Demi Lovato Doc Opening SXSW Film 2021

Punk icons, serial killers, wrestlers, and comedy in movie list

Interview still from Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil, this year's SXSW Film opening night title (Photo by OBB MEDIA)

Music, film, and a social conscience have always underpinned SXSW, and the three converge as Demi Lovato: Dance With the Devil has just been announced as the opening night title for this year's virtual festival.

The four-part docuseries, which was announced yesterday as debuting on YouTube on March 23, will actually get its world premiere when the 2021 online iteration of South By kicks off on March 16. The new series, directed by Michael D. Ratner, began production during the singer, actor, and activist's 2018 Tell Me You Love Me World Tour – a tour cut short by her overdose and hospitalization. In a successor of sorts to her 2017 YouTube Originals documentary Simply Complicated, Dance With the Devil sees Lovato continue her public discussion of her mental health and addiction issues, and her recovery from what she called the "darkest point in my life. ... For the first time, you’ll be able to see my chronicle of struggle and ongoing healing from my point of view. I’m grateful that I was able to take this journey to face my past head-on and finally share it with the world."

“It’s impressive and rare to see a pop superstar tell their story so authentically and without pretense,” said Janet Pierson, Director of Film. “We’re privileged to present this intimate journey told with such vulnerability. Demi Lovato’s profound interest in mental health awareness is helping change the landscape of a crucial issue in this year of national and international trauma and loss.”

Dancing With the Devil headlines a first wave of nine films and shows (expect the rest on Feb. 10, and the schedule on Feb. 15) that give a glimpse into the programming that the fest will offer. Regulars will be able to breathe a sigh of relief that the traditional categories return. That starts with a double entry in the Documentary Spotlight, the astronomical The Search for Planet B and the not-so-starry depiction of life in the comedy trenches for women performers, Hysterical.

Women take a central place in the lineup, both in front of and behind the camera, as the festival continues its commitment to presenting a diverse slate. Mallory Everton pulls double-duty in Narrative Spotlight comedy road trip Recovery, which she both stars in and directed with Stephen Meek, while Celeste Bell takes on a similar but more personal split role as she explores her relationship with her late mother, punk innovator Poly Styrene, in Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché, the first of the music-centric 24 Beats strand. Meanwhile, in the Global track, the wrestlers of Ciudad Juarez represent the proud tradition of lucha libre in Luchadoras.

On the darker side of life, Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost) follows his factual and fictional explorations of Ted Bundy's rampage (Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile) as he continues to examine how society and the judicial system deal with cases of extreme violence in Confronting a Serial Killer. In the new docuseries about mass murderer Sam Little (convicted of three murders and connected to over 90), Berlinger looks at the complicated connections between Little and journalist Jillian Lauren, the author of Behold the Monster, based on her 40 hours of conversations with the killer about his victims.

And genre fans don't have to wait for the first title in the Midnighters strand, normally reserved for after the first wave has dropped. It's a nightmarish family reunion of sorts as filmmaker Travis Stevens reunites with indie horror legends Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden (who he produced in 2015 Midnighter We Are Still Here), and Phil Brooks (star of his directorial debut, SXSW 2019 late night supernatural shocker The Girl on the Third Floor), for his sophomore stay in the director's chair, religious chiller Jakob's Wife.

SXSW Online runs March 16-21: head to www.sxsw.com for info and passes, and we'll have all the future announcements, including the full lineups for the Film and Music festivals, at austinchronicle.com/sxsw.


Confronting A Serial Killer
D: Joe Berlinger
Showrunner: Po Kutchins
World Premiere, Episodic

Joe Berlinger’s newest docuseries Confronting a Serial Killer follows reporter Jillian Lauren who lures the most prolific serial killer in American history — Sam Little. The series will follow their unsettling and unlikely relationship.

Photo by Jillian Lauren


Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil
D: Michael D. Ratner
World Premiere, Headliners

Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil is a powerful YouTube Originals documentary event, exploring every aspect that led to Lovato’s nearly fatal overdose in 2018, and her awakenings in the aftermath.

Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil is directed and executive produced by Michael D. Ratner, and produced by Ratner's OBB Pictures and SB Projects. Scott Ratner, Kfir Goldberg and Miranda Sherman also serve as executive producers for OBB Pictures. Scooter Braun, Allison Kaye and Scott Manson executive produce for SB Projects. Co-executive producers on the project are Andy Mininger and Arlen Konopaki for OBB Pictures, Jen McDaniels, Scott Marcus and James Shin for SB Projects, and Hannah Lux Davis. Marc Ambrose serves as producer.


The Hunt for Planet B
D: Nathaniel Kahn
World Premiere, Documentary Spotlight

The Hunt for Planet B follows a diverse group of scientists on a quest to find another Earth among the stars. From the hi-bays of NASA to the edge of the universe and the bottom of the sea, the film offers a way to see our own planet with new eyes.

The James Webb Space Telescope nears completion in The Hunt for Planet B

Hysterical
D: Andrea Nevins
World Premiere, Documentary Spotlight

Hysterical is an honest and hilarious backstage pass into the lives of some of stand-up comedy’s most boundary-breaking women, exploring the hard-fought journey to become the voices of their generation and their gender.

Rachel Feinstein, Nikki Glaser and Jessica Kirson perform together at NY’s Comedy Cellar in Hysterical (Photo by FX)

Jakob's Wife
D: Travis Stevens
World Premiere, Midnighters

The disappearance of a young woman threatens to change the beige and banal lives of Anne Fedder (Barbara Crampton) and her pastor husband Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden) forever.
Cast: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons, Mark Kelly, Sarah Lind, Robert Rusler, Nyisha Bell, Phil Brooks

Anne Fedder (Barbara Crampton) in Jakob's Wife (Photo by Amp Films International)

Luchadoras
D: Paola Calvo, Patrick Jasim
World Premeier, Global

Luchadoras portrays the courageous female wrestlers of Ciudad Juárez, a city knownfor its high murder rate against women — who fight in the ring and in their daily lives to redefine the image of what it means to be a woman in Mexico.

Luchadoras (Photo by Patrick Jasim)

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché
D: Paul Sng, Celeste Bell
North American Premiere, 24 Beats

The death of punk icon and X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene sends her daughter on a journey across the world and through her mother’s archives to reconcile their fraught relationship.

Poly Styrene: I am a Cliche (Photo by BBC Arena)

Recovery
D: Mallory Everton, Stephen Meek
World Premiere, Narrative Spotlight

Two directionless sisters brave a cross-country road trip to rescue their grandmother from a Covid outbreak at her nursing home.
Cast: Whitney Call, Mallory Everton, Anne Sward Hansen, Julia Jolley, Baylee Thornock, Jessica Drolet, Stephen Meek, Tyler Andrew Jones, Tori Pence, Dora McDonald

Mallory Everton in Recovery (Photo by Brenna Empey)

Violet
D: Justine Bateman
World Premiere, 2020 Spotlight

A film development executive realizes that the "guiding voice" inside her head has been lying to her about everything.
Cast: Olivia Munn, Luke Bracey, Justin Theroux

Olivia Munn as the titular Violet in Justine Bateman's directorial feature film debut (Photo by Mark Williams)

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

SXSW 2021, SXSW Film 2021, Demi Lovato, Joel Berlinger, Sam Little, Travis Stevens, Barbara Crampton, C.M. Punk, Larry Fessenden, Poly Styrene, Justine Bateman, Olivia Munn

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