Arts & CultureCulture BriefsFeatured

Keep an Eye Out for These Highlights from the SXSW Film & TV Festival

This World is Not My Own

Having covered South by Southwest “in place” during quarantine, this was my first time putting boots on the ground in Austin! I arrived somewhat disheveled from being on an airplane for the first time in four (five?) years. A lot has changed. When security isn’t piping the message, “If you left a green belt in one of the security bins, please return to retrieve it” or “There was a black bag sitting on a table in the café on concourse xyz, if you can describe it…” then they’re giving the mic to a desk agent so that she can rattle off the list of passengers who haven’t made it to the gate their aircraft is leaving from. I would have wondered why they get such a generous cattle call, but one of my flights changed gates four, yes four, times. When I brought it to a gate attendant’s attention that the only thing I wasn’t hearing over the loudspeaker was the multiple gate changes, she asked me if I knew how to Google. Watching me shake with laughter, she suggested that I Google my flight number every 10 minutes to make sure I was still at the correct gate. At times, I wondered if I’d walk down the breezeway to find a stagecoach instead of an airplane.

In contrast, I found Austin to be laid back, eager to please, and cool-calm-collected. SXSW was a well-oiled machine where nobody seemed to have lost anything. Lost the shirt off your back? Here are three to replace it and one for a friend. And complimentary White Claws, cappuccinos and whiskey were more readily available than a water fountain. Our hotel room was across the street from the convention center, complimentary shuttles lined up outside that building, and a handsome young boy in the Alamo Theatre was eager to bring me anything I scribbled onto a slip of paper. The livin’ was free and easy! L.I.V.I.N. The only concern that I, and fellow film journalists, seemed to share was the schedule. Would we see enough? Would we see something that made the heart soar and the words flow? Were we in the right theater?

I was lucky enough to enjoy a resounding: “Yes.” “Yes!” And “Yes, want a T-shirt?” Careful what you wish for, though. The first film that I saw nearly ruined me for all others.

Fancy Dance,” Erica Tremblay explained, is a “story born from the yearning to see ourselves reflected on the screen. To be Native American women with multi-dimensional identities means facing harsh realities in spaces that are virtually invisible. For centuries, Native families have been fractured by corrupt systems, and yet a vibrant and beautiful community still withstands. Fancy Dance is ultimately our love letter to that community and the women and queer folks who hold it together.”

Inspired isn’t a word with enough complexity to describe the awe that I felt upon learning that they worked with a language advisor to feature a language that is considered critically endangered. 

“It is estimated that there are less than 20 first-language Cayuga speakers left in the world,” Tremblay continues. “My community in Oklahoma lost our last fluent speaker in 1989, so I didn’t grow up surrounded by the language. I’ve always found it so tragic that we don’t have any speakers left, so in 2019, I moved to the Six Nation Reserve in Canada and began attending a three-year-long Cayuga language program. While studying the language, I was inspired to imagine a modern-day reality where young people still speak the language fluently, and the idea of Fancy Dance was born. During production, I was able to bring a language advisor from my program down from Canada to work with the actors on the language. On the first day of filming, we passed out lanyards to the crew with Cayuga translations for phrases like ‘action,’ ‘cut’ and ‘that’s a wrap.’ By the second day, the crew knew all of the words, and we made all of our set calls in Cayuga. It was such a wonderful experience to bring the language to life in so many ways. I hope that this film can be used to encourage language revitalization and show the beauty of our words.”

The trio of Lily Gladstone (who will next star in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro), Isabel DeRoy-Olson (currently on screen in Amazon Prime’s, “Three Pines” as Kara Two-Rivers) and Crystle Lightning (“Yellowstone,” “Outlander,” “Ghosts” and more) is an example of illuminati level casting that made me feel things all the way down to my toes. In an exquisite rhythm, they danced into and out of primary focus, weaving an intricate pattern onto the the “dance floor” and making it difficult to tell where one woman’s footsteps ended and another’s began.

I was breathless when the credits rolled. And not the least bit surprised to see the name Forest Whitaker attached to the film. I had the pleasure of being introduced to Mr. Whitaker in my early twenties. His depth of humanity was palpable from 10 feet away.

Unfortunately, I can’t yet tell you when, or where, you’ll be able to catch this film. It is, to date, still seeking distribution. I can’t imagine, however, that it will linger very long in that circumstance.

So what can I recommend you see?

Tetris premiered last Friday on Apple TV. See it! I was entirely unprepared for the intrigue, excitement and moxie that this film, and this story, brings to the screen. It made me want to ride the lightening, so to speak. Maybe we’re all so worried about alien invasions and the fellow coughing next to us that we’ve forgotten how to live on the edge? As Hunter Thompson opined, “There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.” This film made me realize that I don’t have half a clue where it is. 

Catch Little Richard: I Am Everything in Macon at the Douglas Theatre on Apr. 14. Born and raised in Macon, I would have imagined that you couldn’t keep my attention very long with the narrative of a man whose story was woven into the very fabric of our lives. But I would have been wrong! There’s more to the man whose recorded greeting, for so many years, boomed through the receiver every time I called the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in my hometown. 

THE WORLD IS NOT MY OWN premieres Apr. 25, 6:45 p.m. at The High Museum of Art. And I’d love to write something smart about this lovely film, but the film’s team has strung together a near perfect description of what you’ll get. “Chewing gum sculptures, a wealthy gallerist, a fire-brand wrestler, a notorious murder case and the segregated South—it’s all part of Nellie Mae Rowe’s boundless universe.” To that immaculate teaser, I can only add… take your bestie! The one who always reminds you how wonderful you are. Above all else, this film is about the kind of friendship that we all pine for, and that many never find. For that I’ll thank my lucky stars every day and twice on Sundays. But then again, my best friend reads me “Modern Love” from the New York Times on Sundays. So, there’s lots to thank my lucky stars for.

Below, enjoy a playlist of trailers for new films headed to a screen near you. Explore the full list of participating films from this year’s SXSW here.