Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
It’s that time of the year again, where we talk about everything South by Southwest. There is something thrilling about Austin’s beloved film festival. For a few days out of the year, everyone is a film junkie, hitting up red carpets to see their favorite stars or waiting for hours to catch the festival’s most buzzed about flick.
At the event, anything can happen: stand side-by-side at the urinal with Jonah Hill (it actually happened to us in 2012), take selfies with Clark Gregg or get your mind blown by Mark Duplass’ latest film (both of which are also true). You might even get to spot a few talents walking in the street.
With only two months away, SXSW (March 13-21) has announced their first wave of programming for the film section of their festival. While the complete festival listings will be announced on February 3, with the exception of the Midnighter features and Short Film Program, these seven films below give us plenty to be excited about.
The Opening Night Premiere will be Russell Brand’s concert doc BRAND: A Second Coming, directed by award-winning filmmaker Ondi Timoner (Dig!). This film may not offer you as much thrill as last year’s opener, Chef, but Brand is quite the interesting fella. So expect something funny yet educational.
Other films include Michael Showalter’s Sally Field-starring comedy Hi, My Name Is Doris; Karyn Kusama’s thriller The Invitation; Sara Hirsh Bordo’s documentary A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story; the Mavis Staples documentary Mavis!; the first feature from Grantland Features about NBA star Serge Ibaka returning to his homeland, Son of the Congo; and screenwriter Alex Garland’s (28 Days Later) directorial debut, the sci-fi thriller Ex Machina.
You can read more about these seven films below:
BRAND: A Second Coming (World Premiere)
Director: Ondi Timoner
BRAND: A Second Coming follows comedian/author Russell Brand’s evolution from addict and Hollywood star to unexpected political disruptor and newfound hero to the underserved. Brand is criticized for egomaniacal self-interest as he calls for revolution.
A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story (World Premiere)
Director: Sara Bordo
From the producers of the most viewed TEDWomen event of 2013 comes A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, a documentary following the inspiring journey of 25-year-old, 58-pound Lizzie from cyber-bullying victim to anti-bullying activist.
Ex Machina (North American Premiere)
Director/Screenwriter: Alex Garland
Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander
Alex Garland, writer of 28 Days Later and Sunshine, makes his directorial debut with the stylish and cerebral thriller Ex Machina, about a programmer who is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.
Hello, My Name is Doris (World Premiere)
Director: Michael Showalter
Screenwriters: Michael Showalter and Laura Terruso
Stars: Sally Field, Max Greenfield and Beth Behrs
An isolated 60-year-old woman is motivated by a self-help seminar to romantically pursue a younger coworker, causing her to stumble into the spotlight of the Brooklyn hipster social scene.
The Invitation (World Premiere)
Director: Karyn Kusama
Screenwriters: Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Stars: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi and Lindsay Burdge
A reunion of old friends turns into a nightmare when one guest, a haunted man whose ex-wife is among the hosts, begins to fear that the night is part of a terrifying agenda.
Mavis! (World Premiere)
Director: Jessica Edwards
Her family group, the Staple Singers, inspired millions and helped propel the civil rights movement with their music. After 60 years of performing, legendary singer Mavis Staples’ message of love and equality is needed now more than ever.
Son of the Congo (World Premiere / SXsports screening)
Director/Screenwriter: Adam Hootnick
Serge Ibaka’s improbable journey has taken him from the violence of Congo to the top of the NBA. In Son of the Congo, Ibaka returns home, hoping his basketball success can help rebuild a country and inspire a new generation to dream of a better life.
As mentioned, the complete festival lineup will be announced Tuesday, February 3, with the exception of Midnighter features, which will be revealed with the Short Film Program on Tuesday, February 10. Celebrating its 22nd year, the SXSW Film Conference and Festival will take place March 13 – 21, 2015 in Austin, TX. For more information, visit sxsw.com/film.
Feature Photo: Russell Brand in BRAND: A Second Coming. Photo courtesy of Interloper Films.