Documentaries about Demi Lovato, Tom Petty, Selma Blair and Charli XCX are among the films set to premiere at next month’s South by Southwest Film Festival. Organizers on Wednesday announced the lineup for the 28th edition, which will be virtual.
The festival will kick off on March 16 with “Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil,” which will explore Lovato’s 2018 near fatal overdose and the aftermath. The Tom Petty documentary, “Somewhere You Feel Free” will be a centerpiece film, featuring newly discovered 16mm film of the late rocker at work on his 1994 album “Wildflowers.”
It closes with “Alone Together,” about pop star Charli XCX making an album in 40 days in quarantine.
It’s not the only film that deals with the pandemic in some way, there is also the documentary “The Last Cruise,” about the first major outbreak outside of China, “Twyla Moves,” about Twyla Tharp, “The End of Us,” about exes who must stay together after the stay at home order and “Recovery,” about sisters who go on a cross country road trip to get their grandmother out of a COVID 19-besieged nursing home, among others.
“We ended up with a three-week submission period that was much shorter than usual. But we were really delighted with the quality of the work,” said Janet Pierson, the festival’s director of film. “And we had even harder decisions than usual because we pared down the program considerably.”
Instead of the normal 135 premieres, the 2021 festival has 75 features debuts. There won’t be individual tickets for films, like at Sundance. At SXSW they will all be available for passholders. Some will have capacity limits but many do not.
“I think about the opening night and the closing night films and there’s a real intimate vulnerability on display in a very, very powerful way and people dropping pretense and talking to people and looking for connection in a way that makes perfect sense this year,” Pierson said.
“Introducing, Selma Blair,” is expected to be similarly powerful in its portrait of the actor living with multiple sclerosis.
Pierson recommended that audiences approach the films with a sense of openness, even if they don’t have flashy celebrity names attached. The films have been “pre-curated” by the programmers and, she says, are “satisfying for different reasons.”
Some films that audiences might take a chance on include “Lily Topples The World” about an acclaimed 20-year-old domino toppler that touches on themes of artistic obsession, or “United States vs Reality Winner” a timely look at the Air Force Veteran whistleblower. “Mau” follows designer Bruce Mau and “Delia Derbyshire – the Myths and the Legendary Tapes” is a hybrid narrative/doc about the electronic sound pioneer who came up with the “Doctor Who” theme. Cinephiles also might enjoy the 5K Les Blank restoration “I Went To The Dance.”
Last year, the Austin, Texas, festival was abruptly canceled about a week out from its mid-March dates in the early days of the COVID-19 shutdowns. They held a makeshift virtual festival later that spring in collaboration with Amazon Prime Video, although some opted out.
“I still mourn all those films that we were so excited to premiere and we thought were so great,” Pierson said.
Programmers decided this year to also spotlight nine of the films that were supposed to premiere in 2020, including Justine Bateman’s “Violet,” with Olivia Munn, “Clerk,” a documentary about filmmaker Kevin Smith and Nasim Pedrad’s “Chad,” about a Persian-American boy navigating his first year of high school.
In the past year, many film festivals have had to embrace virtual events, which has resulted for some unprecedented audiences. The Sundance Film Festival on Monday said that its virtual festival reached an audience about 2.7 times larger than its typical in-person gathering.
SXSW Online 2021 will take place from March 16 through March 20. Passes are currently available to purchase online.