Sheryl Crow, Nick Cave, King Crimson, Dio, XXXTentacion, Tanya Tucker, Chumbawamba, Courtney Barnett, Cesária Évora and Mojo Nixon — together again for the first time: These are some of the highly diverse subjects of a slate of music documentaries (or, in the case of Tierra Whack, a fictional film) set to unspool at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin March 11-20.
The 16 movies represented in the “24 Beats Per Second” lineup are nearly all world premieres, in a film festival that skews toward SXSW’s original roots as a pure music festival by always carving out a special category for features that chronicle musicians or music scenes.
The music doc coming into the festival with probably the highest level of fan anticipation is , which promises to have director Sabaah Folayan offering “a sensitive portrayal” of a precocious, highly controversial, Soundcloud-based rapper “whose acts of violence, raw musical talent and open struggles with mental health left an indelible mark on his generation before his death at the age of 20.” While many of the festival entries are looking for a sale from their exposure at SXSW, “Look at Me!” is already set to stream on Hulu this summer.
Joining the artist profiles in the film lineup are documentaries about the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story,” by co-directors Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern, and rubber bridge guitars, in “Really Good Rejects,” a film that will have producer Aaron Dessner talking about using them on Taylor Swift’s recent folkier albums.
Some of the films promise to be complete life and career chronicles, like those devoted to Crow, Barnett and Dio. Others will document the making of a single project, like “The Return of Tanya Tucker,” which shows the making of the veteran country star’s comeback album, “While I’m Livin’,” with Brandi Carlile at the producing and co-writing helm — a rootsy return to the limelight that won Tucker two Grammys in 2020. “This Much I Know to Be True,” meanwhile, captures Cave and Warren Ellis playing songs from and discussing two recent collaborative albums.
Prog-rock fans will salivate at the thought of a full doc on King Crimson’s 50-year career, while a film about Chumbawamba’s former singer takes more of a human-interest angle on someone who hasn’t been much in the limelight lately, with the feature described as chronicling “a burnt-out, middle-aged, ex-pop star in search of his long-lost anarchist mojo.”
Somewhat off the beaten track, as a fiction film and “psychological thriller” in the guise of a mockumentary, “Cypher” is a starring vehicle for Tiarra Whack, which “delves into fame and the conspiracy theories surrounding the music industry.”
Although it doesn’t appear as part of the “24 Beats Per Second” lineup, another SXSW documentary, “Still Working 9 to 5,” will be of interest to Dolly Parton fans. The country superstar not only appears in the new doc, which takes off from the 1980 “9 to 5” film she starred in to explore women’s work issues, but she re-recorded “9 to 5” as a duet with Kelly Clarkson, and licensed eight other songs from her catalog for the project. (Read Variety‘s report on that film here.)
The 16 music films are a fraction of the 99 films playing as part of the festival. Every film selected for the lineup will have an in-person premiere in Austin, and most are scheduled for additional in-person screenings. Some will also have online screenings for remote badge-holders, subject to timed viewing windows and geoblocking restrictions.
The full lineup of feature-length music films bowing at SXSW, with the synopses and credits as they appear in the festival’s rollout announcement:
Anonymous Club (Australia)
Director/Screenwriter: Danny Cohen, Producers: Philippa Campey, Samantha Dinning
The antithesis of a rock biography, “Anonymous Club” paints a raw and intimate picture of enigmatic singer-songwriter, Courtney Barnett — an anti-influencer who is a powerful voice for our times, a recluse acclaimed by audiences the world over. (International Premiere)”
Cesária Évora (Cabo, Verde, Portugal)
Director/Screenwriter: Ana Sofia Fonseca, Producers: Ana Sofia Fonseca, Irina Calado
World renowned performer Cesária Évora’s voice took her from poverty to stardom. With previously unseen footage and insights into the singer’s life, the film follows her struggles and success. (World Premiere)
Director/Screenwriter: Chris Moukarbel, Producers: John Hodges, Tony Hernandez, Lilly Burns, Chris Moukarbel, Tierra Whack, Anthony Seyler, Sanjay Sharma, Roya Rastegar
A psychological thriller about and starring the artist Tierra Whack that delves into fame and the conspiracy theories surrounding the music industry. The film takes the form of a music documentary. Cast List: Tierra Whack, Johnny Medina, Kenete Simms, Jamila Curry, Camille Fleming, Natalia Leigh Brown, Bionca Bradley, Chris Anthony, Nyla Naveah, Vanja Asher (World Premiere)
DIO Dreamers Never Die
Directors: Don Argott, Demian Fenton, Producers: Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce
The definitive career spanning documentary on heavy metal legend, Ronnie James Dio. (World Premiere)
Getting It Back: The Story Of Cymande (United Kingdom)
Director: Tim Mackenzie-Smith, Producers: Tim Mackenzie-Smith, Matt Wyllie
They are the unsung heroes whose message of peace, love and funk sailed beyond Britain’s shores and helped shape music for five decades. Long after they stopped playing, the music played on, so they returned to play some more. (World Premiere)
I Get Knocked Down (United Kingdom)
Directors: Sophie Robinson, Dunstan Bruce, Screenwriter: Dunstan Bruce, Producer: Sophie Robinson
The story of Chumbawamba’s ex-frontman Dunstan Bruce. A burnt-out, middle-aged, ex-pop star in search of his long lost anarchist mojo. (International Premiere)
In the Court of the Crimson King (United Kingdom)
Director: Toby Amies, Producers: Toby Amies, Nicholas Jones
What began as a traditional documentary about the legendary band King Crimson as it turned 50, mutated into an exploration of time, death, family, and the transcendent power of music to change lives; but with jokes. (World Premiere)
Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story
Directors: Frank Marshall, Ryan Suffern, Producers: Frank Marshall, Sean Stuart, Ryan Suffern
This soulful and heartfelt celebration of 50 years of the funky and fabulous New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival invites you to bliss out on New Orleans’ unique culture, featuring Jimmy Buffett, Bruce Springsteen, Katy Perry, Earth, Wind & Fire, and many others. (World Premiere)
Look At Me!
Director: Sabaah Folayan, Producer: Darcy McKinnon, Chloe Campion
“Look At Me!” explores how Jahseh Onfroy tapped raw talent, a gift for connecting with disaffected youth, and a mastery of social media to fashion himself into SoundCloud rapper XXXTentacion – one of the most streamed artists on the planet. (World Premiere)
Omoiyari: A Song Film by Kishi Bashi
Directors: Kaoru Ishibashi, Justin Taylor Smith, Producer: JJ Gerber
Violinist and songwriter Kishi Bashi travels on a musical journey to understand WWII-era Japanese Incarceration, assimilation, and what it means to be a minority in America today. (World Premiere)
Really Good Rejects
Director: Alice Gu, Producers: Alice Gu, Jose Nuñez, Robert Fyvolent, David Dinerstein
The muted tones of rubber bridge guitars have delighted listeners the world over — from Wilco to Taylor Swift’s “Folklore.” Modern-day luthier Reuben Cox demystifies his process of creating some of rock’s most sought-after guitars. (World Premiere)
Santos–Skin to Skin
Director: Kathryn Golden, Producers: Ashley James, Kathryn Golden
A film portrait of community activist and seven-time Grammy nominee John Santos, a “keeper of the Afro-Caribbean flame.” Rich in musical performances, Santos links the rhythms of his ancestors to contemporary struggles of identity and social justice. (World Premiere)
Director: Amy Scott, Producers: Van Toffler, Scooter Weintraub, Brian Morrow, Jonathan Lynch
An intimate story of song and sacrifice — musically gifted superstar Sheryl Crow navigates an iconic yet arduous musical career battling sexism, ageism, depression, cancer, and the price of fame, before harnessing the power of her gift. (World Premiere)
The Mojo Manifesto: The Life and Times of Mojo Nixon
Director: Matt Eskey, Producers: Sal Owen, Eva Radke
On a bicycle trip across the country, a young Neill Kirby McMillan Jr. experiences The Mojo Revelation. After teaming up with the enigmatic Skid Roper, he unexpectedly finds mainstream success but faces a decision that could jeopardize his career. (World Premiere)
The Return of Tanya Tucker
Director: Kathlyn Horan, Producers: Kathlyn Horan, Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn
The story of trailblazing country music legend Tanya Tucker’s return to the spotlight after nearly 20 years. Rising star Brandi Carlile writes an album for her hero based on Tanya’s life, spurring the greatest comeback in country music history. (World Premiere)
This Much I Know To Be True (United Kingdom)
Director: Andrew Dominik, Producers: Amy James, Isaac Hoff
Shot over five days at Battersea Arts Centre and on location in London and Brighton, “This Much I Know To Be True” captures Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ exceptional creative relationship as they bring to life songs from albums “Ghosteen” and “Carnage.” (US Premiere)