SXSW 2015 to Open With Russell Brand Documentary, Premieres Include Ex Machina and A Brave Heart

By  · Published on January 8th, 2015


The first wave of titles screening at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival were announced today, and the batch has us very excited indeed. First of all, the event will open with the latest documentary from Ondi Timoner, who directed the masterpieces Dig! and We Live in Public. This one is called BRAND: A Second Coming, and it’s about comedian Russell Brand’s rebirth as a “self-proclaimed revolutionary” following a bout with addiction and his rise to fame. Even if you don’t care for her subject, Timoner is the kind of filmmaker who can keep you intrigued anyway. Her past few films have also dealt with big, fascinating egos, from hot shit rocker Anton Newcombe to exhibitionist Internet pioneer Josh Harris to “skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg. Timoner returns to SXSW following last year’s debut of her short Obey the Artist, on Shepard Fairey.

Among the fiction selections is one of our most anticipated movies of 2015 (#3 to be exact): Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, which stars Oscar Isaac as a programmer testing out a new female AI system. It actually opens in the UK later this month and rolls out to other countries in Europe plus New Zealand ahead of its arrival in Austin, so this will be the North American premiere. We’ll take it. There’s also Michael Showalter’s follow-up to his underrated 2005 comedy The Baxter. Titled Hello, My Name is Doris, it’s co-written by Laura Terruso based on her short Doris & The Intern (watch it here) and stars Sally Field as a 60-something woman who pursues her young co-worker and dives into the Brooklyn hipster scene to woo him.

Back to docs, we’re very much looking forward to A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, which is making its world premiere at the fest. I wrote about this film on our sister site Nonfics last year when it was titled “The Lizzie Project” and raising way more than its crowdfunding goal on Kickstarter. Austin is a proper place for the debut, as subject Lizzie Velasquez and director Sara Bordo met there while collaborating on a very popular TEDx event in 2013. Velasquez is a cyber-bullying victim-turned-activist, whose life overcoming physical and social obstacles due to a rare disease is sure to be inspiring. And there’s the Mavis Staples film Mavis! from SXSW vet Jessica Edwards (Tugs), who you should also know as the author of the essential coffee table book “Tell Me Something: Documentary Filmmakers.”

Below is the full list of the first wave of seven SXSW titles with info. We’ll be there in full force when the fest takes over Austin March 13–21.

BRAND: A Second Coming (World Premiere)
Director: Ondi Timoner
BRAND: A Second Coming follows comedian/author Russell Brand’s evolution from addict & Hollywood star to unexpected political disruptor & newfound hero to the underserved. Brand is criticized for egomaniacal self-interest as he calls for revolution.

A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story (World Premiere)
Director: Sara Hirsh Bordo
From the producers of the most viewed TEDWomen event of 2013 comes A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, a documentary following the inspiring journey of 25-year-old, 58-pound Lizzie from cyber-bullying victim to anti-bullying activist.

Ex Machina (North American Premiere)
Director/Screenwriter: Alex Garland
Alex Garland, writer of 28 Days Later and Sunshine, makes his directorial debut with the stylish and cerebral thriller Ex Machina, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander.
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander

Hello, My Name is Doris (World Premiere)
Director: Michael Showalter, Screenwriters: Michael Showalter, Laura Terruso
An isolated 60-year-old woman is motivated by a self-help seminar to romantically pursue a younger coworker, causing her to stumble into the spotlight of the Brooklyn hipster social scene.
Cast: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Beth Behrs, Wendi Mclendon-Covey, Stephen Root, Elizabeth Reaser, Jack Antonoff, Natasha Lyonne, Tyne Daly

The Invitation (World Premiere)
Director: Karyn Kusama, Screenwriters: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
A reunion of old friends turns into a nightmare when one guest, a haunted man whose ex-wife is among the hosts, begins to fear that the night is part of a terrifying agenda.
Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Lindsay Burdge

Mavis! (World Premiere)
Director: Jessica Edwards
Her family group, the Staple Singers, inspired millions and helped propel the civil rights movement with their music. After 60 years of performing, legendary singer Mavis Staples’ message of love and equality is needed now more than ever.

Son of the Congo (World Premiere / SXsports screening)
Director/Screenwriter: Adam Hootnick
Serge Ibaka’s improbable journey has taken him from the violence of Congo to the top of the NBA. In Son of the Congo, Ibaka returns home, hoping his basketball success can help rebuild a country and inspire a new generation to dream of a better life.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.