SXSW Wrap-Up, Part 2

Here's the second of two entries reviewing films from the 2011 SXSW Film Festival.

--Nathan Cone


Small, Beautifully Moving Parts

A technologically-obsessed young woman has to deal with decidedly analog feelings in “Small, Beautifully Moving Parts,” a wonderfully acted film, led by Austin resident Anna Margaret Hollyman as Sarah Sparks.

Spun off from a Sundance Channel web series, “Small, Beautifully Moving Parts” finds techno-geek Sarah Sparks pregnant and in a loving relationship, but unsure of how she feels about her impending motherhood. “We wanted the humor of her being more excited about the ultrasound machinery than the actual thing being ultrasounded,” director Lisa Robinson told me.

A baby shower in the film becomes emotionally overwhelming; I’m a man, and even I could relate to that scene. Afterward, Sarah goes searching for a mother who she’s been estranged from for years. That’s the plot in a nutshell, but the film is full of quietly beautiful moments, such as Sarah visiting her father, who’s also somewhat humorously using technology to help his own love life. “Small, Beautifully Moving Parts” is a good film with great empathy for its characters.

Win Win Director Todd McCarthy’s third film, following “The Station Agent” and the brilliant “The Visitor,” is a sneaky little film that only later leaves you realizing how talented its stars are. Paul Giamatti plays a small-town lawyer and volunteer wrestling coach that finds himself in a position one day to make a decision that may not be ethically right, but will ultimately benefit him and those around him. But the repercussions of that choice come back to bite him later.

Amy Ryan is in the supporting role of Giamatti’s wife, and Jeffrey Tambor gets laughs with just a look. “Win Win” is an actor’s picture, and it’s a joy to watch these folks in action; they make what would normally be an uneventful plot into something special.

Beats of Freedom The more I learn about Poland, the more it seems that you can point to that much-abused Eastern bloc country as an important catalyst in the fall of Communism. The documentary “Beats of Freedom” recounts the Polish rock scene from the 1970s and 1980s, its relationship to the Solidarity movement, and its role in taking down the establishment. Groups profiled include Manaam, Brygada Kryzys (Crisis Brigade), and Tilt. Highlights include the story of how the establishment tacitly condoned the Jarocin Music Festival for years, because it supposedly kept youth happy and out of trouble. The thing is, no one over the age of 30 understood the subversive lyrics that the bands were singing, but the kids knew. This documentary is a fascinating look at recent rock history, and even better, the music is really, really good. If you love rock music, find “Beats of Freedom” and see it. This was one of my favorite films at the festival.

Five Time Champion

Shot on a small budget in Smithville, Texas, “Five Time Champion” is about young scientist Julius (Ryan Akin) and his tentative experiments with love and sex. Simultaneously, the film follows several adults as they embark on the same quest, and it’s interesting to see how director Berndt Mader shows how the concept of love evolves over the course of our lives.

Jon Gries is terrific in the film as a high school coach wooing Julius’s mother. He’s set up to be the antagonist in the film, but I left the movie feeling some sympathy for his character. It’s a terrific part, written well, and Gries delivers.

Something Ventured

Co-directors Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (“Ballets Russes”) chronicle the early history of companies like Apple, Intel, Cisco, and Genentech in their documentary “Something Ventured.” The movie has little narrative arc to it, focusing instead on telling each company’s story, but tying the film together are the half dozen or so venture capitalists interviewed for the picture, all of whom not only had the business acumen to get these start-up companies off the ground, but to groom their often untrained founders and entrepreneurs into successful businessmen and women of their own. As a fan of Atari since childhood, I geeked out at seeing Nolan Bushnell on screen, and marveled at how he struggled to sell the arcade game concept to investors. Even if the film seems somewhat devoid of conflicting views (save for the story of Cisco Systems), it’s a fascinating document of recent tech history.

Taken By Storm

If you own albums by Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, Montrose, UFO, the Mars Volta, or… or… the list goes on and on, chances are you’re familiar with the photography and design of Storm Thorgerson, and, working with his partner Aubrey Powell, the design firm Hipgnosis. Early on in “Taken By Storm,” a documentary about Thorgerson and his work, he’s called one of the “last great surrealists.” Certainly much of Thorgerson’s work falls into that category; his images are often characterized by ordinary people placed in unusual settings, such as the famous “burning handshake” cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” or the smiling family adoring a miniature monolith on the cover or Led Zeppelin’s “Presence.”

Thorgerson himself seems a genial old man in the documentary “Taken By Storm,” one who pours his heart and money into his work. Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Peter Gabriel, and members of the Mars Volta and the Cranberries all describe their experience working with the perfectionist in a bemused but admiring manner. Mr. Thorgerson shares his inspiration for some of his most iconic images, but I kept wanting to learn a little more about the ideas that drive him to create such memorable images. And though I suspect it’s probably a money issue (i.e. not enough funds for an independent film to license), I wanted to hear more music by the bands that Thorgerson designed album covers for.

--Nathan Cone

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