SXSW 2015 Preview: Hot Docs

We’re back in Austin for the SXSW film festival, and holy hell there’s a lot of stuff to see and do. The festival officially kicks off this Friday with the documentary Brand: A Second Coming, director Ondi Timoner’s profile of the comedian/author/activist Russell Brand’s evolution from hard charging bon vivant to political disruptor and revolutionary who has his own YouTube channel devoted to delivering subscribers the ‘Trews’ (true news).

Brand’s brand of verbosity and high energy is a fitting way to launch a festival with 100 world premieres, new work aimed at the small screen (including webisodes and more), after dark features (their great ‘midnighters’ category), docs, countless panels, about a thousand parties and more.

Let's take a quick peek at some of the documentaries playing at this year's festival, one of SXSW's strongest categories.


Panamanian director Abner Benaim has already made three great films in Chance, Maids and BossesHis fourth is a personal journey through a piece of shared history between Panama and the United States, looking at how the 1989 invasion of his home country by some 30,000 US troops deeply, irrevocably affected his countrymen and women.

Rolling Papers

On January 1, 2014, Marijuana was suddenly (that's how it felt) being sold legally in Colorado. In order to put this new law into context and to cover it as it was happening, The Denver Post became the first newspaper in the country to implement a pot section, appropriately called The Cannabist. Rolling Papers introduces us to Ricardo Baca, the world’s first marijuana editor, as he and his team of staff writers and freelancers set out to report on history in the making. Like any good team of reporters, there's no angle of marijuana legalization and deployment they don't cover; strain reviews, parenting advice, policy news and edible recipes are all a part of this new pot journalism. "Legalization is an experiment for society and a risk for the dying industry of newspapers to hedge its bets on a new one," director Mitch Dickman writes.

Son of the Congo

Director Adam Hootnick profiles the incredible journey of 25-year-old Serge Ibaka from the war-torn streets of Congo to becoming a young star of the NBA as a power forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Ibaka returns to the streets he grew up on, the courts he practiced on without shoes, and speaks with the Congolese youth with a humility and affection that are astounding.


Miraculously, this is the first documentary about gospel/soul music legend and civil rights icon Mavis Staples and her family group, The Staple Singers. Director Jessica Edwards takes us both on and behind the stage, giving us front row seats to astonishing performances and access to luminaries like Bob Dylan, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Levon Helm, Jeff Tweedy, and Chuck D, all of whom marvel at the 60-year and counting career of one of the greatest performers, and performing families, in music history.


Directors Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen must have known they had a goldmine in their hands when they first herad the story.  In 1982, three 11 year-olds in Mississippi set out to remake their favorite film: Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the process, they nearly became enemies, burnt down their mother's house, and found one final scene they just could not shoot; the wild airplane scene. Raiders! tells their story, and their attempt 30-years later to finally recreate that final scene in the backwoods of Mississippi, finishing what many consider the greatest fan film ever made.

Featured image: Serge Ibaka in Son of the Congo.


Bryan Abrams

Bryan Abrams is the Editor-in-chief of The Credits. He's run the site since its launch in 2012. He lives in New York.