Films of SXSW Online 2021 — A ‘Global Community’

Lily Hevesh in 'Lily Topples The World' | Image Credit: Steve Price

The films at this year’s South By Southwest (SXSW) Festival Online 2021 beautifully represented the shared experiences of people around the world — battling the pandemic, oppressive regimes, racial caste systems and the climate crisis.

Demi Lovato and Alok Vaid-Menon speak at the featured session “Beyond the Gender Binary” during SXSW Online on March 19, 2021.

While being culturally fluid is not an emerging trend, there is an emerging trend of highlighting the stories of those who straddle more than one culture or race. Often times those who have a foot in many cultures struggle to feel an authentic sense of belonging and may find creating community a challenge.

SXSW is not just a festival that happens once a year in Austin. It’s a global community that enriches my life all year round.

Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute during her presentation on emerging trends for 2021.

Due to the proliferation of online gatherings, it has become quite apparent that contact and collaboration are not limited to one festival but ongoing work throughout the year. Keep an eye out for our Culturs festival favorites in the coming months as films are distributed.

SXSW — Short Not Sweet

Film poster for Nuevo Rico Vibrant animated drawking
Animated short Nuevo Rico, directed by Kristian Mercado Figueroa, premiered at the 2021 South by Southwest Film Festival.

Shorts (films no longer than 40 minutes) are a draw for festival goers and for the filmmaker. Accolades from the audiences and the critics can lead to turning a short into a full-length feature. One of our favorites was also a jury favorite: “Nuevo Rico” won best animated short and was directed by Kristian Mercado. It is an incredible futuristic vision told through music and vibrant animation in a style that is uniquely Mercado’s.

This award-winning short film is currently playing through the festival circuit. Click here to see where it is possible to screen in the future.

“Chuj Boys of Summer” is the story of a Guatemalan teenager beginning his new life in rural Colorado. The film won the MailChimp Support the Shorts competition at SXSW. More than 25 short films are now available to watch for free on Mailchimp Presents.

(Editor’s Note: We want your reviews! After you watch tag @cultursmag and use the hashtags #SXSW #SupportTheShorts with your “short review!” Show these incredible SXSW filmmakers from around the world some love using #SupportTheShorts.)

Still from “Chuj Boys of Summer”

SXSW — Untold Stories: Women

A premiere at top-tier film festivals such as Sundance, Tribeca, or Cannes is an honor and potential boon. Another emerging trend is for industry reps to scout film festivals for buzzy films and purchase those films for extremely high prices. If a film becomes an international “festival darling,” this reputation can bolster the success of a film outside of the creators nation of origin.

Hopefully, this will be the case with “Trapped.” Directed by boundary-pushing female director Manal Khaled, “Trapped” boasts an all-female cast and a primarily female crew.

“Trapped” revolves around a number of women from different walks of life whose destinies are tied together. As events unfold, the women reflect on the shackles imposed by a patriarchal society.

This incredible film sheds light on how the fight for women’s equality is not an emerging trend, it’s an ongoing battle.

Still From “Trapped”

SXSW — Untold Stories: Immigrants

Five teen girls in school uniforms
Still From “Women is Losers” Directed and Written by Lissette Feliciano, Center, Lorenza Izzo

“Women is Losers” provides a much needed break from the the present day. This period piece, set in 1960s San Francisco and written and directed by Lissette Feliciano stars Lorenza Izzo as Celina Guerrera, a Latina fighting for her future and her young son.

Feliciano’s direction and vision make this film worth watching. Izzo’s performance was strong. Simu Liu (star of the award-winning “Kim’s Convenience”) gives a notable performance, while also being gorgeous.

Actor Simu Liu male smiling and holding a microphone.
Simu Liu photo by Gage Skidmore

“Islands,” directed by Martin Edralin, tells the story of Joshua, a shy, almost-50-year-old Filipino immigrant living in Canada. Joshua has lived in the comfort of his parents’ home his entire life. With his parents now in old age, he pleads with God for a companion, terrified of being alone after they pass. 

This beautiful story of family, humanity and love will leave you with a feeling a hope. The lead actor Rogelio Balagtas was recognized for his incredible performance with a Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Performance.

Middle aged Asian man holding a cellphone to his hear with a picture of white Jesus hanging on the wall
Still from Islands (Canada)
Director/Screenwriter: Martin Edralin, Producer: Martin Edralin, Priscilla Galvez

“Ayar” tells the story of a first-generation American Latina, who returns home to reunite with her daughter. Ayar’s mother, who has been caring for her daughter, refuses to let her see her due to COVID-19.

Ayar is confronted by the many roles she’s been forced to play, including the role in this film. Magical realism combined with the very real pandemic make for a fascinating and at times heartbreaking film.

Woman center in the background plants growing around the walls.
Director: Floyd Russ, Screenwriters: Ariana Ron Pedrique, Floyd Russ, Vilma Vega, Producers: Kara Durrett, Floyd Russ, Corey Waters, Andy Coverdale

SXSW — Are the Kids Alright?

In “Fruits of Labor” directed by Emily Cohen Ibañez, a Mexican-American teenage farmworker dreams of graduating high school until ICE raids in her community threaten to separate her family and force her to become her family’s breadwinner.

This project is an example of what a documentary film can look like when its creator is passionate and dedicated to telling an important story. This is Cohen Ibañez’s first feature as well as her first SXSW experience. The reality of the struggles of the undocumented will resonate long after the credits roll.

Young person standing in a field in a hooded sweatshirt red bandanna over face.
Fruits of Labor
Director: Emily Cohen Ibañez, Screenwriters: Ashley Solis Pavon, Emily Cohen Ibañez Producer: Emily Cohen Ibañez

“Inbetween Girl” is a coming-of-age tale centered around mixed-race teen artist Angie Chen (played by Emily Galbraith). The film is director Mei Makino’s directorial debut.

In an interview with Pop Sugar, Makino spoke about her personal experience as a mixed race Asian-American.

“Talking about and feeling like my feelings were valid was really hard,” she said. “There was a big part of me that did feel fraudulent in my Asian-ness because I’m actually half-Japanese. And I can’t speak Japanese. That was a big element that I brought to Angie’s character, the insecurity of dealing with all of that. ”

Teenage girl with backwards baseball cap, behind her is a a messy bedroom with art on all the walls.
Inbetween Girl
Director/Screenwriter: Mei Makino, Producers: Matt Stryker, Connor Pickens, Emily Gollahon, Kate Gollahon, Udoy Rahim

In “The Fallout” (SXSW 2021 Narrative Feature Competition winner), high schooler Vada navigates the emotional fallout she experiences in the wake of a school tragedy. Relationships with her family, friends and view of the world are forever altered.

Two girls wearing sheet face masks float in a pool while one sips wine from a glass with her eyes closed.
“The Fallout”

Yes, There is Racism In America

Racial inequality exists around the world. Time and place matter for these types of discussions. Understanding systemic oppression worldwide is no easy task. However, films (both narrative and documentary) often provide much-needed context and information presented in an easily digestible format.

“Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism In America” features ACLU lawyer Jeffery Robinson’s shattering talk on the history of U.S. anti-Black racism. The film is an exploration of the legacy of white supremacy and the U.S.’s collective responsibility to overcome it — important viewing for anyone wishing to understand the racial problems that have plagued the US since the country’s inception.

Robinson moderated a panel during SXSW which examined the work of activists to take control of the historical narrative surrounding the 1921 massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This history survived because of the dedicated efforts of Black Tulsans, including the descendants of survivors.

These descendants have made it their life’s work to uncover what really happened. There is also an emerging trend of featuring these untold stories. The Tulsa Race Massacre is featured in HBO’s “The Watchmen,” “Lovecraft Country” as well as CNN’s new documentary; “Dreamland: The Burning of Black Wall Street.”

Camera crew interviewing three Black people on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America
Directors: Emily Kunstler, Sarah Kunstler, Screenwriter: Jeffery Robinson, Producers: Jeffery Robinson, Emily Kunstler, Sarah Kunstler

Love, Grief and Dominos

“The Hunt for Planet B” follows a pioneering group of scientists — many of them women — on their quest to find another Earth among the stars. Featuring NASA’s high-stakes, not-yet-launched James Webb Space Telescope, this is not just any space documentary, it’s also a meditation on grief, humanity and the healing power of love across the stars.

Yellow and Black Space telescope in a warehouse.
The Hunt for Planet B
Director: Nathaniel Kahn, Producers: Bonnie Hlinomaz, Nathaniel Kahn

“Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché” follows Celeste Bell, daughter of iconic punk rocker Poly Styrene. Styrene was the first woman of color in the UK to front a successful rock band.

Bell traverses three continents to better understand Poly the icon and Poly the mother. Featuring unseen archive material and rare diary entries and narrated by Oscar nominee Ruth Negga. This film will undoubtedly introduce a new generation of girls to a woman rebel and revolutionary and inspire mothers to tell their daughters their stories.

Young woman wind blowing hair holding a railing on the beach.
Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché (United Kingdom)
Directors: Paul Sng, Celeste Bell, Screenwriters: Celeste Bell, Zoë Howe, Producers: Rebecca Mark-Lawson, Matthew Silverman, Daria Nitsche

Lily Hevesh, domino artist and transracial adoptee, is an example of how to build a global community. “Lily Topples the World,” directed by Jeremy Workman, won the documentary feature competition. Film critic Richard Whittaker of The Austin Chronicle wrote, “If SXSW decides to bring any title back next year for the return to in-person events, ‘Lily Topples the World’ should be top of the list, if only for the chance to see Hevesh in action, on the floor of the Austin Convention center.”

Hevesh’s creations are incredible, check out her Youtube channel, it will knock you over!

Young woman getting ready to knock over a rainbow colored domino art piece.
Lily Hevesh in ‘Lily Topples The World’ | Image Credit: Steve Price

For a complete list of winners and access to available SXSW content, visit: 2021 SXSW Film Awards winners.


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