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15 African Diaspora-Interest Feature Films To See At The 2013 SXSW Film Festival

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act March 8, 2013 at 7:24PM

The 20th South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference and Festival opened its doors today, in Austin, TX, with a total of 133 features, consisting of 78 World Premieres, 13 North American Premieres and 9 U.S. Premieres, and 76 first-time directors. 109 shorts will screen as part of 10 overall shorts programs. The nearly 250 films were selected from a record number of overall submissions, over 5,700, comprised of approximately 2,100 features and 3,600 shorts. In addition to the films, the SXSW Film Conference features over 150 informative and entertaining featured Conversations, panels, workshops and more. “As the lines between film and technology continue to blur, SXSW Film remains ahead of the curve as we host digital creatives from across all fields,” said SXSW Film Conference and Festival Producer Janet Pierson. The South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival will take place March 8 – 16, 2013 in Austin, Texas. Unfortunately, neither I nor Vanessa (we both went last year) will be there this year (all these trips to festivals start to get pricey, from one to the next); however, I still hope that we'll get a few reviews from folks I know who are attending, and who have offered to contribute a write-up or two, or three... And in anticipation of the festival's opening today, I compiled a list of the 15 feature films (fiction and non-fiction) that center on stories about people of African descent, separated in their respective categories, that are scheduled to screen (whether in or out of competition) at the festival. 15 of out 133 total features in this year's lineup, or about 11%, which is roughly the same percentage as there were in the 2012 edition of the festival. But without further ado, here are the 15 feature films:In the Narrative feature film competition category:
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'The Retrieval'
'The Retrieval'

The 20th South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference and Festival opened its doors today, in Austin, TX, with a total of 133 features, consisting of 78 World Premieres, 13 North American Premieres and 9 U.S. Premieres, and 76 first-time directors. 109 shorts will screen as part of 10 overall shorts programs.

The nearly 250 films were selected from a record number of overall submissions, over 5,700, comprised of approximately 2,100 features and 3,600 shorts.

In addition to the films, the SXSW Film Conference features over 150 informative and entertaining featured Conversations, panels, workshops and more.

“As the lines between film and technology continue to blur, SXSW Film remains ahead of the curve as we host digital creatives from across all fields,” said SXSW Film Conference and Festival Producer Janet Pierson.

The South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival will take place March 8 – 16, 2013 in Austin, Texas.

Unfortunately, neither I nor Vanessa (we both went last year) will be there this year (all these trips to festivals start to get pricey, from one to the next); however, I still hope that we'll get a few reviews from folks I know who are attending, and who have offered to contribute a write-up or two, or three...

And in anticipation of the festival's opening today, I compiled a list of the 15 feature films (fiction and non-fiction) that center on stories about people of African descent, separated in their respective categories, that are scheduled to screen (whether in or out of competition) at the festival.

15 of out 133 total features in this year's lineup, or about 11%, which is roughly the same percentage as there were in the 2012 edition of the festival.

But without further ado, here are the 15 feature films:


In the Narrative feature film competition category:

1 - Jonathan Singer-Vine's Licks revolves around a man named D and his struggles after returning to his Oakland neighborhood after a two-year stint in prison for arm robbery. The film stars Stanley "Doe" Hunt as Lil D, Koran Jenkins, John Stallings and Devon Libran.

2 - Chris Eska's The Retrieval stars newcomers (mostly) Ashton Sanders, Tishuan Scott, Keston John, Bill Oberst, Jr., Christine Horn, and others, in a story that takes place on the outskirts of the Civil War, where a boy is sent north by a bounty hunter gang to retrieve a wanted man.


In the Documentary feature competition category:

3 - Touba from director E. Chai Vasarhelyi, With unprecedented access and dynamic 16mm cinematography, Touba reveals a different face of Islam by chronicling Sufi Muslims’ annual pilgrimage to the city of Touba.

4 - Lotfy Nathan's 12 O'Clock Boys, which follows Pug, a young boy growing up on a combative West Baltimore block, who finds solace in a gang of illegal dirt bike riders known as The 12 O’Clock Boys.

5 - William and the Windmill from director Ben Nabors, which centers on William Kamkwamba, a young Malawian, who builds a power-generating windmill from junk parts, to rescue his family from famine, transforming his life and catapulting him on to the the world stage. His fame and success lead him to new opportunities and complex choices about his future, distancing him from the life he once knew.

In the Narrative Spotlight category:

6 - John Sayles' Go For Sisters, which Yolonda RossLisaGay Hamilton, Isaiah WashingtonEdward James Olmos, and Hector Elizondo all star in, and which centers on Bernice and Fontayne, who grew up so tight they could ‘go for sisters’. After twenty years apart, they are reunited when Bernice is assigned to be Fontayne’s parole officer - just when she needs help on the wrong side of the law. 


In the Doc spotlight category:

7 - From Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker, Peter Odabashian, and Paul Stekler, comes the documentary Getting Back To Abnormal, in which a polarizing white politician becomes a lightning rod for racial strife in New Orleans. It's is a look at the state of New Orleans politics and culture more than five years after Hurricane Katrina, set against the 2009-2010 local political season.

In the 24 Beats Per Second category, which has the highest number of Diaspora/Diaspora-interest films:

8 - A Band Called Death, directed by Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino. Formed in the early '70s by three teenage brothers from Detroit, Death is credited as being the first black punk band, and the Hackney brothers, David, Bobby, and Dannis, are now considered pioneers in their field. But it wasn’t until recently that anyone outside a small group of punk enthusiasts had even heard of them.

9 - Lily Keber's Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker which explores the life, times and music of James Booker, the legendary New Orleans performer who Dr. John proclaimed “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.” The film includes Interviews with: Harry Connick, Jr., Hugh Laurie, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Charles Neville, Cosimo Matassa, Harry Connick Sr., Joe Boyd, Bunny Matthews, Ron Cuccia, Joshua Paxton, Tom McDermott, Reggie Scanlan, Ronald Markham, George Winston, and countless others.

10 - Born in Chicago from director John Anderson. Passed down from musician to musician, the Chicago blues transcended the color lines of the 1960s as young, white Chicago musicians apprenticed themselves to legends such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

11 - Brothers Hypnotic, from director Reuben Atlas. Eight brothers, extraordinary brass musicians from Chicago’s South Side, test their brotherhood and their father’s legacy against mounting mainstream success.

12 - Finding the Funk. Nelson George presents a documentary feature that takes viewers on a journey through the origins and influence of funk music, from James Brown to D'Angelo. Among those featured in the film are: Sly Stone, Bootsy Collins, Mike D of the Beastie Boys, D'Angelo, Marcus Miller, Mtume, Nona Hendryx, Vernon Reid, Maceo Parker, Bernie Worrell, Steve Arrington, Reggie Hudlin, Sheila E, Shock G, and others.


13 - The Great Hip Hop Hoax, directed by Jeanie Finlay, which centers on Californian hip-hop duo Silibil n' Brains who were going to be massive. But no one knew the pair were really Scottish, with fake American accents and made up identities. A film about truth, lies and the legacy of faking everything in the pursuit of fame.

14 - Snoop Dogg, aka Snoop Lion, who claimed to now having had his third eye opened, becoming (or learning that he has always been) Rastafari, takes audiences on his journey in the documentary film, titled Reincarnated, which follows Snoop as he travels to Jamaica to record an album. While there, he finds himself embraced by Jamaicans, is positively impacted by Rastafarian culture, and becomes reincarnated as the aforementioned Snoop Lion.

15 - Twenty Feet From Stardom, directed by Morgan Neville, tells the untold story of the backup singer in popular music, promising an unprecedented look at the personal journeys of the normally un-celebrated, although indispensable artists, and pays tribute to their unforgettable role in popular music.

And there are your 15 Diaspora/Diaspora-interest feature films!

I'll post a separate entry for the short films, which will take me a bit longer to sift through.

But for those who are going to SXSW, or are likely already there, a toast to what will hopefully be a mostly thrilling experience, and some real gems in that lot of 133 feature films.



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