The Best and Worst of the 2016 SXSW Film Festival

The cast of "Don't Think Twice"


One of the small pleasures of film festivals is observing how accidental trends reveal themselves – that, less due to imitation than to parallel thinking and ideas floating around the culture, we’ll often see multiple films in the same slate about the same things. It happened at Sundance, with the simultaneous narrative and documentary accounts of the life and death of Christine Chubbuck; at SXSW, the hot topic was long-form improv comedy, with a narrative film about the NYC scene and a documentary about the guru who inspired it.

Don’t Think Twice

Mike Birbiglia’s first feature, 2012’s Sleepwalk With Me, was one of the most confident, personal, and funny debuts I’ve seen — a film that, in its truth and innovation, legitimately recalled vintage Woody Allen. His follow-up doesn’t quite hit those heights, though you can’t fault him for trying something new; he’s telling an ensemble story this time, of a New York comedy troupe right on the verge of success (and not quite closing that gap), so the big questions and conflicts can play as rather low stakes to non-showbiz viewers. But it’s still a funny and likable picture, and Birbiglia remains a promising filmmaker and engaging performer. (Read more here.)

Thank You Del: The Story of the Del Close Marathon

Del Close, the long-form improvisation teacher and comedy legend, died in 1999; his last words were (reportedly), “I’m tired of being the funniest guy in the room.” His most vocal acolytes were the founding members of the Upright Citizens Brigade, and shortly after his death, they began the Del Close Marathon, an NYC improv festival boasting something like 400 comedy shows over 52 straight hours. Director Todd Bieber’s documentary is, basically, three films — a bio-doc of Close, a history of the UCB, and a fly-on-the-wall look at the 15th anniversary Marathon – and unfortunately, the first two films are far more interesting than the third. But there’s still a lot to like here, particularly for comedy nerds: great footage (new and old), insightful interviews, and a genuine love for what Close strived for, “creating a momentary, fragmentary experience” of true comic fireworks.