Richard Linklater's "spiritual sequel" to Dazed and Confused, the friendship behind Smokey and the Bandit, & a school shootings doc make our list!

Have you read our SXSW Rockumentary Roundup? Of course you have! But as always, SXSW Film is more than music. Here are some of the standouts from this year’s film program, some of which may be coming soon to a theater or streaming service near you.

The events depicted in this innovative documentary from director Keith Maitland may be nearly five decades old, but TOWER couldn’t be more timely. School shootings have become a sadly routine event of our times, but the first one still stands out in our collective memory: Charles Whitman killing 14 people and wounding 32 others with a high-powered rifle from the top of the University of Texas tower on August 1, 1966. Maitland weaves animated reenactments with archival footage and new interviews to craft a startlingly immediate and immersive minute-by-minute chronicle of the shooting. For an hour or so TOWER is spellbinding and horrifying, and if the rest isn’t quite as intense, it’s no less troubling for drawing connections to the world we live in today, where, astonishingly, the concealed carry of handguns becomes legal on the University of Texas campus on the 50th anniversary of the Whitman shooting.

Donald Cried
Kristopher Avedisian’s debut feature feels like a throwback to an earlier indie era. It’s a strongly character-based piece of regional filmmaking that doesn’t feel like it’s working its way through a checklist of predetermined, Sundance-friendly beats. Avedisian (who based Donald Cried on his short film of the same name) plays the title character, Rhode Island townie Donald Treebeck, who welcomes long-lost friend Peter (Jesse Wakeman) back to town after many years. Peter, embarrassed by his hometown and his childhood pal, simply wants to tie up his late grandmother’s affairs and get back to the big city, but the oblivious, obnoxious, yet weirdly endearing Donald has other plans. A cringe comedy that occasionally threatens to tip into something far more menacing, Donald Cried is an unpredictable hang-out movie worth your time.

The Bandit
The making of Smokey and the Bandit forms the backdrop for this Hollywood bromance steeped in the pop culture of the 1970s. Hal Needham began his career as Burt Reynolds’ stuntman before becoming Reynolds’ long-term houseguest and, eventually, his director for six films starting with the classic 1977 hick flick about a charming good ol’ boy illegally transporting Coors beer from Texas to Georgia while being pursued by a tenacious redneck sheriff. Director Jesse Moss is generous with vintage clips studded with misbegotten ‘70s fashions and Me Decade celebrities (Is that Charles Nelson Reilly lurking over Burt’s shoulder?), but the heart of the movie is the friendship between Needham and Reynolds, two kindred spirits who found each other at the perfect time and place.

This low-budget West Texas thriller (which won the SXSW audience award for best narrative feature) has drawn comparisons to the Coen Brothers’ 1984 debut Blood Simple, but the similarities end with the Lone Star setting. Director and co-writer Greg Kwedar begins his first feature with a simple set-up: three US Border Patrol agents man a temporary checkpoint on a remote road in the wild Big Bend area north of the Rio Grande. The spectacular natural beauty of their surroundings is offset by the sheer boredom of their task, as the three are reduced to messing with the few people to drive through the checkpoint in order to keep themselves amused. Transpecos is at its best here, as a portrait of a particular place and the few characters who populate it. Once the agents find themselves embroiled in a drug deal gone bad, Kwedar’s film loses its specificity, and the twists and turns that follow lack the intensity and originality to make up for that loss.

Everybody Wants Some/Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny
Richard Linklater’s latest is being billed as “the spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, a description that, along with its ‘80s college setting and baseball-centric characters, suggests it might as well have been listed as “Scott Von Doviak’s dream movie” in the SXSW catalogue. It didn’t quite work out that way, though. Some have seen deep insights in Everybody Wants Some that were lost on me, at least on first viewing, leaving me with an amusing but lightweight and visually flat dude-flick. That Linklater has easily made at least a half-dozen far superior movies is evident in the documentary Dream Is Destiny, an account of Linklater’s rise from his Slacker beginnings in the Austin of $150 rent to his circuit of the award shows for his masterpiece Boyhood. The clips from earlier Linklater flicks left me wanting to see them again immediately…and willing to give Everybody Wants Some a second chance.