Review: ‘Alone Together’ (2022), starring Katie Holmes, Jim Sturgess and Derek Luke

January 4, 2023

by Carla Hay

Jim Sturgess and Katie Holmes in “Alone Together” (Photo by Jesse Korman/Vertical Entertainment)

“Alone Together” (2022)

Directed by Katie Holmes

Culture Representation: Taking place in Connecticut and New York City, from March to April 2020, the comedy/drama film “Alone Together” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, a food critic/journalist with an attorney boyfriend finds herself quarantining unexpectedly with a bachelor repairman when they are both double-booked at the same Airbnb rental house, and the awkwardness between these temporary housemates turns into a romantic attraction.

Culture Audience: “Alone Together” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star/writer/director Katie Holmes and don’t mind watching a clumsily made and extremely predictable romantic dramedy.

Katie Holmes and Derek Luke in “Alone Together” (Photo by Jesse Korman/Vertical Entertainment)

“Alone Together” is a trite and misguided dramedy about a would-be couple stuck quarantining in the same house during the COVID-19 pandemic. The only social distancing needed is for viewers to avoid this boring flop that fails to have any romantic sizzle. Katie Holmes is the writer, director and star of this formulaic dud, so she bears the responsibility for not being able to write and direct a great role for herself. The cast members’ performances aren’t terrible, but the movie’s storytelling is so unimaginative and substandard, it’s disappointing that the potential to make a witty and memorable film is completely wasted.

“Alone Together” takes place during a one-month period (March to April 2020), during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Keep that in mind when the “Alone Together” characters make big decisions about their lives in such a short period of time. The problem is that some of these life decisions don’t look completely believable and look too rushed, considering the personalities of some of the characters involved.

“Alone Together” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. Holmes’ feature-film directorial debut “All We Had” (written by Josh Boone and Jill Killington) had its world premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. In both movies, Holmes as a director shows a knack for choosing talented cast members, but she needs a lot of improvement in how a director shapes the narrative of a film.

“Alone Together” is not as muddled as “All We Had” (a drama about a single mother who becomes homeless), but “Alone Together” has almost the opposite problem: It presents complicated life decisions in such an overly simplistic way, the end result is that “Alone Together” looks like an unrelatable, half-baked fairy tale. “Alone Together” earnestly wants to be a meaningful love story set during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the lack of believable chemistry between the two lead characters automatically makes this romantic dramedy a non-starter.

“Alone Together” begins on March 15, 2020, in New York City, at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdowns. A food critic/journalist named June (played by Holmes) is going on a getaway trip to an Airbnb rental house in Connecticut. Her boyfriend John (played by Derek Luke), who is a corporate attorney, booked this rental the week before, as a romantic vacation. But now, with the world under quarantine from a deadly disease, this trip has taken on a new meaning.

From the beginning, “Alone Together” has a series of contrivances to make June get in a bad mood at the start of the trip. When she goes to the subway station, a homeless panhandler (played by Mike Iveson) verbally abuses her when she ignores his begging for money: “The world is ending, bitch,” the panhandler snarls. “I shouldn’t have to ask you twice.”

The subways are delayed, so June decides to take an above-ground train. But when she gets to the train station, she finds out that the train she needs to take has cancelled all service for the day. June ends up using a Lyft car service to get to her destination, so traveling to the rental home costs a lot more than June expected.

While June uses hand sanitizer in the car (and she continues to use hand sanitizer throughout the movie, to show she’s conscientious about germs), the nosy Lyft driver (played by Neal Benari) inappropriately asks June if she’s married. June says no, but she says she eventually wants to get married and start a family. It’s later mentioned in the movie that June and John have been dating each other for a year.

When she’s in the car on the way to the Airbnb rental, June gets a text from John telling her that he won’t be able to join her at the Airbnb rental, because he’s staying in the city to look after his elderly parents during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The rental house has already been paid for, and June is almost there, so she doesn’t see the point of going all the way back to New York City.

The irritations for June continue: When she arrives at the house, she can’t find the key to the front door. And then, her phone battery dies. She also finds out the house is already occupied by someone who says he booked the same house the day before. You know where this is going, of course.

The house’s other rental occupant is Charlie (played by Jim Sturgess), a bachelor who has his own business repairing vintage items. His especially loves to fix up old motorcycles. And what a coincidence: Charlie lives in New York City too, and he’s rented the house to be by himself during the pandemic lockdowns during the same period time that June and John had the booked the place. June and Charlie predictably have a mild squabble over who has the right to be at the house, until they both agree to share the house for the duration that they have it booked.

“Alone Together” then goes through the tedious and snoozeworthy motions of June and Charlie bickering and being uncomfortable with each other, until they discover they actually like each other and have some romantic attraction to each other. Meanwhile, June is already annoyed with John for wanting to spend time with his parents instead of with her. And then, June gets jealous when she sees a social media photo of John looking cozy with one of John’s female co-workers named Carol.

June tells Charlie about John but almost makes John sound like an inattentive boyfriend instead of a loving and caring son. Charlie has some issues about falling in love because his most recent ex-girlfriend cheated on him and dumped him to be with another man. Even after Charlie tells June this information, she seems to have very little qualms about cheating on unsuspecting John with Charlie. Charlie also doesn’t seem to want to think too much about the consequences if Charlie and June hook up: Charlie is going to be involved with another woman who’s a cheater, and he’s going to be involved in emotionally hurting John.

In other words: “Alone Together” doesn’t give any good reasons for viewers to root for June and Charlie to be a couple. To make things worse, the dialogue in “Alone Together” is so bland and forgettable, it’s hard to believe that June and Charlie are connecting on a level other than physical attraction. It’s supposed to be an “opposites attract” situation where uptight, white-collar June and laid-back, blue-collar Charlie are supposed to find love with each other, despite their different lifestyles. It all looks so phony.

“Alone Together” also has some weird inconsistencies that are examples of the movie’s substandard writing and directing. When June first meets Charlie, she asks him, “Are you from Wisconsin?,” even though he has an obvious East Coast accent. Charlie later tells June that he grew up New York City’s Lower East Side, even though Sturgess (who is British in real life) has an American accent that sounds more like Charlie grew up in New Jersey.

The two-story house where June and Charlie are staying is big enough to have more than one bathroom, but there are multiple, fake-looking scenes where Charlie and June have discomfort from using the same bathroom. June is supposed to be such a germaphobe during the pandemic (before a COVID vaccine is available), she’s paranoid about using towels in someone else’s house. But then, there are multiple scenes of her not social distancing or not using any face protections when she’s around a stranger like Charlie during the pandemic. Charlie eventually makes face masks for himself and June, because it’s supposed to be a cutesy romantic gesture.

Charlie and June eventually open up to each other about their family lives. June’s only living relative is her widowed, unnamed grandfather (played by Ed Dixon), who is the father of June’s mother. There’s a scene where June sings “Blue Moon” to her grandfather when they chat on the phone during the quarantine. (During the movie’s opening credits, Holmes’ real-life daughter Suri Cruise sings a pitch-perfect and delightful version of “Blue Moon,” in one of the few highlights of this dud of a movie.) Charlie is close to his widowed mother Deborah (played by Melissa Leo), and she calls him during the quarantine too.

June’s best friend is named Margaret (played by Zosia Mamet), who tries to assure a worried and insecure June that John wouldn’t cheat on June with his co-worker Carol, because John is a good guy. Meanwhile, hypocritical June gets closer and closer to cheating on John with Charlie. June fails to see this double standard. The characters of June’s grandfather, Charlie’s mother Deborah and June’s friend Margaret are just sounding boards and are ultimately of no consequence to the story.

Even if the trailer for “Alone Together” didn’t already reveal that John (who is a very generic character) would show up unexpectedly at the house, it’s too easy to predict that this is how John will find out about Charlie. The movie then hems and haws with pseudo-suspense, as June has to decide if she will choose John or Charlie in this monotonous love triangle. And remember: June is making this decision after knowing Charlie for less than a month. “Alone Together” is trying desperately to be a smart independent film, but there’s no intelligence to be found from copying the same old tired clichés that can be found in a Hallmark Channel movie or a cheap romance novel.

Vertical Entertainment released “Alone Together” in select U.S. cinemas on July 22, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on July 29, 2022.

2021 South by Southwest: What to expect at this year’s SXSW event

February 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

For the first time, South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference & Festivals will be held online for the 2021 edition of the event, which takes place March 16 to March 20, and has been dubbed SXSW Online. After being cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, SXSW is following safety protocols to offer a virtual experience for SXSW attendees in 2021. SXSW is arguably the best-known event in the U.S. that combines music, film, interactive and convergence programming.

Here are some of the anticipated highlights of the festival:

Keynote and Featured Speakers

Willie Nelson (Photo courtesy of ABC/Image Group LA)

The lineup of SXSW keynote speakers includes:

  • Grammy-winning artist Willie Nelson
  • Politician, activist and author Stacey Abrams in conversation with author N.K. Jemisin

Featured speakers include:

  • Author James Altucher
  • Favor president/CEO and H-E-B Chief digital officer Jag Bath in conversation with Inc editor-at-large Tom Foster
  • Talk show host/comedian Samantha Bee
  • Oregon congressman and Congressional Cannabis Caucus founder Earl Blumenauer with Politico federal cannabis policy reporter Natalie Fertig
  • Business mogul and Virgin Airlines founder Sir Richard Branson
  • Oscar-nominated film composer Nicholas Britell
  • Hip-hop artist Dave Burd (aka Lil Dicky)
  • Filmmaker Erin Lee Carr
  • Electronic dance music duo The Chainsmokers
  • Singer Chiquis
  • Entrepreneur Mark Cuban
  • Interdisciplinary artist Torkwase Dyson
  • Relativity Space co-founder/COTim Ellis
  • Dance choreographer Laurieann Gibson
  • Author/psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb
  • Schwab executive vice president and chief digital officer Neesha Hathi
  • Singer/songwriter Imogen Heap
  • Oscar-wining filmmaker Barry Jenkins
  • Affectiva co-founder/CEO Dr. Rana el Kaliouby
  • Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson in conversation with Self magazine editor-in-chief Carolyn Kylstra
  • Twilio co-founder/CEO Jeff Lawson
  • Computer scientist Kai-Fu Lee
  • Grammy-winning rapper and “NCIS: Los Angeles” actor LL Cool J
  • Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey in conversation with Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber
  • International yoga teacher, actress, writer and entrepreneur Adriene Mishler
  • Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian
  • Actor, filmmaker, author, and Olympic athlete Alexi Pappas
  • Sony Music Publishing chairman/CEO Jon Platt in conversation with Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Carole King
  • Emmy-winning producer, Grammy-winning artist and actress Queen Latifah
  • Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke
  • NFL football player Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
  • NFL football player Sebastian Tomich
  • NBA basketball star Chris Webber
  • Grammy-winning artist Wyclef Jean

Featured Sessions

Descriptions courtesy of SXSW:

  • Alexi Pappas & Bill Hader on Being a Bravey – A conversation with Olympian, actress, and author of the bestselling book Bravey, Alexi Pappas, in conversation with Emmy award-winning actor, filmmaker and creator/star of “Barry,” Bill Hader. Pappas and Hader will discuss their evolving relationship with mental health in their creative, professional, and personal lives, and on the lessons they’ve learned from mentors along the way.
  • Are We the Smartest Kids on the Block? – A conversation with Harvard University Professor of Science Avi Loeb, and New Scientist reporter Leah Crane about the search for extraterrestrial life, one of the most exciting frontiers in astronomy. With the recent discoveries on the cloud deck of Venus and studies of the weird interstellar object `Oumuamua’, find out how the search for unusual electromagnetic flashes, industrial pollution of planetary atmospheres, artificial light or heat, artificial space debris or something completely unexpected holds the promise of advancing and maturing both science and society.
  • Beyond the Gender Binary – With increasing recognition of the fluidity of gender, the time has come for a 21st century approach to gender justice. Dividing billions of people into one of two categories “man or woman” is not natural, it is political. Gender diversity is an integral part of our existence. It always has been, and it always will be. The gender binary – the idea that there are only two separate and opposite genders – was built to create conflict and division, not foster creativity and humanity. In this conversation ALOK and Demi Lovato will speak about the status of trans rights in the United States and the power of creative self-expression in the face of gender norms.
  • Bruce Mau: Designing for the Cluster – Bruce Mau applies his MC24 design principles and his new life-centered approach to confronting the simultaneous cluster cascade of crisis that he calls “The Cluster: Pandemics – Racial and Social Justice – Climate – Food Insecurity – Governance.” In this conversation with philosopher and writer Sanford Kwinter, Mau will demonstrate that all of these global challenges are interrelated and that they have their origin in a fundamental crisis of empathy.
  • Building Equity In Startup Communities – A discussion about scaling equity throughout the technology, startup, and venture ecosystem to ensure a path to shared prosperity for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous People of Color in the fourth industrial revolution and beyond. Foundry Group and Techstars co-founder Brad Feld, and 100 Black Angels & Allies Fund and Opportunity Hub co-founder Rodney Sampson will discuss their strategies for operationalizing diversity, equity and inclusion in the startup ecosystem, moderated by Business Insider reporter Dominic-Madori Davis.
  • Can 5G Transform the Live Music Experience? – In the last year we have felt the absence of live music. Artists have stepped up and gotten creative to reach fans virtually with some amazing results – but it can’t replace the impact of live performances. As we look forward to the return of live music, artists have a new platform to help deliver innovative experiences – 5G. The next generation of cellular delivers capabilities that can take the live experience to new levels of immersion and unlock new opportunities for artist creativity. Join Cristiano Amon, President and CEO-elect of wireless leader Qualcomm, and Grammy-nominated DJ Steve Aoki and hear from two visionaries about the future of the live experience in a 5G world.
  • The Chainsmokers on launching MANTIS VC – Grammy Award-winning and Billboard Chart topping artist/producer duo, The Chainsmokers, are a dominating musical force with a diverse repertoire of songs that have led them to become one of world’s biggest recording artists. Alex Pall and Drew Taggart have expanded The Chainsmokers’ empire into film and television, tequila, philanthropy, and most recently their venture capital firm Mantis. Hear their story on how the duo have evolved their music career into so much more with Andreessen Horowitz Managing Partner Chris Lyons.
  • A Conversation with Desus Nice and The Kid Mero – A conversation with multi-talented comedians, authors of the New York Times bestseller “God-Level Knowledge Darts: Life Lessons from the Bronx,” co-hosts of Showtime’s first late-night talk show “Desus & Mero” and the long-running Bodega Boys podcast, Desus Nice and The Kid Mero.
  • A Conversation with Noah Hawley and Andrew Bird – Set in Kansas City 1950, Fargo’s fourth installment follows two crime syndicates jockeying to control an alternate economy of exploitation and graft while fighting for a piece of the American dream. Join Noah Hawley (creator / executive producer / director / writer) and Grammy Award-nominated musician Andrew Bird for a not-to-be-missed conversation about how a concert in Austin lead to Bird’s acting debut in “Fargo.” Moderated by Whitney Friedlander. All four installments of the critically acclaimed limited series are currently available to stream on FX on Hulu.
  • A Conversation with the Russo Brothers and Elizabeth Banks – A fireside chat between visionary directors/producers Anthony and Joe Russo (“Welcome to Collinwood,” “Arrested Development,” “Avengers: Endgame,” “Relic,” “Mosul” and “Cherry”) and acclaimed actress, director, writer, and producer Elizabeth Banks (“Charlie’s Angels,” “The Hunger Games” and “Shrill”). Banks will talk to the Russo Brothers about their new film “Cherry,” as well as the work they are doing with their company, AGBO. “Cherry” stars Tom Holland and is based on the critically acclaimed debut novel by Nico Walker. It will be released in theaters in February and on Apple TV+ in March.
  • COVID-19: The New Reality – Dr. Michael Osterholm, joined by health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, will speak to the SXSW community about what is next in the fight against COVID-19. From the immediate concerns around new variants to the “collateral damage” we face from this pandemic, Dr. Osterholm and Ms. Sarasohn-Kahn will share insights to help navigate public health in 2021 and beyond.
  • Evolving the Gaming Industry with CouRage & Loaded – Gaming is taking off and bringing new opportunities for creators, brands and entertainment companies. Loaded, the leading management company for some of the world’s biggest professional gamers will host a special Q&A with leading content creator CouRage to examine the state of the today’s gaming industry and how the creator community has evolved the business for the better. The talk with Loaded VP of Talent Bridget Davidson will highlight key learning from CouRage’s successful career, as well as spotlight how brands and other non-endemic companies can work with creators to capture both eyeballs and engagement.
  • Forging a New Social Contract for Big Tech – Beyond privacy, revised liability laws can hold companies accountable for what they disseminate online. Antitrust actions could check the flow of wealth to the small number of companies that control platforms, aggregators, and algorithms. A lightweight horizontal regulation could add a safety layer to the high-risk applications of artificial intelligence. This discussion features U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar; Denmark tech ambassador Anne Marie Engtoft Larsen; Executive Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager; and President & Co-founder Center for Humane Technology Tristan Harris. The session will focus on the role for technology companies in the 21st Century and what a new “social contract” could look like for Big Tech – in both Europe and the United States.
  • Gene Editing: The Biotech Revolution of our Times – Bestselling author Walter Isaacson has established himself as the biographer of creativity, innovation, and genius. He wrote about Einstein, a genius of the revolution in physics, and Steve Jobs, a genius of the revolution in digital technology. Though the past half-century has been a digital age, based on the microchip, computer, and internet, Isaacson argues we are now on the cusp of a third revolution in science—a revolution in biochemistry that is capable of curing diseases, fending off viruses, and improving the human species. With the invention of CRISPR, we can edit our DNA. CRISPR has been used in China to create “designer babies” that are immune from the AIDS virus and in the U.S. to cure patients of sickle cell anemia. With the life-science revolution, children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study the code of life — and all the moral dilemmas this brings. Isaacson will be joined in conversation with award-winning journalist, New York Times bestselling author, and a co-founder of Stand Up to Cancer Katie Couric.
  • Indigenous Peoples Hold the Key to Saving Earth – For centuries, Indigenous communities have served as guardians of the environment, protecting nature, respecting flora and fauna, and using traditional knowledge and wisdom passed down over generations. They safeguard 80% of biodiversity left in the world, which is key to turning around the climate crisis, as biodiverse areas are major carbon sinks. In this panel, Nemonte Nenquimo, a leader from the Waorani community in Ecuador and founding member of Indigenous-led nonprofit organization Ceibo Alliance and Amazon Frontlines speaks with Julia Jackson, Founder of Grounded.org, to discuss why climate philanthropy must be reimagined to protect the future of our planet, by directing resources to indigenous communities who are at the frontlines of our climate emergency.
  • Immersive Retail: Connected Shopping in a New Era – A conversation about the acceleration in changes to the retail environment and what major initiatives the retail industry is pursuing to enable the widespread proliferation of AR/VR and 3D content for e-commerce and retail with TechTalk/Studio president and co-founder Kevin O’Malley, IBM Global Business Strategy Partner Silke Meixner, and Unity Head of Industry Verticals, Operate Solutions, Tony Parisi.
  • Late Night Girls Club: Samantha Bee & Amber Ruffin – Samantha Bee (host and executive producer of the WGA nominated, Emmy Award-winning show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee) in conversation with Amber Ruffin (writer, executive producer and host of WGA Award-nominated series The Amber Ruffin Show). The two will discuss the trials and tribulations of covering politics in today’s unpredictable climate from a unique, comedic point of view. As the longest running correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Bee eventually went out on her own in 2016 with Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. The show continues to use political satire to entertain, educate, and empower viewers while keeping the government in check. Ruffin is also an Emmy and WGA Award-nominated writer and performer for Late Night with Seth Meyers, and was the first African American female to write for a late-night network talk show in the U.S.
  • Live Music in Venues: What’s Next? – 2020 was a year of catastrophic impact for the live music industry as the pandemic brought the industry to a screeching halt. A year later, this session brings together independent venue perspectives from across the US., including Troubadour talent booker Amy Madrigali, Iridium director of artist relations & programming Grace Blake, First Avenue Productions president and CEO Dayna Frank and moderated by Pollstar, VenuesNow executive editor Andy Gensler. How have they been able to support developing talent? What’s ahead for their establishment and how they can get back to supporting a full schedule of acts?
  • Melinda Gates + Kelly Corrigan Talk Big Change – For more than two decades, Melinda Gates has been on a mission. Her goal, as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has been to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs, wherever they live. Throughout this journey, she has come to a critical conclusion: when we lift up women, we lift up humanity. In conversation with podcaster, PBS host, and bestselling author Kelly Corrigan, Gates will discuss her bestselling book, “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World,” and its stories of the empowered women Gates has met over the years. Gates will talk about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s work around family planning, education, and gender equality, and she will call us to action—urging us to drive progress in our homes, workplaces, and communities.
  • Music’s Limitless Variations – Hear from Lenzo Yoon, the Global CEO of BTS’ label Big Hit Entertainment (hereafter referred to as Big Hit), as he explains how Big Hit was able to see what comes next, as well as prepare for the future at every critical juncture, and share Big Hit’s past, present and tomorrow. Yoon presents prospects and insights on the future of the K-pop industry and, furthermore, on the future of the global entertainment industry.
  • Ocean Storytelling with James Cameron & Brian Skerry – Join world-renowned filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer at Large James Cameron and National Geographic Explorer and Photographer Brian Skerry on a guided adventure into the deep blue to discuss the upcoming Disney+ original documentary series Secrets of the Whales. Filmed over three years in 24 locations, avid underwater conservationists Cameron and Skerry join forces to deliver an epic, awe-inspiring look at the incredible life and culture of whales and how the world’s largest mammals are facing the challenge of an ever-changing ocean. Moderated by OceanXplorers executive producer Orla Doherty.
  • The Quest Effect: Inside VR’s Next Chapter – Anyone who has entered virtual reality knows what a transformative experience donning a headset can be. Until recently, that experience was enjoyed mainly by hard-core VR enthusiasts. This year, all-in-one VR has become better, more powerful, and more affordable, expanding and changing the makeup of who spends time in VR. Now, that new group is discovering how great VR can be — not only for games, but also for fitness, media, hangouts with friends, and even real work. Join Mark Rabkin, Vice President of Oculus at Facebook, for a discussion about the future of VR, its changing ecosystem, and what its recent success means for the development of the next computing platform.
  • STARZ’S “Power” Universe Collides – Join STARZ’S Power Universe co-creator, Curtis “50 Cent” JacksonPower Book II: Ghost cast: Michael Rainey Jr.Mary J. Blige, and Cliff “Method Man” SmithPower Book III: Raising Kanan cast: Mekai Curtis and Patina Miller; and Power Book IV: Force lead: Joseph Sikora, for the first time ever as the Power Universe collides. Moderated by media personality and bestselling author Angie MartinezPower stars will discuss: the legacy of the Power Universe, the latest on upcoming seasons, the future and fate of new and iconic characters.
  • Ted Lasso: Emotion in the Edit – Join producers and members of the Ted Lasso editorial team in a panel discussion on the magic of Bill Lawrence shows (ScrubsCougar TownSpin City) and how editorial is the true partner in landing the jokes, drawing out emotion, and making it feel like you’re spending 30 minutes with your long time pack of friends. American Cinema Editors (ACE) CinemaEditor Magazine writer Nancy Jundi will moderate the panel with representatives from the Ted Lasso creative and editorial team (Bill LawrenceKip KroegerMelissa McCoy, and A.J. Catoline) to elaborate on the many considerations that go into building and honoring a character across episodes, seasons and a series.
  • Who Controls the Past: The Tulsa Race Massacre – How is it possible that the 1921 massacre of as many as thousands of Black people in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was almost erased from US history? And why is it finally penetrating the national consciousness? Featured in HBO’s The Watchmen and Lovecraft Country, this history survived because of the dedicated efforts of Black Tulsans, including the descendants of survivors, who have made it their life’s work to uncover what really happened and make sure we never forget. This session, moderated by Jeffery Robinson from Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America, examines the work of activists Dr. Tiffany CrutcherChief Egunwale F. Amusan, and Kristi Orisabiyi Williams to take control of the historical narrative, and in so doing, to force a reckoning on racial justice in this country and a long overdue conversation on reparations for Black Americans.
  • Why Do We Fear Innovation? – A conversation featuring actress, author, and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik and historian, philosopher, and bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari, moderated by Tech Open Air founder Niko Woischnik. From the printing press to vaccines to artificial intelligence, the introduction of almost any transformative technology has been met with wonder as well as fear and rejection. Many of history’s greatest inventors were considered heretics – the archetype of the mad scientist exists for a reason. Why does the new still scare us? What does it take to build acceptance for transformative ideas? How does the unprecedented scientific progress to deliver COVID vaccines influence this? What role does disinformation play in shaping our fears? How can we ensure innovators consider ethical issues, so outcomes can lead to the betterment of people and the planet? What can innovators learn from artists and creators of fiction? Presented by Leaps by Bayer and Tech Open Air Berlin.
  • Why The Music Biz is Buzzing About the Metaverse – In the midst of the 2020 global pandemic, one of the biggest concerts ever took place in the virtual worlds of Roblox. Two-time Grammy Award winner Lil Nas X gave a performance debut of his new single ‘Holiday’ and other top hits, dancing and socializing with fans, and attracting over 30 million concert views in this revolutionary music experience. The concert’s unprecedented success was made possible by the Metaverse, a social and technological phenomenon driven by a new generation growing up online and global platforms paving a new way for people to be together, even when they can’t in person. Hear from Maverick Management music manager Zach Kardisch, futurist and CEO of Futures Intelligence Group Cathy Hackl, Roblox Global Head of Music Jon Vlassopulos, and Columbia Records SVP, Experiential Marketing and business development Ryan Ruden about how the Metaverse is shaping the future of music business, today.
  • Breaking the Sonic Color Line: A discussion about authenticity of voice in media, defeating racial stereotypes in voice acting, the impact of race in audio ads and how the industry can come together and make real change featuring DJ, actress and entrepreneur MC Lyte; Pandora Group Creative Director Roger Sho Gehrmann; and voice-over and television actress Joan Baker.
  • The Chainsmokers on launching MANTIS VC: Grammy Award-winning and Billboard Chart topping artist/producer duo, The Chainsmokers, are a dominating musical force with a diverse repertoire of songs that have led them to become one of world’s biggest recording artists. Alex Pall and Drew Taggart have expanded The Chainsmokers’ empire into film and television, tequila, philanthropy, and most recently their venture capital firm Mantis. Hear their story on how the duo have evolved their music career into so much more.
  • A Conversation with Icons Queen Latifah and LL COOL J: From the mic to the big screen, award-winning rappers, actors and producers Queen Latifah and LL Cool J have been major forces in the entertainment industry for over three decades. Queen Latifah executive produces and stars as the first female Equalizer, Robyn McCall, in the reimagining of the series Equalizer, and LL Cool J stars as Special Agent Sam Hanna on “NCIS: Los Angeles.” Join them for a lively, in-depth conversation about their illustrious careers in music, television and movies (in front and behind the cameras), the cultural resonance and timeliness of their series, and much more.
  • From Moonlight to The Underground Railroad: Barry Jenkins & Composer Nicholas Britell: A conversation with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins and with Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning composer Nicholas Britell (Succession), where they will discuss the joy, delicate nuances, challenges and unexpected discoveries from their work together. The pair will talk about their unique creative process in building a singular audiovisual identity with a specific focus on their upcoming Amazon Original limited series, The Underground Railroad, based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name. Jenkins and Britell first collaborated on Moonlight, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. During the making of Moonlight, the duo formed an inimitable rapport that brought them back together again for If Beale Street Could TalkThe Underground Railroad will stream in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide on Amazon Prime Video in 2021.
  • Hi, I’m Dave: Hailed by Rolling Stone as one of the best TV shows of 2020, FXX’s DAVE is based on the life of Dave Burd (aka Lil Dicky), and centered on a neurotic man who’s convinced himself that he’s destined to be one of the best rappers of all time. The critically-acclaimed first season explored ambition, mental illness and masculinity in the world of hip-hop. Join co-creator/executive producer/writer/star Dave Burd (aka Lil Dicky), co-creator/executive producer Jeff Schaffer, executive producer Saladin Patterson and series star GaTa for DAVE’s first panel at SXSW. Season 1 is available on FX on Hulu; season two will premiere on FXX in 2021.
  • How GenZ Duets the News on TikTok: Hear about tactics publishers are using to build relationships with young audiences on TikTok, and the content that moves audiences to action with The Washington Post video producer Dave JorgensonNowThis politics producer Ian McKenna; and content creator Jackie James.
  • Leading Safely + Motivating Empathetically: Learn how the hospitality industry have changed their tactics to adapt to the ever-changing health and wellness regulations and lead, motivate and engage their employees, colleagues and communities; eaturing Blackberry Farm Vice President of Food & Beverage Andy ChabotFood & Wine editor-in-chief Hunter Lewis; executive chef and Cúrate Bar de Tapas and La Bodega by Cúrate co-owner Katie Button; and award-winning chef and activist Marcus Samuelsson
  • .Making Emotional Connections With Volumetric Video: Hear from three seasoned creatives on the most effective way to make emotional connections through volumetric video with writer, director, and new media artist Illya Szilak; Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Capture Studios creative director Jason Waskey, and producer and Atlas V co-founder Antoine Cayrol.
  • RIP Live Shows? Concerts in the Time of COVID: A conversation about the ways the live/touring industry are trying to stay afloat, what’s working, what isn’t, and what still needs to be done to save the music we love, featuring Driift general manager Adam Shore; Panache Booking and Panache Management founder Michelle Cable; and Paradigm Talent Agency Executive, Wilder Records founder and Home School co-founder Tom Windish.

Music Performances

There are normally about 2,000 artists who perform at SXSW every year. However, due to nightclub closures, the performance lineup has been reduced for 2021. Some of the announced artists who will be performing virtually include Indigo Sparke, Place to Bury StrangersFrancisca Valenzuela, SquidGrrrl GangDarkooSamantha Sanchez, Holy Fuck, Astrid Sonne, NAYANA IZ, and Jealous.

Showcases and presenters include AfroFuture Sounds (British Underground & DAJU Presents), Hotel Vegas & Hotel Free TV, Damnably, EQ Austin, Jazz re:freshed Outernational, FOCUS Wales, Roskilde Festival, Taiwan Beats, Close Encounter Club, Sounds from Spain, M for Montreal, Flipped Coin KOREA, Carefree Black Girl, New Zealand Music, KUTX The Breaks, Dedstrange, Fierce Panda x End of the Trail, Brazil Inspires the Future, and ÅÄÖ…Sounds Swedish.

Movie and TV Premieres

Demi Lovato in “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” (Photo courtesy of OBB Media)

SXSW has a wide variety of feature-length and short films. In 2021, the SXSW Film Festival has music documentaries as its opening, centerpiece and closing films. “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” is the opening film, the Charli XCX quarantine chronicle “Alone Together” is the centerpiece, and “Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free” is the closing film.

Here are some of the more high-profile feature films that will have their world premieres at the festival: The psychological thriller “Here Before,” starring Andrea Riseborough as a woman questioning reality. The drama “Language Lessons,” starring Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass as a Spanish teacher and her student who become friends. And the fantasy action flick “The Spine of Night,” starring Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel and Joe Manganiello.  Documentary world premieres include “United States vs. Reality Winner”; “Introducing, Selma Blair”; “WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn”; “Hysterical,” about female stand-up comedians.

TV shows that will have episodes premiering at SXSW 2021 including Starz’s “Confronting a Serial Killer,” showrunner Po Kutchins’ and director Joe Berliner’s chronicle of the relationship between serial killer Sam Little and author Jillian Lauren; HBO Max’s “Made for Love,” starring Cristin Milioti as a divorcée who’s out for revenge; and the third season of Starz’s “The Girlfriend Experience” and Amazon Prime Video’s thriller series “Them.”

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