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Our Guide to SXSW Music Docs

Like every other event in the world, South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual culture conference and festival in Austin, Texas, was canceled in early March due to the coronavirus pandemic. I was going to cover the film festival portion of SXSW for 360°Sound and was really looking forward to reviewing the music documentaries making their world premieres. With the cancellation, it didn’t look like I’d be able to see the films any time soon. Fortunately, it was announced last week that SXSW films will be shown after all – for free on Amazon Prime!

The one-time event Prime Video Presents: The SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection will play exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S. for 10 days. A date is not yet scheduled, but it may begin as early as late this month. Filmmakers have a choice to opt-in, and those who participate will receive a screening fee.

“Ever since SXSW was canceled by the City of Austin, we’ve been focused on how we could help the incredible films and filmmakers in the SXSW 2020 Film Festival lineup,” Janet Pierson, Director of Film at SXSW, said in a press release. “We were delighted when Amazon Prime Video offered to host an online film festival and jumped at the opportunity to connect their audiences to our filmmakers.”

Following are the SXSW music documentaries that 360°Sound and  I are excited to watch on Amazon Prime (assuming the filmmakers opt-in). We’ll make sure you know as soon as a date is announced.

Biography: The Nine Lives of Ozzy Osbourne

Heavy metal icon Ozzy Osbourne traces his journey from humble beginnings to Black Sabbath, followed by a long successful solo career, and his current role as lovable dad and rock’s elder statesman. Ozzy, who turned 71 last December, details his triumphs and failures in this A&E film, which features interviews with Sharon Osbourne, Rick Rubin, Ice-T, Marilyn Manson, Post Malone, and others.

Beastie Boys Story

Directed by Spike Jonze, this film is a companion piece to the #1 New York Times bestseller, Beastie Boys Book. Surviving members Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) and Michael Diamond (Mike D) recount the group’s 40 years of friendship. Among the topics covered are the late great Adam Yauch (MCA), who died of cancer in 2012, how the Beasties worked hard to shed the beer-soaked frat boy image fostered by their debut Licensed To Ill and how the group went on to make some of the most groundbreaking hip-hop ever recorded.

(Editor’s note: Beastie Boys Story is set to premiere on Apple TV+ on April 24, so it may not be included in the Amazon Prime lineup.)


Director Alex Winter is perhaps best known for his role as Bill in the Bill & Ted films, but he is a documentary filmmaker as well, with credits such as Downloaded, an acclaimed festival film chronicling the early days of peer-to-peer file sharing and the Napster experience. He is no stranger to SXSW either, where his multi-award winning film Deep Web had its debut at the 2015 festival.

Culled from thousands of hours of never-before-released video and music, Zappa reveals an intimate portrait of the enigmatic musician. “Zappa was an extremely complicated and brilliant man who had as many detractors as he had fans,” Winter told Rolling Stone. “I hope that our audience finds him as captivating and significant an American artist as I do.”

No trailer seems to be available, but in the clip below that was filmed to help raise funding for the project, Winter explains how Zappa will be a good introduction to the rock ‘n’ roll iconoclast and counter-cultural icon, and satisfying for hardcore fans as well.

My Darling Vivian

Johnny Cash married his first wife, Vivian Liberto, in 1954 not long before his music career took off. Vivian was of Italian descent, but experienced racism and death threats from hate groups who mistook her for African-American. Cash and Vivian were divorced in 1966 and she passed in 2005 of complications from lung cancer. The film features the couple’s four daughters sharing memories of their parents, as well as never-before-seen photos and footage.

 Sisters With Transistors

This archival documentary tells the story of the female pioneers of electronic music. Among the women spotlighted are Clara Rockmore, Daphne Oram, Pauline Oliveros, Wendy Carlos, Suzanne Ciani and Laurie Spiegel. “More than just the history of a music genre,” reads the film’s promo teaser. “It’s the story of how we hear, and the critical but little-known role female pioneers play in that story.”

Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over

Lydia Lunch was a seminal figure in New York City’s late 70s nihilistic no-wave scene. “The whole fucking country was nihilistic,” Lunch noted of the movement. “What did we come out of? The lie of the Summer of Love into Charles Manson and the Vietnam War. Where is the positivity?”

“Lunch has forged a lifetime of music and spoken word performance devoted to the utter right of any woman to indulge, seek pleasure, and to say ‘fuck you!’ as loud as any man,” director Beth B, a long-time friend of Lunch, told SXSW in a Q&A. “In this time of endless attacks on women, this is a rallying cry to acknowledge the only thing that is going to bring us together: art, the universal salve to all of our traumas.”

Without Getting Killed or Caught

This film follows the rise of Texas country legend Guy Clark, who passed in 2016. The film takes its name from Clark’s classic tune “L.A. Freeway,” and is told from the perspective of his late wife Susanna Clark (with Sissy Spacek providing the voice-over narration). There is commentary included from some of Guy Clark’s closest friends and musical peers, including Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Vince Gill, and Verlon Thompson.

Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm

Rockfield Studios is the world’s first indie residential recording studio. Over the last 50 years, the nondescript studio nestled on a farm in Monmouthshire, Wales, has recorded countless rock bands, including Queen, Black Sabbath, Iggy Pop, The Stone Roses, Oasis, Rush and Coldplay. (Editor’s note: I’m really looking forward to this one!)

Stick with 360°Sound as we provide you concierge service to help navigate the best of the music documentaries included in SXSW’s first online film festival, Prime Video Presents: The SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection. We’ll keep you up to date with the latest news and show times for these and other great music films in the festival.


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