All film festivals are, in their own way, installation pieces — yes, yes, we know, this sounds incredibly pretentious, especially when you’re talking about something like the queso-soaked populism SXSW, but stick with us for a second. They’re normally designed to take place in specific spaces, at a specific place, and part of the joy of attending is being there with your fellow festivalgoers, experiencing those screenings in a communal environment. And whether you love or loathe the Austin, Texas-based event, it’s definitely a festival that rewards being there in the rooms where it happens. It’s why Hollywood likes sending its comedies there, it’s why horror has found such a receptive audience there and it’s why some of the scrappier, rougher, more held-together-by-spit-and-tape microindies that would sink at other events tend to float to the top. Even when the programming feels here, there and everywhere, it’s very much a “you are here” experience, which somehow adds to its peculiar mix of feeling like you’re attending something highly professional and remarkably informal at the same time
When SXSW became one of the very first film fests to pull the plug in 2020 as Covid numbers began to rise, we bemoaned the loss and looked forward to resuming business as usual on Congress Avenue next year. That is obviously not happening, potential light at the end of this pandemic tunnel or not. But the show is still going on nonetheless, with the virtual SXSW 2021 kicking into gear starting on March 16th and running through March 20th. So while you may not be able to grab a quick breakfast taco or BBQ at Cooper’s in between screenings, you can catch a few movies worth your while. Here are 10 films we’re curious about and/or have earmarked as being worth your time. (The music doc selection, as usual, is well-curated.) We hope to see you at the Stateside in 2022.