Founded in 1987, Austin’s SXSW Film Festival has become a lucrative launchpad for new and emerging filmmakers, particularly those who have sought the independent path.
This year’s festival, which ran March 9-18, is of course part of the larger SXSW convention that sees both a music and technology portion in addition to film. Far from the industry spotlight of Los Angeles and New York, SXSW’s 9-day film program accentuates first-time film directors, with over 51 feature films coming from debut auteurs in 2017.
Both of the major Jury Awards went to first timers, Spanish filmmaker Ana Asensio for her narrative feature Most Beautiful Island and American Jairus McLeary, who co-directed the documentary feature The Work with Gethin Aldous. The main audience award for Best Narrative Feature went to Australian Jessica M. Thompson for The Light of the Moon, which tells the story about a women who was sexually assaulted and struggles to regain control in the days following the incident.
New Machine Magazine provides a tad more information on the new names to emerge as either jury or award winners from this year’s SXSW film competition.
Award: Grand Jury Winner
Director: Ana Asensio
Title: Most Beautiful Island/USA/2017/Drama, Thriller/1h 20min/
Synopsis: Most Beautiful Island is a chilling portrait of an undocumented young woman’s struggle for survival as she finds redemption from a tortured past in a dangerous game.
About the Director: Ana Asensio is a well-respected actress in her native Spain with numerous TV credits such as Planta and Nada Es Para Siempre. She began acting in children’s plays while studying at Complutense University in Madrid. Now based in New York City, Ana wrote her debut feature after experiencing life as an immigrant where she encountered harrowing experiences, including a period when she overstayed her visa and found herself taking degrading jobs for cash. Ana played the role of Luciana as well as directing the film. Most Beautiful Island was shot in Super 16 film to give it a grainy 1970s film look. She financed the film seeking out private investors and knocking on plenty of doors.
Documentary Feature Competition
Award: Grand Jury Winner
Director: Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous
Title: The Work/USA/2017/Documentary/1h 27min/
Synopsis: The Work follows three men from outside as they participate in a four-day group therapy retreat with level-four convicts. Over the four days, each man in the room takes his turn at delving deep into his past.
About the Director: Jairus McLeary is a court videographer and filmmaker. The Work is his first documentary and co-director Gethin Aldous’ second. In addition to his court work, Jarius has served in multiple roles behind the camera including production assistant, in the art department and as an assistant director. Both Jarius and Gethin had spent years researching the program where long term prisoners interact with the general public over a period of four-days, which serves as the framework for the story.
Follow Jairus on Twitter.
Award: Special Jury Recognition for Excellence in Documentary Storytelling
Director: Nanfu Wang
Title: I Am Another You/USA/2017/Documentary/1h 20min/
Synopsis: Through the eyes of a young drifter who rejects society’s rules and intentionally chooses to live on the streets, Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang explores the meaning of personal freedom and its limits.
About the Director: Chinese documentarian Nanfu Wang is a filmmaker based in New York City. Nanfu holds master’s degrees from New York University, Ohio University and Shanghai University. Her work often features the stories of marginalized or mistreated people.
Her first Documentary Hooligan Sparrow (2016) was a hit with festival juries and the audience alike. The documentary won major prizes at the Cleveland, Dallas, Jerusalem and Nashville film festivals in 2016. It also was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and won the important Truer Than Fiction Award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards in 2016.
Follow Nanfu on Twitter.
Award: Special Jury Recognition for Excellence In Observational Cinema
Director: Miao Wang
Title: Maineland/USA/2017/Documentary/1h 30min/
Synopsis: The documentary follows the two students from acceptance letter to graduation, exploring the oceanic rift of differences between two of the world’s superpowers. Turns out, being a teen in America is a little different from Stella’s pipe dreams of High School Musical.
About the Director: Miao Wang is a New York-based web designer and filmmaker who emigrated to the US from China in 1990. Her 2010 debut documentary Beijing Taxi, which also screened at SXSW, and now Maineland are the first and second in a trilogy that examines China’s rise. She earned an M.F.A. in design and film from the Parsons School of Design in 2005
Follow Miao on Twitter.
SXSW Short Film Jury Awards
Award: Jury Award Winner
Director: Kristian Håskjold
Title: Forever Now/Denmark/2016/ Biography/19min/
Synopsis: After several years together William and Cecilie break up. To treat the sorrow with love they decide to do the drug MDMA together. This results in an emotional rollercoaster ride for better or worse over a whole weekend, where they’re isolated together in their apartment.
About the Director: Danish filmmaker Kristian Håskjold has been making film since the age of 14. His 2013 short Reception earned two nominations at Aesthetica Short Film Festival in 2014. His previous short Velkommen til Paradis at Ekko Shortlist Awards earned two nominations in 2016.
Award: Special Jury Recognition
Director: Charlotte Wells
Synopsis: On a routine morning, a woman on a crowded New York City subway is sexually assaulted in plain sight.
About the Director: Charlotte Wells is a Scottish director and producer from Edinburgh, enrolled in the MFA program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and the MBA program at NYU’s Stern School of Business. She has produced a variety of projects including shorts, music videos, and a critically acclaimed web series F to 7th. Charlotte received a first-class honors degree from King’s College London and a master’s from University of Oxford. She is currently writing her first feature about a young father and his ten-year-old daughter on vacation on a half-built holiday resort in the Mediterranean.
At Sundance film festival 2017 Laps won a Short Film Special Jury Prize for Editing. Her previous short Tuesday (2015) was nominated for two BAFTA Scotland New Talent Awards – Best Writer and Best Design in 2016.
View Charlotte’s work on Vimeo.
Award: Jury Award Winner
Director: Wes Hurley, Nathan M.Miller
Title: Little Potato/USA/2017/Documentary/14min/
Synopsis: Wes Hurley’s autobiographical tale of growing up gay in Soviet Union Russia, only to escape with his mother, a mail order bride, to Seattle to face a whole new oppression in his new Christian fundamentalist American dad.
About the Director: Vasili Naumenko grew up in Vladivostok, Soviet Union. He legally changed his name to Wes Hurley (taking his partner’s last name). He graduated from University of Washington with double degrees in Art and Drama. In 2006 he founded I Ate My Eye Films, a film company devoted to the true art of guerrilla filmmaking. Nathan M. Miller is a cinematographer who splits his time between Seattle & Los Angeles, who has lensed narrative, documentary and commercial projects across the US and abroad.
Wes Hurley’s feature documentary Waxie Moon (2009) won at Mexico International Film Festival 2009 Golden Palm Award and the same year at Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival won Audience Award for Best Local Film. His 2015 feature comedy Waxie Moon in Fallen Jewel won Honorable Mention for Best Feature at the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival
Award: Jury Award Winner
Director: Nicolas Menard
Title: Wednesday With Goddard/Australia/2016/Animation/4min/
Synopsis: A personal quest for spiritual enlightenment leads to romance and despair.
About the Director: Canadian Nicolas Menard is a graphic artist and animation director based in London. He makes, amongst other things, short films, GIFs, drawings, prints, books and interactive art. He studied in Montreal and at the Royal College of Art, in London. Since graduating from the animation course in 2014, he works mainly as an animation director at Nexus, an agency. His narrative short films are often tinted with dark humor, contrasting with his vibrant visuals.
Wednesday With Goddard won Special Jury Award and Public Award at Les Sommets du Cinéma d’Animation, Montreal, Canada in 2016. His previous short Loop Ring Chop Drink (2014) earned one nomination at Angers European First Film Festival in 2015 for a European Student Film award and was nominated at Edinburgh International Film Festival for Best New British Animation.
Award: Special Jury Recognition
Director: Renata Gasiorowska
Synopsis: A young girl spends the evening alone at home. She decides to have some sweet solo pleasure session, but not everything goes according to plan.
About the Director: Renata is a first time filmmaker from Poland is influenced by her interest in cartoons and illustrations. Cipka was first released in Hungary and it went on to win the Grand Jury Animated Short prize at AFI Fest last year in Los Angeles.
The short screened in competition at Leeds, Lago and Seville film festivals.She considers herself an illustrator, cartoonist and uses those skills to shape her filmmaking.
Renata graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Krakow and is currently studying animation at the National Film School in Łódź.
Follow Renata on Facebook.
Award: Best Narrative Feature
Director: Jessica M. Thompson
Title: The Light of The Moon/USA/Narrative Feature/94mins/
Synopsis: After her world is irrevocably changed, a successful New York City architect struggles to regain intimacy and control in her life.
About the Director: Jessica is a NYC-based Australian editor, writer and director with 4 shorts to her name prior to her debut feature The Light of the Moon. The film was funded independently with a mixture of crowdfunding and private investors. She studied acting and writing at the Sydney Theater Company and film at the University of Technology, Sydney. She is an Emmy-nominated editor who has worked with Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus. Her 2013 short Across the Pond screened as a finalist at Tropfest NY, the Bath Film Festival and The Americas Film Festival.
Follow Jessica on Twitter.
Award: Best Documentary Feature
Director: Luke Korem
Title: Dealt/USA/Documentary Feature/90mins/
Synopsis: Sixty-two year old Richard Turner is renowned as one of the world’s greatest card magicians, yet he is completely blind. This is an in-depth look at a complex character who is one of magic’s greatest hidden treasures.
About the Director: Austin Texas-based Luke Korem has produced and directed two documentaries including Lord Montagu and now Dealt, which has been acquired by IFC/Sundance Selects.
Follow Luke on Twitter.
Award: Narrative Spotlight
Who: Noël Wells
Title: Mr Roosevelt/USA/Comedy Feature/90mins
Synopsis: Emily Martin is a struggling 20-something who moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in comedy after graduating college in Austin, Texas. When a loved one falls sick, she returns to Austin and runs into her ex-boyfriend, as well as his amazing and intimidating new girlfriend.
About the Director: Noël has appeared in Master of None and Saturday Night Live and also plays the lead Emily Martin as well as directing Mr Roosevelt. This is her first feature as director.
Follow Noël on Twitter.