AFS Grants 2014: A Sneak Peek into Texas Filmmaking (Part One)

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any rough times are now behind you

Congratulations are in order for several Austin and Texas filmmakers, as the Austin Film Society announced its 2014 AFS Grant recipients Tuesday. This year, $115,000 will be distributed to 40 individuals to help with production and distribution costs on a combined 37 feature and short films. Each year, we at Slackerwood look forward to this announcement because it provides a nice roundup of specific movies we can look forward to seeing in the coming months.

More than half of this year's grant recipients have never before received funding from AFS, and the remaining awardees include familiar Lone Star filmmakers like Andrew Bujalski, Yen Tan and John Fiege. All but three grants (not including Travel Grants) will assist Austin-based films -- there's a lot going on around here.

Here's an overview of this year's AFS Grant recipients along with a little context and background information. Let us know if you have anything to add, and feel free to reach out if you're involved with any of these projects and want to tell us more.

Semi-TAMI-Flashback: Missing Molly Ivins

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Molly Ivins in 1992

I'm writing this on Sunday, August 31. If Molly Ivins were still alive, it would be her 70th birthday. And today is Labor Day, so it seems like a fine time to remember my favorite political columnist through movie and video clips.

Actually, Don writing a TAMI Flashback about John Henry Faulk (go read it when you're done here) inspired me. I had first read about Faulk in Ivins' essay in Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? If you watch the TAMI video from Faulk's memorial service, right at the end Ivins tells a very funny story from that essay. Here, I'll make it easy on you by embedding the video again. Skip ahead to 1:24:00 for Ivins. (The story might also make you feel nostalgic about Cinema West.)

Movies This Week: August 29 - September 4, 2014

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The Trip To Italy 

Heading into a three-day holiday weekend, it's fairly quiet in terms of blockbuster releases (it won't be a surprise if Guardians Of The Galaxy continues to top the box-office chart despite recent newcomers), but Austin has plenty of specialty screenings to catch your attention. 

Austin Film Society is screening Roger Corman's bizarre postapocalyptic 1971 film Gas-s-s-s screening tonight and again on Sunday afternoon in 35mm at the Marchesa. On Wednesday night, AFS will also be offering a preview screening of No No: A Dockumentary (Caitlin's review) with director Jeffrey Radice, producer Mike Blizzard and editor Sam Wainwright Douglas in attendance. The film, which premiered at SXSW earlier this year, tells the story of how Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter while on LSD in the 1970s. It's expected to open at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar next weekend and will also be available on VOD. We also get a new Essential Cinema series, "Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, Selected by Martin Scorsese," which will start Thursday night with Andrzej Wajda's 1958 classic Ashes and Diamonds

Only a few more films are left in this year's Summer Classic Film Series at the Paramount Theatre, which wraps up next weekend. You can catch a 70mm print of Kubrick's Spartacus this evening and then a 70mm print of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on Saturday and Sunday. On Wednesday and Thursday you can catch a double feature of two of the best films of the 50s: Sirk's All That Heaven Allows and Laughton's The Night Of The Hunter, both in 35mm. 

Review: The Congress

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poster for The CongressAri Folman, director of the bleak animated history Waltz with Bashir, adapted a novella by acclaimed author Stanislaw Lem for the screen in the movie The Congress. Folman's take on Lem's The Futurological Congress is only vaguely true to the source material.  Instead of a male hero, we have actress Robin Wright... playing actress Robin Wright. If only this cinematic work didn't hold the talented actress back. While Lem's novella is (supposedly, I haven't read it) a black comedy, Folman's half-animated film is dark and troubling.

Bravo to the director for selecting an older -- by Hollywood standards, anyway -- actress to base this film around. Much is made of Wright's Texan background and decision to age naturally; actually, much is said about Wright, as she sits silently and takes criticism. To put it in terms today's teens will recognize, there is a lot of mansplaining going on here.

Conversations in the first half of The Congress happen to her, with men spouting monologues about their early lives or breaking down for her the mistakes she made in her career. The film opens to Wright quietly crying as her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) berates her for her faulty decision-making. These men want what's best for her, you see. They just want to profit off her as well.

Wright is convinced by her agent and studio head Jeff Green (Danny Huston, John Adams, Children of Men) to have herself scanned so Miramount Studios will own her image for 20 years. During that period of time, she can't act, but can do whatever else she likes. She almost refuses, worrying that "the gift of choice" is taken from her if she signs. But at no point in this film does it ever seem that she is given any choice. She signs the contract because her son is ill, falling into the archetype of the weary, long-suffering mother. Wright's character has no desires or wants for herself, no power and no real agency.

Review: The Trip to Italy

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The Trip to Italy

The Trip to Italy is easily the most sumptuous movie of this year, taking us to fine restaurants with stunning Italian surroundings as we listen to a soundtrack of classical music.

But like a tasty meal with somewhat stingy portions, The Trip to Italy isn't fully satisfying. Or at least not as satisfying as its predecessor, the hilarious 2010 film The Trip.

The sequel reunites Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and writer/director Michael Winterbottom for another culinary-centered road trip, this one to the Italian locales of Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi and Capri. (Like The Trip, The Trip to Italy is a theatrical cut of a three-hour, six-part BBC TV series.) Coogan and Brydon once again play slightly fictionalized versions of themselves as they tour Italy in search of great food, lodging and sightseeing. To give their adventure some literary gravitas, they travel to sites visited by the English romantic poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who spent time together in Italy starting in 1818.

Lone Star Cinema: Spy Kids

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Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara and director Robert Rodriguez during filming for SPY KIDS

When the recent news broke that Alexa Vega will play a recurring character on the upcoming season of country music soap Nashville, now seemed like a perfect time to revisit the original Spy Kids. I tend to picture Vega as she appeared in the Robert Rodriguez film, but she has grown much since then. She's even married... twice.

In 2001, she and co-star Daryl Sabara (whose first role was as Murphy's baby on '90s cultural touchstone, Murphy Brown) played Carmen and Juni Cortez, troubled private-school kids. Their parents Ingrid (Carla Gugino, Karen Sisco, Sucker Punch) and Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) are consultants who have not yet admitted to the children that they used to be secret agents (who met cute at the Hotel Belen, better known as the Omni Hotel downtown). 

When evil genius/children's TV show host Floop (a colorful Alan Cumming, The Good Wife, X-Men 2) and his Minion (Tony Shalhoub, post-Galaxy Quest, pre-Monk) capture the elder Cortezes, their secret comes out. Carmen complains to family friend Felix (Cheech Marin, Up in Smoke, Nash Bridges), "My parents can't be spies -- they're not cool enough!" Of course it is now up to the younger generation to save the parents, using tech made by Machete (Danny Trejo, Machete, From Dusk 'til Dawn).

At the Texas Premiere for 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For'

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Robert Rodriguez on the Red Carpet of Sin City 2Sin City: A Dame to Kill For had its Texas premiere at the Paramount Theatre last week, and writer/director Robert Rodriguez was on the red carpet for the hometown screening that benefited the Austin Film Society. Unfortunately co-director/co-writer Frank Miller missed his flight and with back-to-back premieres -- Los Angeles, Austin, New York -- it was not possible for him to be at the Austin screening.

Rodriguez said he made Miller a co-director because he knew visual storytelling, and as a fellow cartoonist Rodriguez knew Miller would love the experience.

"It's exactly the same thing, but you are using a camera and your paper characters will now talk to you because they are actors, and that will give you the biggest thrill." Additionally, Rodriguez told Miller that he would "be able to tell backstories that aren't even in any of your books.

Local and world-famous musical artists with roles in the film were out in full force at the screening, more than making up for the lack of lead actors and actresses.

Slackery News Tidbits: August 25, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Austin filmmaker David Modigliani takes viewers on a journey into Louisiana's past in the documentary 61 Bullets, set to premiere at this year's New Orleans Film Festival (Oct. 16-23). The movie, which discusses the mysterious deaths of U.S. Senator Huey Long and surgeon Carl Weiss in 1935 inside the state's capitol and follows Weiss' family's attempt to clear their name in Long's murder, received a $10,000 Austin Film Society Grant in 2009.
  • In distribution news, RADiUS has acquired the U.S. rights to the SXSW 2014 Grand Jury awardwinner The Great Invisible (Elizabeth's review), Deadline reports. The documentary, by former Austinite Margaret Brown (Elizabeth's interview), depicts the response to 2010's Deepwater Horizon explosion and resultant oil spill through the eyes of those affected. Music for the movie was composed by Austinite David Wingo.
  • The SXSW 2013-screened Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton (Don's review) returns to Austin for a screening on Wednesday at 7:30 pm in the AFS Screening Room. The documentary tells the story of Broughton, an influential writer and experimental filmmaker.
  • AFS will host a preview screening of No No: A Dockumentary (Caitlin's review) with filmmakers in attendance on Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 7:30 pm at The Marchesa. The Austin-shot documentary, which screened at SXSW this year, tells the story of controversial baseball pitcher Dock Ellis. Read Caitlin's pre-SXSW interview with director Jeffrey Radice for more details about the movie.

Movies This Week: August 22-28, 2014

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Sin City 

The Austin Film Society teams up with aGLIFF tonight to bring the new documentary To Be Takei (my review for Paste) to the Marchesa for a one-off screening. It's a touching and genuinely funny profile of George Takei, whose career has taken him from Star Trek to social media icon and gay rights activist. This month's Roger Corman series continues this weekend with X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes. This 1963 thriller screens tonight and again on Sunday in a 35mm print. On Wednesday night, AFS presents SXSW doc Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton (Don's review) and then the Barbara Stanwyck Essential Cinema series will close Thursday with Ball Of Fire. Screening in 35mm, this classic 1941 Howard Hawks comedy, written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, pairs Stanwyck with Gary Cooper.

Over at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, The Complete David Lynch series is winding down but has several more gems on the way. This weekend, they've got a 35mm print of Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard on Saturday and Sunday as part of the "influences" sidebar of this series. Ingmar Bergman's 1968 feature Hour Of The Wolf also screens as an influence title on Monday night. The last feature film from David Lynch in the series happens on Wednesday night, 2006's Inland Empire. He hasn't made a full-length film since and this 3-hour surrealist epic will start a little earlier (at 6:45 pm) due to its length. A few extra afternoon matinees of Inland Empire are thrown in on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Also at the Ritz, there's a Robin Williams Memorial Screening of The Fisher King on Sunday afternoon (with all proceeds being donated to Comic Relief) and a Zzang!!! screening of The Monster Squad on Sunday night. 

There's a very special event tonight at the Alamo Slaughter Lane. DJ/Producer/Record Label Owner Andy Votel is going to be on hand for Kleksploitation, an "entirely re-contextualised version of [Andrzej] Zulawski's psychedelic, proto-electric scores for the cult Pan Kleks trilogy of children's films from the 1980s with live DJ accompaniment." Slaughter (and Lakeline) also will be screening Reservoir Dogs again on Sunday and Wednesday.

aGLIFF and AFF Reveal Lineup Details

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the homesman still

The Austin Film Festival has announced its first wave of film screenings, including Centerpiece Film Black and White (directed by Mike Binder and starring Kevin Costner), documentary 21 Years: Richard Linklater, and Dawn Patrol, directed by AFF regular Daniel Petrie Jr. This initial list is a mix of world and regional premieres and provides glimpses of a diverse program; among other things, festivalgoers will have the chance to see a Texas-based political documentary, a pioneer drama with an all-star cast, and Benedict Cumberbatch playing the role of Alan Turing.

The writer-focused festival runs Oct. 23-30 and includes feature films, short films, film competitions and conference panels. See below for a list of the titles announced so far, and find out more about attending AFF here

If you're ready to get festival season started already, don't forget that the 27th Anniversary Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (aGLIFF) takes place in just a couple of weeks (Sept. 10-14) at the freshly remodeled Alamo South Lamar and the Stateside Theatre. This year's festival includes over 100 films and the theme is "We're not an Audience. We're a Community."

aGLIFF's opening-night film will be Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine and the centerpiece is Regarding Susan SontagThe program promises a diverse array of genres and subjects and also includes a secret screening of "one of the best-reviewed films of 2014" -- any guesses? Either way, this year's fest looks like a thoughtful and festive collection of films and events. Badge information and the full lineup are available here

Stay in touch for more festival updates, and read on for the festival-provided descriptions of the AFF films announced so far.

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