother that they never heard of, leaving them on a journey of curiosity that is the beating heart of Smith’s debut.
While not breaking the mold of the intimate low-budget festival film, Smith’s filmmaking comes from a place that feels raw and pure, the story of flawed and real people that you feel that you could meet in real life. There is no big showy scenes that are overly dramatic or heightened, just real people going through real shit. While the pacing may falter here and there and be too sluggish for some, it’s a promising effort that features good performances from both Buzan and Torem, as well as a quick but effective showing from Austin Pendleton during a crucial scene towards Our Father’s satisfying conclusion.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion (directed by Jacob Gentry)
In Broadcast Signal Intrusion, video archivist James (Harry Shum Jr.) is working late nights logging the tapes from decades-old TV broadcasts when he stumbles on a disturbing clip that he thinks came from a mysterious broadcast signal hacking. He is urged by those who know better to leave well enough alone but of course, he can’t help himself and becomes self-obsessed and goes digging deep down this rabbit hole.
Director Jacob Gentry takes the vibe of 90s thriller ala anything David Fincher and finds a way to make these old broadcast hackings feel genuinely sinister during an age where we are all completely desensitized to pretty much everything thanks to the internet. The fact that these cases are linked to missing women certainly help the goosebump factor.
As does the performance by the more than capable Harry Shum Jr. as James, as the man whose life pure goal becomes solving this strange puzzle box. His performance is the glue that keeps this together, despite a less than satisfying conclusion, the ride was made worth it to see his character become self-obsessed to crippling effect. There is some good mood and style from Gentry, even if it doesn’t feel like it offers enough new genre-wise to stand out in a bigger way.
The End Of Us (Steven Kanter + Henry Loevner)
Breaking up is never easy. Imagine breaking up during a global pandemic? This is the basis of The End Of Us, one of the many pandemic-themed films coming out of not just SXSW but surely over the next coming months. Written and directed by the duo of Steven Kanter and Henry Loevner, The End Of Us sees the rough break-up that goes down between Nick (Ben Coleman) and Leah (Ali Vingiano) just as the lockdown begins and California issues its stay-at-home order.
This forces the two now ex’s to be stuck in the same confined house and deal with an already impossibly tough scary unknown time with the one person that you do not want to see anymore. While the covid plotline isn’t one we clearly need, it was one that worked well enough thanks to the whacky energy on screen from Coleman and Vingiano in front of the screen, as well as Kanter and Loevner behind it.
It’s painfully on point in its depiction of the struggle that we all collectively endured early on and it offers a heartfelt take on this unique break-up that actually brings the two strangely closer in a way despite them being torn further apart. There is a charm to it all that may not work as well once this horrible virus is (hopefully) well in the rearview mirror, but looking at it from the lens of the present, this is a enjoyable light take on something that we need(ed) to laugh about.
Here Before (directed by Stacey Gregg)
In Stacey Gregg’s full-length directorial debut, Here Before, Laura (Andrea Riseborough) lives with her husband Brendan (Jonjo O’Neil) and son, Tadhg (Lewis McAskie). But the family isn’t whole, as they’re still struggling to move on with the loss of their daughter, Josie, who died in a tragic fashion.
So when a new family moves in next door in their quant countryside home in Ireland, it’s not a surprise that Laura finds a bond and kinship in their young daughter Megan (Niamh Dornan), much to the confusion and concern of her mother Marie (Eileen O’Higgins) and her partner Chris (Martin McCann).
Not so much drama as a patient and slow-burner psychological thriller, that takes its sweet time getting to the thrills. The patient approach suites the underrated and always reliable Riseborough who can do as much with a simple look or glance as most actors’ best Oscar reels. Her performance carries the picture as far as it can but despite a wild left turn in the final moments, it wasn’t enough to pick up the pieces which felt uneven and not totally well earned – or as surprising as it expects you to feel. But the filmmaking craft is felt in the atmosphere and in Riseborough’s assured performance which sells it all well enough.
Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free (directed by Mary Wharton)
Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free feels like the kind-hearted ode to Tom Petty that we could use during such a strange time in all of our lives. The documentary led by diector Mary Wharton, based off of 16mm footage shot by Martyn Atkins that dates from 1993-95 that chronicles the recording of Petty’s beloved solo record Wildflowers.
The documentary is more of a free-flowing look back at the album as well as Petty at that point of his life and career, rather than an extensive deep dive. The 16mm is gorgeous and enlightening and thank god it was discovered during the early parts of 2020. The documentary looks at how Petty strived to make this album more of a true solo effort, rather than another album with his band, The Heartbreakers, with who he made music for nearly two decades straight. Despite the effort by him and the album’s producer, Rick Rubin, he ended up finding himself pulled back to his musical brothers.
Through these engaging and entertaining interviews with members of the band, Rubin, and his daughter Adria Petty (also a producer on the film), we learn valuable insight into the way Petty approached that session and how his real life would bleed into them, such as his divorce and his desire to explore new things both musically and with the music industry at large. While it may seem at times as just a surface level look at Petty as a person and musician, there is enough juice there to make this worth the squeeze.