SXSW Film Festival Reveals 2017 Lineup

Courtesy of Wilson Webb
Edgar Wright’s 'Baby Driver'

Opening with Terrence Malick's 'Song to Song,' the event will screen 125 features.

The South by Southwest Film Festival on Tuesday unveiled an eclectic lineup of 125 feature films that runs the gamut from Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, in which Ansel Elgort plays a young getaway driver; Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, an action comedy about arms dealers starring Brie Larson and Armie Hammer; and Michael Winterbottom's On the Road, which follows the British rock band Wolf Alice on a tour; to documentaries like Erin Lee Carr’s Mommy Dead and Dearest, an upcoming HBO true crime tale; and Frank Oz’s Muppet Guys Talking — Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, in which five of the original Muppet performers look back on their time working for the late Jim Henson.

The fest, which is set to run March 10-19 in Austin, Texas, will screen 125 features, including 51 films from first-time filmmakers and 85 world premieres.

As previously announced, the event will open with Terrence Malick’s Song to Song, a film about the Austin music scene starring Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbinder and Natalie Portman. And in its episodic sidebar, which includes serialized TV and webisodes, the fest will feature both American Gods, the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel set to premiere in April on Starz, and Dear White People, Justin Simien’s spinoff of his 2014 film of the same name, which is heading to Netflix.

While Malick has long been associated with Austin, Janet Pierson, director of film for SXSW, observes that “he’s still a private figure. You don’t see him out and about like Richard Linklater or Robert Rodriguez. But certainly you see that his creative team intersects with the rest of creative environment here. And what’s cool about this film is it has a crazy cast and it really uses Austin in a way that I’ve never seen before. It’s a fresh approach.”

Surveying the program, Pierson notes that while it wasn’t specifically designed to speak to the current politically charged climate, some of the films inevitably address issues that have gained currency over recent months. A couple of movies, for example, reflect the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement: Erik Ljung’s The Blood Is at the Doorstep, focuses on unarmed black man, diagnosed with schizophrenia, who was shot and killed by police in Milwaukee; and Jason Pollock’s Stranger Fruit looks at the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., through the eyes of Brown’s family.

Other films look at issues like homelessness and mental illness. Nanfu Wang's doc I Am Another You follows a young drifter living on the streets in China, while Jennifer Brea's Unrest recounts the filmmaker's own experience when doctors told her that a fever that left her bedridden was "all in her head." And Craig and Brent Renaud's Meth Storm: Arkansas USA examines both sides of the country's current war on drugs.

Atheists take center stage in Tommy O'Haver's The Most Hated Woman in America, in which Melissa Leo plays the controversial atheist Madeline Murray O'Hair, and John Carroll Lynch's Lucky, in which Harry Dean Stanton plays a 90-year-old atheist coming to terms with his own mortality.

Another thread that connects a number of films in the fest, said Pierson, is a focus on “creativity in all its different forms — not just the fine artist.” For example, in addition to Oz’s film about the Muppets, the Documentary Spotlight sidebar will include Annie Goldson’s Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web, which looks at copyright; Ovidie’s Pornocracy, which is concerned about changes in the production of porn; Jennifer M. Kroot’s The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, a portrait of the author behind Tales of the City; and Katherine Fairfax Wright’s Todrick Hall Documentary, which is about YouTube star and director Todrick Hall.

A further theme that's likely to emerge is how more and more filmmakers are playing with form, especially in the case of narrative-doc hybrids like Mark Webber's Flesh and Blood, in which the director casts members of his own family to explore their family dynamics.

The festival’s special events will include a screening of Ridley Scott’s Alien, with special guests who have yet to be announced, as well as a screening of Mamoru Oshii’s original Ghost in the Shell (1995), which will receive an outdoor public screening.

The fest's 24 Beats Per Second sidebar includes such titles as Ronnie Garza and Charlie Vela's As I Walk Through the Valley, which zeroes in on the underground music scene along the Texas/Mexico border; Brett Whitcomb's A Life in Waves, a portrait of electronic music composer Suzanne Ciani; and Karam Gill's G-Funk.

A number of films that first surfaced at Sundance will also make the trek to Austin: among them, Geremy Jasper's Patti Cake$, Michael Showalter's The Big Sick and Jeff Orlowski's documentary Chasing Coral.

At the moment, SXSW organizers report, none of the filmmakers who have been invited to attend the event will be affected by the government's new travel ban. But on Sunday, the fest did issue a statement saying, "SXSW is alarmed by the Trump administration’s decision to ban citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. We stand against discriminatory laws and unequivocally support civil rights for all persons everywhere. Participation by speakers, artists, and filmmakers from around the world is crucial to the creative mix of ideas that makes our event meaningful."

For those attending the festival, there is one logistical change this year. "We've expanded the badge access across the board," says Pierson. Attendees at the festival as well as the SXSW music and interactive conferences will have primary and secondary access to all events. For example, film attendees will have primary access for film and secondary access to the other two events, and while film badge holders will have first dibs on seats at screenings, space permitting, music and interactive badge holders will also be allowed into screenings.

The full lineup can be found here.