Review: ‘The Fallout,’ starring Jenna Ortega, Maddie Ziegler, Niles Fitch, Will Ropp, Shailene Woodley, Julie Bowen and John Ortiz

March 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jenna Ortega and Maddie Ziegler in “The Fallout” (Photo by Kristen Correll)

“The Fallout”

Directed by Megan Park

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in California’s Los Angeles County, the dramatic film “The Fallout” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Latino, white and African American) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: After experiencing a devastating school shooting, a teenage girl, her schoolmates and her family have different ways of coping with this tragedy.

Culture Audience: “The Fallout” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted and realistically written dramas about how a mass murder has psychological effects on survivors, particularly young people.

Jenna Ortega and Maddie Ziegler (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

There have been several documentaries about how survivors of school shootings in the U.S. are coping with these tragedies. “The Fallout” is a fictional drama, but the movie achieves a rare balancing act of handling this sensitive subject matter with realistic emotions and above-average acting. What makes the movie also stand out is that it’s not a non-stop barrage of depression. It’s able to convey, with occasional touches of levity, how life can go on for survivors, even if their lives will no longer be the same.

Written and directed by Megan Park, “The Fallout” had its world premiere at the 2021 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, where it won the top jury prize as the best movie in the narrative feature competition. Writer/director Park, who made her feature-film directorial debut with “The Fallout,” also won the 2021 SXSW Film Festival’s Brightcove Illumination Award, given to a filmmaker on the rise. Park previously directed music videos, such as Billie Eilish’s “Watch.” Eilish’s brother/musical collaborator Finneas O’Connell wrote “The Fallout” musical score.

The beginning of “The Fallout” gives the appearance of being a typical teenage story. The movie’s protagonist Vada Cavell (played by Jenna Ortega, in a standout performance) and her openly gay best friend Nick Feinstein (played by Will Ropp) are driving in Nick’s car to their high school. They live in an unnamed city in California’s Los Angeles County. (The movie was filmed in Los Angeles.)

Vada (pronounced “vay-da”) and Nick appear to be 16 or 17 years old, probably in their third year of high school. If they were in their last year of high school, movies like this would make a point of telling the audiences that these students are high-school seniors because Vada and her classmates would be talking about their plans after they graduate. All of the main characters in the movie come from stable, middle-class homes.

Vada and Nick have the type of comfortable rapport that best friends have with each other, where they discuss things they wouldn’t talk about with just anyone. In their conversation while going to school, Nick and Vada talk about drinking coffee, which leads to Vada mentioning that coffee gives her the urge to defecate. Vada and Nick laugh and say that they should have a code for that bodily function when they talk about it in front of other people.

When Vada and Nick arrive at school, it seems like it’s going to be a normal day. The biggest problem that Vada thinks she’ll have to deal with that day is how to comfort her younger sister Amelia (played by Lumi Pollack), who has texted Vada a “911” emergency alert while Vada is in one of her classrooms. Vada quickly excuses herself from class to go in the hallway and call back Amelia, who attends another school and appears to be about 13 years old. Amelia is hiding by herself in one of her school’s restrooms.

It turns out that Amelia called because she’s surprised and embarrassed that she got her first menstrual period while in school, and she’s confused about how to handle it. Vada mildly scolds Amelia for scaring Vada into thinking it was a real emergency. Vada calms Amelia down and gives her a “big sister pep talk” on what do next. And like any good older sister would do, Vada offers to take Amelia out for a meal after school, so they can talk some more about this milestone in Amelia’s physical growth toward womanhood.

Feeling satisfied that she handled the situation correctly, Vada then goes into the ladies’ restroom. She sees a fellow classmate named Mia Reed (played by Maddie Zeigler) doing her own makeup in the restroom mirror. Based on the way that Vada stares at Mia, Vada is slightly in awe of Mia, who has the look of an Instagram model and a reputation at school for being somewhat of a social media influencer. The other students talk about Mia as if she’s a mysterious and glamorous loner, who gives the impression that she’s more sophisticated that the average student in high school.

Mia comments to Vada: “Photo day,” to explain why she’s doing her makeup instead of being in class. Vada replies before she goes into a stall, “I’ve got to get my shit together.” It’s Vada’s way of saying that she thinks she should pay more attention to her own hair, makeup and wardrobe. When Vada comes out of the stall, she says to Mia as a compliment, “You don’t even need to wear makeup.” And that’s when they both hear gunshots.

During the next six minutes of terror, which are shown from the point of view of the students trapped in this restroom, viewers can hear that people in the school are being killed by a gun. There are screams and cries for help amid the gunshots. This violence is never shown on camera because it doesn’t need to be. It’s a massacre that has occurred all too-often in real life.

Vada and Mia hide in the same bathroom stall together and stand up on the toilet, in case the shooter comes in and looks for feet underneath the stalls. As Mia and Vada clutch each other in horror, someone bursts into the room in the stall next to them. At first, the girls think it’s the shooter, but it’s really a fellow classmate named Quinton Hasland (played by Niles Fitch), who quickly identifies himself.

Mia and Vada tell Quinton that he can hide with them in the same stall. The girls are shocked to see that Quinton’s clothes are covered in blood spatter. He tells them that he hasn’t been shot, but he’s panicking because he witnessed his brother getting shot. Quinton is understandably anguished over the decision to run for his life or stay behind to try to help his brother.

The movie doesn’t show how long Vada, Mia and Quinton were crouched in fear in the bathroom stall. Nor does “The Fallout” show what happened when the police and medical emergency teams arrived. A visual clue later in the movie indicates that eight people died in this massacre.

And “The Fallout” isn’t about what happened to the shooter and why he committed this heinous crime, except to indicate that he was a male student from the school. The shooter is never seen or heard in the movie, although his name is mentioned in one of the movie’s most emotionally powerful scenes. It’s not said out loud in the movie, but it’s implied that the shooter died at the scene, most likely by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The rest of the film is from Vada’s perspective about how Vada, Mia, Quinton, Nick and Vada’s immediate family (her parents and Amelia) deal with the aftermath of tragedy, including coping with survivor’s guilt. Vada goes into school-appointed counseling with an empathetic therapist named Anna (played by Shailene Woodley), who tries to break down the emotional walls that Vada puts up in their first few sessions together. Vada tries to persuade Anna that she’s doing as well as she can in her recovery.

In her first session with Anna, Vada talks about how she sleeps up to 14 hours a day, but insists (not very convincingly) to Anna that it’s only a few more hours of sleep per day that was part of her normal routine before the shooting. Vada gives this self-evaluation of her personality: “I feel like I’m very good at managing my emotions. I’m very low-key and chill.” Anna patiently advises without sounding judgmental: “It’s really good to show your emotions.”

Despite what Vada told Anna, there are signs that Vada isn’t coping well at all. When Vada is awake in bed, she shivers and twitches in fear. Her excessive sleeping is a sign of depression. And when her parents—Carlos (played by John Ortiz) and Patricia (played by Julie Bowen)—try to talk to Vada about what happened, she shuts them down and tells them that she’s going to be fine. Vada avoids her family by sleeping in her room as much as she can.

During family time together, such as during meals, Amelia talks as if nothing bad really happened, perhaps in a way to try to get things back to normal. But based on Vada’s angry reactions to Amelia’s nonchalant small talk, Vada is offended that Amelia acts oblivious to how this tragedy is affecting Vada. Although Vada doesn’t want to open up to her family about what she’s going through, she doesn’t want them to completely act as if the school shooting didn’t happen either.

Shortly after the massacre, Vada found out that the shooter (whom she didn’t know) had followed Vada on Instagram. It’s a small detail, but how Vada reacts when she finds out is indicative of how she doesn’t like to show many of her emotions on the surface. She expresses some surprise, but then is quick to add that she never knew the guy and never followed him on social media. Her response is to brush it off, but deep down, this information must be disturbing to her.

After the shooting, Mia and Vada begin texting each other and become each other’s confidantes. Mia invites Vada over to her house (it’s here that it’s obvious that Mia’s family has more money than Vada’s family), and this invitation leads to Vada going to Mia’s place for regular visits. Both girls are afraid to go back to school, but Mia’s anxiety is more severe, since she tells Vada that she’s afraid to leave her bedroom. Because of Vada’s visits, Mia gets over that fear and the fear of leaving her house.

Mia’s gay fathers, who are successful artists, are away in Japan on business. Mia, who is an only child, keeps in touch with them by phone, but they are never shown in the house with Mia. It’s implied that they leave Mia alone a lot, which is why she’s more independent than most of her teenage peers. But it’s also made her lonely, and it explains why she quickly bonds with Vada. After the school shooting, Mia’s parents grant Mia’s request to not go back to the school and to be homeschooled instead.

Vada is intrigued by Mia because before they became friends, she had a perception of Mia of being somewhat of a “badass,” based on Mia’s dance videos that Vada watches on the Internet. The first time that Mia and Vada hang out together, Vada remarks that in real life, Mia is very different than what Vada expected: “In the videos, you come off as so hard.” Vada is pleasantly surprised at how nice and down-to-earth Mia is when interacting with her. When Vada expresses anxiety about going to the funeral of Quinton’s brother, Mia offers to go to the funeral with Vada.

Because of what they went through together during the school shooting, Mia and Vada feel like they can openly talk to each other about it. During one such conversation, it’s revealed that while Vada’s way of dealing with the trauma is excessive sleeping, Mia’s anxiety has resulted in insomnia. Vada asks Mia, “Did you have the craziest nightmares last night?” Mia replies, “You have to be able to sleep to have nightmares.”

Mia is seemingly more confident than Vada, but Mia has her insecurities too. Mia guzzles wine and liquor and she smokes marijuana to block out whatever emotional pain she’s experiencing. Vada gets caught up in drinking alcohol and smoking weed with Mia.

And there’s a memorable scene in the movie where Vada impulsively tries Ecstasy for the first time when she’s at school. While flying high on Ecstasy, she gets blue ink from a pen all over her face, and she has trouble navigating her way down a flight of stairs. It’s one of the few scenes in “The Fallout” that’s intended to be funny. “The Fallout” infuses this slapstick comedy into the story as a way to show that life after a school shooting isn’t all gloom and doom for the survivors.

However, the movie also authentically shows in a non-judgmental way that drug use is often a coping mechanism for trauma survivors. Not much is shown or discussed about what Mia’s drug/alcohol use was like before the school shooting. But there are definite references to Vada being a good student before the shooting. Her “good girl” image begins to tarnish after the shooting took place when her grades start to slip, and she shows signs of minor delinquency.

Despite her occasional acts of teenage rebellion, there are signs that Vada identifies more with nerd culture. Vada mentions in a therapy session with Anna is that she has a celebrity crush on actor Paul Dano, who usually plays soft-spoken, geeky characters. And in a conversation between Vada and Mia, they ask each other if they prefer Drake as a sex-symbol rapper or when he portrayed a basketball-star-turned-misfit-paraplegic teen in the TV series “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” Mia and Vada both agree they prefer the wheelchair “Degrassi” version of Drake.

Vada’s parents try to do the best that they can to help her cope with the shooting tragedy, but Vada tends to avoid them. Vada’s relationship with her mother Patricia has more tension (Vada describes Patricia as “uptight”) than the relationship that Vada has with her father Carlos. There are also hints that some of this tension is because Vada thinks that Patricia prefers Amelia over Vada.

There’s a scene in the movie that exemplifies this tension. Vada sees Patricia and Amelia joking around together in the kitchen. Amelia and Patricia don’t see Vada though. Vada looks sad and a little jealous as she observes them and then walks away.

And in an earlier scene, Patricia tells Vada: “All I want is what’s best for you. I want to see that sparkle back.” Vada looks insulted by that comment, and then tells Patricia, as a way to hurt her mother emotionally: “You know that Amelia got her period?” Patricia looks surprised and says, “When?” Vada than smugly replies, “Like forever ago. I guess she just didn’t want you to know.”

But Vada is keeping secrets too. She doesn’t tell her family about her friendship with Mia. And as Vada spends more time with Mia, they become closer in a way that indicates that their relationship will become more than a friendship. Vada also expresses a sexual attraction to Quinton. (This isn’t spoiler information because it’s in the movie’s trailer.)

Vada doesn’t define her sexuality in this movie, but at one point in the story, she describes herself as a socially awkward virgin, and she expresses some disdain at the thought of herself having a husband in the future. It’s interesting that the two people who are her possible love interests are also the ones who were hiding with her in the restroom during the school shooting. The movie leaves it open to interpretation if Vada showing a romantic attraction to them after the shooting was a direct result of this shared trauma or if she was already attracted to them anyway.

Meanwhile, Kevin and Vada start to become distant from each other. He’s aware that Vada is spending more time with Mia. But he’s become an anti-gun violence activist (there are scenes of Kevin doing things that will remind people of the real-life David Hogg), while Vada avoids going to the activist rallies that Kevin now enthusiastically attends. Vada admits to Mia that she feels a little guilty over not doing more to speak out against gun violence. But the movie shows that, just like in real life, not every survivor of a gun shooting is going to become an activist.

Before Vada’s life was turned upside down, she was closest to Kevin, her sister Amelia, her father Carlos and her mother Patricia. After the shooting, the movie shows an emotionally resonant moment that Vada has with each of them, as she comes to terms with how she’s changed since the tragedy and how her relationship with each of them has changed. When Vada has a heart-to-heart talk with her father, she says something that rings true to anyone who’s survived a mass shooting: “I had no idea one guy with a gun could fuck up my life so hard in six minutes.”

What will stick with people who watch “The Fallout” is how the main characters in the story seem like they could be based on real people, thanks to writer/director Park’s terrific handling of this story and the superb acting by the cast members. It’s not an easy thing to do a coming-of-age drama about people affected by a school massacre. And the last five minutes of “The Fallout” is a harrowing example about how “getting back to normal” is something that’s hard to define and even harder to experience.

Universal Pictures will release “The Fallout” on a date to be announced.

2021 South by Southwest: SXSW Film Festival awards announced

March 19, 2021

The following is a press release from SXSW:

The South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference and Festivals announced the 2021 Jury and Special Award winners of the 28th SXSW Film Festival. Feature films receiving Jury Awards were selected from the Narrative Feature and Documentary Feature Competition categories. SXSW also announced all other juried sections, including Shorts, Design and Virtual Cinema Awards. Special Awards announced included: Louis Black “Lone Star” Award, Adobe Editing Award, Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award, Final Draft Screenwriters Award, ZEISS Cinematography Award, the Mailchimp Support the Shorts Award and the Brightcove Illumination Award which honors a filmmaker on the rise, celebrating the innovation and creativity of new artists within the SXSW Film Festival official selections. The 2021 SXSW Film Festival Awards are presented by Brightcove. 

All film categories, except Special Events, will be eligible for category-specific Audience Awards, which will be certified by the accounting firm of Maxwell Locke & Ritter. After screenings conclude at 11:59 CT on Saturday, registrants have Sunday until 11:59pm CT time to vote.  More information here. Winners will be announced via sxsw.com on Tuesday, March 23.

“We are so honored by the 2021 filmmakers who entrusted their work to us for this online version of our event, and joined us on this new adventure in such a beautiful way,” said Janet Pierson, Director of Film. “We are thrilled we could launch great new projects and talent in this pandemic year, and hope the films, sessions, music and gatherings online and in virtual reality, showcased the resilience, perseverance and creativity of our community.” 

The 2021 SXSW Film Festival Juries consisted of: Narrative Feature Competition: Amanda N’Duka, Jake Coyle, Joanna Robinson
Documentary Feature Competition: Jacqueline Coley, Sean Fennessey, Steven Zeitchik
Louis Black “Lone Star”: Joe Gross, Ann Hornaday, Stephen Saito
Brightcove Illumination Award: Clayton Davis, Kate Erbland, Inkoo Kang
Narrative Shorts Program: Janicza Bravo, Karen Han, Ina Pira
Documentary Shorts: Opal H. Bennett, Omid Fatemi, Sheila Nevins
Animated Shorts: Bryan Dimas, Chris Prynoski, Taylor K. Shaw
Midnight Shorts: Jason Blum, Arbi Pedrossian, Kristy Puchko
Music Videos: Hugo Burnham, Michael Kauffman, Kristian Mercado
Texas Shorts: Sarah Green, Paula Mejía, Monique Walton
Texas High School Shorts: Laura Kincaid, Hans-Martin Liebing, Cooper Raiff
Episodic Pilots: Jessica Derschowitz, Yassir Lester, Ben Wasserstein
Excellence in Title Design: Brian Mah, Brian Merrell, Erin Sarofsky
Excellence in Poster Design: Damon Nelson, Yen Tan, Erica Williams
Virtual Cinema Competition Jury: Myriam Achard, Jesse Damiani, Liz Rosenthal

The 2021 Film Festival program has 75 features including 57 World Premieres, 3 International Premieres, 4 North American Premieres, 1 U.S. Premieres, 8 Texas Premieres and 53 films from first-time filmmakers + 84 Short Films including Music Videos, 5 Episodic Premieres, 6 Episodic Pilots, 20 Virtual Cinema projects, 14 Title Design entries, plus 34 Special Events.

Films will continue to be available on the SXSW Online platform until 11:59 CT on March 20. SXSW will continue running the Online Shift72 Screening Library through March 31, 2021, for those films that have opted-in to the extended timeframe. 

The 2021 SXSW Film Festival Awards: 

Feature Film Grand Jury Awards 

NARRATIVE FEATURE COMPETITION

Jenna Ortega and Maddie Ziegler in “The Fallout” (Photo by Kristen Correll)

Winner:The Fallout
Director: Megan Park

The Fallout takes us through the emotionally charged healing journey of a young girl whose life is forever changed in the wake of a school tragedy. Writer and director Megan Park delivers a timely, riveting, and thought-provoking film on the toll it takes on a teenager who is facing a world where they no longer feel safe. It is an intense, moving piece that highlights an important issue to which one can’t help but feel connected.” 

Special Jury Recognition for Multi-hyphenate Storyteller:  I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking)
Directors: Kelley Kali, Angelique Molina

“Kelley Kali’s I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking), financed in part by stimulus relief checks, is a marvel of multitasking and resourcefulness. Kali’s film, which she wrote, directed, produced and stars in, winningly captures the pandemic plight of a homeless, roller-skating single mother over a memorable daylong odyssey.”  

Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Performance: Islands
Director: Martin Edralin
Actor: Rogelio Balagtas

Islands gives us the story of a painfully shy man set adrift in the world by the declining health of the parents who sheltered him. This story, of someone blooming late in life, hinges on the tremendously compelling, interior performance from relative newcomer Rogelio Balagtas who can break hearts throughout with his tears and enables the movie to transcend with a single smile.”


DOCUMENTARY FEATURE COMPETITION

Lily Hevesh in “Lily Topples The World” (Photo by Steve Price)

Winner: Lily Topples the World
Director: JeremyWorkman

“A joyful portrait of grace in artistry and commitment in engineering, Lily Topples the World shows a life online that transcends virality and touches something deeper. In Lily Hevesh, aka Hevesh5, the film features a collaborative, creative soul who comes by community and entrepreneurship naturally. A rare achievement in nonjudgmental subcultural exploration and a gorgeously rendered portrait of burgeoning adulthood that tumbles forward, like Lily’s domino art, into something beautiful.” 

Special Jury Recognition for Exceptional Intimacy in Storytelling: Introducing, Selma Blair Director: Rachel Fleit

“Selma Blair’s unflinching and raw vulnerability in Introducing, Selma Blair, coupled with director Rachel Fleit’s almost voyeuristic chronicling of her MS diagnosis, invites us not just to feel empathy for the star. More than that, it invites us into her fight, prompting anyone watching to feel joined with her in battle. That level of disarming intimacy is rarely witnessed on screen, particularly from a public figure, making the feat all the more incredible.”

Special Jury Recognition for Humanity in Social Action: Not Going Quietly
Director: Nicholas Bruckman

“Activist is a word much used in contemporary culture. But few give expression to it like Ady Barkan, a California organizer who, upon being diagnosed with ALS in his early 30s, responds not with self-pitying convalescence but by barnstorming his fight across the country, bringing a movement with him. Barkan’s tale suggests that grace is not incompatible with ardor, and hardship no obstacle to achievement. Bruckman’s film captures him and the powerful women who lead his fight in ways that are richly human, always affectionate and frequently rousing.”

Short Film Grand Jury Awards 

NARRATIVE SHORTS 

A scene from “Play It Safe”

Winner: Play It Safe
Director: Mitch Kalisa

“We were so thrilled by the varied, inventive selection of films in the Narrative Shorts competition this year. Of the shorts, we have decided to award the Jury Award to Play It Safe, for approaching oft-addressed topics in a new way, for its incredible main performance, for its thoughtful direction, and compelling cinematography.” Special Jury Recognition for Visionary Storytelling: Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma
Directors: Topaz Jones, rubberband.

“We are awarding Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma a Special Jury Recognition for Visionary Storytelling for its bold filmmaking and mix of music, visuals, and documentary footage.”

Special Jury Recognition for DirectionLike the Ones I Used to Know
Director: Annie St-Pierre

“We are awarding Like the Ones I Used to Know a Special Jury Recognition for Direction, as its weaving between reality and flights of fancy make it a Christmas tale to remember. Congratulations to all of the filmmakers this year, and thank you for your new works!”

DOCUMENTARY SHORTS

“Águilas”

Winner: Águilas

Directors: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, Maite Zubiaurre

Águilas is a film that most poignantly displays the need immigrants feel to come to America — even at the cost of starvation and death. Failed attempts are presented by a backpack, a sweater, and scattered bones. How desperate the dream is of a perfect landing that ends so tragically.”Special Jury Recognition for Courage: Red Taxi
Director: Anonymous

Red Taxi is a film that is being recognized for its courage. The type of courage that spans the definition of the word. The subjects are courageous, the filmmakers are courageous and the film itself is courageous both stylistically and in the way it speaks on an issue through editing that is measured, considered and understanding of the complexities of the post-colonial project.”Special Jury Recognition for Poetry: I Ran From It and Was Still in It
Director: Darol Olu Kae

“Its title invites audiences to expect a wholly distinct storytelling experience and this film delivers. For it’s audacious storytelling through textured imagery, bold structure and lyrical approach, we award this special achievement to I Ran From It and Was Still In It.”

MIDNIGHT SHORTS

“The Moogai” (Photo by Tess Peni)

Winner: The Moogai
Director: Jon Bell

The Moogai is a haunting, psychological thriller that explores postpartum depression in an impressive display of disciplined filmmaking that stuck the landing at every pivotal moment. The cinematography is striking, the actor’s performances are brave, and the underlying commentary on a country’s forced removal of generations of children is heartbreaking. Filmmaker Jon Bell’s film affected us on so many levels that we proudly recognize it with the Jury Award prize.”

Special Jury Recognition for Bold Vision :Stuffed
Director: Theo Rhys

“Stuffed proudly presents a story grisly and grotesque yet beautifully bittersweet. Director and co-writer Theo Rhys stitches together a world of rot, flesh, and leather, then brings it to radiant life with curious characters and striking songs of dark dreams, lifting love, and the ultimate sacrifice. It is with shock and awe that we award this strange and sensational short a Jury Recognition for Bold Vision.”

ANIMATED SHORTS

“Nuevo Rico”

Winner: Nuevo Rico
Director: Kristian Mercado

“Be prepared for this dystopian tragedy to rip your hair out by the roots and pour liquid vaporwave rainbows directly onto your brain’s tongue. A cautionary tale of friendship and fame, Nuevo Rico slaps convention to the ground and stomps on it with steel toed boots of satisfying stylistic innovation. Kristian Mercado Figueroa doesn’t give a fuck — and gives all the fucks at the same time. If you’ve never wrestled a laser snake in a Lambo going two hundred off a cliff into an iridescent volcano, Nuevo Rico will make you feel like you have.” 

Special Jury Recognition for Innovation: KKUM
Director: Kang Min Kim 

“An awe inspiring masterclass in creativity, resourcefulness, and innovative lighting and stop-motion techniques. This film manages to elevate simplistic materials to create mesmerizing sequences, while also taking you on a poetic, dreamy, and emotional journey that serves as a beautiful tribute to a mother’s love.” 

Special Jury Recognition for Storytelling: Your Own Bullshit 
Director: Daria Kopiec

“We the jury have selected Your Own Bullshit for a Jury Recognition for Storytelling for its masterful and experimental take on a vastly relatable human story. Its stylistic choices, humor, sound design, character development, and pace bring excitement to a topic under which it is not easy to push boundaries. Yet, it does just that.”

MUSIC VIDEOS 

Madame Ghandi, “Waiting for Me” (Photo by Sajna Sangeeth Sivan)

Winner: Madame Gandhi – ‘Waiting for Me’
Director: Misha Ghose

Of all the wonderful works nominated, Madame Gandhi’s ‘Waiting for Me’, directed by Misha Ghose, soared to the top for its compelling visuals, rich color palettes, and vital message of empowerment and self-expression. The video supported and enhanced both the song and the artist. This video and this artist deserve to be shared, seen, and heard by everyone. Everywhere.”

Special Jury Recognition for How the Hell Did They Do That?!: Waze & Odyssey, George Michael, Mary J. Blige & Tommy Theo – ‘Always’
Director: Nelson de Castro

“The Jury would also like to award the music video for ‘Always’ by Waze & Odyssey with a Special Jury ‘How the Hell Did They Do That?!’ recognition.” 

Special Jury Recognition for Pure Joy: Kuricorder Quartet – ‘Southpaw’
Director: Sawako Kabuki

“The Jury would further like to recognize for pure joy, the music video, ‘Southpaw’ by Kuricorder Quartet, directed by Sawako Kabuki.”

TEXAS SHORTS 

“Summer Animals”

Winner: Summer Animals
Director: Haley Elizabeth Anderson

Summer Animals, Haley Elizabeth Anderson’s short film entry for SXSW 2021, captivated us with its naturalistic style and layered approach to storytelling. Ostensibly a story about three siblings and their quest to find a moment of relief — or a pool to cannonball into — during a particularly grueling summer, the film evolves into something else entirely, and is anchored by the cast’s stellar performances and Anderson’s clear-eyed direction.”

Special Jury Recognition for Vision: O Black Hole!
Director: Renee Zhan

“This imaginative journey explores a literal impression of its title and a figurative one. It’s otherworldly imagery, music and sound design combined for an emotional experience that surprised us at every turn.”

TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL SHORTS 

Winner: A Really Dark Comedy
Director: Manasi Ughadmathe

A Really Dark Comedy is a well-crafted comedy short that weaves together great comedic timing, excellent chemistry between its two leads, and some surprising twists. We found it to be a breath of fresh air in a pandemic year where everyone could use a (really dark) laugh.”

Special Jury Recognition for Directing: Beyond the Model
Director: Jessica Lin

“The power of this documentary comes from the artistry and sensitivity of its director, Jessica Lin. Parts observational and parts reflexive, Beyond the Model‘s clear voice stems from a desire to allow its subjects to breathe and share, making for an organic, poignant, and insightful short.” 

EPISODIC PILOT COMPETITION

Marisol Agostina Irigoyen (pictured at right) in “4 Feet High” (Photo by Natalia Roca)

Winner: 4 Feet High
Directors: Maria Belen Poncio, Rosario Perazolo Masjoan

“For its beautifully cinematic and heartfelt coming-of-age story, with a confident performance from a standout lead actress, the jury is awarding this year’s top prize to 4 Feet High. The episode is thrillingly unique from its opening minutes, with a strong point of view and an engaging central character whose journey feels keenly specific but also evokes universal high school experiences — and while the story takes its time, there is never a wasted frame. We commend the cast and creative team for telling this a moving story in such an assured way.” 

Special Jury Recognition for Best Duo: Pretend Partners
Director: Ron Najor

“For their witty script and genuine onscreen chemistry, the Special Jury Recognition for Best Duo goes to Kristin Erickson and Ron Najor for Pretend Partners. As showrunners, screenwriters, producers, and stars of the project (in addition to Najor directing), Erickson and Najor created an inventive take on the romantic comedy that was sweet and hilarious in equal measure, and then carried that story themselves as its central characters.”  

SXSW Film Design Awards Presented by Adobe 

POSTER DESIGN COMPETITION

Winner: Bob Moses Featuring ZHU – ‘Desire’
Creative Director: Owen Brown, Art Director and Illustrator: Benjámin Kalászi, Graphic Designer: Diego L. Rodríguez (Paramoidme)

“A visually gripping design, this poster draws you into a surreal moment frozen in time where something you want so badly seems just out of reach. We were struck by the electric color palette, bold typography and dreamy illustration style that evokes flight, time travel and science fiction. Everything in this poster just feels intriguing and we are so excited to award the Excellence in Poster Design Winner to “Desire”!”

Special Jury RecognitionThe Box
Designers: James Burns and Shal Ngo, Aleksander Walijewski

“A mix of bold graphics, creative typography, and emotive imagery, this poster grabs attention and pulls you into the narrative of prisoners in criminal reform systems and isolation. Spending a moment with the imagery feels like a window into the film and the minds of those enduring their own boxes, both tangible and the ones built in our minds. Overall, this poster was interesting, thought provoking, and wove together narrative and design in striking ways. Brava! We’re thrilled to give a Special Jury Recognition to “The Box”!”

TITLE DESIGN COMPETITION

Winner: The Queen’s Gambit Title Sequence
Designer: Saskia Marka

“Using simple geometric forms and a restrained palette, these titles spring to life through elegant motion design that captures the spirit of the protagonist’s brilliant mental calculations.”

Special Jury Recognition: Birds Of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn Title Sequence
Designer: Michael Riley

“This sequence embodies everything a great title should: The tone is a perfect match for the movie, the style is unique and ownable, and the visual narrative keeps the audience engaged and delighted throughout.”

VIRTUAL CINEMA COMPETITION

“Samsara”

Winner: Samsara
Director: Huang Hsin-Chien

Samsara provokes existential questions about the future of humanity and consciousness. 

From the evolution of users’ hands to the rhythmic juxtaposition of vignettes, every detail is weighted in metaphor. The result is a work that compresses a universe into a few minutes; audiences are left to reflect on humanity as a collective macro-organism—as experienced through the machine.”

Special Jury Recognition for Immersive Journalism: Reeducated
Director: Sam Wolson

Reeducated offers a glimpse into a horrifying world obscured from public view. Through illustration and testimony from three people who lived through the internment camps in Xinjiang, we learn about the brutal practices used against the Uyghur ethnic minority. It’s a striking piece of 360 cinema that makes a clear argument for the unique affordances of immersive formats for telling stories, establishing a powerful logic and vocabulary through the use of composition, scale, pace, and perspective.”

SXSW Special Awards 

Jenna Ortega and Maddie Ziegler in “The Fallout” (Photo by Kristen Correll)

Brightcove Illumination Award
The Brightcove Illumination Award honors a filmmaker on the rise, celebrating the innovation and creativity of new artists within the SXSW Film Festival official selections.

Brightcove Illumination Award
Presented to: The Fallout
Director: Megan Park

“For her empathetic and honest exploration of life after tragedy, inspired craft, and stellar guidance of a talented young cast, we award the Brightcove Illumination Award to Megan Park for her The Fallout.”

Caroline Catz in “Delia Derbyshire – the Myths and the Legendary Tapes” (Photo by Felicity Hickson)

Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award
In honor of a filmmaker whose work strives to be wholly its own, without regard for norms or desire to conform. The Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award is presented to a filmmaker from our Visions screening category.

Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award
Presented to: Delia Derbyshire – the Myths and the Legendary Tapes
Director: Caroline Catz

“R#J”

Adobe Editing Award
Adobe is committed to celebrating creativity for all and empowering everyone to bring their stories to life. By creating greater opportunity for all voices, we can enact change in our communities and move the world forward. We are proud to celebrate the art and craft of editing as we grant the Adobe Editing Award at the SXSW Film Awards. We are also pleased to spotlight this year’s incredible title and poster designers through the Film Design Awards presented by Adobe.

Adobe Editing Award 
Presented to: R#J
Editor: Lam Nguyen

“Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break” (Photo courtesy of Belstone Pictures)

Final Draft Screenwriters Award
Final Draft, the industry standard in screenwriting software, is proud to support SXSW and provide the second SXSW Final Draft Screenwriters Award. We pride ourselves in shining a spotlight on new voices in the writing and filmmaking community, and coming together with like-minded organizations, such as SXSW, that share the same core values. A huge congratulations to this year’s recipient from all of us at Final Draft!

Final Draft Screenwriters Award
Presented to: Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break
Screenwriters: Brook Driver, Matt White, and Nick Gillespie

A 1970s photo of Guy Clark, Susanna Clark, Susan Walker and Jerry Jeff Walker in Nashville in “Without Getting Killer or Caught”

Louis Black “Lone Star” Award
To honor SXSW co-founder/director Louis Black, a jury prize was created in 2011 called the Louis Black “Lone Star” Award, presented to a feature film world premiering at SXSW that was shot primarily in Texas or directed by a current resident of Texas. (Opt-in Award)

Louis Black “Lone Star” Award 
Winner: Without Getting Killed or Caught
Directors: Tamara Saviano, Paul Whitfield

“This year’s Lone Star Award goes to Tamara Saviano and Paul Whitfield’s remarkable Without Getting Killed or Caught, an examination of not just the life of legendary Texas singer-songwriter Guy Clark but the complicated, fascinating relationship between himself, his wife Susanna and his best friend Townes Van Zandt, all of whom made extraordinary work together and apart. The storytelling was graceful, densely layered and immersive.”

Carel Nel in “Gaia” (Photo by Jorrie van der Wal)

ZEISS Cinematography Award
ZEISS Cine Lenses is honored to be returning this year to support the SXSW film community in the Cinematography category.  We believe that by supporting the art within the frame, ZEISS helps filmmakers realize their creative vision.

ZEISS Cinematography Award
Winner: Gaia
Cinematographer: Jorrie van der Walt

“Chuj Boys of Summer”

Mailchimp Support the Shorts Award
Mailchimp is committed to uplifting and supporting creators. We’re so proud to support SXSW by helping short films win big. We congratulate the honorees of the Support the Shorts Award and Special Jury Recognition as well as the entire SXSW-invited filmmaking community.

Mailchimp Support the Shorts Award
Presented to: Chuj Boys of Summer
Director:  Max Walker-Silverman

“With its gentle, observant eye, Chuj Boys of Summer offers a vision of unexpected compassion and tender masculinity. Director Max Walker-Silverman and writer Marcos Ordoñez Ixwalanhkej Mendoza know too much about the world to provide convenient answers to the film’s complicated questions, so they instead focus on the little gestures that define their characters’ lives. Against the grandeur of the San Juan Mountains, these small moments become unspeakably powerful.”

Mailchimp Support the Shorts Special Jury Recognition
Presented to: Like the Ones I Used to Know
Director: Annie St-Pierre
“Weaving a Christmas tale filled with familiar indignities, Annie St-Pierre and her talented ensemble deftly transform heartbreak into levity while always staying one step ahead of the audience. As every emotion imaginable plays across the cast’s astonishing faces, it’s the heroes’ crumpled dignity that leaves us smiling.”

Mailchimp Support the Shorts Special Jury Recognition
Presented to: Malignant
Director: Morgan Bond, Nickolas Grisham
“In its combination of rich characterization and mysterious camera work, Malignant manages to conjure a uniquely cinematic sense of hallucinatory tension. We honestly can’t pinpoint exactly what it is that directors Morgan Bond and Nickolas Grisham have done to create this much unease, but thanks to their mesmerizing talents, Malignant‘s climax floods the senses and lingers long after the film is over.”

SXSW is proud to be an official qualifying festival for the Academy Awards® Short Film competition. Winners of our Best Animated, Best Narrative and Best Documentary Short Film categories become eligible for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards (Oscars). Any British Short Film or British Short Animation that screens at SXSW is eligible for BAFTA nomination. Films are also eligible for the Independent Spirit Awards, more information on eligibility here.

About SXSW
SXSW dedicates itself to helping creative people achieve their goals. Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. In 2021, the event moves to a digital format. SXSW Online offers conference sessions, music showcases, film screenings, exhibitions, and a variety of networking and professional development opportunities. An essential destination for global professionals, SXSW Online 2021 will take place March 16 – March 20. For more information, please visit sxsw.com

SXSW Online 2021 Platinum Partners are White Claw, High Grade Hemp Seed, Showtime, Mountain Dew Rise Energy and The Austin Chronicle.