The first offering of the day, for me, on the first day of SXSW Virtual Film Festival, was a documentary directed by Andrea Nevins entitled “Hysterical.” The documentary did a good job of giving kudos to nearly every famous (or less well-known) female comic in the business, but I wanted to hear more of their routines, which didn’t happen.
The second film up was “The Oxy Kingpins,” which covered the reasons behind the opioid epidemic in America, explained through the eyes of Pensacola attorney Mike Papantonio, whose 15-member firm has been prosecuting the big pharmaceutical companies that facilitated the addiction of thousands of Americans. Chief among the pharmaceutical companies examined is the McKeeson Corporation headed by CEO John Hammergen, who makes $700 million annually in salary.
The entire strategy of the 3 largest pharmaceutical distribution companies—McKeeson, Cardinal and Amerisource—was to distribute drugs like oxycontin in rural areas that were areas of despair, like Mineral County with a population of 4,772 people, which was given 3,100,100 doses of oxycontin.
The film shows efforts to prosecute the drug companies in Nevada, which has a policy of unsealing documents that show guilt, as the e-mail correspondence within the McKeeson Corporation between Tracey Jonas and employees clearly did. The employees were told not use the word “suspicious” about large orders going to small towns. The film had real potential,but spent a bit too much time focusing on Papantonio, while not letting us hear from as many of the victims as would have been good.
The Aretha Franklin Genius documentary came next, but, when it turned out to be talking heads trying to promote the soon-to-be released documentary starring Cynthia Erivo as the Queen of Soul I chose to take in “Introducing, Selma Blair” instead.
Blair was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in August of 2018 and this film takes us through her stem cell transplant at Northwestern in Chicago. It’s pretty bleak, but not nearly as bad as the evening’s opening documentary, “Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil.”
As most will remember, Demi Lovato over-dosed on July 24, 2018, while smoking heroin laced with fentanyl. She suffered a heart attack, 3 strokes, brain damage (she cannot drive because she has visual blind spots), pneumonia and multiple organ failure. She also claims, in this documentary, that her drug dealer took advantage of her when she was under the influence of the near-fatal overdose.
“Lily Topples the World” was the most upbeat of all of the things I saw today, with the story of domino artist Lily Hevesh, who has been posting YouTube videos of elaborate domino installations since she was a small child and has now made it into an occupation. In fact, in one of the few bright spots of today’s viewing, by documentary’s end Lily has cut a deal with a toy company to endorse a “new improved” brand of domino that would sell in stores. If you want to see some of Lily’s elaborate designs, check Hevesh5 on YouTube.
Last film of the day was an eleven-minute short entitled “The Thing That Ate the Birds.” It was one of the best of the day, but this Irish investigation of possible alien life ended much too quickly for my tastes. I would have loved to have this short eleven-minute story spin out to become a feature length film, but, alas, it was not to be.
Lengthier reviews of individual films to follow.