SXSW 2024: Whatever It Takes, Resynator, The Hobby | Festivals & Awards

The tag for Jenny Carchman’s film is “The Most Shocking Scandal in Silicon Valley History” and it actually lives up to that high bar. Produced by Allyson Luchak (who worked on the game-changing “The Staircase”), “Whatever It Takes” is the story of Ina and David Steiner, an ordinary, likable couple who had a deep interest in online commerce and wrote about shifts in the industry at their blog EcommerceBytes, which had existed in some form since 1999. The site presents news, but that naturally leads to the rampant criticism that comes through comment sections, and life at eBay was a little tense in the 2010s. When someone aggressively tweeted at the Steiners about the damage they were doing to the company, it seemed relatively harmless at first. It became something much darker quickly.

The Steiners faced non-stop and terrifying harassment for the next few months, including an attempted delivery of a pig fetus, an actual delivery of a “Saw” mask, live bugs, and even a shipment that included a book about living without your spouse—a not-so-vague threat on at least one of their lives. It was insane, escalating to break-ins and someone literally following the Steiners in a van. Everyone involved is lucky that no one got physically hurt—a scene in which David has just been followed and then the harassers order a pizza to their house got me thinking how easily Steiner could have shot the man who pulled a black leather case from the back of his car in the middle of the night.

Without spoiling too much, it’s not hard to figure out who was behind the harassment, but the ridiculousness of this story only grows as it’s revealed. Inter-office affairs, training through clips from “Training Day” & “Full Metal Jacket,” general macho bullshit toxicity—“Whatever It Takes” is the kind of story that would seem unbelievable if it was a Hollywood script. In other words, it’s a documentary filmmaker’s dream come true.

A very different story unfolds in Alison Tavel’s deeply personal and moving “Resynator,” a story of a woman trying to learn something about the work of a father she never really knew and discovering so much more than she could have imagined. “Resynator” kind of runs out of chords to strike before it’s over, repeating a lot of its best ideas and revelations, but Tavel is remarkably likable, and it’s easy to root for her journey to succeed, to find closure in a way that most of us who have lost loved ones could never imagine. “Resynator” is about a device that turns organic sound into something technical; the film with the same attempts the reverse journey, finding strength through human emotion like grief more than the specifics of how this technology works.

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