The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

Taking the World by Storm

International Movies Find Center Stage

International films can be found in theaters and across various major streaming platforms. However, the journey of sharing these diverse stories to a broader audience can be challenging, often commencing at film festivals such as South by Southwest (SXSW). According to some filmmakers premiering their films internationally at SXSW, the experience of showing a film in different countries comes with unique challenges and boundaries, but their stories are important to tell and need to be heard.

This year, the SXSW film festival took place from March 11 – March 16 and featured films from across the world. When foreign filmmakers approach showing their films abroad, they first start by submitting their work to as many film festivals as possible which, according to some filmmakers at SXSW, can be a laborious process often filled with rejection and disappointment. But if successful, these film festivals can be the introduction to international audiences that can help bring films popularity in order to get them shown in theaters and on streaming platforms. 

Abid Aziz Merchant is one of the three producers who worked on “Wakhri”, a Pakistani film inspired by the late social media celebrity and women’s activist Qandeel Baloch. SXSW gave the film another opportunity to be featured internationally, which can be difficult for foreign films, according to Merchant.

“It’s not easy, you know,” Merchant said. “How many films from that part of the world, even India which has a big industry, how many films have actually made it to the A-list festivals? Not many, and getting this movie from the development stage to Locarno, then to Caan, then to Busan, and then getting a grant from CAPE USA, and then getting Abigail Disney’s company to come on board for this script consultancy, and then an Indian producer… It was a slow and gradual process.”

For Friedrich Moser, director of the Austrian documentary “How To Build a Truth Engine” that sheds light on disinformation, SXSW was also a special opportunity for the documentary to be featured. Moser described the festival as a versatile setting with an abundance of technology, which fits well with the documentary’s focus on investigating the tech world.

“The technical quality of the SXSW theaters was outstanding,” Moser said. “And the response from the audience was great. SXSW is one of the best film festivals in the U.S., and therefore in the world. What made South By the best festival for my film to have its world premiere is the fact that it is not only a film festival, but also a tech conference. As my film covers the use of technology to fight back against disinformation, this was a dream setting for me.”

Similarly, “Audrey” producer Michael Wrenn described SXSW as a welcoming scene. This type of setting was especially important for “Audrey”, an Australian film that blends a mixture of potentially controversial topics in film, according to Wrenn.

“SXSW celebrates the outlier, the weird, the risqué and thought-provoking – it’s also a very future-looking festival blending a magic cauldron of the arts: music, stand-up, tech, psychedelics… sex-positive thinking – all of which feature heavily in ‘Audrey’,” Wrenn said. “SXSW also has grown to be an imprimatur for what is cool and groovy and as a ‘foreign language’ English film having that USDA Prime Choice comedy stamp of approval is so valuable and heartening.”

Concerns about appealing to foreign audiences is something that comes with showing international films at U.S.-based film festivals. Moser believed that his documentary was a story that related to all audiences, as everyone is affected by disinformation and technology, and he tried to look for a human angle to appeal to audiences. 

“To appeal more broadly to audiences, especially on complex subjects, I always look for a human angle,” Moser said. “Because at the end of the day, I think that nobody wants to be lectured, but everybody wants to go on a journey with interesting people.”

Lucy Lawless, director of “Never Look Away”, held the Texas Premier of the documentary at SXSW. The documentary covers the life of Margaret Moth, a New Zealander CNN war camerawoman, and Lawless believes that now is a vital time to tell stories like Moth’s to hold governments accountable without having to worry about appealing to a certain audience.

“I don’t think you can think about that [appealing to an audience],” Lawless said. “You have to tell a story that is as particular and unique to your take as possible. If you’re making a film or any piece of art for everybody else, you’re just gonna get porridge, you might as well be throwing oatmeal on the screen.”

Wrenn believed that connecting with foreign audiences could be difficult for “Audrey”, which has cultural references and content that could be considered offensive to some audiences. However, he stated that comedy is a bridge between different types of people, and “Audrey” would be able to find its people.

“Cinema is a medium that transcends language and borders but comedy is very specific and a hard nut to crack even in its native environment being so subjective a medium,” Wrenn said. “One person’s funny is another’s cry for cancellation. Then there’s the cultural references and in-jokes you hope land or are understood – thankfully, ‘Audrey’, translated to American audiences and it was super exciting to hear the guffaws and gasps as we had worked so hard to make the jokes land.”

Wrenn stated that this comedic element of “Audrey” is a reason that international films need to be shown to foreign audiences. He was encouraged by the film’s warm welcome at SXSW.

“We collectively wanted ‘Audrey’ to be, in the words of SXSW, a film ‘walking the line’ of comedy and taking no prisoners in its satire,” Wrenn said. “To see it play so well with audiences and hear the laughs and gasps is always the most satisfying aspect of the festival/theatrical experience and something SXSW delivered in spades throughout our four sold-out screenings.”

Lawless similarly noted the importance of stories such as “Never Look Away” that shed light on what oppressive governments are doing so people can hold them accountable. According to her, the issues discussed in the documentary not only apply to New Zealand audiences, but to people across the world.

“It’s never been more important [to tell these stories] because it shows the honor of those people who are putting their bodies on the line, to bring us the truth of what’s going on in the world,” Lawless said, “so that we can care and put pressure on our leaders to behave in the way that we think is most appropriate. That’s our democratic duty.”

Merchant also emphasized the importance of watching international films. He believed that “Wakhri” could be an inspiring film for women in any part of the world.

“Although it’s been made in Pakistan and it’s a very Pakistani story, I think it’s relevant all over the world, especially in underdeveloped countries and in more conservative societies,” Merchant said. “The message I would like to give to all the women out there is that whenever, wherever you find this film to watch, do watch it, and I’m sure you will find a change in yourself. I think this film will make you change, it will make you stronger.”

Wrenn encouraged film enthusiasts to go out and explore international films. He believes that this will give them a broader experience and help mold their film taste. 

“As Shia Le Boeuf said, just do it!” Wrenn said. “Wash, rinse, repeat often: that will help define your taste, give experience and help parse the good from the bad and the ugly – or, god forbid, the indifferent. And like all things, take risks as that’s where you will find reward. Thank you, Austin.”

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