Anywhere else but Austin, the idea of an 18-year-old veteran filmmaker would seem odd. Still months away from her high school graduation, Emily Hagins is the envy of many filmmakers with her third feature, My Sucky Teen Romance, world premiering at SXSW at the fest's biggest and most coveted venue, the Paramount.
If you’ve been living under a rock, or somewhere besides Austin, Hagins began her film career at the tender age of 11 or so when she penned her first script, for a zombie movie called Pathogen. That production ended up being the inspiration for the documentary Zombie Girl. Pathogen may not be available on Netflix, but it put Hagins on the radar of local film fans and the indie scene as someone to watch. She completed her second feature, The Retelling, in 2009.
Hagins met me for brunch at Olivia in South Austin, and with the gorgeous weather we were having, we enjoyed the meal outside in the sunshine. I have sunburn already; just because it's March in Austin doesn't mean you can go SPF-free, and I was reminded (ow). I was also reminded why Hagins is a talent to watch in the future. Read more and you'll probably end up agreeing with me.
Note: A 2012 Guide for Locals and Passholders is now available.
Last year, SXSW Film seemed more frustrating than usual for Austin festgoers with film passes, or people who wanted to buy tickets for a couple of movies. The Interactive conference practically exploded in size, and a lot of those attendees had Gold badges, while others queued up en masse for the screenings that were also open to Interactive badges. The opening-night film filled up before passholders could get in (badgeholder line from Kick-Ass pictured above; what's not pictured is that it completely circled the Paramount block). And I'm still frustrated that I missed Thunder Soul because I could not find any parking within a mile of the Paramount for under $20 that day.
It looks like SXSW Film access will be much better overall this year, and special care has been taken to ensure that Austin filmgoers can see festival movies. For example, this year Interactive-only badgeholders can't use their badges to get into any screenings. And a couple of remote theater venues are intended to appeal to locals. Movies playing at Alamo Ritz tend to play larger venues as well.
If you haven't bought a badge yet, you can still enjoy SXSW Film. The film passes for SXSW 2011 are already sold out, but tickets are available even now for some SXSW screenings, and we bet you'll be able to walk up and buy tickets easily at the more remote venues.
If you lament how Austin has changed over the years -- and what Real Austinite doesn't? -- at least you can rest assured that one thing about Austin hasn't changed in decades and probably never will: a lot of Austinites are very bad drivers.
According to the videos featured in this article, driving in Austin has long been a be-careful-out-there proposition. Having driven Austin's highways and byways since the 1980s, I'd have to agree.
Consider Progress Report Austin -- The Traffic Problem, a 1963 installment of a series of TV programs about life in our fair city. From its opening credits -- set against a backdrop of a swiftly moving, upper-deckless I-35 -- The Traffic Problem reminds us that reckless driving is nothing new in Austin. The Traffic Problem isn't great television; frankly, it's rather lousy television, full of interchangeable talking heads droning endlessly about traffic safety statistics, enforcement and court procedures. (Apparently, all early Sixties-era Austin traffic safety officials were balding, boringly earnest middle-aged white guys wearing horn-rimmed glasses.) But interspersed with the droning are many wonderful shots of Austin roads and landmarks, including the old Brackenridge Hospital building that was torn down in the 1970s.
Being both a tech geek and film enthusiast, I'm determined to find a balance between satisfying both interests during SXSWeek as the SXSW Interactive Conference overlaps with the beginning of the Film Festival and Conference. Luckily SXSW features several opportunities to explore both film and interactive industry topics.
Last year Slackerwood featured the "SXSW 2010 Guide: Balancing Film and Interactive" to help SXSW attendees know what was up. Although a lot of the core advice is the same, there are several significant changes this year.
SXSW Interactive-Related Films
In the past, SXSW has allowed Interactive badgeholders to get into certain film festival screenings with their badges ... but not so in 2011. Those attendees interested in films related to Interactive (IA) content will either need to have a Gold and Platinum badge or buy a ticket at the screening (based on availability 15 minutes prior).
I was going to do this big write-up about Austin films at SXSW, and Austin Film Society beat me to it on the Persistence of Vision blog. Thanks, Bryan, you did my work for me. Mosey on over there to see a comprehensive list of the Austin-connected films at SXSW this year.
Trying to pick which films to see from that list is hard, and I'm going to try to see them all, although I have to admit my personal favorite on that list is My Sucky Teen Romance, by Emily Hagins, which has such good buzz it's premiering at the Paramount. Watch this space for my interview with Emily over lunch at Olivia in South Austin this weekend. I unashamedly admit I’m not entirely objective, since I know Emily and quite a few people who worked on the film (not bragging, honest!) but when the SXSW film team chose the Paramount for very good reasons. It's Austin, indie, sending up pop culture, it's all good.
But wait! There's more! AFS announced the Austin Film Society ShortCase 2011, featuring AFS member shorts. If you aren't a festival veteran, you know that the shorts reels at Austin festivals are outstanding and SXSW is certainly no exception, and AFS isn't just a film appreciation society but an active association of filmmakers of all levels. This year's ShortCase includes The Man Who Never Cried, which you may remember Slackerwood's Debbie Cerda reviewed earlier this year. As I was researching this, I saw that Jackson worked on Script Cops, which played as bumpers for Austin Film Festival a few years ago. Hilarious stuff. Just remember that the shorts reels are very popular, so don't wait til the last minute to get to the venues when they play.
Notable Theatrical Releases in Austin (March)
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey (At SXSW, not rated) -- I had the good fortune to see Being Elmo at Sundance and I'm happy to say that if you're a Muppets fan, this is a real treat. (Even if you're one of those old school curmudgeons who don't dig Elmo.) I don't know what the festival's age guidelines are for admission but your best bet is probably to catch it on Wednesday, March 16, at the Westgate satellite screening, away from the crowds downtown.
There are two ways to tell it's really spring in Austin, the first being our beloved bluebonnets a-blooming. The other, when thousands of people flock to Austin for one of the three SXSW conference/festivals. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves it's not just about film, but that's the most important one, right? Get ready, because the flock is returning in a week. In the meantime, there are a few movies opening in town this weekend.
Movies We've Seen:
The Adjustment Bureau -- Based on Philip K. Dick's cautionary tale Adjustment Team, about free will, this thriller is certainly well cast. But is it worth it? Elizabeth took a chance on it and her review tells us more. (wide)
Barney's Version -- Barney Panofsky takes a look back at his life in this Oscar-nominated film (for make-up) starring Paul Giamatti. It also earned Giamatti a Golden Globe. Read Don's review for more. (Arbor)
Rango -- Apparently this 3D animated comedy about a Wild West lizard is more for adults than kids, and has gotten lots of good buzz. I wish I hadn't been so busy prepping for SXSW to make an advanced screening, especially after reading Mike's review. (wide)
It was disappointing to hear that director Gore Verbinski wouldn't be making the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but now that I've seen the reason, all is forgiven. Rango, opening today, is a family movie that isn't just for kids, and not only for kids and their parents, either. Rated PG, the animated film includes saucy, bawdy, even raunchy language that will give parents a good belly-laugh, but roll like a tumbleweed right over the heads of most children under 13. And it's still got enough good slapstick humor and standard cartoon elements to keep the kids entertained.
But for lovers of film, Rango is on an entirely different plain of the Old West. First, Rango himself (Johnny Depp) is a chameleon, the actor of lizards, who spends his idle time in the terrarium acting out movies of his own design with his only companions, a headless Barbie doll and a wind-up fish. He spends all his time being other people, but doesn't really have a grip on who he actually is. In something like a Picasso-view of Toy Story in reverse, when Rango is separated from the family who owns him, he doesn't try to get back to them. There's no attachment, and they're gone without a second thought. Instead, he heads into the desert to find water and discover who he is, in an adventure narrated in theatrical style by a chorus of avian mariachis.
In The Adjustment Bureau, Matt Damon is a politician, Emily Blunt is a contemporary dancer, and free will is a joke. The title of George Nolfi's first film comes from a group of bureaucrats who work to keep things in line with "the plan." The movie starts off somewhat awkwardly using a montage with Damon's character David Norris on the campaign trail. In this montage: politician cameos (Madeleine Albright! Wesley Clark! etc.) and talking heads who are given the task of telling us about his character. In the first five minutes of the film, we learn more about his background from pundit Mary Matalin than from anyone else, which just seems strange.
Norris is young and hip, but still loses his Senate campaign. As he practices his concession speech in the bathroom of the Waldorf, he meets cute with wedding crasher Elisa (Blunt). They are drawn to each other, but become separated. This is the main story of the film -- these two gorgeous kids seem MFEO, but the fates are working against them. Except they aren't fates, they are all dudes (the movie flunks the Bechdel test) wearing fedoras, working for "The Chairman" upstairs.
It's dangerous to tempt fate, whether it's baiting a curse-hurling witch or titling a substance-versus-style plotted film "Beastly." In the case of the latter, it's all too tempting to hurl that invective right back at the movie. Unfortunately, it's too self-conscious to earn that moniker.
Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four) stars as Kyle, the vicious, entitled scion ruling over the in-crowd at his prestigious prep school. It's good to be Kyle, or like him, and in his world if you're not like him, you're dumb and/or ugly. All too quickly he offends one of the outcasts who just happens to be a witch (Mary-Kate Olsen).
Beastly doesn't waste a lot of time before jumping into the story, or character development. After Kyle flaunts his position and power one too many times, Kendra (Olsen) curses Kyle to look as ugly on the outside as he is on the inside. Apparently Kyle isn't so ugly on the inside as he appears, as Beastly can't quite go beyond the realm of "pretty-ugly." Instead of making him hideous, he's actually more attractive (and interesting) with his stylish disfiguration. Even Kendra, who is called ugly, has a Lady Gaga freak-chic sensibility that is more likely to cause a fashion craze than it is to repel.