Amazon Prime Video, SXSW Announce “SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection”; No U.S. Narratives Among Seven Feature Titles
After announcing on April 2 that the two companies would partner to bring selections from the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival to home viewers, Amazon Prime Video and SXSW announced today the titles that will comprise the free-to-view “2020 SXSW Film Festival Collection.” A total of 39 works — features, shorts, music videos and episodic titles — opted into the program. Of the 39, only seven are features — five percent of the festival’s feature selection — and the four narrative films are all international titles.
For producers and filmmakers, the Amazon/SXSW collaboration was immediately controversial upon announcement, with several producers and sales agents we spoke with expressing concern over the amount of the low “screening fee” — a sum significantly less than the streaming fee formerly paid by Amazon’s now-shuttered Festival Stars program. Works selected are able to be viewed for free by, potentially, a worldwide audience. (The 10-day program sits in front of the Amazon Prime paywall but is free for anyone with, or who signs up for, an Amazon account.)
Mostly, though, U.S. producers and sales agents worried that the Amazon exposure would negatively impact their ability to sell their films, a concern subtly acknowledged by Amazon Studios Head Jennifer Salke in the press release statement:
We understand every film has its own strategy and we know this opportunity may not make sense for every filmmaker. However, for those who want to share their stories right now and with as many people as possible, we’re excited to provide them this platform. Until we are able to be together in person again, we hope this program allows these wonderful stories to virtually reach film lovers everywhere in the country.
Said Janet Pierson, Director of Film, SXSW:
SXSW has always championed creators forging their own paths to success, often with just the right mix of passion, vision and radical experimentation to make their dreams happen. There is no one-size-fits-all, especially in these uncertain times, and we knew this opportunity would be of interest to those filmmakers who wanted to be in front of a large audience now. We believe people will be captivated by this selection of intriguing work that would have been shown at our 2020 event.
In an essay published in Deadline, one participating filmmaker, Alex Lee Moyer, explained her rationale for joining the program:
And while real-life, non-virtual festivals are a vital, important component of keeping cinema alive— incubating creativity and nurturing its participants—we as filmmakers ought to keep in mind the true spirit of this venture. We talk about the value of storytelling, but who are we making these stories for? Other filmmakers? The industry? No, we’re making them for audiences.
And most of us are not making giant blockbusters that need to be rolled out as quickly as possible, with the most marketing, to the most screens, to reach the most people, before that tiny window of mainstream public attention passes, and before people discover that film maybe wasn’t even good. Our films are small seeds, that, if we are lucky, can grow with the nourishment of exposure and word of mouth. For independent filmmakers, we need to be seen to exist.
Accompanying the SXSW titles will be hosted panels produced by SXSW. FREE THE WORK, the non-profit founded by filmmaker Alma Har’el, whose Honey Boy was distributed by Amazon, will be collaborating with Amazon to publicize the program.
Among the titles that immediately caught Filmmaker‘s eye are a pair of zeitgeist-y feature works: Moyers’s doc, TFW NO GF, produced by, among others, Filmmaker 25 New Face Adam Bala Lough and musician and director Ariel Pink, that deals with social isolation; and Selfie, a French anthology feature dealing with online communication that’s billed as a more comedic Black Mirror and which contains an episode directed by Les Cowboys director and noted screenwriter (A Prophet) Thomas Bidegain. In the shorts selection there’s Dirty, from 2019 25 New Face Matthew Puccini as well as Broken Orchestra, from Charlie Tyrell, whose My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes was a recent short-form standout.
In the episodic section a five-part series from Shudder, Cursed, about jinxed film productions, is of immediate obvious interest. And Tales from the Loop, from Legion writer Nathaniel Halpern, director Mark Romanek (Never Let Me Go, One-Hour Photo), and starring Rebecca Hall and Paul Schneider, looks unusual and original. It’s based on the art of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag and tells stories about a town whose residents live above “a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe.”
The SXSW 2020 Collection will be available 4/27/20 thru 5/6/20. The complete program follows:
Cat in the Wall / Bulgaria, UK, France (Directors, screenwriters and producers: Mina Mileva, Vesela Kazakova) — This terriﬁc comedy-drama is set on a southeast London council estate, which is riven by social and economic divisions and threatened by the all-consuming force of gentriﬁcation. Irina, a Bulgarian woman lives there with her small son and her brother. The lift serves as a toilet, the multi-cultural residents exchange shouts rather than pleasantries, and an expensive refurbishment is undesired but must be paid for. And in the midst of this: an apparently ownerless cat which has had enough of the heated atmosphere barricades itself ‘in the wall’, requiring the residents to collaborate. Cat in the Wall is an arresting critique of society, a whirlpool of emotions from despair to joie de vivre conveyed by strongly delineated characters. This heart-warming tale, shot in a documentary style, is this year’s equivalent of director Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake. Cast: Irina Atanosova, Angel Genov, Gilda Waugh
Gunpowder Heart / Guatemala (Director and screenwriter: Camila Urrutia, Producer: Inés Nofuentes) — Claudia and Maria have fallen in love. They live in the city of Guatemala, a city full of stories related to abuse, unforgiving police officers, and charming secret corners. Everything changes one night when they are attacked by three men. They manage to escape but they now have to choose if they want revenge. Cast: Andrea Henry, Vanessa Hernández
Le Choc du Futur / France (Director and screenwriter: Marc Collin, Co-Writer: Elina Gakou-Gomba, Producers: Marc Collin, Nicolas Jourdier, Gaelle Ruffier) — In the Paris of 1978, old formulas do not charm listeners anymore and new music must arise. In a male-dominated industry, Ana uses her electronic gadgets to make herself heard, creating a new sound that will mark the decades to come: the music of the future. Cast: Alma Jodorowsky, Philippe Rebbot, Clara Luciani
Selfie / France (Directors: Tristan Aurouet, Thomas Bidegain, Marc Fitoussi, Cyril Gelblat, Vianney Lebasque, Screenwriters: Giulio Callegari, Noé Debré, Hélène Lombard, Julien Sibony, Bertrand Soulier, Producers: Mandoline Films, Chez Georges Productions) — Algorithms, Technophobics, Dating App addicts, Vloggers, cloud security breach… each one of us can relate to the wired madness happening on screen. In five subversive and hilarious Black Mirror-like tales, Selfie takes on our digital shortcomings and shows how the new 2.0 era is driving all of us nuts! Cast: Blanche Gardin, Manu Payet, Elsa Zylberstein
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me / U.S. (Director and Producer: Karen Bernstein, Co-Producer: Nevie Owens) — Fellini meets Motown in I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, the tragi-comedic tale of one man’s search for self-acceptance, a journey that included tabloid celebrity, Tupperware parties, and two coming-outs — first as a straight woman, then as the gay man he was born to be. Cast: Brian Belovitch aka “Tish,” Gloria Walker, Michael Musto
My Darling Vivian / U.S. (Director: Matt Riddlehoover, Producers: Dustin Tittle, Matt Riddlehoover) — The story of Vivian Liberto, Johnny Cash’s first wife and the mother of his four daughters. Includes never-before-seen footage and photographs of Johnny Cash and Rosanne Cash, as well as footage featuring Reese Witherspoon, Joaquin Phoenix, Tim Robbins, Whoopi Goldberg, John C. Reilly and many more.
TFW NO GF / U.S. (Director and screenwriter: Alex Lee Moyer, Producers: Adam Bhala Lough, Cody Wilson, Ariel Pink, Alex Lee Moyer, Michael Reich, John Eisenman, Matt Ornstein, Claire Bargout, Deagan White, Barrett Avner) — Born from the internet, the phrase “TFW NO GF” was originally used online to describe a lack of romantic companionship. Since then, it has evolved to symbolize a greater state of existence defined by isolation, rejection and alienation. The meme’s protagonist, “WOJAK,” has become the mascot to a vast online community consisting of self-described “hyper-anonymous twenty somethings” and “guys who slipped between the cracks.” TFW NO GF asks: How has the zeitgeist come to bear down on a generation alienated by the ‘real world’? Meet the lost boys who came of age on the internet in places like 4chan and Twitter, where they find camaraderie in despair.
A Period Piece / U.S., France (Director and screenwriter: Shuchi Talati, Producer: Esra Saydam, Co-Producer: Claire Chassagne) — Geetha, a control and order loving Indian-American woman, finally has sex with Vehd one afternoon but things quickly turn messy, causing a fight to erupt mid-coitus. Cast: Sonal Aggarwal, Nardeep Khurmi
Basic / U.S. (Director, screenwriter and producer: Chelsea Devantez, Co-Producer: Kevin Walsh) — Basic is a very, very, very short film about a dumb lil’ ho doing lil’ ho things. Starring Nelson Franklin (Veep, Abby’s, Blackish), Georgia Mischak (Arrested Development, Love), and Chelsea Devantez (Bless This Mess, Abby’s), who also wrote and directed. It’s a darkish comedy exploring the insecure lil’ ho in all of us.
Blocks / U.S. (Director and screenwriter: Bridget Moloney, Producers: Kate Chamuris, Kristin Slaysman, Valerie Steinberg) — An existential comedy about the mother of two young children who begins to spontaneously vomit toy blocks. Cast: Claire Coffee, Mark Webber, Ruha Taslimi
Broken Bird / U.S. (Director, screenwriter and producer: Rachel Harrison Gordon) — Birdie, a biracial girl raised by her Jewish mom in a New Jersey suburb, spends a rare day with her father while preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. She overcomes her doubts, and decides to risk inviting him back into her life. Birdie confronts what independence means as she steps into adulthood on her own terms. Cast: Indigo Hubbard-Salk, Chad L. Coleman
Daddio / U.S. (Director, screenwriter, and producer: Casey Wilson, Co-Writer: Laura Kindred, Co-Producers: Ursula Camack, Laura Kindred, Adam Silver) — Daddio is a comedy about death. A year after the sudden passing of their beloved wife and mother, a dad and daughter grapple with life after loss. Grief looks very different on both of them. Paul, played by Michael McKean (Better Call Saul, Spinal Tap), is manic. He gets a perm and begs neighbors to hot tub with him. Abby, played by Casey Wilson (SNL, Happy Endings, Black Monday) is depressed. She sleeps in her closet and uses a shopping cart for a laundry basket. At its heart, Daddio is a love story between a father and daughter after the unimaginable has happened. Based on real death events. Cast: Michael McKean, Casey Wilson, June Diane Raphael, Adam Pally.
Dirty / U.S. (Director: Matthew Puccini, Producers: Cecilia Delgado, Jeremy Truong, Matthew Puccini) — Marco cuts class to spend the afternoon with his boyfriend. Things do not go as planned. Cast: Morgan Sullivan, Manny Dunn
Face to Face Time / U.S. (Director, screenwriter and producer: Izzy Shill) — Claire takes the bold step of initiating a FaceTime call, only to discover Danny’s flaccid enthusiasm for her. Cast: Izzy Shill, Sean Patrick McGowan
Father of the Bride / U.K. (Director and screenwriter: Rhys Marc Jones, Producer: Alex Polunin) — The best man attempts to keep face and deliver his speech at his brother’s wedding, following an advance in the hotel bathroom by the father of the bride. Cast: Jay Lycurgo, Dominic Mafham, Marcus Rutherford, Isabelle Connolly
Figurant / France, Czech Republic (Director and screenwriter: Jan Vejnar, Producers: Origine Films / Silk Films) — A man follows a group of workers coming for daywork in an industrial area. Soon, he’s stripped from his clothes and identity, dressed in a military uniform and armed. His determination not to fall behind the others is then tested by a series of unsettling events. Cast: Denis Lavant
Reminiscences of the Green Revolution / Phillipines, U.S. (Director and screenwriter: Dean Colin Marcial, Producer: Armi Rae Cacanindin) — A ghost story about love and eco-terrorism in the Philippines. Cast: Annicka Dolonius, Sid Lucero, Abner Delina Jr.
Runon / U.S. (Director and screenwriter: Daniel Newell Kaufman, Producer: Lizzie Shaprio) — All Luke and his mom have are two garbage bags full of clothes, and two tickets out of town on the midnight Greyhound. Like he’s assembling a puzzle, Luke has to figure out the why of it — all before the person they’re running from puts together the pieces. Cast: Erin Markey, Luke Visiage, Mike Alonzo
Single / U.S. (Director and screenwriter: Ashley Eakin, Producer: Connie Jo Sechrist) — A girl born with one arm goes on a blind date with a guy who has one hand…and she is pissed! Cast: Delaney Feener, Jordan Wiseley
SOFT / U.S. (Director and screenwriter: Daniel Antebi, Producers: Casey Bader, Reid Hannaford, Nicole Quintero Ochoa) — Sam — 16, queer, and falling in love — struggles to untangle himself from his abusive martial arts coach. Cast: Josh Lerner, Benicio Franqui, Alex Kramer
Still Wylde / U.S., Canada (Director and screenwriter: Ingrid Haas, Producers: Devin Lawrence, Katie White) — Gertie and her sometimes boyfriend, Sam, are faced with a major life decision only to realize that even when they know what they want, life has other plans. Cast: Ingrid Haas, Barry Rothbart, Sabrina Jalees
Summer Hit / Germany (Director and screenwriter: Berthold Wahjudi, Producers: Melissa Byrne, Philipp Link) — Laia from Spain and Emil from Iceland are Erasmus students in Munich. After having sex for a couple of times, Emil professes his love to Laia — but she panics and runs away. Now the two have to figure out whether they are more than just a summer fling. Cast: Martina Roura, Atli Benedikt, Katrin Filzen
The Voice in Your Head / U.S. (Director and screenwriter: Graham Parkes, Producer: Brendan Garrett) — A surreal comedy about an office worker who has resigned himself to spending every waking hour tortured by the negative voice in head, until a concerned co-worker decides to take action. Cast: Lewis Pullman, Mat Wright, Trian Longsmith
Vert / U.K. (Director and screenwriter: Kate Cox, Producers: Nick Rowell, Sophie Reynolds, Gabriele Lo Giudice) — Emelia (BAFTA Nominee Nikki Amuka-Bird) and Jeff (Nick Frost) are an open-minded couple celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary by venturing into the Virtual world of “Vert” together. Vert presents them with a character that is their ‘ideal self’ and what is supposed to be re-awakening for them as a couple becomes the unearthing of Jeff’s secret. Cast: Nikki Amuka-Bird, Nick Frost, Olivia Vinall
Waffle / U.S. (Director: Carlyn Hudson, Screenwriters and producers: Katie Marovitch, Kerry Barker, Co-Producers: Pamela Robison, Bridgett Greenberg) — Kerry is at a sleepover with the socially awkward, mysteriously orphaned heiress Katie. Friendship — in a society that grows ever isolating — is explored as Kerry learns the hard way that Katie always gets what she wants. Cast: Katie Marovitch, Kerry Barker, Raphael Chestang
Affurmative Action / U.S. (Director: Travis Wood) — An exploration of workplace diversity through “meet the team” pages.
Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business / U.S. (Director and screenwriter: Christine Turner, Producer: Erin Wright) — At 93, there’s no stopping when it comes to the legendary artist Betye Saar.
Broken Orchestra / U.S., Canada (Director: Charlie Tyrell, Screenwriter: Josef Beeby, Producer: Julie Baldassi) — A documentary short about the Symphony for a Broken Orchestra,, which collected hundreds of broken instruments from the Philadelphia public school system, fixed them and then returned them into the hands of students.
Call Center Blues / U.S. (Director: Geeta Gandbhir, Producer: Jessica Devaney) — Call Center Blues is a lyrical portrait of an unlikely community of US deportees and their loved ones struggling to rebuild their lives in Tijuana, Mexico.
Dieorama / U.S. (Director: Kevin Staake, Producer: Ryen Bartlett) — Abigail Goldman spends her work days as an investigator for a public defender’s office in Washington state, helping people who are seriously in trouble—which can mean hours of staring at grisly pictures of crime scenes, visiting morgues, even observing autopsies. By night, she dreams up gruesome events, which she then turns into tiny, precise dioramas. Rife with scenes of imminent death and brutal dismemberment, the fruits of Goldman’s painstaking labor would be adorable … if they weren’t so disturbing. In this new documentary short, we follow along as Goldman brings her miniature worlds of murder and mayhem to life with tweezers, paint, and resin, and meet the people who just can’t get enough of her twisted visions—where the final touch is always, in the artist’s words, “two or three brushstrokes of red paint.”
Hiplet: Because We Can / U.S. (Director and producer: Addison Wright) — Created with the intention to inspire young Black women, this film brings the Hiplet™ [hip-lay] ballerinas to center stage. With elements of a Short Film, Music Video, and Documentary, this artistic work showcases not only the talent of the Hiplet ballerinas, it also gives them a platform to discuss the challenges they have faced with giving traditional ballet a hip new twist. Cast: Homer Hans Bryant, Jayda Perry, Nia Parker
Lions in the Corner / U.S. (Director: Paul Hairston, Producer: Jake Ewald) — In Virginia, Scarface started Streetbeefs in his backyard to combat gun and knife violence in the area. Soon it turned into something much more for the men involved. Cast: Chris Wilmore
Mizuko (Water Child) / U.S. (Directors: Katelyn Rebelo, Kira Dane, Screenwriter: Kira Dane, Producer: Amy Hobby for Tribeca Film Institute) — In Japan, there is a special way to grieve after having an abortion. This Buddhist ritual, called the water children memorial, allows people to metaphorically return their lost children to the sea. Told through the Japanese American filmmaker’s personal story of abortion in the US, Mizuko (Water Child) is a partially animated, intimate reckoning with the impact of this cultural context.
Modern Whore / Canada (Director and screenwriter: Nicole Bazuin, Producer: Lisa Baylin) — Former escort Andrea Werhun shares the ins and outs of escort review board culture, exposing the complexities of sexual power and social stigma in a post-#MeToo world. Cast: Andrea Werhun, Chester Brown, Michael Cuddy
No Crying at the Dinner Table / Canada (Director: Carol Nguyen, Producers: Carol Nguyen, Aziz Zoromba) — Filmmaker Carol Nguyen interviews her own family to craft an emotionally complex and meticulously composed portrait of intergenerational trauma, grief, and secrets in this cathartic documentary about things left unsaid.
Quilt Fever / U.S. (Director and screenwriter: Olivia Loomis Merrion) — Every year, thousands of quilters descend upon Paducah, Kentucky for its annual quilt competition, doubling the town’s population. “The Academy Awards of quilting” is a weeklong spectacle in which quilters from all over the world vie for the coveted Best of Show award. Beyond the competition, the film weaves through stories of individual quilters to reveal deeper motivations behind the art.
Cursed Films / Canada (Director and screenwriter: Jay Cheel, Producers: Andrew Nicholas McCann Smith, Laura Perlmutter, Brian Robertson, Jay Cheel) — Cursed Films is a five-part documentary series from Shudder exploring the myths and legends behind some of Hollywood’s notoriously “cursed” horror film productions. From plane accidents and bombings during the making of The Omen, to the rumoured use of human skeletons on the set of Poltergeist, these stories are legendary amongst film fans and filmmakers alike. But where does the truth lie?
Motherland: Fort Salem / U.S. (Creator: Eliot Laurence) — Set in an alternate America where witches ended their persecution by cutting a deal with the government to fight for the country, Motherland: Fort Salem follows three young women from training to deployment, as they fight terrorist threats with supernatural tactics.
Tales from the Loop / U.S., Canada (Creator/Writer: Nathaniel Halpern, Director: Mark Romanek, Executive Producers: Nathaniel Halpern, Matt Reeves, Mark Romanek, Adam Kassan, Rafi Crohn, Mattias Montero, Samanthan Taylor Pickett, Adam Berg and Simon Stålenhag) – Based on the acclaimed art of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, Tales from the Loop explores the town and people who live above “The Loop,” a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe. In this fantastical, mysterious town poignant human tales are told that bare universal emotional experiences while drawing on the intrigue of genre storytelling. Cast: Rebecca Hall, Paul Schneider, Daniel Zolghadri, Duncan Joiner, Jonathan Pryce