SXSW '23 DOCUMENTARY SPOTLIGHT
- The Lady Bird Diaries
- Great Photo, Lovely Life
- Being Mary Tyler Moore
The SXSW Film & TV Festival has an unbelievable range of offerings in the documentary genre ensuring there is something to spark the interest of every film-goer. As a self-proclaimed documentary-nerd, I was excited by the list of films this year. Below are short reviews of what I was able to see, listed in no particular order.
THE LADY BIRD DIARIES
Dir: Dawn Porter
IMDb: A groundbreaking documentary film that uses Lady Bird's audio diaries to tell the story of one of the most influential and least understood First Ladies in history.
If you are from Austin or even Texas–you know Lady Bird Johnson is a full fledged icon, cherished by everyone. This documentary is made for history buffs and political junkies as it provides a unique lens to the view of a famous Presidency. The entire auditory experience is Lady Bird’s words, the whole narrative is in her voice, told through never heard before diary style recordings of her time as the First Lady. Lady Bird was funny, blunt, and equally smart and sweet–she was unafraid to speak her mind. The intimate tone of a behind the scenes look at what happened during a Presidency unfortunately surrounded by tragedy is definitely worth a watch although it feels a little too long in the runtime.
GREAT PHOTO, LOVELY LIFE
Dir: Rachel Beth Anderson, Amanda Mustard
IMDb: Photojournalist Amanda Mustard turns her investigative lens on the sexual abuse committed by her grandfather, unearthing a high-stakes personal journey in pursuit of the truth and reconciliation for Amanda's family.
This is not a true crime story. This story is deeply personal and devastatingly unfiltered as one of the filmmaker’s, Amanda, investigates her grandfather’s history as a known, convicted sexual predator. The camera follows her as she moves back to her small hometown in Pennsylvania to dive into her family history, plagued by her grandfather’s past. What makes this documentary so unique is the approach to the story and experience, at its core it is so unapologetically conflicted. The grandfather is not posed as a monster. Instead, he is a husband, father, grandfather who did this terrible, awful thing. He talks about it in a very matter-of-fact way that is infuriating. But if you didn’t know this man was a life-ruiner, you would assume he is a sweet, caring old little man. As we, Amanda and family watch his dwindling health, the grappling of how to come to terms with the past are the ticking time bomb of closure while they still have him in their life. This is a story of confrontation, healing, and growth. One of the most unique approaches to storytelling I’ve seen in a documentary. Definitely worth a watch when it hits HBO!
BEING MARY TYLER MOORE
Dir: James Adolphus
IMDb: Mary's vanguard career, who, as an actor, performer, and advocate, revolutionized the portrayal of women in media, redefined their roles in show business, and inspired generations to dream big and make it on their own.
Mary Richards was my idol, and not just because we share a last name. She was the first completely independent woman portrayed on television and I was glued to the tv watching reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Nick at Nite during my formative years. She had her own apartment, she worked in broadcasting (which I would eventually grow up to do, too) and she lived her life for herself. She was iconic and influential and inspired many women of all ages. However, Mary Tyler Moore was more than just Mary Richards; she was made famous as Laurie Petrie, wife of Rob Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, a ballerina and performer. This doc does a fantastic job of capturing her full life - from birth and childhood to her entire career and personal life, including marriages and the loss of her child and through to her passing. The story is told through archival footage, interviews, and audio clips of Mary and her loved ones in chronological order. The captivating energy of this film is aligned with Mary’s energy and it feels like a warm hug. When it ended I wanted to immediately start streaming reruns of my favorite episodes of her shows. I cannot wait to watch it again when it hits MAX soon!
Dir: Linda Plioplyte
IMDb: Periodical is an eye-opening documentary that examines science, politics, and mystery of the menstrual cycle, through the experiences of doctors, athletes, movie stars, journalists, activists, and everyday people.
For way, way too long women and girls have been shamed for what their body is naturally and uncontrollably told to do every month: bleed. The menstrual cycle has been shamed for all of time - from Eve biting the apple to current day, women are put down and told they are disgusting for having their period. This is completely absurd considering we all come from women, but I digress. This is one of the most well-researched and educational documentaries out there, especially about a taboo topic. Within the first 10 minutes, I found myself thinking: this is something *everyone* should watch. I learned a lot, whether it was from the voice of an activist, comedian, medical professional, or just an everyday person. This doc has many voices, and that is one of the main reasons it works so well. This doc does have a message and call to action - end the pink tax. The pink tax is a state sales tax on menstrual products like tampons and pads, which are necessities for most women, while groceries and medicines (most notably Viagra) are not taxed. The activists in the film are fighting to end this unfair extra cost to women. I felt inspired and proud when the credits started to roll. A must watch for all!