Play these movies loud

The SXSW Film Festival goes virtual and loads up on music

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It was just over a year ago, on March 6, 2020, when South By Southwest (SXSW) pulled the plug on its film, music and comedy festival. It was the first time in 34 years that the Austin, Texas, show wouldn’t go on, and it was on account of the coronavirus pandemic. Ten days later, the rest of the world followed suit.

So we come to 2021, and in-person festivals are still a hope for the future. For the first cinematic casualty of COVID, virtual is the way it’s going to be.

On the bright side: Colorado cinephiles will be able to stream this year’s SXSW from the comfort of their couches March 16-20. And for the Boulder audience — who love a good music-themed documentary — SXSW will screen plenty. From opening night’s Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil to closing night’s Alone Together, about pop star Charli XCX creating, connecting and living in quarantine.

Alone Together won’t be the only movie at SXSW with a COVID-bent — you can peruse the schedule at sxsw.com and see for yourself — but for those tired of COVID talk and looking for something with a little more distance, SXSW has you covered. The festival is premiering a new restoration of Les Blank’s 1989 documentary about the creole/zydeco music of southwest Louisiana, I Went to the Dance. Playing centerpiece is Mary Wharton’s latest, Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel — which focuses on Petty’s second studio album, Wallflowers. And Edgar Wright’s first foray into documentary, The Sparks Brothers, highlights the influential and overlooked American pop duo.

Watch them all, but make sure to leave time for Tamara Saviano and Paul Whitfield’s portrait of outlaw country singer/songwriter Guy Clark, Without Getting Killed or Caught.

Cribbing a line from one of Clark’s songs, Without Getting Killed or Caught employs no fancy tricks, just three chords and the truth, to tell the trials and tribulations of Clark’s career. But you can’t really tell Clark’s story without telling the story of his wife, painter and songwriter Susanna Clark. Then again, it’s hard to tell Susanna’s story without talking about musician Townes Van Zandt — Susanna’s soul mate and Clark’s best friend.

The movie makes room for Susanna and Van Zandt, and Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Steve Earle — if you want to get to know someone, you have to start with their friends. Saviano and Whitfield relish in these alcohol-soaked stories with the golden hue of a sunset. Nostalgia permeates every aspect of the film, but Clark and Susanna’s relationship comes across the strongest. You get the feeling they fit each other nicely, even when they didn’t. If they didn’t already write country music, someone would have suggested they ought to.

Without Getting Killed or Caught is playing in SXSW’s sidebar: 2020 Spotlight, nine selections from last year’s festival that have been waiting for their time in the spotlight. Their time has come, on with the show.

ON THE BILL: The SXSW Film Festival screens virtually March 16-20. Tickets, titles and details at sxsw.com

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