The Best and Worst of the 2015 SXSW Film Festival

The SXSW Film Festival will continue through the weekend (albeit mostly with repeat screenings and music-related films, pegged to the concurrent music fest), but your correspondent has returned from Austin, with a belly full of BBQ and a head full of leftover images and snatches of dialogue from the 21 narrative and documentary films I took in over my week in Texas. Here are a few thoughts on each, along with the best and worst films I saw there.

MOVIES ABOUT MOVIES

Raiders!

Back in 1982, a trio of grade-school kids got together with the rather simple idea of doing their own version of their beloved Raiders of the Lost Ark. The technology was crude — a clunky VHS camcorder — and their budget was an accumulation of allowances, but the film they made pulsed with imagination, enthusiasm, and heart. Directors Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen tell the story of that production and its unexpectedly lengthy afterlife, which led to a reunion, long after the fact, to film its final, missing scene. A charming valentine to movies, to being a kid, and to not being told what you can and can’t do. (Read more here.)

She’s the Best Thing in It

Mary Louise Wilson is a lifelong character actor, mostly for the stage, and after she won a Tony in 1998, she says, “I never worked again.” Aged out of even her specialty work, she went back to New Orleans to teach acting at the college level — no easy task for a novice, and one of the film’s key virtues is how director Ron Nyswaner (screenwriter of Philadelphia) captures the hesitancy and tension of the teaching process. He counterbalances her story by talking to several other great character actors about their craft (including Frances McDormand, Melissa Leo, and Estelle Parsons), using the life of one actor to consider the actor’s life more generally. Informative, enlightening, and heartfelt, it’s a lovely little documentary about the kind of performer we too often take for granted.