So this is why we go to the movies.
The annual South by Southwest film festival in Austin, which comes to a close Saturday, is such a whirlwind of moviegoing that it’s easy to get caught up in all the peripheral pleasures of big stars, world and regional premieres, and trying to catch up with whatever has the loudest buzz.
But the best part of any film fest is discovering new visions and new talent, those with distinctive voices that stand out amid the cacophony of Hollywood and indie-world hype. Here are three films at SXSW that fit the bill.
‘Hot Summer Nights’
First-time director/writer Elijah Bynum didn’t come completely out of the blue with the world premiere of his coming-of-age/crime story at SXSW. His work had been on the Black List, the Hollywood compilation of the best unproduced screenplays making the rounds.
While the topic of his debut film is hardly novel and Bynum wears his influences — Scorsese with a little David Lynch thrown in for good measure — too obviously on his sleeve, “Hot Summer Nights” nevertheless is a masterful calling card.
He solicits strong performances from his young cast — especially Timothée Chalamet as the teenage fish out of water — and blends humor and increasingly dark sensibility to good effect.
‘Meth Storm: Arkansas USA’
The young Renaud brothers, Brent and Craig, spent two years chronicling the lives of a central Arkansas family that has been destroyed by involvement in the selling and consuming of meth.
The filmmakers’ background working in post-earthquake Haiti, cartel-run areas of Honduras and Mexico, and war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan means they have no compunction about showing the full effects of the drug’s human devastation. But “Meth Storm,” which had its world premiere at SXSW, doesn’t come across as exploitive.
The Renauds are from Arkansas and approach their subjects with respect. It’s impossible not to feel and identify with various members of the family, especially mom Veronica, who seem mired in a quicksand of poverty, hopelessness and poor decisions.
HBO is distributing “Meth Storm” but no word yet on when it’s airing.
Lion and Moonlight are notable for many reasons but one being they are complex portraits of men of color, still a rarity in American films. The low-budget “Dara Ju” — whose title means “better” in the Yoruba language of Nigeria — can be added to the list.
The first feature from director/writer Anthony Onah, “Dara Ju” concerns a young Nigerian-American Wall Street striver caught between the wishes of his more traditional, old-world family and his corporate, new-world ambitions.
Sure, it’s an ages-old dilemma and there are moments that feel very much like a first film. But the strong lead performance by Aml Ameen (“Sense8”) lends shading and depth to Onah’s story.
It was nominated for the SXSW Grand Jury Award.