AFF 2014: Vanessa Roth, 'The Texas Promise'

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Vanessa RothAward-winning director Vanessa Roth tends to look deeply into social justice issues in her documentaries -- the effectiveness of the foster care system in Aging Out, the repurcussions of that film in No Tomorrow, equal rights for a lesbian couple in Freeheld (Roth produced), and schools and education in American Teacher and The Third Monday in October. Her most recent film, The Texas Promise, hits close to home as it peers into the state budget cuts to education in Texas. This new documentary from Roth will debut at Austin Film Festival later this week.

Roth answered a few of my questions via email about her work.

Slackerwood: Why is education a recurring theme in your works?

Vanessa Roth: I have so much to say about this that I don’t know where to begin... education as a theme is what all my work focuses on because it is the what holds the key to creating and determining a person’s opportunities in the world. By looking at the system of education and the policies that shape that system, I think we are given an intimate view of our values as a society.

Our country is wrestling with equity, opportunity and the very basic question of what education is supposed to look like at this moment in history. This fascinates me and drives me to find stories about both the system and the lives of those inside it to try to separate rhetoric from real human experience and attitude.

What drew you to this story in Texas for The Texas Promise?

Roth: Equity and opportunity are always themes that I want to explore in my work and when Texas cut so much from its education budget that directly affected the students who needed the resources the most I felt that this story needed to be told.

AFF 2014: Meet the 'Crazy Carl and His Man-Boobs' Filmmakers

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Crazy Carl and His Man Boobs Poster"Keep Austin Weird" isn't just a catch phrase created by some offbeat tourist marketing campaign, but rather a mantra that emulates the quickly diminishing quirkiness that drew me to Austin from the big city of Houston, Texas in 1993. The cast of characters often encountered in the local scene, whether on the Drag or downtown, contributed to the charm and allure of the Capital City.

Any given day or night you could walk down Sixth Street and see street musicians and vendors hawking their talents or wares, including Crazy Carl Hickerson -- is best known for selling and spinning flowers. Crazy Carl's penchant for flashing his man boobs and dancing outside of Esther’s Follies has long been a source of amusement -- and sometimes horror -- for unsuspecting visitors to the intersection of Sixth and Red River.

Beef and Pie Productions filmmakers including director Mike Woolf, producer Karen Yates, and director of photography Andrew Yates have captured the public and personal story of Crazy Carl in their latest documentary Crazy Carl and His Man-Boobs, which premieres at this year's Austin Film Festival. Woolf and Andrew Yates as well as editor Landon Peterson answered questions about the film via email recently, and here's what they had to say:

Slackerwood: Why Carl?



Andrew Yates: He is my neighbor. And he has boobs. Man-boobs.



Landon Peterson: Crazy Carl is Yates and Karen's (our co-director and producer) neighbor in an old neighborhood in central Austin. So they would see this aged hippie doing very noticeable things like checking the mail in his underwear and robe with his boob jars bulging underneath.

Mike Woolf: Yates started this whole film because he saw (partially naked) Carl taking care of his wife Charlotte Ferris who is a polio survivor. Yates said there is a great love story going on over there. I thought he was just enamored with Carl’s man-boobs.

AFF 2014: Debbie's Picks for Films and Panels

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Flutter Still Photo

Seeing filmmaker Eric Hueber at a local film event in August reminded me that I hadn't heard about screenings or distribution of his bittersweet drama Flutter. I'd thoroughly enjoyed his narrrative debut when I watched it back in April at the Dallas International Film Festival (my review), as well as meeting the movie's talented Texas cast and crew.

I'm pleased that this touching film about the relationship between a impoverished young mother (Lindsay Pulsipher) and her imaginative son (Johnathan Huth Jr.) will be featured at the 2014 Austin Film Festival and Conference on Saturday, October 25, 7 pm at the Rollins Theatre and again on Tuesday, October 28, 4 pm, at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Check back later for input from cast members including Dallas-based Flutter executive producer and co-star Glenn Morshower about the making of this family drama.

AFF offers content from around the world and across film genres, as science fiction meets psychological thrillers and international documentaries open windows to problems that we may be contributing to -- or at the very least, can empathize with.

AFF 2014: Jennifer Harlow, 'The Sideways Light'

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Lindsay Burdge in The Sideways Light

The haunting events that occur while a young woman cares for her ill mother are the basis for thriller The Sideways Light. The dramatic feature is Austin writer/director/producer Jennifer Harlow's first full-length film, and screens as part of the Dark Matters content at Austin Film Festival. Before the fest kicks off, Harlow chatted with me via email about her subject matter, directing while introverted, and finding the right cast.

Slackerwood: Why focus on these two women and their intimate conflict? What drew you to tell their story?

Jennifer Harlow: I knew I wanted to write a ghost story. I was hung up on the idea of being haunted by memories. What if I took those three words literally? Who would that happen to? Someone that is losing their memory, someone that lives in a place full of memories. What if Grandma handed down more than her rocking chair?

If people in compromised states of mind are more sensitive to the supernatural, then a dementia patient and her caregiver/daughter are prime victims. Pile on that the fact that women are afraid of turning into their mothers. That was territory I knew I could write about.

Movies This Week: October 17-23, 2014

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St. Vincent 

It's another busy week in area theaters, but as we start ramping up into awards season that isn't going to change too much through the end of the year. We've got a lot of new releases out this weekend along with the ninth annual Austin Polish Film Festival, which got underway yesterday at the Marchesa. The fest will screen new Polish cinema, restored classic films recommended by Martin Scorsese ... even a children's matinee of Disney's Frozen dubbed in Polish on Saturday morning. 

At Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, a 35mm print of John Carpenter's Halloween screens on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday. If you're looking for even more vintage scares, check out Night Of The Living Dead (with a live score by Bird Peterson) on Sunday night, Monday night's Universal Horror double feature with The Mummy in 35mm paired with the alternate Spanish version of Dracula, which runs 25 minutes longer than the Tod Browning film and Girlie Night's presentation of Hocus Pocus on Tuesday.

Tonight and tomorrow, Alamo South Lamar has the annual Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival, which "shines a spotlight on films that positvely and accurately represent disability." This year the fest features award-winning short films along with Musical Chairs tonight and The Little Tin Man, an indie release that screened at the Austin Film Festival last year (Marcelena's review) on Saturday evening.

Review: Men, Women & Children

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Men, Women & Children

A better title for Men, Women & Children might be The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Internet. Another might be The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Movie.

I had hoped Jason Reitman's latest film would be up to the lofty standards of his best work, Juno and Up in the Air. But what could have been an insightful look at how the Internet has shaped our lives is instead a slight, heavy-handed and melodramatic cautionary tale about the dangers (at least from the film's point of view) that lurk online.

Shot in Austin, Men, Women & Children follows a group of teens and adults whose online activities land them in a heap of trouble. Among them are a mostly happy couple, Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Don Truby (Adam Sandler), who let their sexual boredom get the better of them; Helen finds extramarital action thanks to hookup site Ashley Madison, and Don hires an escort after perusing his son's favorite porn sites.

Meanwhile, paranoid and overprotective mom Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner) obsesses over the online activities of her daughter, Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), monitoring her every text and Facebook post. (She even tracks the poor girl's whereabouts via her cell phone.) Despite her mom's spying and smothering, Brandy still manages to carry on a secret relationship with football star Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort), who quits the team so he can devote more time to online role playing games.

Review: St. Vincent

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St. Vincent

By the time St. Vincent draws to a close, you'll probably feel emotionally manipulated. You will have certainly realized that you've seen this story what feels like a million times before. If you're super nitpicky, you might even be inclined to make a list of films in the same vein that you like better (About A Boy and Rushmore immediately spring to mind). Unless you are as curmudgeonly as Vincent (Bill Murray) in this motion picture, I am betting you'll still find yourself giving in to this movie no matter how hard you resist. 

As Vincent's new neighbor Maggie, Melissa McCarthy turns in a surprisingly subdued performance as a single mother struggling to keep things afloat for her her 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher in an outstanding debut). Things get off to a very rocky start and they don't get much better when Oliver gets locked out of his new home on the first day of school and Maggie has to convince Vincent over the phone to babysit him until she can get off work. As the grumpiest of grumpy old men, it's not a task Vincent is well suited for, but he could use the money so he reluctantly agrees. 

Review: The Overnighters

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The Overnighters

The searing documentary The Overnighters asks a lot of hard questions. The hardest may be, "What does community mean?"

Shot in Williston, North Dakota, filmmaker Jesse Moss's documentary -- which Drafthouse Films is releasing Friday in Austin -- captures the tiny town in the midst of the current North Dakota oil boom. The boom is a blessing and a curse: The townspeople welcome the unprecedented economic boost, but have mixed feelings about the influx of thousands of oil field workers.

The main problem is housing. Most new arrivals have nowhere to live, so many sleep in their cars, trucks and RVs, parked wherever they can. Another problem is less about logistics than human nature: The workers are roughnecks in every sense of the word -- desperately poor men, often with little education, all chasing quick money and some running from their pasts. To the good and decent citizens (in the ironic sense; more on this later) of Williston, the men are the others -- a scruffy, scary and unwelcome lot. The townspeople's hospitality ends where their fear begins.

The Overnighters focuses on Rev. Jay Reinke, a Lutheran pastor in Williston who opens his church as temporary housing for the workers. He does so because helping thy neighbor is one of his pastoral duties, of course; he's also immensely compassionate and nonjudgmental, a man who cares deeply about the often broken men who desperately seek the church's help. Far more than just their landlord, he's their counselor and friend.

AFF 2014: Meet the '61 Bullets' Filmmakers

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Top to Bottom: Director David Mondigliani, Director Lucy Kreutz, and Producer Yvonne Boudreaux from 61 BulletsAfter years in the making, the documentary 61 Bullets will screen at Austin Film Festival next weekend. The film, which won an AFS Grant and was partially backed through Kickstarter, is the latest project from Austin director David Modigliani (Crawford).  He and co-director Louisiana (Lucy) Kreutz worked with producer Yvonne Boudreaux to delve into the story behind the death of famed Louisiana governor/controversial figure Huey Long.

Before AFF kicks off, the filmmakers answered some questions for me via email about what led them to make the film and the process involved.

Slackerwood (for Boudreaux): Can you talk about your connection to this historical event, and what drew you to look deeper into the circumstances of Huey Long’s death?

Yvonne Boudreaux: "No one has ever told the story right," my grandmother Ida Boudreaux said to me when I was an eighth grader studying Louisiana history. I was working on a report of the shooting of Huey Long, and had learned from my mom that my great uncle, Carl Weiss, was the alleged assassin.

I was fascinated that the subject was never spoken about in the family, and even more so by the mystery that I sensed in the official version of the story. Obviously, this film and the characters are very close to me personally. As production went on and I approached the ages of Carl and Yvonne [Carl Weiss's wife] at the time of the shooting, I began to connect with her story very deeply.

I worked hard to wrap my head around the consequences for Yvonne and her young son after losing the man she loved, leaving family behind, and raising a child alone. The pain that she must have endured and the strength that she showed in moving on were both heavy on my mind. I still think about and admire her often, and will continue to do so as my life unfolds.

Slackerwood (for Modigliani): How did you become involved in this project?

David Modigliani: My friend from graduate school in Austin, Yvonne Boudreaux, brought the story to me. She had seen my first feature documentary, Crawford, and she knew I was interested in exploring political stories through the eyes of the people they impacted. As I learned about the mystery, about the extraordinary, larger-than-life history of Huey Long, and about the families seeking to find closure over the death of their patriarchs, I knew we had a compelling film to make.

Ready, Set, Fund: Tingle The Senses

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 "Evolution of a Criminal"

Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and fundraising endeavors related to Austin and Texas independent movie projects.

This month's Texas film crowdfunding projects tingle the senses. 

Sight: Watch the Evolution of a Criminal by supporting this award-winning documentary's Kickstarter campaign. The doc's subject, Houstonite Darius Clark Monroe, is raising $60,000 until Oct. 29 for a nationwide theatrical and DVD release, as well as speaking engagements at schools, prisons and various community institutions across the country. Evolution of a Criminal, which premiered at last year's SXSW and Dallas IFF, is the answer to Monroe's question about how his 16-year-old self became a bank robber. In the movie he interviews family members, friends and mentors who recount the stages of his transformation, going from a happy childhood to the moment when he realized the severity of his family's financial struggles. 

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