SXSW: 5 Documentaries to Watch For

William and the Windmill - H 2013
William and the Windmill

Biographies of Divine and Stephen Hawking are among the hotly anticipated nonfiction films debuting in Austin.

From 2002's Spellbound to 2011's Undefeated, South by Southwest Film Festival has a proven track record when it comes to discovering documentary gems. This year's lineup is no exception, highlighting an eclectic slate of strange, compelling and important nonfiction stories from around the world. Here are five that festivalgoers are talking about:

William and the Windmill

From director Ben Nabors, who helmed a feature documentary on the disastrous path to mounting Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway, comes the story of a young man from Malawi who builds a power-generating windmill out of junk parts. That one act makes him the symbol of ingenuity for the developing world -- and the success that follows challenges him in ways that he never imagined. The film is one of eight vying for the jury prize in the documentary feature competition.

I Am Divine

The passion of Divine -- John Waters' drag muse -- is on full display in a new film from Jeffrey Schwarz. The film is billed as the "definitive biographical portrait" of the man born Harris Glenn Milstead, and, having earned the stamp of approval from Waters, it's sure to be a rollicking walk down bad-taste lane.


The fall of the recording industry model as we know it is explored in Downloaded, a film by Alex Winter (you know him as Bill from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) about the two young men -- Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker -- who started Napster and all that it hath wrought. Fanning and Parker -- who famously was depicted as a hard-partying Silicon Alley bad boy by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network -- both will be at SXSW in support of the film. Read more about Downloaded in this feature on the film from The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The Act of Killing

After he first saw Austin native Joshua Oppenheimer's film about former Indonesian death squad leaders, Werner Herzog said, "I have not come across a documentary as powerful, surreal and frightening in a decade." The Act of Killing is a horrific, surreal experiment that explores the now red-hot topic of film violence vs. real violence. A forgotten chapter of human infamy is revisited when a group of former killers is enlisted to re-enact their lives -- and horrific crimes -- in the style of noirs, musicals and Westerns that they love. The result is unforgettable, provoking audiences in ways they never imagined.


The world premiere of Hawking, which tracks the life of renowned physicist, cosmologist and pop culture figure Stephen Hawking, is certainly among the documentaries set to get SXSW visitors thinking and talking this year. The famed scientist gave director Stephen Finnigan unprecedented access to his world, offering the most intimate portrait yet of our era's Albert Einstein