Documentaries and real-life tributes to musicians, comedians, and more.
The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, currently underway in Austin, Texas, is one of the top venues every year where new music and new films receive their premieres. This year, the documentaries and dramas debuting at the SXSW film festival include a wide range of tributes to influential lives, telling the real-life stories of notable musicians, comedians, and more.
Amazing Grace documents the live recording of Aretha Franklin (1942 – 2018)’s 1972 gospel album of the same name at New Bethel Baptist Church in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Intended to be released that same year, it was plagued with production problems that led it to be shelved until director Sydney Pollack turned over the footage to Alan Elliott before his 2008 death. Franklin was determined to prevent Elliott from releasing it, suing him twice for using her image without her permission, but it premiered in New York last year, just months after Franklin’s death. It plays at SXSW on March 16. (Read Aretha Franklin’s obituary)
Everybody’s Everything looks at the too-short life of rapper Lil Peep (1996 – 2017), who died in 2017 at just 21, with his biggest hits coming in the year after his death. Debuting March 10 at SXSW, the film takes its title from Peep’s attempt “to be all things to all people,” according to the festival’s website. Executive producers include Terrence Malick and Liza Womack, Peep’s mother. (Read Lil Peep’s obituary)
The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story exposes the story of Pearlman (1954 – 2016), the producer who created and managed megahit boy bands including the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. Co-produced by *NSYNC member Lance Bass, the film features interviews with members of Pearlman’s bands and documents the shady dealings Pearlman was responsible for, including a $300 million dollar Ponzi scheme that landed him in prison. “The Boy Band Con” premieres March 13 at SXSW. (Read about Lou Pearlman’s legacy)
Becoming Leslie spotlights one of the unforgettable people who helped “Keep Austin Weird.” Homeless Austin man Leslie Cochran (1951 – 2012) was a three-time mayoral candidate, peace activist, and cross-dresser who was considered a symbol of Austin’s uniqueness. Developed with the help of Kickstarter backers, the film began production while Cochran was still alive, becoming a summation of his legacy after his unexpected death. It debuts March 8 at SXSW. (Read Leslie Cochran’s obituary)
Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins tells the story of funny and incisive political columnist Ivins (1944 – 2007), who once said she was proudest of being banned from the Texas A&M campus and of the fact that the Minneapolis police force named their mascot pig after her. The documentary debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and plays at SXSW on March 11. (Read Molly Ivins’s obituary)
I Am Richard Pryor explores the life and career of comedy legend Pryor (1940 – 2005) through interviews with the comedians who were influenced by him and the friends and family who loved him. It includes moments with his wife, Jennifer, as well as fellow comedians like Tiffany Haddish and Sandra Bernhard. It’s part of the “I Am” series, which has focused on people including Bruce Lee, Heath Ledger, and Paul Walker. “I Am Richard Pryor” debuts at SXSW on March 12 and will then premiere on television on March 15, airing on the Paramount Network and Comedy Central that day. (Read Richard Pryor’s obituary)
The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash isn’t the first film to explore the legacy of the country music great – 2005’s “Walk the Line” was an Oscar-winning hit – but it offers a tight documentary focus on a career-defining moment. Cash‘s concert at Folsom Prison was an immortal performance that provides a backbone for the film to delve into Cash’s life and music. Cash’s family and musical collaborators are interviewed, and newly-discovered footage helps paint the picture of the complex man that was Johnny Cash (1932 – 2003). It premiered March 9 at SXSW. (Read about Johnny Cash’s legacy)
The Highwaymen takes a look at a not-much-covered side of the notorious story of Bonnie and Clyde. It focuses on the Texas Rangers who brought down the iconic criminals, Frank Hamer (1884 – 1955) and Maney Gault, played by Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson. Hamer, a member of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, was notable for more than the Bonnie and Clyde ambush – he also helped expose corruption in his state’s law enforcement, and he fought the Ku Klux Klan in Texas. The film debuts March 10 at SXSW and then comes to Netflix on March 29. (Read about Bonnie and Clyde’s legacy)