Pete Davidson’s appearances on the last season of SNL were rare and tentatively self-referential, but he’s carrying an entire feature whose world premiere will open the SXSW Film Festival in Austin on March 13. In Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island, Davidson plays a guy in his midtwenties who can’t seem to kick his life into gear until his mother (Marisa Tomei) starts dating a boisterous firefighter (Bill Burr). The film is one of 102 features and episodic narratives in the first round of SXSW’s lineup announcements for its 2020 edition running through March 21.
Also premiering in SXSW’s Headliners program of gala events will be Spike Jonze’s Beastie Boys Story, a documentary on the group behind seven platinum-selling albums as seen through the eyes of surviving founders Adam Horovitz and Mike Diamond. Following the premiere, Beastie Boys Story will open on April 3 in selected IMAX theaters before it begins streaming on Apple TV+ on April 24. In another Headliner, Michael Showalter’s comedy The Lovebirds, Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani play a couple drawn into a convoluted murder mystery.
Among the ten films seeing their world premieres in the narrative feature competition is Pink Skies Ahead, the story of a young woman diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Pink is directed by best-selling author Kelly Oxford and stars Jessica Barden, Marcia Gay Harden, Michael McKean, Henry Winkler, and Mary J. Blige. Actress and filmmaker Justine Bateman (Arrested Development, Desperate Housewives) directs Olivia Munn, Luke Bracey, and Justin Theroux in Violet, in which a film executive comes to the realization that the guiding voice inside her head has been lying to her all her life. The documentary feature competition will launch Lights Camera Uganda, Cathryne Czubek and Hugo Perez’s chronicle of a partnership formed by Isaac Nabwana, a director known as “Africa’s Tarantino,” and Alan Hofmanis, a film programmer from New York. And the title of Matthew Salleh’s globe-trotting doc is also its bottom line: We Don’t Deserve Dogs.
John Leguizamo directs and stars in Critical Thinking, the true story of a teacher in Miami who took a group of teens from broken families to the National Chess Championship in 1998. Critical Thinking is written by Dito Montiel (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) and will premiere in the narrative spotlight program alongside RZA’s heist thriller Cut Throat City and Rectify supervising producer Scott Teems’s The Quarry, in which a preacher (Shea Whigham), who has just arrived in a small town in Texas, arouses the suspicions of the police chief (Michael Shannon). And Watchmen creator Alan Moore has written The Show, Mitch Jenkins’s feature about the fantastical goings on in a black hole tucked beneath the streets of a seemingly quiet town in the heart of England.
The documentary spotlight will feature 9to5: The Story of a Movement, in which Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar, whose American Factory has just been nominated for an Oscar, look back on a moment in the early 1970s when activists fighting for equal rights for women joined hands with the labor movement. The program also features Clerk, Malcolm Ingram’s profile of filmmaker Kevin Smith, and two docs on the development of video games in the early 1990s, Jonah Tulis and Blake J. Harris’s Console Wars and Joshua Tsui’s Insert Coin.
Docs on Frank Zappa, the young artists of the SoundCloud rap scene, Lydia Lunch, female drummers, and Ozzy Osbourne are lined up for the 24 Beats Per Second program. Cursed Films, Jay Cheel’s five-part documentary on the seemingly far-fetched legends that have sprung up around the making of several beloved horror movies, is one of SXSW’s episodic premieres. Most of these are fictional narratives, such as Snowpiercer, showrunner Graeme Manson and director James Hawes’s years-in-the-making series based on the graphic novel and Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 feature film adaptation.
SXSW’s Global program will present seven features from around the world, while Visions spotlights work from “audacious, risk-taking artists.” It’s a little surprising then to find a new feature here from Frank Oz, the voice of Yoda and Miss Piggy and the director of such Hollywood comedies as Little Shop of Horrors (1986) and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988). But Oz’s In & Of Itself does indeed look to be a departure, an intimate portrait of conceptual magician Derek DelGaudio. And Amy Seimetz, the actress (Upstream Color) and director (The Girlfriend Experience, Atlanta) who brought her first feature, Sun Don’t Shine, to SXSW in 2012, returns with She Dies Tomorrow. Like Sun Don’t Shine, the new film features Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley. The logline: “Amy thinks she’s dying tomorrow . . . and it’s contagious.”
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