After a fierce competition, these were the last films standing.
Winner: Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature
Shot on a shoestring budget in New York City, Gimme the Loot follows two Bronx teens (Malcolm and Sofia) determined to outshine a rival gang by drawing their graffiti on the large Mets apple inside Citi Field. The resourceful and humorous main characters wander around the city trying to raise money in order to pay a bribe that would allow them entry into the stadium.
In many ways, the film attempts to subvert perceptions of minority life in New York City. There’s no danger of violence here, and the tension between the gangs is benign and only a backdrop for a more grounded, often comic character study. The dialogue and acting are strong, and the long single–take tracking shots (a–la Woody Allen’s Annie Hall) allow us to really get to know these characters.
Though light–hearted, issues of class permeate the film. In a hard–hitting moment, Malcolm has a near sexual encounter with a rich white girl, only to be humiliated by her later in front of her friends. The quest for material property is front and center; given their underprivileged backgrounds, their world is inherently loot–driven.
Winner: Audience Award, Outstanding Acting (Jamie Chung)
That a dark film about sex trafficking won the Audience Award (which usually goes to comedies) is evidence of its deep emotional power. Eden tells the true story of a Korean–American girl who was kidnapped and forced into a brutal prostitution ring. In order to escape, she eventually joins forces with her captors.
Jamie Chung’s riveting performance was the breakthrough of the entire festival. She was able to craft an extremely complex character, never allowing her to simply become a helpless victim. While pressed to her limits, Eden is remarkably resourceful, one of the strongest and most memorable heroines in recent years.
Eden may not have a completely original storyline, but its execution is near flawless. The cinematography conveys a pervasive sense of claustrophobia, and the director wisely prevents things from becoming too heavy–handed. Overall, the film offers a gripping and poignant look at a character pushed to her limits.
Winner: Outstanding Acting (Besedka Johnson)
Starlet was hands–down my absolute favorite film from SXSW, and it came as a complete surprise. The film follows a scantily clad girl who buys a thermos from a yard sale and finds thousands of dollars hidden inside. Perhaps out of guilt, she befriends the old widow who sold her the item, but doesn’t tell her about the money.
Oh, and the girl is also a porn star.
Starlet is brilliant for its nuanced and complex portrayals of its characters. We don’t learn about the main character’s profession until well into the film, which prevents us from judging her prematurely. And the film’s balanced portrayal of the porn industry avoids both glamorization and condemnation — in fact, when we first see the company’s indistinct office, we have no idea that it’s a porn studio.
Starlet also boasts two breakthrough performances from the opposite ends of the age spectrum. Fashion model (and Ernest Hemingway’s great–granddaughter) Dree Hemingway is stunning, beginning what will no doubt be a fantastic acting career, and the film’s producer discovered the 85–year–old, award–winning Besedka Johnson at a local YMCA. She never expected to become a movie star so late in life, but, thankfully, sometimes fairy tales do come true.
Unfortunately, Starlet is almost certainly going to get massively screwed over by the MPAA (as did last year’s masterpiece, Shame). While its explicit sex scene during a porn shoot is absolutely central to the work as a whole, it will likely have to be cut if the film is widely released. Try to track this down at a festival by any means possible.