This year’s SXSW lineup features some excellent films by female filmmakers. Kristen Cochrane rounds up five you shouldn’t miss if you’re a person who likes nice things.
From a story about journalism student who becomes a sugar baby to Daryl Hannah’s “dystopian Western”, there is a lot to check out at this year’s South by Southwest in one of the most culturally vibrant American cities. Austin is the world capital of live music (not only for the musical contingent of SXSW, but for its acclaimed annual festival Austin City Limits), the birthplace of Whole Foods (lol), and for the sake of reference, could be compared to Portland.
Inspired by the name of Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest, SXSW (just call it “South by” if you want to blend in with insiders), was launched in 1987, and it competes with its counterpart up north at the Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan. That means you won’t really see anything at Tribeca that has screened at SXSW.
But what does some of its women-led programming look like this year, in an industry that has been desperately seeking more diversity? Here’s a shortlist list of five women-directed films to look out for.
1. First Match (Directed by Olivia Newman)
Before First Match became a Netflix-produced feature, it was Olivia Newman’s thesis film as a short when she was pursuing her MFA at Columbia. The short premiered at the 2011 New York Film Festival, and it received awards for Best Student Short at the Aspen Shortfest, Best Short Film at the New Jersey International Film Festival, and the lead, Nyasa Bakker, earned the award for Best Performance by a Female Lead at the Philadelphia FirstGlance Film Festival. Newman was then selected, in 2015, by the Sundance Institute’s Directors and Screenwriters Lab to work on the feature version of First Match, which follows Monique, a high school student from Brownsville, Brooklyn, who decides to join the boys wrestling team. After years in onerous foster care, Monique believes that pursuing the sport can earn the respect of her father. For First Match, you don’t need to wait for it to be sold to a distributor—it will be on Netflix on March 30.
2. The New Romantic (Directed by Carly Stone)
As our society finally starts to figure out that a significant part of the economy is driven by Sugar Babies, a new film has been directed and written on the topic by Canadian Carly Stone in her feature debut. In The New Romantic, college senior Blake Conway (Jessica Barden, The End of the F**cking World) wants to be a journalist, and writes a column for the school’s newspaper. With some encouragement from her editor, she reluctantly becomes a sugar baby for a story in the hopes that she will win a coveted student journalism award with an attached cash prize. It will be interesting to see how the film treats the controversial subject of the sugar baby industry, which, despite its ubiquity among Millennials and Generation Z, still receives significant judgment and misunderstanding.
3. Team Hurricane (Directed by Annika Berg)
In Danish filmmaker Annika Berg’s first feature, Team Hurricane, Berg said she wanted to address the oscillations between awkwardness and aggression that many of us experience as we understand how to be, well, human in the world. “Looking at myself [as a teenager] was really unpleasant,” Berg told the Danish Film Institute. “I thought I was extremely annoying and loud. But then, suddenly, I could see the beauty in the energy and riotousness I saw, and I came to love it. I think you should choose your own expression and cultivate it.” Berg describes Team Hurricane as a “punk chick flick,” and the film features characters who are more focused on understanding themselves than understanding someone else under the guise of modern romance. Aesthetically, the film also takes a less conventional approach; it combines more traditional montage with video diaries, fast editing, and vivid colours.
4. Shotgun (Directed by Hannah Marks and Joey Power)
Making the move from acting to directing is known to be a harrowing process, but actor Hannah Marks (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) is taking the challenge with her first feature length film Shotgun. With co-director and co-writer Joey Power, Shotgun stars Maika Monroe (It Follows) and Jeremy Allen White (Shameless) as Mia and Elliot, whose romantic relationship takes a turn when a life-altering illness is diagnosed. Deadline described the film as a “romantic drama/offbeat comedy,” and the film also stars my lifelong crushes Gina Gershon and Marisa Tomei, as well as the astounding newcomer Sasha Lane (American Honey, The Miseducation of Cameron Post).
5. PARADOX (Directed by Daryl Hannah)
There is always something interesting about lovers who work together. How do they not kill each other? Does their love (or lust) for one another inform the creation? Daryl Hannah is perhaps most famously known for her roles as Elle Driver in both volumes of Kill Bill and as Pris Stratton in Blade Runner, but this year, her work behind the lens will be premiering in Austin. That work is PARADOX, a musical starring her partner Neil Young and one of his most famous contemporaries, Willie Nelson. Details on any kind of coherent plot are murky, but Spin magazine interpreted SXSW’s description as “an apparent dystopian Western,” which is exactly the kind of film I would want (and expect) Daryl Hannah to make.
SXSW runs from March 9-13 in Austin, Texas
Kristen Cochrane is a writer and graduate researcher at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Her current research is located in queer cinema, particularly in Latin America, but she also writes on topics related to culture, film, media and their intersections with gender and sexuality. Her work has appeared in Amuse/i-D, AnOther, Teen Vogue, Somesuch, and VICE.