It’s a cliché that truth is stranger than fiction. It’s also a sign of our creative bankruptcy that we’re opening up this paragraph with such a hoary old fossil. Surveying the field in SXSW’s nonfiction film competition, however, is to look upon a group that’s bursting with eccentric characters—the guru of Ecstasy, anyone?—and hot button issues. This year, the jury can expect to be taken from Beijing to Afghanistan to Sierra Leone to a world in one man’s backyard. Time to switch the brain into its “on” position. Click on the titles to watch trailers.
Read our SXSW Headliners Preview.
Read the first part of our SXSW Spotlight Premieres preview.
Read the second part of our SXSW Spotlight Premieres preview.
Read our SXSW Narrative Features Competition preview.
In the Chinese capital of Beijing, the taxi-drivers are notoriously garrulous, willing to discuss anything from politics to what’s for dinner with their passengers. Filmmaker Miao Wang uses these characters as the lens through which to view a changing nation opening its doors for the 2008 Olympics. The trauma of accelerated redevelopment is seen through their windshields. Don’t forget to tip.
Camp Victory, Afghanistan
Our exit strategy in Afghanistan involves educating the country’s nascent army in how to keep their lawless country under the boot-heel. That task is down to the U.S. National Guard, who Carol Dysinger followed as they trained a green battalion in the ways of martial law. She captures inexperienced military men facing fresh challenges, as well as the unlikely friendships forming between teachers and students. Heartwarming.
The Canal Street Madam
It’s hard out there for a pimp. It isn’t easy for madams, either. Following in the footsteps of Heidi Fleiss is Jeanette Maier, whose promising career as a New Orleans whoring institution was marred by an FBI raid in 2002. Cameron Yates’s documentary looks at what the 40-something Maier did next, while no doubt asking very probing questions about the exploitation of women at the same time.
Ever popped a pill in a nightclub and decided you love the world while Oceanic’s “Insanity” rattles the bass bins? Then you have Dr. Alexander Shulgin to thank. The chemist was responsible for popularizing use of MDMA which, believe it or not, has been around since 1912! Étienne Sauret’s portrait uses Shulgin as a gateway into the world of scientists messing with the mind to find out how it works. E’s are good!
The latest entry into the “outsiders singing” documentary subgenre, Jim Bingham and Mark Moormann take as their subjects the can’t-miss notion of a band made up of people with mental and physical disabilities. Dreams can come true, adversity can be overcome, stereotypes can be overturned, hearts can be warmed, all we need is a chance and there shouldn’t be a dry eye in the house.
Like a living version of Tristram Shandy’s Uncle Toby, Mark Hogancamp sought to recuperate from a brutal beating by building an entire miniature town in his backyard. His story would be intriguing enough without the ensuing twist. An art gallery discovered his project and invited him to exhibit. Jeff Malmberg’s documentary sits on Hogancamp’s shoulder at the moment when he must decide to embrace the real world.
Listen up, Yanks. No matter how hard we’d like to pretend it doesn’t exist, soccer remains one of the world’s most popular sports, second only to pro wrestling. A team of filmmakers divines its ongoing appeal by traveling to Bolivia, Kenya, China and beyond. Talking to enthusiasts young and old, male and female, they demonstrate how a sport has become an integral part of Third World life while racking up air miles.
One of the great things about Africa is the clear sense of right and wrong. We all know whose side we fell on during the Sierra Leone civil war, right? Of course not. Credit attorney Rebecca Richman Cohen, then, for diving straight into the morass with her doc. The complexities of the country’s brutal past are explored through the trial of Issa Sesay, rebel hero to some, war criminal to many more. Get ready to be gripped.
Tags: Alexander Shulgin, Étienne Sauret, Beijing Taxi, Cameron Yates, Camp Victory Afghanistan, Carol Dysinger, Dirty Pictures, For Once in My Life, Issa Sesay, Jeanette Maier, Jeff Malmberg, Jim Bingham, Mark Hogancamp, Mark Moormann, Marwencol, Miao Wang, Pelada, Rebecca Richman Cohen, SXSW Film Festival, The Canal Street Madam, War Don Don