SXSW 2022: Best Documentary Round-Up

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SXSW Documentary feature - But Why Tho (4)

Film festivals offer up a lot, but one area that needs much more love is Documentary Features. So, for SXSW 2022 we wanted to put together a round-up of our favorite documentary films and why they’re great. From archival footage, stories of sports legends, inspirational moments, and emotional stories of resilience we rounded up both short and feature-length documentary films we think you should keep on your radar.

Fire of Love

Director: Sara Dosa

Fire of Love is a wonderful exploration of romance and science. This SXSW documentary feature is all about an unexpected love story of two intrepid French scientists, Katia & Maurice Krafft, who died in a volcanic explosion. While there is sadness, there is also a wonder to their lives, as they died doing the very thing that brought them together: seeking to understand the mystery of volcanoes. The two worked to capture the most spectacular imagery ever recorded, including hundreds of hours of footage and thousands of photographs, risking their lives to get as close to the thrill of the fire as humanly possible. Fire of Love is told by interpreting the Kraffts’ story and images they left behind. Telling a story through archival footage can be hard, but in Fire of Love, Sara Dosa manages to use archival resources to explore the love and passion that runs through science the couple we follow. Fire of Love is unique and beautiful.

Pez Outlaw

Director: Amy Bandlien Storkel & Bryan Storkel

A hybrid of sorts, The Pez Outlaw offers up a lot of laughs and a lot of love as it tells the story of Steve Glew. Glew is a small-town Michigan who boards a plane for Eastern Europe soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall to find a secret factory that holds the key to valuable Pez dispensers. The goal of the move will pull his family out of debt and allow him to finally quit his job of 25 years. A part of the SXSW Documentary Feature category, Pez Outlaw is hilarious and fun while also allowing viewers to go one a fantastic and at times fantastical story of a smuggler.

More than Robots

Director: Gillian Jacobs

While most school competitions that come in focus are athletics, scholarly endeavors are just as important. Robotics brings together competition, ingenuity, and scholarship into one space. In More Than Robots audiences follow four teams of teenagers from around the world as they prepare for the 2020 FIRST® Robotics Competition. But this SXSW documentary feature doesn’t just focus on American students. Instead, audiences get to know teams from Los Angeles, Mexico City, and Chiba, Japan as they work towards the goal of taking their unique designs all the way to the global championships. One of the most important parts of the documentary is how it shows ingenuity and resilience as students overcome challenges like limited resources within their community and COVID.

Crows are White

Crows Are White - But Why Tho

Director: Ahsen Nadeem

when you think about a monk, you don’t think about someone who listens to heavy metal. Crows Are White takes on the challenge of redefining what we think about Buddhist monks as filmmaker Ahsen Nadeem looks for answers in his own life by entering a secretive Buddhist sect in Japan. There, the monks perform acts of extreme physical endurance in their pursuit of enlightenment. But when he arrives, his presence is not welcomed and the only monk who will speak with him is an outcast who prefers ice cream and Slayer to meditation. Crows are White explores the two’s friendship as it leads them to higher truths and a little trouble. Shot over five years on three continents, Crows are White is an emotional and intimate look at faith that plays with contradictions, desire, and truth.

Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off

Tony Hawk Until the Wheels Fall Off - But Why Tho

Director: Sam Jones

Sports documentaries often mythologize icons even moreso than they already are. But in Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off, Sam Jones doesn’t forget that Tony Hawk is a human first. Additionally, he uses stories and interviews from Hawk’s peers to showcase his impact and his heart. The documentary features Stacy Peralta, Rodney Mullen, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Neil Blender, Andy MacDonald, Duane Peters, Sean Mortimer, and Christian Hosoi, acting as a definitive look at Hawk’s life and iconic career. One of the best sports documentaries around. 

Split at the Root

Director: Linda Goldstein Knowlton

Social media is powerful when it comes to connecting people and Split At the Root captures that, but more importantly it tells the harm that Zero Tolerance Policy inflicts on immigrant families. This SXSW documentary feature focuses on a Guatemalan mother seeking asylum who was separated from her kids under the Zero Tolerance Policy and how a Facebook post by a mom in Queens coalesced into a movement as thousands of like-minded women across the US. The women created Immigrant Families Together,  a rapid response group committed to doing what the government refused to do: reuniting parents with their children separated by the Zero Tolerance Policy. While Trumps Zero Tolerance Policy may have come to an end, the violence and harm it inflicted on families has not been dealt with by the Biden administration, and Split At the Root tells the story to raise awareness of the issue and push for change.

It’s Quieter in the Twilight

SXSW Documentary feature - But Why Tho (5)

Director: Billy Miossi

It’s Quieter in the Twilight showcases the brilliant team of engineers that are still piloting the Voyager spacecraft, pushing the notion of true discovery. While the world has moved on to larger names and different project, this SXSW documentary feature brings much-needed love to the team that is still pushing the boundaries of the stars and doing so in the quiet. While the film manages to tell the story of the pilots themselves, it also manages to shine a light on the journey of the aging spacecraft as it transcends earthly boundaries– from rural South Korea, the Jim Crow South, and the U.S./Mexico border to cement a joint commitment to the mission which has traveled the furthest in human history.

SXSW 2022’s documentary feature category had much to offer this year, spanning documentary genre and focus. While these were the ones that resonated with us, there are many more that you should dive into yourself when they get distribution. For a full list of films that competed in the SXSW 2022 Documentary Feature Competition, click here.

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