On Monday – my third day at SXSW – I saw four documentary films, all of which had something to recommend them, even if they were not all of equal quality. Check out my post about Saturday or my post about Sunday to see how I spent our first two days on the ground.
Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (Jeremy Coon/Tim Skousen, 2015)
In the 1980s, shortly after the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, three young boys in Mississippi decided to remake Steven Spielberg’s adventure classic. Over the course of seven years, they would pursue their dream of a shot-for-shot recreation of what had become their favorite film. Each of them was an oddball misfit in his own unique way – from broken homes – and this project became their therapy. By the time they were in college, they had succeeded in shooting all of the original movie except for one scene: the fight between Indy and the German mechanic on and around an airplane. Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is the story of how, in 2014, they came together once more to finish their adaptation. Filmmakers Jeremy Coon (the editor of Napoleon Dynamite) and Tim Skousen (The Sasquatch Gang) have made an outstanding movie about the power of imagination and how childhood dreams shape our adult selves. Part American Movie, part Lost in La Mancha, and part Stand by Me, this is a must-see for fans of documentaries and Indiana Jones, alike.
A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story (Sara Hirsh Bordo, 2015)
Lizzie Velazquez was born prematurely in 1989, in Austin, Texas, severely underweight and with a condition that no doctor could diagnose. With incredibly supportive parents, she grew up loved and cherished – with two younger siblings without her symptoms – until she entered the school system, at which point she found herself the subject of bullying. Eventually, she made friends, and even joined her high school’s cheerleading team, in spite of a congenital lack of body strength and poor eyesight. And then, one day, at 17, she discovered an online video that labeled her “The Ugliest Woman in the World.” After a few days of sadness and anger, she decided to strike back by creating her own YouTube channel, speaking out against online bullying. Soon, she was invited to give a TEDxAustinWomen talk, and before long she became a sought-after motivational speaker. This is her incredible story, and though first-time filmmaker Sara Hirsh Bordo cannot resist the temptation to underscore Lizzie’s journey with unnecessarily excessive music, the film is still a powerful one. Below is a photo that Lizzie was kind enough to take with me after the screening. See the movie, and learn to love her as the rest of the world now does.
Deep Web (Alex Winter, 2015)
In January of this year, a man named Ross Ulbricht went on trial as the alleged mastermind behind the infamous Silk Road website – a secret online market that, among other things, allowed people to buy and sell drugs anonymously. The case is known as the “Dread Pirate Roberts” trial, since the site’s administrator used the name of the famous character from William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. In the book (and subsequent movie adaptation), that moniker is adopted by whoever happens to be the current pirate. Anyone and everyone can be the Dread Pirate Roberts. Filmmaker Alex Winter (Bill in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) has crafted a film that is about much more than illegal drug sales, however. Deep Web tackles issues of privacy and government overreach. As such, it is this year’s Citizenfour. For Ulbricht may or may not be guilty of some of the crimes of which he accused, but he is most likely not guilty of all of them, and anyone who cares about fairness and democracy should learn about his story. Narrated by Keanu Reeves (Ted in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) – who, with this and Side by Side, proves himself a wonderfully authoritative voiceover artist – the film packs a powerful libertarian punch. Be afraid. Be very afraid. And see this movie.
GTFO: Get the F&#% Out (Shannon Sun-Higginson, 2015)
I wanted to like this movie so much, especially after reading a recent article in The New York Times about it and other films on the subject of sexual harassment in the gaming world. Focusing on a group of very brave women – some gamers, some designers, some intellectuals – all of whom take on the rampant misogyny in video games, first-time director Shannon Sun-Higginson’s film tackles some very important issues. Unfortunately, the storytelling on display is not up to the material. With images flooded with distracting video gain, accompanied by poor audio, the movie might still have worked if the footage consisted of more than talking-head interviews and pixelated shots of conferences and gaming conventions. What remains is not without value – since what these women endure is unacceptable, and someone has to tell their story – but we emerge from the experience wishing that it were better.