Check Out the AFS ShortCase Lineup for SXSW 2014

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Whitewash

The Austin Film Society jury has chosen eight selections for the AFS ShortCase program, which annually presents to SXSW attendees a diverse mix of shorts created by AFS members. The 2014 jury included Austin filmmaker Clay Liford (Wuss), AFS programmer Lars Nilsen and Slackerwood contributor Debbie Cerda.

The ShortCase screening will take place during the first weekend of the fest, Saturday March 8 at 2 pm at the Marchesa. (Add the screening to your schedule here.) It's free and open to the public even if you don't have a SXSW badge or wristband -- but get there early, because last year this event filled up fast and a number of people were turned away.

The short features and documentaries include:

Digging for the Water (Joshua Riehl) -- In the hilltop village of Creve, Haiti residents have no electricity or running water. Their only supply, which they must carry by hand from a neighboring village, is contaminated with bacteria. Volunteers from the organization Mountain of Hope and The University of Texas at Austin arrange to help drill a well for the village.

Slackery News Tidbits: March 3, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • The Austin-shot film Hellion has been acquired for US distribution by Sundance Selections (via Hollywood Reporter). The movie premiered at Sundance this year and will screen at SXSW. Read Debbie's review and her interview with filmmaker Kat Candler.
  • At the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, the Robert Altman Award went to Mud (Debbie's review), from Austin filmmaker Jeff Nichols (via Indiewire). The award is given to a director and ensemble cast -- for Mud, the cast includes Austin actor Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan (Joe) and Reese Witherspoon. In addition, McConaughey took home the Best Actor award for his role in Dallas Buyers Club (Caitlin's review).
  • But that wasn't all for McConaughey, who also won an Academy Award last night for Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club.
  • In Alamo Drafthouse news, Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez's El Rey Network has partnered with the Drafthouse to screen the premiere episode of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, a television adaptation of his 1996 cult film From Dusk Till Dawn, on Tuesday, March 11 at nine Drafthouse markets across the country to coincide with its television premiere at 8 pm that day, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League will host a live Q&A with Rodriguez and the series cast following the Austin screening at Alamo Slaughter. This Q&A will be livestreamed into other participating Drafthouse theaters and on the El Rey Network YouTube channel. The Austin-shot From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series will be the first scripted original series to air on Rodriguez's new cable network.

Movies This Week: February 28-March 6, 2014

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The Wind Rises

The next few weeks of specialty screenings are going to be directly impacted by the SXSW Film Festival, but there are definitely some unique events on the horizon that you need to know about. We've already covered this weekend's Noir City festival at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in great detail here. It's an incredible opportunity to catch 10 rare film noir titles in 35mm, many in newly restored prints. There isn't much else going on at the Ritz for the next few weeks due to SXSW, but they will have select screenings of 12 Years A Slave and The Wolf Of Wall Street for those of you who still need to catch up.

The Alamo Slaughter Lane has a screening on Saturday afternoon of Medora, a sports documentary that played at SXSW last March about an underdog basketball team. Veronica Mars fans will want to head to the Alamo Village on Monday night for an Austin Film Festival screening of Beside Still Waters, the directorial debut of Chris Lowell who played "Piz" on the show. It was an Audience Award winner at AFF last fall. 

The Paramount 100 screening this week is happening on Tuesday night because of SXSW getting ready to take over that theater as well. They'll be showing a digital restoration of 1924's The Thief Of Bagdad. Starring Douglas Fairbanks, this was one of the most expensive films made in the 1920s. 

Review: Non-Stop

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Non-Stop

Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, House of Wax) has worked with Liam Neeson previously on the movie Unknown, but there is another clear reason Neeson was cast for the role of alcoholic air marshal Bill Marks. The actor has the talent and star power to elevate an otherwise unremarkable, movie-of-the-week script like Non-Stop into a moneymaker with wings. 

The story, penned by a team whose credits include TV's Big Brother and WWE/WrestleMania, lands Neeson in the role of Bill Marks, an air marshal on a transatlantic flight. He's confronted with text messages from an anonymous villain who promises to kill someone on the flight unless the exorbitant sum of $150 million is wired into an account within an unlikely time limit of 20 minutes. With the clock ticking and no clues to help him, he must reveal the hijacker even as the villain's complex plan unfolds to frame him for the deed.

The ensuing tense whodunit occupies the audience with guessing games, attempting to lead them astray with characters that play on ethnic stereotypes and dirty looks as Marks and his allies Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) and Nancy (Michelle Dockery) attempt to expose the culprit.

As the flight's body count increases, so does Marks' level of stress, until Neeson is enraged, throwing passengers around like rag dolls and progressing only in cementing his image as a hijacker, already being painted in the media on the ground.

Non-Stop is best enjoyed by those who don't pick apart a script and can allow themselves to be caught up in the tense situation. Collet-Serra has a few tricks to keep the pace moving, including some impressive hand-to-hand choreography within the confines of the plane's lavatory. These tricks make for an enjoyable film, in spite of the descent into monologues as the clock is ticking and swift loss of direction when the hijacker is finally revealed.

Review: God Loves Uganda

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god loves uganda still

Earlier this week, a law was signed by the president of Uganda that makes homosexuality an offense punishable with life imprisonment. While this legislation is being called reprehensible by human rights advocates around the world, many Ugandan politicians and citizens stand adamantly by it, holding fast to Christian-based beliefs that God-approved, male-female relationships are right and everything else is wrong. 

How did such an anti-gay climate -- one that often results in acts of violence committed against both open and suspected homosexuals and their allies -- come about in this small East African nation in the first place? This is the complex and important question that God Loves Uganda attempts to answer. 

Director Roger Ross Williams interviews several observers and activists from both sides of Uganda’s culture wars but largely focuses on the efforts and effects of missionary workers from Kansas City. Part of a megachurch operation known as the International House of Prayer (IHOP), these mostly white and very passionate "soldiers of God" have set their sights on Uganda in particular as a place that needs their spiritual attention. 

Austin at SXSW 2014: Matt Muir and Chris Ohlson, 'Thank You A Lot'

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Chris Ohlson and Matt Muir of Thank You A Lot

In August 2012, I visited the set of the movie Thank You A Lot, which features Texas singer/songwriter James "Slim" Hand as a fictionalized version of himself along with actor Blake DeLong as a small-time music agent who struggles within the Austin music scene. Texas musicians who appear in the film include hip-hop artist Da'Shade Moonbeam, members of the Austin band Hundred Visions and jazz vocalist Keri Johnsrud.

Thank You A Lot will debut at this year's SXSW Film Festival in the Narrative Spotlight category, with the premiere screening at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH on Friday, March 7 at 7 pm. Additional screenings take place on Sunday, March 9 at the Marchesa and Saturday, March 15 at the Vimeo Theater in the Austin Convention Center.

I recently spoke with writer/director Matt Muir and producer Chris Ohlson to continue our discussion about the journey of Thank You A Lot from the set to the screen. Muir and Ohlson are business partners in the film and video company Revelator, and the duo perform commercial and corporate work while developing film projects within their schedule.

Ohlson also produced David and Nathan Zellner's critically acclaimed narrative Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (my Sundance review), which makes its regional debut at SXSW on Tuesday, March 11, 1:45 pm, at The Paramount Theatre.

Texas at SXSW 2014: The Shorts

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Elizabeth filled us in on the Austin and Texas feature films that are going to be playing at this year's SXSW Film Festival.  In an effort to keep you in the loop, as well as to proudly support our local filmmakers, we here at Slackerwood bring you the Lone Star short films that are playing in the 2014 film lineup. Most but not all are in the Texas Shorts block.

Texas Shorts

Dig -- Fellow contributor Debbie Cerda got to check out this film (her review), which premiered at Sundance last month. This is the directorial debut of Dallas-area producer Toby Halbrooks, and was produced by DFW-based production company Sailor Bear. The film stars the very adorable Mallory Mahoney as Jenny, a young girl who is intrigued by the hole her father (Austin actor Jonny Mars) is digging in their backyard. 

Easy -- Dallas filmmaker Daniel Laabs brings us a short that follows two brothers who are on the verge of different stages of adulthood.  His last film, 8, won the Grand Jury Prize for short films at SXSW 2011. This is Laabs' fifth piece as a director, with Austin's own Ashland Viscosi on board as a producer. Texas Theatre co-owner Adam Donaghey produced this as well as I Was A Teenage Girl.

New Film Fest This Weekend: The First Annual Noir City Austin

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By Frank Calvillo

There’s usually very little to look forward to at the movies during the uneventful dog days of winter. This weekend, apart from the release of what looks like a passable popcorn thriller called Non-Stop, starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, it seems like there’s nothing in the way of big-screen entertainment to get jazzed about.

The game changed, though, when The Film Noir Foundation announced the First Annual Noir City Austin, a three-day film festival taking place at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz from February 28- March 2. The weekend features ten lesser-known film noir gems starring the likes of John Garfield, Shelley Winters, Peter Lorre and Robert Cummings, among others, and promises to be the ultimate gin-swilling, cigarette smoking gift from the movie gods themselves. 

The lineup is as follows:

Too Late for Tears (1949) -- Friday 2/28

Through accidental circumstances, Alan and Jane, an average married couple, come into possession of a satchel full of money and quickly find themselves at odds about what to do. When Jane decides to keep the money, she finds herself going down a dark path from which there is no return.

Try and Get Me! (1950) -- Friday 2/28

Based on a sensational crime story from the 1930s, Try and Get Me! tells the story of down-on-his-luck family man Howard, who is pulled into a life of crime by ruthless criminal Jerry. Though lucrative as their life of crime is, it's their final caper that proves to be their most deadly.

Austin at SXSW 2014: John Fiege, 'Above All Else'

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John Fiege filming Above All Else, courtesy of Keegan Curry

John Fiege is an Austin director whose interest in environmental issues -- he holds an M.S. in cultural geography and environmental history -- plays into his filmmaking decisions.  His 2007 film Mississippi Chicken (Slackerwood review) documented immigrants working at a rural Mississippi poultry plant, and his newest work follows Texan landowner David Daniel as he protests the Keystone XL pipeline.

Fiege directed, produced and served as cinematographer on Above All Else, which will have its world premiere at SXSW in a couple of weeks. Before the fest, he was able to take part in the following interview via email.

Slackerwood: What drew you to document David Daniel’s fight against the Keystone XL pipeline? How did you first hear about his story?

John Fiege: In fall of 2011, I started making a film about the BP oil spill in South Louisiana, but the Keystone story was in the news and caught my attention. It was another potential environmental disaster with people from a wide diversity of backgrounds organizing to stop it before it became another BP. The pipeline was slated to end in Texas, where I live, so I began hunting for Texas landowners fighting the pipeline.

Lone Star Cinema: The Iron Giant

Still from The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant may not have been a box-office success upon its original 1999 release, but the animated film based in 1957 Maine has come to be loved and appreciated by many in the years since. The quirky, heartbreaking sci-fi tale pairs the beauty of its hand-drawn animation with a powerful message.

Hogarth (Eli Marienthal, American Pie) is a young boy in fictional coastal town Rockwell (presumably named after this Rockwell) who stumbles upon a ginormous alien machine one night. Hogarth befriends the giant, who has lost most of his memory, and attempts to pass knowledge on to the larger being. Harry Connick, Jr. figures into the voice cast as a hipster scrap metal collector/artist who supervises some of Hogarth and the giant's interactions.

Meanwhile, Hogarth's widowed mom Annie (Jennifer Aniston) rents out a room to government agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald, Thelma & Louise), sent to the town after reports of metal monsters and strange happenings make their way to Washington.  As Hogarth tries to teach the giant that he can choose to be what he wants (instead of what the machine may have been designed for), Mansley is determined to prove the dangerous existence of the imposing metal figure.

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