My review & pictures of “When Angels Sing” World Premiere Q&A at 2013 SXSW Film Festival

On Friday, March 15, 2013 I attended the gala World Premiere of When Angels Sing at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The screening took place at the historic 1200-seat Paramount Theatre. The film was a selection in the Headliners section.

Director Tim McCanlies is an award-winning writer as well as a director. He received an Annie and a prestigious BAFTA Children's Award as co-writer of 1999's The Iron Giant. He wrote and directed Secondhand Lions in 2003. When Angels Sing is his second feature directing from others' work, as this classic Turk Pipkin novel was adapted by screenwriter Lou Berney.

One doesn't normally think of Austin, Texas as a location to set and shoot a Christmas tale, but for a movie featuring music legends Harry Connick, Jr., Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Lyle Lovett, it makes perfect sense. Connick is Michael Walker, father to 12-year-old David (Chandler Canterbury, now 14), a typical homespun kid who loves the holidays just like most boys his age. But a long-hidden family secret keeps dad from joining in the celebrations. Mysteries are slowly revealed and this heartwarming story comes to life like switching on the lights of the tree on December 24.

Naturally, there's plenty of singing -- Nelson, Kristofferson, and Lovett aren't just walk-ons here, they have significant roles that may surprise. Lovett, a hapless but well-intentioned neighbor, provides much of the comic relief in a slightly dark narrative that showcases Nelson as an enigmatic wise sage. Connie Britton plays Michael's wife Susan, Kristofferson is his dad, and Fionnula Flanagan is the perfect Ma. Dana Wheeler-Nicholson and Eloise DeJoria also shine as the strong women in these men's lives.

More than anything, it's the gentle relationship between father and son that is central to When Angels Sing. Connick shows a tender, sensitive side rarely seen in cinema today, but it's young Canterbury's performance that is the heart and soul of this film, as he lights up the screen and steals every scene he's in. If his name sounds familiar, readers may recall his role as Kelsey in A Bag of Hammers, one my Top 5 from the 2011 SXSW Film Festival. He also stars in the big screen adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's The Host which just opened today. In When Angels Sing he plays the one character every viewer is sure to identify with, and tears are guaranteed to fall more than once before the end credits roll.

Cinematographer Kamal Derkaoui and editor David Rosenblatt help bring McCanlies' vision to life, along with composers Carl Thiel and Scott Warren. When Angels Sing was produced by Elizabeth Avellán, Fred Miller, and Shannon McIntosh. Scott Rankin, Sharon Rankin, and Randall P. Dark served as Executive Producers.

When Angels Sing was, by far, the #1 family film I saw here and one of the year's best. For being a beacon in a sea of dark indie dramas, I gave When Angels Sing five stars and a place on my 2013 SXSW Film Festival Top 8 Narratives.

Director Tim McCanlies was brought onstage to introduce the film. After the screening, McCanlies returned with producers Elizabeth Avellán and Fred Miller for a fun and informative Q&A.

Scroll down below the trailer for 25 pictures I shot during the intro and Q&A...


When Angels Sing - SXSW 2013 Accepted Film from SXSW on Vimeo.


Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at

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  • Author: Larry Richman
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