Bird Watching – So You’re Not at SXSW

It’s that time, when a major film festival is going on and those of who aren’t there have to bear the burden of sifting through all the tweets from those who are. Never fear! You can have your very own film festival from your couch, featuring films from women who are showing new work at this year’s SXSW. I’m here to help.

If you’re in the mood for comedy:

Start out with two delightful short films, both available for free using the magic of Vimeo. Celia Rowlson-Hall’s The Audition is actually playing the fest this year, so you’ve basically attended just by spending three and a half minutes watching it. And if you’re not very, very impressed with her when it’s over, I shake my head at you.

Follow that with Jessie McCormack’s The Antagonist. Her feature writing/directing debut, Gus, stars Michelle Monaghan as a woman who finds herself pregnant after a one-night stand, and Radha Mitchell as the married friend who can’t conceive and wants to adopt the baby. This short film should be enough to convince you that the lady can handle some comedy.

The Antagonist 1

For your feature presentation, Netflix Instant has been kind enough to provide both 2 Days in Paris and 2 Days in New York, written and directed by Julie Delpy. Ease your pain that other people are getting to see Before Midnight by spending some time with Delpy’s other work.

If you want some more serious fare:

Sometimes only a challenging foreign film will do. Lola Bessis is the co-writer and co-director on Swim Little Fish Swim, competing in SXSW’s Narrative Feature Competition. Before that, she and her collaborator Ruben Amar made the short film Checkpoint, featuring a great kid performance from Abdallah El Akal as a Palestinian boy living in the Gaze strip and contemplating how to help his father rebuild a life lost.

The Checkpoint 1

From there, move on to Khadak, an otherwordly drama set on the Mongolian steppes. Co-writers/directors Jessica Woodworth and Peter Brosens are showing their film The Fifth Season in the SXGlobal part of the fest. Khadak is beautiful and at times inscrutable, marked by an unpredictable narrative and stellar performances. (If I was an actress, I would have raging jealousy over what Tsetsegee Byamba does with her face in the opening shot of the film.)

To get your documentary on:

Netflix is good to us when it comes to accessing documentaries from our couches. Though I haven’t seen any of them, I’m eager to catch up with the films of Lucy Walker, whose The Crash Reel was received well at Sundance and is now playing SXSW. Take your pick:

*In 2006’s Blindsight, six blind Tibetan teenagers attempt to climb a 23,000 foot mountain. What have you done today?

*In 2009’s Countdown to Zero, Walker takes a look at the still-very-present dangers of our nuclear history.

Countdown to Zero 1

*And in 2010’s Waste Land, Walker follows the artist Vik Muniz as he finds creative inspiration in the Brazilian garbage pickers who work Rio de Janeiro’s Jardim Gramacho landfill.

Hopefully that’s enough to keep you busy for an evening or two while all the cool kids are eating barbeque in Austin.


Brandi is one of those people who worries about kids these days not appreciating black and white films. She also admires great moments of subtlety, since she has no idea how to be subtle herself.

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