SXSW: "Americanese," "Jam" Reviews

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Here are some short reviews of "Americanese" and "Jam," two of South by Southwest's award-winning films.

Premiering in Austin as part of South by Southwest's film showcase, Eric Byler's second feature, "Americanese," explores the lives of two Asian Americans who part after a long and deeply shared intimacy. Raymond (Chris Tashima), a middle-aged Asian American Studies professor, finds a soulmate in Aurora (Allison Sie), the daughter of Irish and Japanese parents, but can't make peace with the incongruities she so easily abides, such as her father's prejudices or the injustices her ancestors endured during the Japanese American internment.

Byler doesn't shrink from the complexities of the issues he raises and elicits genuine humor and emotion from his accomplished cast. It's clear, as someone of mixed heritage, he's had experience navigating feelings of alienation and belonging. To his credit, he draws his characters in measured tones and manages to craft a narrative rich in human frailties and strengths.

"Americanese" was honored twice at South by Southwest, receiving both a Special Jury Prize for Outstanding Ensemble Cast as well as the Audience Award for Narrative Feature.

"Jam," the feature length documentary directed by Mark Woollen, plunges headlong into the world of roller derby, a sport that achieved notoriety and a recent revival in the Bay Area. Filmed over seven years, Woolen follows the efforts of colorful athletes and league organizers who put their money and bodies on the line in a go-for-broke attempt to reestablish the American Roller Derby League.

Unimaginable drama unfolds as sinister figures, aftershocks of the AIDS epidemic, and dotcom mania propels the story forward. Woollen skillfully rides the peaks and valleys, crafting a film that feels at times like a mockumentary filled with actors who easily slide into character. By the end, you're exhausted and exhilarated and, most of all, revved up to witness the real thing.

"Jam" premiered at South by Southwest, where it was the winner of the Documentary Feature Jury Award.

-- Story and photo by Geoffrey Pay

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