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SXSW class of 2014: features

With a degree awarded by SXSW's film viceroy Janet Pierson, these gifted grads are voted most likely to spread their cinematic wings

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day. 

For 20 years, SXSW has risen to become America's cultural hotbed of emerging cinematic talent. With the finest selection of shortsfeatures and genre films and a fierce nurturing of new young talent, SXSW offers us an exclusive glimpse into how they've conquered the independent film scene.

It’s always excruciating for us to choose a subset or breakouts from programmes we’ve so carefully and lovingly curated, but to show you a representative sample of the SXSW Film Class of 2014, we’ve highlighted one film from each screening section, (with the exception of our Headliners and Special Events categories). All our films are winners in our eyes, but you should know we did not include the Grand Jury prize winners nor all of the Audience Award winners. These are just a taste of the depth of talent on display at SXSW Film 2014. All, save for Boyhood, had their world premieres at SXSW 2014.


The Narrative Competition is tiny, consisting of only eight narrative features selected from a submission pool of 1,324. We look for films that have a strong filmmaking voice and move us emotionally, and 10,000 Km knocked us out. It’s an intensely strong directorial debut with fantastic performances, deftly edited by an editor whose previous work we admired. Elegant and compelling, it’s fully realised yet predicated on an extremely simple set-up. Frankly, this is a film that a lot of independents have tried to make, but it’s the first time it’s been accomplished so masterfully.

Screening Category: Narrative Competition


The Documentary Competition section is similarly small, consisting of just eight doc features, chosen from 892 submissions in 2014. This was the first time a feature director has immediately hooked us with her film – not only with the courage and intensity of the subject, but the vitality and dynamism of the filmmaking itself.

Screening Category: Documentary Competition


As we sift through the submissions, the docs always present the same dilemma: there are just so many of them and they’re all about interesting subjects. So how do we choose? One of our ideal criteria includes a strong cinematic quality. That doesn't simply mean high production value. It means having a strong point of view, and using the medium well. DamNation really jumped out for its gorgeous cinematography, great archival footage, and the filmmakers’s ability to boil down a complicated, historical and scientific subject into a fascinating film experience.

Screening Category: Documentary Spotlight


The director took his time to make this film, and it shows. A protegé of Spike Lee, Darius’ challenge was to answer the question: “How does a 16-year-old evolve into a bank robber?” We were impressed with how beautifully he crafted a deeply moving, poetic and important work, not only having the fearlessness to revisit his story and past, but to present it with an equally strong cinematic vision.

Screening Category: Visions


This gritty Texas noir got our hearts pumping with its taut suspense, excellent performances, and a kind of violence that both surprised and delighted us. It’s an accomplished work by a first time director.

Screening Category: Narrative Spotlight


We receive a lot of music films at SXSW, and many of them are similar, either following a tour, or recording in a studio. This was an unusual take, combining a strong sense of place with an element of risk and posterity. It's a bit of an exercise in musical archaeology, yet very much in the present tense. Filmmakers often tell us they’re sure they’ve “made the perfect film for SXSW.” In this case it was true.

Screening Category: 24 Beats per Second


The Desert is a dark, sweaty film, drenched in lust and envy, that flips the post-apocalypse sub-genre on its head. Intense and beautiful, it’s a perfect example of how much a filmmaker can create a simple set-up, realising amazing, unsettling results.

Screening Category: SXGlobal


We’re always drawn to films that do the most with the least, and this film was particularly resourceful, given its limited setting and minimal inclusion of VFX. We loved the tension and standout performances from this first time female director. Female helmers are rare in all feature filmmaking but particularly so in the genre space. We love this film!

Screening Category: Midnighters


When we heard about the concept for Mike Judge's new HBO show Silicon Valley – “Where the people most qualified to succeed are the least capable of handling success" – we said, "We're in!" and immediately started praying it would be finished in time for SXSW. As Senior Programmer Jarod Neece recognised, “It's everything you'd hoped it would be but even better.” Brilliant, hilarious and dead on.

Screening Category: Episodic


Richard Linklater is THE key figure in the growth, evolution, and power of the Austin film community. It would have been enough that he founded and still serves as Artistic Director of the Austin Film Society, or that he made only a few fantastic films like Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and the Before Trilogy. But he continues to create astounding work that continually ups the bar. Boyhood is frankly one of the greatest cinematic achievements EVER. True to Richard’s voice and low-key style, it is one of the most moving, wrenching, true films ever made. A singular achievement in all of film history.

Screening Category: Festival Favorites