SXSW: Awards, Star Power, and Controversy

Pinny Grylis and Sam Crane’s Grand Theft Hamlet (2024)

Heading into its final weekend and riddled with high-powered stars and Texas-size controversies, the SXSW Film & TV Festival has announced the winners of its Narrative and Documentary Feature Competitions. In Tracie Laymon’s Bob Trevino Likes It, Barbie Ferreira (Euphoria, Nope) plays Lily Trevino, a twenty-five-year-old caretaker whose mother abandoned the family when she was four and whose father, Bob (French Stewart), has just cut her off.

Trying to track him down on Facebook, Lily friends another Bob Trevino (John Leguizamo), a married man with a tragic backstory of his own. “Leguizamo may give one of his career-best performances in the feature,” writes Samantha Bergeson at IndieWire, “but it’s Ferreira’s surprising command onscreen that is the most memorable.”

The Austin Chronicle’s Jenny Nulf agrees: “Her comedic timing is impeccable, as is her ability to cry ugly tears without vanity.” Ferreira is “the glowing charisma that keeps the film going when the secondhand embarrassment hits insane levels of discomfort.” For the Hollywood Reporter’s Angie Han, “the comedy can be bright and bouncy and frequently funny,” but Bob Trevino Likes It is “secretly a tearjerker, and never more effectively than when it’s at its very sweetest.”

Maria Rodríguez Soto won a Special Jury Award for Performance for her portrayal of forty-year-old Lola in Liliana Torres’s Mamifera, which the Chronicle’s Jessi Cape calls “a powerful examination of one woman’s very personal journey through unexpected pregnancy.” A Special Jury Award for Filmmaking went to Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu for We Were Dangerous, a “small but spirited 1954-set drama about a group of ‘delinquent’ teenage girls who plan a daring escape from the one-dock New Zealand island where they’ve been sent for institutional Christianization,” as IndieWire’s David Ehrlich describes it. We Were Dangerous is “a promising debut that does its best to remain upbeat as the agents of colonization try to assert their control over its characters’ bodies, as Stewart-Te Whiu skillfully combines the pluck of A Little Princess with the irreverence of executive producer Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Early in 2021, deep into the pandemic, the UK locked down for a third time, once again putting actors and friends Sam Crane and Mark Oosterveen out of work. They hung out together online, specifically in the virtual world of Grand Theft Auto, where “they happen upon the Vinewood open-air amphitheater,” and as Leslie Felperin explains in the Hollywood Reporter, “being actors, they can’t resist declaiming a monologue from Macbeth before the game’s NPC police show up to arrest them.” Grand Theft Hamlet, codirected by Crane and his partner, Pinny Grylis, and the winner of the Documentary Feature Competition, is “innovative, highly amusing, and often touching.”

Writing about Grand Theft Hamlet—as well as Benjamin Ree’s Ibelin, which won both a Directing Award and an Audience Award at Sundance, and Ekiem Barbier, Guilhem Causse, and Quentin L’helgoualc’h’s Knit’s Island, which screens on Saturday in New York as part of this year’s First Look—Slate’s Sam Adams notes that these films are “part of a new wave of documentaries that take their virtual cameras inside the world of online gaming. Ignoring the games’ ostensible goals, whether it’s rising to the top of an organized crime syndicate or fending off a horde of zombies, these movies focus on the communities that form inside these virtual environments, and how, especially in a world curtailed by the pandemic, those bonds can become as complex and meaningful as any formed IRL.”

Carina Mia Wong and Alex Simmons won a Special Jury Award for Bravery and Empathy for We Can Be Heroes, which they shot at a weeklong live action role-playing (LARP) summer camp in upstate New York. “We Can Be Heroes is a documentary that makes your heart swell and makes you instantly protective of its young subjects, except that for over eighty-six minutes you watch those subjects slay demons and reshape a dying universe,” writes Daniel Fienberg for the Hollywood Reporter. “These kids may not always be comfortable in the humdrum, ordinary world, but the film is full of hope.”

Barely forty-eight hours after they were onstage at the Oscars trading jabs over a make-believe rivalry between the teams behind Barbie and Oppenheimer, Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt were roaring up Congress Avenue in downtown Austin in the back of a pickup. When the truck stopped in front of the Paramount Theatre, the stars hopped out and greeted fans and everyone went inside to see The Fall Guy—which went over like gangbusters. Few crowds greet a rollicking action comedy as boisterously as those at SXSW.

Before the movie, though, the audience ferociously booed an ad touting a bright future promised by artificial intelligence. “Wow,” tweets Jessica Kiang, “a whole ad shilling for AI on the basis that ‘Collaborate, worm, or be crushed!’ is the only option for smart and reasonable people. Congratulations, you are Carter Burke,” referring, of course, to the Weyland-Yutani Corporation executive played by Paul Reiser in the Alien franchise.

“How funny,” writes the Guardian’s Adrian Horton, “and unintentionally pointed, for such a statement to air before a film that serves as a joyful testament to the people who make movies, and particularly the tricky, bombastic art of human stunts. Even funnier that The Fall Guy, written by Drew Pearce and directed by Bullet Train’s David Leitch, itself takes some swings at AI in the script; it’s not really a spoiler to say that its deepfakes aren’t being used for good.” For Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri, The Fall Guy is “an act of pure movie love, mixing and matching genres while tossing off in-jokes and references to its illustrious (and not-so-illustrious) forebears.”

As Alexandra Del Rosario reports in the Los Angeles Times, the other issue that’s flared up over the past week in Austin is Israel’s ongoing military action in Gaza following Hamas’s attack on October 7. SXSW began as a music festival, and several acts, including Rachel Chinouriri and Kneecap, have pulled out in protest of the U.S. Army’s sponsorship of the festival. “Bye,” tweeted Texas governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday. “Don’t come back.”

SXSW does not agree with Governor Abbott,” responded the festival. “We fully respect the decision these artists made to exercise their right to free speech.” Organizers stood by the Army sponsorship, while at the same time, adding: “We have and will continue to support human rights for all. The situation in the Middle East is tragic, and it illuminates the heightened importance of standing together against injustice.”

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