Above: a still from “Frame by Frame”, which explores the state of journalism in Afghanistan
South By Southwest is the personification of many things. Chief among them: pure geekery. And there’s no finer display of the depths to which some of us will go to learn about what fascinates us than the documentary portion of the SXSW film festival.
Out of a staggering 1,018 entries, this year’s festival has selected ten finalists in its documentary feature competition; here, we present our top three, all of which will screen premieres for festival badgeholders in Austin through next week as the juggernaut returns to town with several fascinating films.
“Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban from 1996 to 2001,” begins the trailer for Frame by Frame, directed by Alexandria Bombach. “Photography was completely banned during that time.” The film, which delves into the issues being faced today by emerging journalists as more than a decade of relative freedom turns toward uncertainty, shares their voices as they talk about their hopes and fears. Explains Massoud Hossaini, one of the journalists featured in the doc: “These ten years (were) a revolution for photography in Afghanistan, where everyone in Afghanistan tried to record the history and the moment themselves trying to be (a) voice for those people who cannot shout.” Frame by Frame premieres 1:45 p.m. Saturday at the Stateside Theatre on Congress Avenue.
Taking a lingering look at the uncomfortable issue of police militarization in the United States, Peace Officer explores the story of Dub Lawrence, a former SWAT team founder in Utah who witnessed his unit kill his son-in-law. Lawrence relies on his professional training in his attempts to piece together what happened and why, while tackling the broader issue of what’s happening to U.S. police forces. Peace Officer, directed by Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber, premieres 6 p.m. Monday at the Alamo Drafthouse Theatre on South Lamar Boulevard.
In the meta-documentary A Woman Like Me, director and narrator Alex Sichel asks, “How do you make a movie about cancer? It’s not, like, (a) hot babe movie, man.” Her answer, in her own words, is to make a movie “about making a movie about living with Stage IV breast cancer.” Sichel films herself shooting a movie (starring Lili Taylor) about a woman living with a life-threatening disease. The inventive form, which inherently integrates reality and fiction into a story-within-a-story, shows Sichel directing the movie of her own life — and perhaps eventual death — after writing her own ending. The film premieres 11 a.m. Monday at the Stateside Theatre on Congress Avenue.
— All videos courtesy SXSW 2015