Docs that Rock: Three SXSW Documentaries to Catch this Spring

By Samantha J. Grasso 

This year’s South by Southwest film conference ran from Friday, March 13 to Saturday, March 21 and featured over 250 films, with 43 documentary films. From features on celebrities like Russell Brand to photojournalism in Afghanistan, the festival showcased a diverse selection of documentaries and biopics. At the end of the annual conference, I found three titles to pique my interest the most. This spring, get the popcorn ready and bring on the encore presentations.

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Director Sara Bordo and executive producer Lizzie Velasquez answer questions after a screening of “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story.” 

“A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story”

Directed by first-time filmmaker Sara Bordo, “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story” tells the uplifting narrative of motivational speaker and local inspiration Elizabeth Velasquez, a 26-year-old woman diagnosed with a rare syndrome that affects her eyesight and ability to gain weight. Through the eyes of Bordo, we watch Velasquez and her family tell the story of Velasquez’s struggles during childhood, to being dubbed by a stranger on YouTube as “the world’s ugliest woman,” to her international success as a motivational speaker and her current endeavor lobbying for a federal anti-bullying bill. I found myself crying with Velasquez’s recounts of childhood bullying, and laughing with her jokes just as often. The film was so well received that it won the audience award for documentary spotlight. Velasquez’s story is beautiful and reminds us that it’s necessary to stay positive, even when we feel at our lowest.

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Shanon Sun-Higginson answers questions after a screening of “GTFO: Get The F% Out.”

“GTFO: Get The F% Out”

In a world of online harassment, featuring misogynistic movements such as “Gamer Gate” and “meninism,” “GTFO: Get The F% Out” is a much-needed break in the feed. Directed by Shannon Sun-Higginson, the documentary is a collection of accounts from female video game developers, gamers and analysts that helps shape the answer to why women aren’t welcome in the video game industry. Though the film focuses on online harassment and abuse of women in gaming, Sun-Higginson’s take on the subject is well-balanced, including stories from both women who have and haven’t experienced harassment, as well as male and transgender interviewees. While featuring “Gamer Gate” targets Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu, “GTFO” acknowledges that misogyny in the gaming industry began long before the movement, and features harassment-countering blogs such as Not In The Kitchen Anymore and Fat, Ugly or Slutty.


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Director Brett Morgen answers questions with Head of SXSW Film Janet Pierson after the Austin premiere of “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.”

“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck”

I must disclose that while I was already waiting in line for this film, the director, Brett Morgen, gave leftover guest tickets to me and a friend to see “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.” Regardless, the documentary spoke for itself and far surpassed my expectations. With access to Cobain’s old writings, drawings and recordings, most of which was never before exposed to the public, Morgen and his team brought Cobain’s artifacts to life. With moving animations of sketches and letters set to Nirvana songs and animated short stories narrated by Cobain’s old recordings, a majority of the film is a reflection of Cobain’s mind, simply facilitated by the team. While we know how Cobain’s story ends, the film finishes unexpectedly, rejecting pop culture’s exploitation of his death. Morgen says executive producer Frances Bean Cobain found the ending to be her favorite part of the film.