SXSW 2019: Stars & Politics
The 2019 edition of SXSW left no doubt in anyone’s mind that it has a rightful place among the major festivals. It has become a leader in combining film, music, art, keynote speakers, discussions and forums in one nice ten-day package.
The film section, in particular, created as a launching pad for critically acclaimed studio fare as well as independent films, has evolved into an important showcase. Festival director Janet Pierson said numerous times that the films were so strong that they had a hard time finding spots for all of them. And Hollywood came out strong this year with filmmakers and casts supporting their movies in person. Here are some that deserve a mention:
Seth Rogen is probably the most loyal SXSW fan from the very start of his career. One critic jokingly called him “the Meryl Streep of the Austin festival”. His first time at the festival was with his breakout film Knocked Up, and in the years following he brought Sausage Party and The Disaster Artist to Texas.
This year he doubled down with Good Boys, a rather raunchy coming-of-age comedy starring Jacob Trembley (now in his puberty), and Long Shot, another comedy that gives Charlize Theron the chance to show off her chops as a rom-com lead. She plays a presidential candidate who lusts after her speechwriter (played by Rogen). It is nice to watch Theron doing something light and playful and watching her dance onstage at the premiere to Boyz II Men, who also appear in the film, was delightful. Rogen produced both films.
matt winkelmeyer/vivien killilea/getty images
Not to be outdone by features, there were two documentaries that got applause from the audience: Running with Beto chronicles Beto O’Rourke’s campaign that almost led to Texas Senator Ted Cruz’ loss in the midterm elections. Political docs seem to be the new norm at festivals, a trend that started strong at Sundance with Knock Down the House, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ story. Ocasio Cortez was also the politician that drew the biggest crowd when she gave a keynote address. But she wasn’t the only one: Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar also held events, as if it had not been abundantly clear that we are already in the midst of the 2020 presidential campaign.
Not completely at the other end of the documentary spectrum is Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story, in which the protagonist who also self-financed the film, proves once and for all that politicians better not mess with standup-comics: the doc is Griffin’s revenge for the hell she was put through by the Trump administration after her admittedly bad joke when she posed with a bloody mask of the Donald. Griffin was subsequently not only ejected from Hollywood but also put on the No Fly-list and through two FBI investigations.
Back on the Hollywood front, oldies but goodies: Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson showed up to promote the biggest film of the festival so far that was shot in Austin, The Highwaymen. The leads play the two Texas Rangers who chased and killed Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrows. Turning Arthur Penn’s classic on its head, this film looks at the story through the eyes of law enforcement.