SXSW 2021 VR

Recap: 2021 SXSW Online Film Festival was great isolated fun

I’ve been attending SXSW since 2013, so I’m proud to call myself a SXSW veteran. I spent most of those years covering the festival as press. This was the first year I covered two online film festivals, Sundance Film Festival having been the first I covered a little over a month ago. So I wasn’t a complete newb when it came to navigating the online viewing platform and planning out my schedule. 

Like every SXSW I’ve attended, there’s SO MUCH going on, you can’t possibly attend everything. But with the online capacity, I was able to be a little more flexible! Oftentimes, when a panel or screening begins, you’re able to pause the video (for say a short snack or bathroom break). Usually, a recording is still available for a day or two after the initial timeslot. Which worked out for me on Day 1. 😉 

My experience from the 2021 SXSW Online Film Festival

Tuesday, March 16

Hysterical

Standup comedian Marina Franklin
Standup comedian Marina Franklin / Photo credit: FX

I started my 2021 SXSW experience watching director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins’ intimate documentary Hysterical, which sheds light on the journey of standup women. I was so excited to watch this film and I also attended the corresponding panel. Everyone can watch this documentary on April 2 (FX) or April 3 (Hulu). Be on the lookout for it! I highly recommend it. 

From Screen-to-Screen: Adapting Games to Film/TV panel

As a new girl gamer, I knew I had to sit in on this panel. I learned so much from the panelists. Check out my recap for more info! 

Lily Topples The World

This documentary blew me away. I knew dominos existed as a hobby for some people but I had no idea Lily Hevesh, AKA Hevesh5 on YouTube, was a domino artist. Or that domino artistry was a thing! Director Jeremy Workman did such a great job telling Lily’s story, from her childhood to her college days to growing her profession. 

I also cried when he interviewed Lily’s parents, who adopted Lily when she was a baby from China. The Chinese government had implemented the One-Child policy, meaning parents were allowed to raise one child. Cultural standards were ideal for raising boys, so girls were unwanted. Baby Lily was waiting for her new parents at the orphanage. I bawled. Her life would’ve been so different if she had not been adopted by the Heveshes. 

Broadcast Signal Intrusion

Harry Schum Jr. stars as the lead in the film, Broadcast Signal Intrusion
Harry Schum Jr. stars as the lead in the film, Broadcast Signal Intrusion

Who would pass up a chance to watch Harry Schum Jr. in action? *wink wink* This film was SO creepy but that exactly the vibe this ‘90s-set thriller film was going for. In fact, I had a blast from the past seeing VHS tapes, payphones, and smaller computer monitors again. The conspiracy mystery that Harry Schum Jr.’s character tries to solve gets intriguing fast. You just gotta give it a chance.

Learning Tagalog with Kayla

On March 23, SXSW announced its 2021 SXSW Audience Awards and the Texas Short Competition award went to Kayla Abuda Galang for her short film, Learning Tagalog with Kayla! I remembered reading a press release about this short, so it was on my radar. I watched it and immediately fell in love with it. Normally, I do not watch shorts so I really enjoyed this one.

Wednesday, March 17

Parked In America

Black and white still of Judy Song as Ji Yeon Park in Kayla Yumi Lewis's "Parked In America" series pilot.
Black and white still of Judy Song as Ji Yeon Park in Kayla Yumi Lewis’s “Parked In America” series pilot.

As soon as I read about this episodic pilot when SXSW announced their full 2021 lineup, I knew I had to watch it. A Korean teen navigates American life in high school? I’m down for that! There’s very little media representative of Asians and Asian Americans. We matter. Our stories matter. Learn about them. Watch them.

The Position

The official SXSW Film Festival poster of "The Position"

I was fortunate enough to receive a screener link for this episodic pilot! Matthew Lessner and Breeda Wool’s The Position was very strange and eccentric to start, BUT it leaves you very curious and wanting more. Breeda Wool was electric as the quirky lady Agnes. I also enjoyed Wool in the feature film Mass (which I watched during Sundance 2021). I do wish The Position pilot wasn’t so short. There was a little more to explain that we could’ve learned from. 

Witch Hunt

I was fortunate enough to watch a screener of this film a week before SXSW began (which helped save me some time). I interviewed writer/director Elle Callahan as well before the festival. The film delivered a powerful message about prejudice and acceptance.

Thursday, March 18

Violet

I remember anticipating this film the months just before SXSW 2020 before the SXSW team cancelled the event due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. And I was so glad that Violet returned to the lineup for 2021 SXSW Online. I am a huge fan of Olivia Munn and I enjoyed watching Justine Bateman’s film. Without giving too much away, it is a must-watch for those who want to see something new and different in filmmaking. 

Friday, March 19 

Charles Yu

This is the hardest thing I’m going to write but… the rise of Asian hate crimes and violence had gone up dramatically since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stop AAPI reported. On March 17, eight people were killed in three Atlanta massage parlors, and six of the victims were Asian women. Charles Yu addressed the anti-Asian sentiment at the beginning of the panel (the panel itself was recorded prior to SXSW). Recapping this panel and well, watching the panel was… difficult. I felt so many feelings and shared a few of the Asian experiences that Charles Yu talked about. I am choosing not to go into detail but some of the happier things from the panel is the success of Yu’s book, Interior Chinatown! The award-winning book released just before the pandemic last year and it’s now definitely on my to-read list.

Concluding Thoughts

The SXSW team pulled off this year’s SXSW Online incredibly well. The new app was easy to navigate. The SXSW app on the Roku was simple to connect to. I actually got to sit in my PJs and just watch films I was able to access on my Roku. The introvert in me LOVED it. And my adorable tabby cat Matcha joined in on the fun. While I definitely missed the in-person event, I am grateful that the SXSW team prioritized public health and safety over profit. See y’all in 2022.

Read more of ChinLin’s articles.

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Featured image credit: SXSW

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