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Contra Zoom Podcast

Preview: 10 Movies to Watch at SXSW 2021

By: Dakota Arsenault

Last year’s SXSW festival was scheduled to occur just as COVID-19 fully brought its weight to the United States, it unfortunately meant that the festival didn’t happen as planned. This year, they are able to still host it in full, albeit online. The film festival is just as big and grandiose as it is every year and we have ten films that are on our list as must sees.

SXSW started out as a music festival, as such music documentaries play a big part in the overall image with both the opening and closing night films being music docs. 

Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil

Director: Michael D. Ratner

Description: Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil is a powerful YouTube Originals documentary event, exploring every aspect that led to Lovato’s nearly fatal overdose in 2018, and her awakenings in the aftermath. (World Premiere) (Opening Night Film) 

Why we’re excited: Demi Lovato’s health struggles have been headlines for a while now, and we get an inside look into what caused and her recovery from her near fatal overdose. While it has been four years since her last album release, she still remains a pop icon.

Alone Together

Director: Bradley Bell & Pablo Jones-Soler 

Description: Charli XCX, a popstar in quarantine, embarks on a whirlwind creative and romantic journey while making an album in 40 days that unites a community around the world. (World Premiere) (Closing Night Film) 

Why we’re excited: Charli XCX might not be the biggest household name in pop music, but she has a fervent online fanbase that follows her every move as she changes what pop can be from the outside. Fans followed along closely to the making of her excellent album, How I’m Feeling Now, but now the world can see it all too. 

Under the Volcano

Director: Gracie Otto 

Description: The story of George Martin’s AIR Studios Montserrat and the island that changed music forever. Featuring interviews with Sting, Mark Knopfler, Nick Rhodes, Jimmy Buffett, Verdine White, Tony Iommi, Stewart Copeland, Guy Fletcher, Midge Ure, and Roger Glover. (World Premiere) 

Why we’re excited: Beatles producer George Martin created a studio in the West Indies in 1979 and albums by Elton John, Jimmy Buffett, Dire Straits, The Police and more were recorded there. Half of the island of Montserrat is now unable to be accessed due to a large volcano on the island that threatens to destroy everything. After a hurricane in 1989 that destroyed the studio, it was vacated and now its story gets told.

The festival also has plenty of other docs, ranging from intimate biographies to uncovering large scale issues.


Director: Andrea Nevins 

Description: Hysterical is an honest and hilarious backstage pass into the lives of some of stand-up comedy’s most boundary-breaking women, exploring the hard-fought journey to become the voices of their generation and their gender. Featuring Margaret Cho, Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Nikki Glaser, Judy Gold, Kathy Griffin, Jessica Kirson, Sherri Shepherd, Iliza Shlesinger and more. Available on FX in 2021. (World Premiere)

Why we’re excited: With so many damn funny women in one film it’s impossible to not look at this movie as an absolute treat. From women that helped break through the male dominated field in the 80’s and 90’s up to today where women are some of the top drawing comics in the world. There is nothing more interesting than listening to comics talk shop and breakdown how their profession works. 

Lily Topples The World

Director: Jeremy Workman

Description: Lily Topples The World follows 20-year-old Lily Hevesh — the world’s most acclaimed domino toppler and the only woman in her field — in a coming-of-age story of artistry, passion, and unlikely triumph. Executive produced by Kelly Marie Tran. (World Premiere) 

Why we’re excited: Every once in a while there comes a doc about a subject matter you didn’t know existed and it just changes your life. I didn’t know that there was an entire industry of domino topplers and that there is only one woman working in it. Who as a kid didn’t make little domino trails to knock over, so this has piqued my interest significantly. 

The festival also has plenty of narrative films, ranging from higher profile world premieres to midnight madness selections that push the envelope. 

The Fabulous Filipino Brothers

Director: Dante Basco 

Description: From Northern California to The Philippines, four brothers confront their issues with love, family, and culture, surrounding a highly controversial Filipino wedding. Told in four vignettes with cockfights, adultery, romance, food, and family. Cast List: Dante Basco, Derek Basco, Dionysio Basco, Darion Basco, Solenn Heussaff, Liza Lapira, Tirso Cruz III, Cheryl Tsai, Arriana Basco, Joe Jitsukawa (World Premiere)

Why we’re excited: Rufio from Hook writes, directs and stars in a film with his family in this coming of age tale that seems jam packed with adventure. The plot description is just so wild, that you can’t help but say well I have to see if it lives up to the hype! 

Swan Song

Director: Todd Stephens

Description: An aging hairdresser (Udo Kier) escapes his nursing home and embarks on an odyssey across his small town to style a dead woman’s hair for her funeral, rediscovering his sparkle along the way. Cast List: Udo Kier, Jennifer Coolidge, Linda Evans, Michael Urie, Ira Hawkins, Stephanie McVay (World Premiere)

Why we’re excited: Veteran German actor who recently appeared in the international Brazalian hit Bacurau leads this film that sounds campy as hell and is destined to be as ridiculous as it is fun. Add in Jennifer Coolidge and Linda Evans and you have something that will be seriously funny. 


Director: Justine Bateman

Description: A film development executive realizes that “guiding voice” inside her head has been lying to her about everything. Cast List: Olivia Munn, Luke Bracey, Justin Theroux (World Premiere)

Why we’re excited: Justine Bateman is mostly known for being on the 80’s sitcom Family Ties, or being the brother of Ozark mastermind Jason Bateman, but after a few shorts, she’s on to her feature length directorial debut that she wrote as well. Casting cult icon Justin Theroux as The Voice that influences Olivia Munn should make for a nice non-traditional comedic film.

How It Ends

Director: Daryl Wein & Zoe Lister-Jones

Description: On the last day on Earth, one woman goes on a journey through LA to make it to her last party before the world ends, running into an eclectic cast of characters along the way. Cast List: Zoe Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny, Nick Kroll, Olivia Wilde, Helen Hunt, Lamorne Morris, Fred Armisen, Bradley Whitford, Charlie Day, Whitney Cummings

Why we’re excited: Zoe Lister-Jones is becoming quite the underrated filmmaker. She directed the hilarious and underseen Band Aid and mostly panned The Craft: Legacy but looks to make her most mainstream film yet. She also stars in this film with a who’s who of hilarious people. If you enjoyed films like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, then this one should be right up your alley. Plus I may have a crush on Lister-Jones’ Jen from Life in Pieces. 

The Spine of Night

Director: Philip Gelatt & Morgan Galen King

Description: In this ultra-violent, fantasy epic, ancient dark magic falls into sinister hands and unleashes ages of suffering onto mankind. A group of heroes from different eras and cultures must band together in order to defeat it at all costs. Cast List: Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, Joe Manganiello, Larry Fessenden, Nina Lisandrello, Abby Savage, Tom Lipinski, Patrick Breen (World Premiere 

Why we’re excited: Not going to lie, the plot description of this film sounds batshit insane and it got my attention, either rightly or wrongly. The film is a rotoscope animation done in the style of 1980’s cartoons with a voice cast that is more than slightly baffling (Patton Oswalt and Lucy Lawless in the same film??), but it’s one that I’m keeping an eye on nonetheless. 

What films are you most interested in seeing during SXSW? Let us know!


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