SXSW 2023 Film: Preview of 10 Music Documentaries


The 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival lineup has been released. This year’s festival, which runs March 10-19 in Austin, Texas, includes 108 features (73 of which are world premieres), 63 short films, 20 music videos and 11 TV premieres.

“At SXSW, we believe in the power of film and television to bring people together,” Claudette Godfrey, VP Film & TV, said in a press release. “The highlight of our year is welcoming these filmmakers into our community and sharing their work with our one-of-a-kind audience. From thought-provoking documentaries and thrilling television series to hotly-anticipated studio tentpoles and micro-budget dramas, we strive to showcase the best of a diverse range of work, and couldn’t be more proud of this year’s lineup.”

Last year, 360°Sound provided our readers with exclusive coverage of the music documentaries at SXSW. We’ll be doing it again in a few short weeks at this 30th edition of the festival. Chris Bisha and myself will be on the ground in Austin bringing you coverage of not only the film fest but also the music fest.

We combed through the extensive list of features and selected the 10 music-related documentaries. The following film synopses were culled from the SXSW site. Unfortunately, most of the trailers for these docs are not yet available, but we’ve included relevant videos with each.

299 Queen Street West

Director: Sean Menard

With unprecedented access to the MuchMusic archives, 299 Queen Street West tells the story of a scrappy Canadian television upstart from the perspective of the VJ’s who, at the time, had no prior TV hosting experience, received no direction, no scripts and broadcasted live across the country. The channel’s rise in popularity intersected with rap music entering the mainstream, and the birth of grunge & alternative rock, causing teenage hysteria at the iconic street-level studio.

Hung Up on a Dream

Director: Robert Schwartzman

In their first-ever feature documentary, nearly 60 years after they met as teenagers before the British Invasion music scene, The Zombies tell their story of navigating the tumultuous music industry over the decades and making one of the most influential albums of all time, Odessey and Oracle. “She’s Not There” made them the first British band after The Beatles to reach #1 in the US. After years of touring and many missteps in the 60s, sadly the band missed out on their biggest moment, when “Time of the Season” hit #1 and became a global success, inspiring new generations each year. The band looks back on their journey, where true friendship led them to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Joan Baez: I Am a Noise

Directors: Karen O’Connor, Miri Navasky and Maeve O’Boyle

Joan Baez I Am A Noise is an unusually intimate psychological portrait of legendary folk singer and activist Joan Baez. Neither a conventional biopic nor a traditional concert film, this immersive documentary is more of a visual memoir anchored by Joan’s extraordinary archive, including newly discovered home movies, diaries, artwork, and audio recordings. Baez is remarkably revealing about her life on and off stage – from lifelong emotional struggles to her civil rights work with Dr. Martin Luther King and a heartbreaking romance with a young Bob Dylan. A searingly honest look at a living legend, the film is a deeply personal exploration of an iconic artist who has never told the full truth of her life until now.

Louder Than You Think

Director: Jed I. Rosenberg

An up-close cinematic walkabout through the life of Gary Young, the original (and highly unlikely) drummer of indie rock royalty Pavement. His booze and drugs-fueled antics (on-stage handstands, gifting vegetables to fans) and haphazard production methods (accidentally helping launch the lo-fi aesthetic) were both a driving force of the band’s early rise and the cause of his eventual crash landing. Leaving a wake of joy and/or destruction at every turn, Gary teeters the thin line between free-form self-expression and chaotic self-destruction. Thirty years on with scoliosis, blood clots, and a shriveled liver, Gary is still drumming with no regrets. (Note: no puppets were harmed in the making of this film.)

Love To Love You, Donna Summer

Directors: Roger Ross Williams and Brooklyn Sudano

Love to Love You, Donna Summer captures a richly complex picture of the woman, the artist, the wife & mother whose iconic voice changed music forever. An archive of exclusive, previously unseen film, home video, photographs, artwork, personal audio, and other recordings form the film’s vibrant exploration of the life and career of one of the most extraordinary performers ever to shake a room to its timbers.

Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes

Directors: Samuel Pollard and Ben Shapiro

Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes is the story of a musician whose far-reaching ambitions were inspired and challenged by the inequities of the society around him. His stunningly diverse seven-decade career marked him as one of the great musical artists of the 20th century and a pioneering cultural activist at times when the nation was steeped in racism. The film follows Roach across a rich and complicated life, years of now-legendary achievement, deep personal struggle, and the price he paid for his outspoken views. His was an epic musical journey — from the revolutionary Jazz of the 1940s to the Civil Rights years, through experiments in hip hop, multi-media works, and beyond.

Revival69: The Concert That Rocked the World

Director: Ron Chapman

Revival69: The Concert That Rocked the World, is the remarkable, behind-the-scenes story of how a little-known music festival came together against all odds. Young, scrappy concert promoter John Brower puts his life on the line to turn his failing Toronto Rock-n-Roll Revival into a one-day event, later coined in rock mythology as “the second most important event in rock-n-roll history.” And it almost didn’t happen. The festival united rock legends and the almost-famous, but it was the 11th-hour arrival of John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band that ignited a truly seminal moment for the 20,000 fans at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, triggering Lennon’s final decision to leave the Beatles forever.

It’s Only Life After All

Director: Alexandria Bombach

With 40 years of making music as the iconic folk-rock band Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have made their mark as musicians, songwriters, and dedicated activists. They have represented radical self-acceptance to many – leading now multiple generations of fans to say, “the Indigo Girls saved my life.” Still, Amy and Emily battled misogyny, homophobia, and a harsh cultural climate chastising them for not fitting into a female pop star mold. With joy, humor, and heart-warming moments, Sundance award-winning director Alexandria Bombach brings us into a contemporary conversation with Amy and Emily – alongside decades of the band’s home movies and intimate present-day verité.

Little Richard: I Am Everything

Director: Lisa Cortes

Little Richard: I Am Everything tells the story of the Black queer origins of rock n’ roll. It explodes the whitewashed canon of American pop music to reveal the innovator – the originator – Richard Penniman. Through a wealth of archive and performance that brings us into Richard’s complicated inner world, the film unspools the icon’s life story with all its switchbacks and contradictions. In interviews with family, musicians, and cutting-edge Black and queer scholars, the film reveals how Richard created an art form for ultimate self-expression. Throughout his life, Richard careened like a shiny cracked pinball between God, sex, and rock n’ roll – he was unabashedly everything.

Going Varsity in Mariachi

Directors: Alejandra Vasquez and Sam Osborn

In the competitive world of high school mariachi, the musicians from the South Texas borderlands reign supreme. Under the guidance of Coach Abel Acuña, the teenage captains of Edinburg North High School’s acclaimed team must turn a shoestring budget and diverse crew of inexperienced musicians into state champions.

Stay tuned to 360° for reviews of SXSW films and concerts, interviews with directors and bands, and more!


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