New films debut at SXSW
by Molly Templeton
|Girl Walks Into a Bar|
|Attack the Block|
The longest line I stood in at last month's South By Southwest Film Festival was for a film that was opening across the country just days later. You can probably draw a few conclusions about the mainstreaming of nerd culture from this, but I keep coming back to one thing: firsties. Geeks are geeks (and I'm a geek) and the promise of seeing Simon Pegg and Nick Frost at the screening of their new movie — Paul, a slight but funny film about two sci-fi nerds getting more of an alien encounter than they bargained for —is geek catnip, sure. But why wait in a line that wraps around a city block to see a movie you could waltz right into five days later?
To be first. To have something the rest of the internet, and the rest of the geeks, are yet to have. In that case, the truly lucky are those night owls who saw Attack the Block, which picked up the festival's Midnight Feature Audience Award. Paul is sweet and safe, and makes geek culture easily palatable for those who don't speak Klingon. Attack the Block, the first film from British writer-director Joe Cornish, is a smart, spry, effective monster movie inspired by gang movies and creature flicks. Terse and taut and full of beautiful night shots, Attack the Block follows a gaggle of kids from a South London high-rise as they try to fend off an alien invasion — an invasion that begins as they're mugging a young woman. The mugging and the alien threat converge, in Cornish's carefully built script, as the film plays with and reverses our expectations about its characters. The future of the world (or at least London) in the hands of a posse of freaked-out, tight-knit, smart-arse would-be thugs: So much could go wrong with this premise, but it never does. Attack the Block is out in the U.K. next month; it's got American distribution, but no release date has been set.
I didn't just see geek-bait in Austin; among the other highlights were Sebastian Gutierrez (Elektra Luxx)'s episodic, charming Girl Walks Into a Bar, which you can watch in its entirety on YouTube, and the deeply affecting How to Die in Oregon, a documentary about the decisions made by those who take advantage of Oregon's Death With Dignity Act. Director Peter D. Richardson's film, which won the Grand Jury Prize in the documentary competition at Sundance but left SXSW empty handed, is a personal, intimate, sometimes harrowing take on what it actually means to decide to end your own life. Richardson is concerned not with whether or not the act is ethical, or why people are opposed to or in favor of it, but with the nuts and bolts of what it means — of what kind of illness leads a person to consider ending his or her life, how that decision affects family members, and how a doctor makes the decision to provide the fatal prescription. Though it's clearly in favor of people having the right to choose to end their lives, How to Die in Oregon, which airs on HBO later this year, doesn't so much make a case for Death With Dignity so much as it provides a window into a terrible process.
It made sense, since I was at SXSW for the music, film and interactive parts of the festival, to cross wires a little and catch a few music-related films. Though The Other F Word, a problematic but sweet documentary about punk rock dads, and Upside Down: The Creation Records Story were both worth checking out, the standout, to my cheery surprise, was the Foo Fighters documentary Back and Forth. I'd somehow managed to miss the moment when the Foos became enormous, selling out the 85,000-seat Wembley Stadium, so Back and Forth was moderately educational as well as being a fairly candid look at the band's history. Drummer Taylor Hawkins is reportedly unhappy about just how candid the film is, but what he's unhappy with is just what makes Back and Forth compelling: the sense that these dudes are just dudes — flawed, talented, down-to-earth, not quite as prone to screwing up as they are to writing intensely catchy choruses. They're the kind of guys who still want to record in the garage, even if said garage is pretty goddamn gussied up. Funny, warm and fairly effective at keeping things in perspective, the documentary doesn't break any new ground, but it's definitely enough to make me want to break out the Foo Fighters records of years past. Conveniently, of course, their new album just came out. Go forth and purchase, rock fans.