April 2013

Off-Centered Film Fest 2013: A Very (Hip) Hoppy Weekend

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Off-Centered Film Festival theater

By Cameron Bergeron

If you were at Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter Lane a couple of Saturdays ago, you might have noticed something special was going on inside the 400 Rabbits bar. Alamo Drafthouse and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery hosted the 6th annual Off-Centered Film Fest. The live DJ and purple t-shirts with high tops on them expressed this year's hip-hop festival theme. Fest events included a live rap battle featuring Austin's owner indie-rap sensation P-tek, a screening of 8 Mile, a reunion of Sam Calagione's craft brew inspired hip-hop act Pain Relievaz and much much more.

The fest kicked off Thursday and continued through the end of the week. Calagione, the founder of the Delaware based Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, brought the best his brewery had to offer, while the Drafthouse and Antonelli's Cheese Shop worked closely together to insure the menu and the beer selection paired perfectly witheach event. The fruits of this diligent work could be savored at the Saturday pre-show mixer at 400 Rabbits. Each available beer was paired with a cheese, or in the case of the Theobroma, a chocolate to complement.

Slackery News Tidbits: April 29, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin film news.

  • Locally shot film The Happy Poet will return to Austin next Monday at the Stateside Theater, with some of the cast and crew in attendance for a post-screening Q&A (Jordan's interview). Paul Gordon's comedy will be released on DVD and online streaming June 25. The Happy Poet, which premiered at SXSW 2010 (our review), tells the story of Bill (Gordon), an out-of-work poet who uses the last of his money (and a loan) to buy an all-organic, mostly vegetarian food stand. The cast also includes Chris Doubek and Jonny Mars.
  • Austin videogame label Devolver Digital has created a new division for film distribution. They've acquired their first film for theatrical and VOD release: Cancerpants. Don saw it at aGLIFF in 2011 and said it's "a terrific documentary about Austinite Rochelle Poulson's fight against breast cancer." He added: "Shot in Austin and astutely directed by Nevie Owens, Cancerpants is a starkly honest portrait of Poulson's battle, a film that doesn't shy away from the often unpleasant details of her story." Look for it on VOD outlets starting May 7, with screenings in several cities -- including Austin, natch -- planned for May 30.
  • The music documentary A Band Called Death, which screened at this year's SXSW Film Festival, is also gearing up for its May 24 VOD release and June 28 limited theatrical release through Drafthouse Films, the distribution arm of the Alamo Drafthouse. A Band Called Death takes a walk down a sometimes blurry memory lane, when, in the 1970s, three African-American brothers from Detroit formed the punk band Death (Debbie's preview). The documentary follows the band's newfound popularity, decades after they split.

'The XXXX Saga' Production Diary: Week Six

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The XXXX Saga, Week Six

Austin filmmaker James Christopher is directing Twitchy Dolphin Flix's new mockumentary-style features The XXXX Saga: Rise of the Beaver Slayer and The Porn Movie Massacre (no, they're not pornos). Check Slackerwood for his updates as the production continues.

This weekend was, in many ways, what Twitchy Dolphin is about. We shot a lot. And we did a lot of shots! (Not really.)

Twitchy has built a reputation of being a family -- and a team that puts the work first, that is working hard for each other not just for "making it." It's a team that has people traveling from all over to make movies with us. So for our second-to-last weekend, we had Mike Donis (Toronto), Marc Wasserman (LA), Dave Cohen (Florida) and Janet Mayson (Illinois) on set. It's always as much a family reunion as it is work. We've always prided ourselves in making the experience of being on set as much a reward as anything else. I think we did that this weekend.

We started with some XXXX and XXXX2 scenes on Wednesday evening. Andrea Dettling's character Chastity and Mike Donis's Bill England shot their romantic moments. Andrea also did her scenes with Vanessa Perry as Miss Prissy. These scenes dealt with Chastity training Miss Prissy to prepare for life on an adult film set. Yes, a popsicle was involved.

Thursday, we got Billy Kring threatening to use his Smith and Wesson to violate a guy and I took another turn as Mike Antonio, a rather prudish cop. The night was a lot of fun, playing on the police procedural tropes. Billy, one of the nicest guys I've ever known, just killed us as he went on his "I'm tired of defending your crap to the commissioner" rant.

Friday followed, a highly anticipated day. Hard Rocket landed. And Marc Wasserman, in the role, did not disappoint. He's been prepping for months, shredding his body to the point that he refused to take his shirt off at times. Dave Cohen stepped in, making his Twitchy debut as an unfortunate father of two porn star sisters. Not to be outdone, Clif Haley, Sarah England and Ben Tubbs rolled in to shoot their scenes as the writers for XXXX Films. The scene was live, ripe with improv ("Whora the Explorer?") and carrying on. Epic.

Friday followed with a couple of the bigger ensemble scenes, including the Quad X wedding scene. We then decided to have the wrap party. I know, I know. We still have three days left, but with so much of the cast here from out of town for the shoot, we figured what the heck.

And it was epic. We had new shots (Hard Rockets) and Aaron Gaudin's new microbrew imprint Montage Brew made a special brew for the occasion (Vagin-ale). Marc took his shirt off. Over and over again. Beer pong was played, behind-the-scenes pictures shared and we took a moment to thank everyone for all the work on the film so far. We're a family and that's what it felt like. And Marc Wasserman eventually did put a shirt on.

Movies This Week: April 26 - May 2, 2013

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Grand Hotel

So who else is going to see Hands on a Hardbody tonight at the Marchesa? Read Don's review to find out why so many of us are so pleased to see this 1997 documentary available again. Filmmaker S.R. Bindler will be there with one of the film's subjects, Benny Perkins ... I hear there will even be an actual Nissan Hardbody in attendance. If you're not interested (because you're crazy) you could head over to Blue Starlite and watch Dazed and Confused.

Austin Film Society's Best of the Fest series brings the movie In the Family to the Marchesa on Sunday and Monday nights. It's about a father whose partner dies and leaves their son to his sister, sparking a difficult custody battle. Writer/director/actor Patrick Wang will attend the screenings.

On Monday night, Alamo Drafthouse's Cinema Club series continues at the Ritz with a 35mm screening of Grand Hotel, the glitzy 1932 drama starring John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. Author and University of Texas professor Tom Schatz will discuss the movie afterward. And if those aren't enough Monday night choices, you might also consider The Frames: In the Deep Shade, a documentary about Glen Hansard's band screening at Stateside.

Review: The Company You Keep

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The Company You Keep

Robert Redford's newest film The Company You Keep is a charmingly small movie with a larger-than-life cast. It tells the story of members of the Weather Underground, a radical political group from the late Sixties who were well known for both their opposition to the Vietnam War and the use of violence to deliver their message. The Company You Keep deals primarily with the aftermath of this violence.

During this group's heyday, some of the members decided to rob a bank. During the robbery, a security guard is killed and many members of the group are forced to go underground. After four decades underground, the first crack in their wall of secrecy breaks when Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), one of the bank robbers, is captured at a gas station near Albany, New York. Soon after, the news of Sharon's arrest reaches the desk of Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), a young ambitious reporter for a struggling newspaper in Albany. After a well-deserved razzing by his editor, Shepard decides to follow up on the story of  Solarz's involvement with the Weather Underground.

Not Just Texas: 'Last Call at the Oasis' Highlights International Water Crisis

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Last Call at the Oasis Movie PosterThe drought in Texas shows no sign of letting up and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reports that approximately 22 percent of active community water systems are on voluntary or mandatory water use restrictions as of April 17, 2013.

But the water crisis is not limited to just Texas -- it is a constant source of concern across the globe. The producers behind An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc. and Waiting for Superman focus on the global water crisis in the 2012 documentary, Last Call at The Oasis. Written and directed by Academy Award winner Jessica Yu (Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien), Last Call at The Oasis presents evidence about why the global water crisis will be the most critical issue of this century.

The film explores the role of water for our daily existence, as well as those communities across the world that are struggling with the lack of this essential resource. It features statements from activist Erin Brockovich and journalist Alex Prud'homme along with notable experts like climatology scientist Peter Gleick, hydrologist Jay Famiglietti and law and public policy professor Robert Glennon.

For more details about the movie, read Christopher Campbell's review from its 2011 premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, in which he says it's "necessary viewing for anyone on the planet who drinks water."

Last Call at The Oasis is currently available for viewing online, but you can catch a special screening of this documentary at the Alamo Drafthouse Village on Monday, April 29 at 7 pm. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Texas Water Foundation, a nonprofit organization created for "the purpose of generating a heightened public awareness among all Texans regarding the vital role water plays in our daily lives."

You'll see a familiar name from the local film industry amongst the Texas Water Foundation Board members, which include former Texas senator J. E. "Buster" Brown, former TCEQ Chairmans and Commissioners Kathleen Hartnett White and Buddy Garcia -- Austin Film Society founder and filmmaker Richard Linklater currently serves as a director.

AFF Announces 2013 Honorees

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Jonathan Demme at SXSW 2009

Jonathan Demme, director of such feature films as Rachel Getting Married and Philadelphia, and such documentaries as Jimmy Carter Man from Plains, will receive the top award at the 2013 Austin Film Festival this fall. Demme is being honored with the fest's "Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking" Award.

Demme won an Oscar for his direction of The Silence of the Lambs.  Recently Demme has done directing work on TV shows such as HBO's Enlightened.  His Fear of Falling, based on a screenplay by Wallace Shawn, is currently in post-production. The photo above is from SXSW 2009, when Demme brought the concert documentary Neil Young Trunk Show to Austin.

AFF also announced its "Outstanding Television Writer" for 2013: Vince Gilligan, acclaimed for his creation of and work on the AMC series Breaking Bad. Gilligan also served as executive producer for The X-Files, and wrote screenplays for Hancock and the Texas-shot movie Home Fries. (Does this mean we might see Home Fries at AFF in October?)

'Mud' Returns to Austin Today

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On weekends as a kid, my sister and I would go play on my godparents' farm, which was just outside of the county seat where we lived in rural Maryland. Their two kids were our greatest friends, and together we formed a fearsome foursome, subjecting ourselves to our own glorious reign of terror that included snapping turtle bites, egregious poison ivy, falls from trees, fences, tire swings, horses and roofs, unfriendly ghost sightings, four-wheeler accidents and various fights with fists/mud/sticky burrs/chewing gum. We were always filthy and often bloody, but it was always an amazing adventure.

Some great children's films, like The Goonies, The Black Stallion and The Wizard of Oz, have captured youthful myth-making and discovery to cinematic advantage, and often use childhood dramas as a metaphor for adult problems happening just outside the frame. In Jeff Nichols' latest movie Mud, the grown-up world is at the center of the story but is seen through the electric naivete of youth. The magic of Mud is that you don't have to pretend to remember the heightened feeling of being a kid who finds an adventure. With Mud, you can watch the movie through a 12-year-old's eyes without ever leaving your own.

Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland play Ellis and Neckbone, a contemporary Arkansas version of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Like those two, one of the boys has a family and one is essentially an orphan, but both have problems at home and find that in this world, trouble itself is routine. The boys have a confidence that's both impressive and comic; they can fish, drive and operate a motorboat, but they are still learning how to curse.

Lone Star Cinema: Silkwood

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Meryl Streep in Silkwood (with a blurry young David Strathairn in the background)

When writer/director Nora Ephron died months ago, I was surprised to see Silkwood mentioned along the many other credits in her obits. Little did I know Ephron co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for this 1983 drama alongside Alice Arlen.  Then I found out via IMDb searching that the movie was filmed in Texas! Obviously, I had to move it up my Netflix queue.

Silkwood is based on the true story of the woman of the same name, Karen Silkwood, who was born in Longview and spent some time in Beaumont. When we meet her in the film, however, she's a gal in her mid-twenties, played by Meryl Streep, working at a nuclear facility in small-town Oklahoma. Karen lives with boyfriend Drew (Kurt Russell) and best friend Dolly (Cher), who both work in the plant as well.

There are many other recognizable faces in this movie. David Strathairn and Fred Ward (who I know best from my childhood favorite Big Business) play co-workers in Silkwood's division, Craig T. Nelson appears as a smarmy guy at the plant, and I even spied Bill Cobbs (I'll Fly Away, Go On) in a lunchroom scene.

New Violet Crown Series Blends Craft Beer and Film

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Jester King Black MetalOne of the breweries I featured in my first Film on Tap column is Hill Country-based Jester King Craft Brewery, one of the winning plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC) regarding labeling and marketing. That case helped grease the wheels for the Texas Legislature to work closely with the TABC, craft brewers and other stakeholders to introduce legislation that impacts Texas craft brewers. The bills have made it through the state Senate, with a House vote expected by mid-May.

Jester King is participating in a less controversial endeavor next month, as the Violet Crown Cinema (VCC) has announced their new series CineBrew, a retrospective film program paired with regional craft beer tastings.

The series debuts on Wednesday, May 15, and will feature Jester King's Metal series of farmhouse beers: Black Metal, Funk Metal and Viking Metal. Brewery representatives will discuss the brewing process and how each of the beers attains its own style. My personal favorite featured is the farmhouse imperial stout, Black Metal, along with Funk Metal, a sour barrel-aged stout. Viking Metal is a truly unique beer aged in an Old Tom gin barrel and based on the ancient Swedish Gotlandsdricka, brewed with birchwood smoked malt, juniper and Myrica gale.

Viewers can enjoy the craft brew while watching the digitally remastered and previously unavailable 1992 documentary Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance vs. Judas Priest, preceded by local filmmaker Kat Candler's powerful short film Black Metal, which screened at Sundance and SXSW this year.

Lone Star Cinema: Hands on a Hardbody

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Hands on a Hardbody

It's a human drama thing. It's more than just a contest and it's more than just winning the truck. -- Benny Perkins, Hands on a Hardbody

If you're unfamiliar with Hands on a Hardbody, the essential thing to know about this compelling documentary is that that it's not about trucks. It focuses on a contest to win a truck, but the tricked-out 1995 Nissan Hardbody pickup is merely a prop at the center of a fascinating collection of character studies and a great commentary on human nature. The movie has finally been released on DVD and will have a special screening in Austin on Friday.

In S.R. Bindler's cult-classic 1997 film, a Longview, Texas car dealership sponsors a contest in which two dozen contestants compete to win a new pickup. The event is a grueling test of endurance: The lucky (and exhausted) winner is whoever remains standing the longest with at least one hand on the truck. The rules are rather draconian -- contestants are allowed only a five-minute break every hour and a 15-minute break every six hours. They must remain standing the entire time; no leaning, squatting or kneeling is allowed. A contestant who removes both hands from the truck for even one second is out of the contest.

Cine Las Americas 2013 Dispatch: Death and Clouds

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The Second Death

Friday marked my last chance to catch some really great films from Cine Las Americas, although I sadly wished I had gotten a chance to take in more. I mentioned earlier how I tried to check out films from different genres. I decided to take it a step further for my last day to check out two types of movies I don't usually take in: a thriller and a documentary.

My thriller choice was The Second Death, a film about Alba, a cop trying to solve a murder mystery in a small town. The victims are discovered as being "burned from the inside out," found by the police with a rosary in their hands and positioned as if they were praying. When the clues and witness accounts start to incorporate religious undertones, Alba's faith and beliefs are tested (especially since she does not believe in God). The film has a great twist at the end, exposing the truth of the crime and how the local church was tied into it.

Interview: Shane Carruth, 'Upstream Color'

Upstream Color Q&A at Sundance

On Friday, the movie Upstream Color opened in Austin and is currently screening at Violet Crown Cinema and Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter.

While at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, I sat down for a conversation about the film with writer/director Shane Carruth, pictured above with producer Casey Gooden, production designer Tom Walker and editor David Lowery. This psychological science-fiction narrative is Carruth's long-awaited second feature.

Carruth also stars in the film with Amy Seimetz as a couple reluctantly brought together by forces of nature and fate beyond their control. Together they must piece together their lives and come to an understanding of their connection to one another and other people.

Cine Las Americas 2013 Dispatch: Evil Willow Meets Delusions of Grandeur

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Delusions of Grandeur

For me, days two and three of Cine Las Americas were spent at Alamo Drafthouse Village, indulging one too many times in items from the wide menu selection (I'm certain I've already gained ten pounds). I tried to make it a point to not only see films from different countries, but from different genres as well. Here's what I got to check out.

Wednesday afternoon gave me I Am a Director, a hilarious comedy about Carlos, a guy trying to make a Hollywood film with no money and no past experience. It reminded me of being in film school and meeting those dummies who thought they were the son or daughter of Spielberg himself, but didn't even know how to turn on a camera. Carlos is a lovable character, but you want so much to just slap him because he is so naively ignorant. Everything was spot on humor-wise though, and I imagine film students will probably laugh the hardest at this movie.

The evening then brought me 3 -- a story of a mother and daughter dealing with the consequences of the man who walked out on them years ago. Ironically, the father/husband, Rodolfo, wants to come back to be a part of their lives again many years later. The two women obviously felt the sting of his leaving and have dealt with it by not caring about what happens to them, living as roommates more so than as a family. Rodolfo cannot see that they hurt and act this way all because of his moving on with his life. There was a sadness to the story I hadn't seen before: the reality of losing trust and how we cope with the remaining scars. A very moving film, to say the least.

Slackery News Tidbits: April 22, 2013

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Here's the latest in Austin and Texas film news.

  • Two Austin-based theater chains are expanding their reach in the U.S. Violet Crown Cinema will open a second location in Santa Fe at an undisclosed date, according to Austin 360. The arthouse theater, owned by Bill Banowsky, co-founder of the Austin-based Magnolia Pictures, will be part of the Santa Fe Railyard development. Austin Business Journal reports that Alamo Drafthouse will open its first Lubbock area location next year, with construction currently underway.
  • The inaugural Q Fest, celebrating queer cinema, began yesterday at the Josephine Theatre in San Antonio, the San Antonio Current reports. Festivities include a short films package and documentaries, such as San Antonio Four, about four Latina lesbians from San Antonio who may have been wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting two children in the early '90s.
  • The latest movie by former Austinites Joel and Ethan Coen, who filmed the 2010 remake True Grit in-and-around Austin, has been chosen as an official selection at this year's Cannes Film Festival, according to IndieWire. Inside Llewyn Davis, starring Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake, tells the story of an aspiring folk singer-songwriter (Oscar Isaac) in 1960s Greenwich Village.

Review: Oblivion

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Tom Cruise in Oblivion

Tom Cruise stars as Jack in the movie Oblivion, director Joseph Kosinski's (Tron: Legacy) cinematic reinterpretation of his own graphic novel. The year is 2077. Jack keeps drones in maintenance; these drones protect ginormous "hydrorigs," which suck in seawater to create fusion power for the removed citizens of Earth. Attacking the hydrorigs and drones are alien-like "scavs," who, Jack tells us, are behind the destruction of the Earth. "We won the war, but lost the planet," he states during some fairly trite narration.

In this post-apocalyptic film, Tom Cruise is onscreen fourth-fifths of the time. If you don't care for Cruise, odds are you won't care for Oblivion.  Still, Cruise isn't really the complete problem with the movie. Let me count the ways I was disappointed.

  1. The hollow depiction of women in Oblivion. Jack works and sleeps with teammate Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, Happy Go Lucky, Made in Dagenham), who has large pupils (especially obvious on an IMAX screen) and no personality. She looks forward to going back to their home on Titan and has sex with Jack in a pool. Jack goes out to check on his drones in his functional clothing, while Vicka, as communications manager, hangs around their pad in tight sheath dresses and stiletto heels.

Movies This Week: April 19-25, 2013

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It's a Disaster

I'm not one to issue ultimatums, but this week's cinematic circumstances force me to do so: If you don't see It's a Disaster (pictured above), I'm afraid we can't be friends. I'll accept no lame excuses, people; we both know you can find the time to watch this indie comic masterpiece with strong ties to the Austin film industry. You must see it -- and don't think I won't ask to see your ticket stub next time we meet.

If you'd rather pick your own movie than be my friend, you have lots of other choices. The Cine Las Americas International Film Festival continues through Monday; passes and individual tickets still are available for the remaining films. If you're in the mood for a totally different sort of festival, the beer-centric and aptly named Off-Centered Film Festival also continues through Saturday. (Refer to Jordan's overview of the festival for more information.)

French New Wave fans shouldn't miss the Austin Film Society's screening of Zazie Dans Le Métro, Louis Malle's 1960 satirical fantasy about a 12-year-old girl who escapes the watchful eye of her uncle to explore the sights of Paris. Presented as part of the AFS Essential Cinema series, Zazie Dans Le Métro screens on Tuesday at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre.

Review: Starbuck

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Starbuck

Too much of anything is not good, except maybe it can be. Starbuck is a lighthearted comedy that explores a fresh take about the serious side of what it means to be a father through the lens of someone totally unprepared not just for one child, but for 143 of them.

David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) is a perpetual screwball who has never managed to make the right choices in life. In his forties, working as a delivery driver for his father's butchery, with thugs shaking him down for $80,000 in unpaid debts, David learns of his girlfriend's pregnancy. At the same time, he is confronted by a lawyer with some surprising news.

The lawyer represents a fertility clinic where, during his twenties, David was the most prolific donor, having made deposits over 600 times. It's explained that he has very high-quality sperm, and the doctor who operated the clinic was a little crazy and thus used David's material in the impregnations of over 500 women. Now 142 of his progeny have gathered to form a class-action suit to force the clinic to reveal David's identity.

Until the case is settled, they've prepared profiles of themselves, because they want "Starbuck" (the alias under which the donor is listed) to know something about his children. Faced with a choice between continuing his irresponsible ways or taking control of his life with his girlfriend and new(est) child, David finds himself unable to resist the urge to involve himself in his other children's lives, and thus learn the extent of his own strength.

Ken Scott and Martin Petit have written an extraordinarily original script that is both charming and hilarious, and Scott's direction displays a flair for comedic timing that brings the story to life. From the opening shot, he sets up a scene just enough for the audience to get comfortable with a situation before pulling the rug out from under them to hilarious effect. It's a surprising and effective tool Scott wields when the mood grows too serious.

Ready, Set, Fund: It's Not Just Production

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Dig

When you hear "crowdfunding for film," you may automatically think about producers and directors raising money for a movie they want to make. Or perhaps even post-production costs to finish the film. But plenty of other fundraising endeavors cover film distribution, exhibition and other aspects of the film world.

For example, you might have seen local filmmaker Stephen Belyeu's drama Dig at Austin Film Festival a couple of years ago, where it won the Narrative Feature award. Texas Independent Film Network also screened the movie (which I moderated locally, which is why I remember). But one does not simply walk up to studio reps and magically land a distribution deal. Belyeu is ready to seek distribution for his film and there are costs involved: transferring the film into a high-resolution format, creating the materials to send to industry reps, paying legal fees.

So Belyeu has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to make Dig distribution-ready. The perks include DVDs of the movie, posters, sneak peeks at the filmmaker's new project ... and for enough money, an Executive Producer credit. The campaign has a little more than two weeks left and hasn't yet reached its goal.

Cine Las Americas 2013 Dispatch: A 'Snow White' Night

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Cine Las Americas screen

Tuesday night not only marked the opening night of the highly anticipated Cine Las Americas International Film Festival, but also the first festival that I get to attend as press. I arrived early, around 5:30, to get my badge and ticket to the opening-night film, Blancanieves.

In an effort to kill time, I met up with my friend Samantha Lopez for a drink and early dinner. Sam has screened films for CLAIFF for some time now, and filled me in on what to expect. The best part, she said, is not knowing what to expect, as each film was as different as the next. And with each of the films only screening once, one must choose wisely.

The screening kicked off with an encouraging speech from CLAIFF Executive Director Eugenio del Bosque Gómez, explaining what the team had planned and some small changes implemented this year. Film Program Director Jean Anne Lauer then joined him on stage to say how she knew that the movie we were about to see was their opening-night film immediately upon watching. I think this gave the audience and myself hope for what we were about to encounter.

Prepare to Get Cockeyed With the Off-Centered Film Fest

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Delaware-based Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema have teamed up again for the sixth annual Off-Centered Film Fest (Debbie's 2012 coverage). Beginning Thursday night, the three-day beer and food feast  -- with a hip-hop theme this year -- will feature a sing-along, rap battle competition, DJs and a short film competition. Most events are at Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter Lane, and proceeds will benefit the nonprofit Texas Craft Brewers Guild. 

The homegrown festivities kick off with a 6 pm screening at Republic Square Park of Friday, a movie so ripe with wisdom and wit it'll make you say "daayymmnn!" The Ice Cube, Chris Tucker-fronted stoner comedy tells the day-long adventure of two neighborhood buddies in L.A. 

Sam Calagione, owner of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (Debbie's interview with Calagione), and Tim League, Alamo Drafthouse co-founder, have added more hip to their hops with Friday's first ever Jiggy Crunk Sing-A-Long. Calagione and League will both be in attendance throughout the festival. 

Homegrown cinema will get its chance in the sun during Saturday's short film competition event. The competition's top films will be screened theatrically and the top three winners will receive their awards. 

AFF Holds a 'Conversation' with Brian Helgeland

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Payback by Brian Helgeland

The Capital City Event Center was abuzz last Wednesday night with Austin Film Festival's Conversation in Film with Brian Helgeland, writer and director of 42, which hit theaters two days after the event. Moderated by AFF Executive Director Barbara Morgan, the conversation focused on Helgeland's career as a writer. I'll admit I'd seen many films Helgeland wrote but never realized he was the man behind the curtain.

Helgeland opened the conversation by letting the audience know he started his career by writing horror movies, his most notable (in his opinion) being 976-EVIL. It was through horror films that he began to get involved with other writers, eventually working on some television series episodes as well.

The screenwriter then jumped into the process of adapting L.A. Confidential, which I was astounded to hear took three whole years to write. His biggest challenge was trying to transform a 496-page book into a two-hour film, the plot of the film ultimately being much different than the book. Helgeland won an Academy Award (along with director Curtis Hanson) for the adapted screenplay in 1997.

He then went on to talk about writing and directing Payback, the 1999 adaptation of a Donald Westlake novel, starring Mel Gibson. Off all of his works, this seemed to present the most hurdles, the final straw being that he was fired as director by Gibson himself. Helgeland said after that he felt like he was in "movie jail" and the only escape was to write his way out.

He did just that, with the following year's A Knight's Tale putting him back on the map. This was perhaps my most favorite part of the talk, as he discussed the research he did for the film. The biggest obstacle? Finding people who could joust, and were also willing to do it!

Dallas IFF 2013: The Wrap-up

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2013 - Day 3 - Red Carpet, April 6: Richard Jones (Talent), HutcH (Cinematographer) and Yen Tan (Director/Co-Writer) of PIT STOP on the red carpet for The Dallas International Film Festival 2013 at The Angelika! Photo by Lindsay Jones

After accomplishing attending Sundance Film Festival in January and SXSW last month, I thought for sure that I'd be burnt out on film festivals. However, my "one day on, one day off" approach to SXSW this year kept me rested enough to keep the pace going into my first Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF). I was only able to attend the first four days, but that was more than enough time to enjoy the hospitality and diversity of the Dallas film community. I also enjoyed seeing familiar Austin and Texas faces whom I met on the festival circuit before, including the Pit Stop crew of actor Richard Jones, cinematographer HutcH and director/co-writer Yen Tan (pictured above).

I was quite impressed by the overwhelming amount of enthusiasm and support from locals for the Dallas Film Society and DIFF. Well-dressed Dallas socialites calling out greetings across the theater to friends during seatings was rampant, a distinct contrast to Austin festival audiences. I also met and spoke with folks extremely active in the local film scene, including filmmaker and Dallas Producers Association (DPA) president Russ Jolly. The DPA offers frequent networking opportunities for its members such as "Third Thursday Breakfast" and mixers, as well as filmmaker conversations that are open to the public.

Double Vision: Two Takes on James Benning

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Photo of TEN SKIES

On April 6-8, Austin Film Society's Artistic Director Richard Linklater curated and presented a series of recent films by the groundbreaking avant-garde filmmaker James Benning. This showcase of Benning's work explored many different American landscapes (including skies, lakes, roads and the woods) through various mediums, including two 16mm presentations at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. Austin Film Society Interns Hannah Jordan and Shane Henderson attended the events and covered these once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Ten Skies: Hannah Jordan

It's my first James Benning film experience and I walk into the theater ten minutes late. It's quiet enough to hear a pin drop with all eyes pointed straight at the screen, so I take the nearest available seat on the front row. I hate sitting on the front row, but I also hate people like me who show up to movies late, so I'll take what I can get.

I settle into the eerie calm and take in the scenery of Ten Skies, which was precisely 102 minutes of skyscapes. That's all, just sky. Dark skies, light skies, rainy skies, blue skies -- all laid out in 20-minute blocks with little to no audio. I sneak a quick peek at the audience behind me, and become acutely aware of their pristine movie manners. There are no chairs rustling. There are no jaws smacking. Everyone is sitting upright as a scholar; transformed into dutiful schoolchildren eager to see the hypnotic journey Benning is taking us on. The catch is, he doesn't want to take us anywhere. He just wants us to sit still.

AFS Essential Cinema: New Janus Films Series, New Digs

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Tokyo Story

The Austin Film Society kicks off a new Essential Cinema series tonight ... and at a venue that's relatively new to them, but which I suspect will become familiar to many of us this year: the Marchesa Hall and Theatre.

"Classic 35mm Treasures from the Janus Films Archive" is a seven-film weekly series including a variety of European and Japanese movies from the 1960s, many of which you may have seen or at least heard of before. Many Janus Films are now Criterion Collection disks -- but this is your chance to see 35mm prints of Zazie dans le Metro, The Wages of Fear, Tokyo Story (pictured above) and others.

It's a great way to inaugurate regular AFS programming at the Marchesa, which will officially become the home for Essential Cinema and other series and AFS events in May. "AFS at the Marchesa" seats 278 and will feature repertory, independent and arthouse fare. The theater is still in need of upgrades, however, and AFS plans to launch a fundraising campaign next month to get the venue in shape. We'll have all the details as they become available.

Dallas IFF Review: This Is Where We Live

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This Is Where We Live

Homeland star and San Angelo native Marc Menchaca and Josh Barrett teamed up for their writing and directorial debut, This Is Where We Live, an intimate look at a family wrought with physical and emotional troubles. The duo were in attendance for the movie's north Texas premiere at the Dallas International Film Festival last week. During the post-screening Q&A, the filmmakers revealed that although the story is fictional, one of the main characters was inspired by Menchaca's close friend Thomas, who has cerebral palsy.

This Is Where We Live brings viewers into a small-town family's home, where every member of the Sutton family suffers, Diane (C.K. McFarland) ignores her own health issues to meet the demands of her full-time job as a stocker at the local supermarket and to take care of her son August (Tobias Segal), who suffers from cerebral palsy. Her husband Bob (Ron Hayden) is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and daughter Lainey (Frances Shaw) lazes about the house -- both of them distant from the rest of the family.

A Peek at the Cine Las Americas Lineup

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Blancanieves 

It's unfortunate that Austin Jewish Film Festival and Cine Las Americas International Film Festival overlap for four days this week, but you can treat yourself to a whirlwind of images, stories, music, and themes by jumping back and forth between the two. AJFF is already underway (my preview). Cine Las Americas starts tomorrow night and runs through Sunday with a full and varied lineup.

You can buy film passes and tickets from the fest's website, or individual tickets at the theaters before the screenings (space available). Films at the Mexican American Cultural Center are free; other venues (where you need tickets) include Stateside at the Paramount and Alamo Drafthouse Village.

As it has since the initiation of each festival, Austin Film Society is co-sponsoring films in both fests. For Cine Las Americas we are helping to present a fascinating elegiac documentary, Carriere: 250 Metros (Juan Carlos Rulfo, Mexico, 2011) at Stateside Theatre on Thursday, April 18 at 7 pm. The director should be available for a Skype Q&A after the screening.

Slackery News Tidbits: April 15, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • DFW-area filmmaker David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) will team up with Robert Redford for the crime movie The Old Man and the Gun, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The Old Man and the Gun, based on a 2003 article in The New Yorker by David Grann, tells the true story of lifelong bank robber Forrest Tucker, who died in 2005.
  • On Saturday night, Austin-based filmmaker Yen Tan won the Texas Grand Jury Prize at this year's Dallas International Film Festival for his movie Pit Stop (Debbie's review). Fellow Austin-based filmmaker and UT lecturer Kat Candler also won a DIFF grand jury prize for her short Black Metal. Black Metal and Pit Stop both premiered at Sundance this year, were both produced by Austinite Kelly Williams and both have local actor Jonny Mars in the cast. DIFF also recognized the Austin-shot film Good Night (Debbie's review), which premiered at SXSW Film this year and also co-stars Mars. The drama was written and directed by Sean Gallagher (Elizabeth's interview). Finally, Tomlinson Hill, directed by former Austinite Lisa Kaselak, received the DIFF Silver Heart Award. Tomlinson Hill explores the legacy of slavery from the perspective of one black and one white descendant of a Texas slave plantation. Jonny Mars does not appear in the film.
  • Legendary producer and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (The Phantom of the Opera) has acquired the rights to the 2003 Richard Linklater film The School of Rock to adapt it into a Broadway musical, IndieWire reports. 

'The XXXX Saga' Production Diary: Week Five

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The XXXX Saga, Week Five

Austin filmmaker James Christopher is directing Twitchy Dolphin Flix's new mockumentary-style features The XXXX Saga: Rise of the Beaver Slayer and The Porn Movie Massacre (no, they're not pornos). Check Slackerwood for his updates as the production continues.

Being an indie filmmaker can -- to put it nicely -- test you. It can throw wrenches into your plans, disrupt your routine. As they say, "Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it."

The crew behind the Quad X Saga has weathered their share of issues: lost locations, productions issues, revolving cast members. When I had to step in as a police detective due to a casting issue, the rest of the cast and crew rallied like a team and so far it's gone off without a hitch.

On this weekend, we rolled into three long days. I mean long. A parade of actors flew in from out of town to get some screen time.  Mike Donis arrived from Toronto to play Detective Bill England, and we saw the return of Daniel Cano from Houston as documentary filmmaker Christopher Shearer. My old Army buddy Eric Adair rolled in from Maryland to play maniacal porn director Marcus and brought along Rebecca Meyer to join in the fun.

Movies This Week: April 12-18, 2013

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WR: Mysteries of the Organism

It's another so-so week for new releases, with one notable exception: To the Wonder. Terrance Malick fans shouldn't miss the great director's latest meditation on love and life; I also recommend it for adventurous filmgoers unfamiliar with Malick's sometimes enigmatic style.

Austin has two film festivals to choose from this week. The Austin Jewish Film Festival starts Saturday night and runs through next Friday, primarily at Regal Arbor. Read Chale's preview for more info and some recommendations.

For fans of Latino and indigenous films, the Cine Las Americas Film Festival kicks off on Tuesday and runs through Sunday, April 21. Now in its 16th year, the festival features a wide variety of movies from Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula, including the latest narrative films by breakthrough directors, studio releases, documentaries, short films, entertaining animation series, and youth films. Film passes -- a bargain at $80 -- are available now.

Get Ready for the Big Gig: Google Fiber in Austin

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Lee Leffingwell and Google Fiber

So have you heard that Google Fiber is coming to Austin?

Of course you have -- you're a film fan. Whether you create, study or just watch movies, you engage in the one art and entertainment form that chews through network bandwidth and hungers for more.

On Tuesday morning, Google and the City of Austin held a joint event confirming the worst-kept secret in city history: Google will build a gigabit speed, fiber-based Internet access network in Austin. The company will be the fourth entrant in the Austin residential wireline broadband market, joining Time Warner Cable, AT&T and Grande Communications.

Here's what we know so far: The service offerings will be similar to what Google does in Kansas City, their first fiber market. That includes a gigabit broadband service ($70/mo), gigabit broadband with high-def TV channels ($120/mo) and a megabit broadband service (free for 7 years, with $300 install fee). Note: Those are Kansas City prices. Google has stated multiple times the Austin pricing is uncertain -- except for the free service, which they assure us will indeed be free.

Austin Jewish Film Festival Starts Tomorrow Night

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The Other Son

The always-popular Austin Jewish Film Festival is back with a selection of stimulating films. The fest starts tomorrow night (Saturday, April 13) and runs through Friday, April 19 at Regal Arbor. Tickets and festival badges are still available, and some noon screenings are free.

Austin Film Society is co-sponsoring two of the fest's movies this year:

  • The Other Son (pictured above) (Lorraine Levy, France/Israel, 2012) is a powerful, yet hopeful, portrait of two young men -- one Palestinian, one Israeli -- switched at birth. They learn to transcend cultural, national and religious boundaries after they meet. [screening info]
  • Out in the Dark (Michael Mayer, Israel, 2012) joins the growing list of well-made Israeli films exploring gay life in Israel. In this film, we see the difficulties of love between a young Palestinian student and a slightly older Israeli lawyer. In a well-acted but tough role as a homophobic cop, new Austin resident Alon Pdut proves his ability to inhabit unflattering roles, just as he did in The Long Journey, which AFS and AJFF screened a few weeks ago. [screening info]

    Watch the Out in the Dark trailer below:

Review: To the Wonder

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To the Wonder

If you're a fan of Terrence Malick, you'll likely be a fan of To the Wonder.

The esteemed filmmaker's latest feature is in every way a Malick film, bearing his unmistakable stamp with its dreamy vibe, spiritual explorations and heavenly visual style. To the Wonder is gorgeous, complex, tragic, sometimes confounding and, like all of Malick's work, definitely not for everyone. I mean this as a compliment.

In To the Wonder's striking opening montage, we're drawn into the white-hot romance between Neil (Ben Affleck), an American traveling in Europe, and Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a Ukrainian divorcee raising her 10-year-old daughter, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) in Paris. After a whirlwind affair, Neil invites Marina and Tatiana to live with him in a place rather unlike Europe -- his native Oklahoma.

Stateside Brings Gondry's 'The We and The I' to Austin

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poster for The We and the I The We and the I, the latest feature film from Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind), is a glimpse at a bus ride home on the last day of school in the Bronx. Flirtations flicker, bullies torment, obnoxious guys are obnoxious and friends tease and giggle with each other.

There is not much of a constant adult presence in the movie (except for the bus driver, played by a real-life MTA driver), which leaves the teens to be themselves -- or at least however they want their peers to see them.

Gondry brought over his sketch of an idea for The We and the I to an afterschool program, The Point, after a screening of his movie Be Kind Rewind there. The kids he found through the program not only acted in the eventual film, but also collaborated on it. Indeed, most of the teenagers in the film play versions of themselves.

The We and the I premiered at Cannes in 2012 but didn't reach the U.S. until about a month ago. Now you get a chance to catch this vibrant and original film when it is shown at Stateside Theatre this Monday night, April 15, as part of their Stateside Independent series. [ticket info]

For more details about the movie, read Don Simpson's review from local film website Smells Like Screen Spirit. And watch the trailer below:

Dallas IFF 2013: Sex Meets Humor with 'S/ash' and 'The Bounceback'

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2013 - Day 3 - Red Carpet, April 6

Programming a short film before a feature can be a hit or miss at times, and I enjoy selections that complement one another. A solid well-crafted short can warm up an audience and set the tone for the feature presentation ... as demonstrated at the Dallas International Film Festival this week with a pair of Austin films.

The short film S/ash by Austin filmmaker Clay Liford -- pictured above with executive producer Farah White and Ashland Viscosi -- is the best foreplay that I could imagine to experience before The Bounceback, the latest movie from writer/director Bryan Poyser and co-writers Steven Walters and David DeGrow Shotwell. Neither film is for the prudish, but if you enjoy titillating humor and some impropriety then you're in for a special treat.

'Wrong' and 'Rubber': Quentin Dupieux at Alamo Drafthouse

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Quentin DupieuxBy Callie Caywood Schuette

Filmmaker Quentin Dupieux has already acquired a cult following the likes of which is rarely seen so early in a career. Recently he visited Alamo Drafthouse Village in Austin for a double feature of his first feature-length films, Wrong and Rubber. When he asked who in the audience of the sold-out screening had already seen both movies about to be shown, more than a quarter of the theater eagerly raised their hands. This is no doubt in large part due to the fame he's garnered as his experimental-electro alter ego, Mr. Oizo. While Dupieux is still a budding name in film, Oizo has been heard around the techno scene for over 15 years. A history like that is bound to breed some seriously dedicated fans.

Once the closing credits for Wrong rolled, host Eric Vespe (aka "Quint" of Ain't It Cool News) called Dupieux on stage to the sound of enthusiastic applause. Dupieux was completely at home in the spotlight, and immediately took ownership of the Q&A. At once playful and sarcastic, he repeatedly provoked surprised barks of laughter.

When Dupieux was asked if any events depicted in Wrong were based in reality, he shrugged. "I tried to make a film that was half true, and half stupid." In response to probes about the fictional book that appears in the film, Dupieux murmured coyly, "I haven't read it." His answers were all brief, and spiked with a biting wit. Yet despite his bumptiousness, it was hard not to like him. Yes, he's an erratic driver, but damn if it isn't a fun ride. 

In a moment of technical difficulty, the mic Dupieux is holding started to fade in and out of static feedback. He handed it off to a theater manager, and took the interruption as an opportunity to approach a couple of patrons in the front row. "Can I?" he smiled, already plucking pieces of popcorn from their bowl and tossing them into his mouth. Without missing a beat, he jumped right back into goading the audience for more questions. Dupieux proves a master trickster, and we're all at his mercy.

Dallas IFF Review: The Dirties

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The Dirties

The Dirties won Best Narrative Feature and the Spirit of Slamdance Award at the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival, and made its way this week to the Dallas International Film Festival. While producer and cinematographer Jared Raab was in Dallas, writer/director and lead actor Matthew Johnson was at a screening at the Victoria TX Independent Film Festival (VTXIFF).

The Dirties revolves around two friends who share a passion for movies, Matt (Matthew Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams). They are subjected to constant bullying while working on a movie for a high-school class project. After their initial film fails, the boys decide to create a revenge movie around their real-life antagonists, whom they refer to as "The Dirties." While Owen reconnects with a childhood sweetheart, Matt becomes obsessed as the lines between fiction and reality begin to blur. 

Johnson and writer/producer Matthew Miller drew inspiration for The Dirties from the 1992 French satire Man Bites Dog, a dark portrayal of what happens when a documentary film crew becomes involved in the actions of their subject, a ruthless criminal and killer. The pair also studied home videos of bullying from Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to develop a more realistic view rather than the stereotypical Hollywood over-exaggeration.

SXSW 2013: All Our Guides and Coverage

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Updated April 9, 2013.

Slackerwood was everywhere at SXSW Film this year. Here's the master list of all our guides, features, interviews, reviews and whatever else we wrote (or photographed).

SXSW 2013: Red Carpet Revue (Part Two)

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Willie Nelson at SXSW

Continuing from Part One, here's Slackerwood's entirely frivolous gallery of red-carpet and post-screening Q&A photos from SXSW 2013. I've topped this page with one Austin-area star I know you'll recognize. Willie Nelson was on the When Angels Sing red carpet ... he plays a key role in the family-friendly holiday movie from Tim McCanlies.

When Angels Sing (Mike's review) also starred Harry Connick Jr., who is certainly easy on the eyes. Here he is on the red carpet:

SXSW 2013: Red Carpet Revue (Part One)

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Olivia Wilde at SXSW

Slackerwood's coverage of SXSW 2013 has focused on Austin and Texas independent films and filmmakers, which were plentiful at the film fest this year. In addition, we watched and reviewed other interesting indie features and documentaries, as well as some short films.

But today, I'm wrapping up our coverage with frivolous red carpet and post-screening Q&A photos of the Beautiful People -- the stars, and I don't necessarily mean Austin celebrities either. That's Olivia Wilde pictured above, on the Drinking Buddies red carpet, and I am consumed with envy for the dress she's wearing. (Yes, those are little airplanes.) Let's take a little break and look at some pretty pictures of stars at SXSW taken by our intrepid photographers.

Having said that, I'll kick things off with an independent filmmaker: Joe Swanberg, who brought his first feature (Kissing on the Mouth) to SXSW in 2005, the first year I started going to and writing about SXSW. This year he was at the fest with the movie Drinking Buddies (Rod's review), which stars Wilde, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston, among others.

Dallas IFF Review: Cry

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Cry Still Photo

Dallas writer/filmmaker Clay Luther made his feature directorial debut at this year's Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) with Cry, a drama that explores several timely topics including bullying and homophobia. Luther effectively portrays the complexity of his main characters and avoids the formulaic and simplistic Hollywood ending.

Cry focuses on two neighbors on the opposite ends of life -- Cable (Bill Flynn) is a despondent widower who has lost the will to live and is estranged from his daughter, and Carson (Skyy Moore) is a high-school student who is bullied by fellow basketball player Micah (Erick Lopez).

Carson may not have experienced life, but he has suffered the death of his mother and lives with his openly homosexual uncle, Jeremy (Del Shores). Although Carson has his girlfriend Grace (Cherami Leigh), he's emotionally troubled from the almost daily beatings he receives from Micah. It is inferred that Micah and Carson had been best friends, but a significant event caused an estrangement. As Carson struggles with his personal drama, a tragic event connects him to Cable, who also finds his life a challenge to live. Resolution does not come easy for either of them, but through their relationship they find the will to take the necessary steps towards contentment.

AFS Doc Nights Preview: High Tech, Low Life

Blogger "Zola" in High Tech Low Life 

Director Stephen T. Maing's documentary High Tech, Low Life depicts a period of time (2008-early 2012, I think) in the lives of two Chinese bloggers as they attempt to circumvent censorship in China, aka "The Great Firewall." We are first introduced to "Zola," a 26-year-old produce seller from Hunan Province who likes to post stories that state media won't and other reporters can't.  He says, "The truth is, I don't know what journalism is... I just record what I witness." 

This is a marked contrast with "Tiger Temple," a 57-year-old retiree based out of an apartment in Beijing, inspired to start a blog in 2004 after witnessing and documenting a murder in the street. Tiger Temple rides his bike long distances  to cover stories upon request/small donation, and tends to get emotionally involved. After finding homeless folk in Tiananmen Square, forgotten by the country that had removed them from their rural homes decades ago, he starts raising funds on his site to provide them with housing. 

Slackery News Tidbits: April 8, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin film news.

  • Phase 4 Films will release Boneboys, filmed in Austin and Taylor, in select cities and theaters on Sept. 6. Writer/producer Kim Henkel, who co-wrote the 1974 horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, teamed up with two former Texas A&M University- Kingsville students, co-directors Duane Graves and Justin Meeks, on the low-budget horror comedy about a family of cannibals. Boneboys had its U.S. premiere at last year's Austin Film Festival. 
  • Robert Redford has signed Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater to direct an adaptation of Bill Bryson's travel memoir A Walk in the Woods, the LA Times reports. The movie, about Bryson's attempting the Appalachian Trail, could begin shooting in the fall. Redford, who's producing the film, will also co-star in it with Nick Nolte.
  • Delaware-based Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema have teamed up again for the sixth annual Off-Centered Film Festival. Beginning April 18, the three-day movie, beer, and food feast -- with a hip-hop theme this year -- will feature a sing-along, rap battle competition, DJs and a short film competition. Proceeds will benefit the nonprofit Texas Craft Brewers Guild
  • Austin Film Society will host a memorial screening of prolific Spanish filmmaker Jess Franco's film Venus in Furs on Friday, April 19 at The Marchesa (6226 Middle Fiskville Road). Despite its title, the 1969 film isn't based on the novel. Instead, it tells the story of a jazz trumpeter who, while digging up a buried horn on a beach, discovers a woman washed ashore. Venus in Furs will screen from a rare 35mm original release print to honor Franco, who died last week at his home in Malaga, Spain.

Dallas IFF 2013: Opening Night on the Pink Carpet

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Ken Topolsky and Janis Burklund

Yes you read that right -- in honor of the 50th anniversary of contributing sponsor Mary Kay, the traditional red carpet at this year's Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) opening night was replaced with Mary Kay's favored pink. The evening featured a public service announcement-style video produced by the Dallas-based company to promote their "Don't Look Away" campaign, which focuses on ending domestic violence.

In addition to the film stars and filmmakers to walk the carpet, which you can see after the jump, several festival dignitaries were also in attendance including Dallas Film Society (DFS) CEO Lee Papert and DFS board chair Lynn McBee. Emmy nominee and Dallas television series producer Ken Topolsky was accompanied by Janis Burklund, Director of the Dallas Film Commission (seen above), and spoke about the receptiveness of the Dallas residents to film and television production in their community.

Movies This Week: April 5-11, 2013

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Somebody Up There Likes Me

Evil Dead. This week, these two words are all that matter to horror fans, as the long-awaited reworking of the cult classic The Evil Dead hits theaters. (Actually, two other words matter just as much: Bruce Campbell. I'm not into horror flicks, but yeah, he is the coolest.)

For the rest of us, there is the homegrown comedy Somebody Up There Likes Me (pictured above). Fellow River City film fans, I beg, urge and implore you to see this terrific Austin movie. Sadly (and unsurprisingly), the Friday night show with director Bob Byington and star Nick Offerman in attendance is sold out. But worry not -- there are plenty of other screenings. You also might like the Slamdance 2012 awardwinning feature Welcome to Pine Hill, screening at 9 pm Monday at Stateside.

True cinephiles won't want to miss this week's Austin Film Society Essential Cinema Plus series, which presents four recent films by legendary avant-garde filmmaker James Benning. Screening on Saturday at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz are 13 Lakes and Ten Skies, which document landscapes and skyscapes. On Sunday at the AFS Screening Room is the war, focusing on Russian activists. The series wraps up Monday at the AFS Screening Room with Stemple Pass, a study of the isolation of nature. Benning will attend all screenings; following 13 Lakes and Ten Skies, AFS Artistic Director Richard Linklater will conduct a Q&A with the director.

'The XXXX Saga' Production Diary: Week Four

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The XXXX Saga, Week Four

Austin filmmaker James Christopher is directing Twitchy Dolphin Flix's new mockumentary-style features The XXXX Saga: Rise of the Beaver Slayer and The Porn Movie Massacre (no, they're not pornos). Check Slackerwood for his updates as the production continues.

Since variety is the spice of life, it was a blast on the Quad-X set this past weekend. Scenes dealing with the attempt to shut down the porn company and scenes dealing with some of the more "horror" aspects were shot during three days of crazy shooting.

We welcomed actress Allison Wood back on set. Allison, a fixture in Austin indie film, has been in Twitchy films since the very beginning. She and Twitchy owner Nathan Bybee took a turn as married senators bent on saving the world from non-Christians. Nothing like poking some fun at the politicians who are trying to push us in a more restrictive direction. That's the core of why were doing the movie.

Review: Somebody Up There Likes Me

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Somebody Up There Likes Me original posterI've seen Somebody Up There Likes Me twice now -- once at SXSW 2012 with a lively local-heavy audience, once via screener with no one else but the cat -- and found the movie terribly funny both times. In fact, after I watched it the second time, I restarted the film so I could to see how the beginning tied into the end (it does, so pay attention) ... then had to stop myself from watching it a third time. The movie opens Friday at Violet Crown Cinema and I'm sorely tempted to go.

I liked it a lot, obviously. But I don't know whether you'd like it. Local filmmaker Bob Byington's universe is not for everyone.

Somebody Up There Likes Me is a comedy, but not in a broad sense -- its humor is very specific. I don't mean that it's full of obscure pop-culture references, either, because the movie could be set in any time or place. (You'd have to know Austin fairly well to recognize it was shot here.) The movie is off-center and your brain has to squint and tilt sideways and around the corner a little to appreciate it. Once you're in the universe of the film, however, it's wonderfully fulfilling.

At the heart of this movie is the relationship between Max (Keith Poulson) and Sal (Nick Offerman), although the focus is ostensibly on Max. Max and Sal work together in a fancy restaurant, along with Lyla (Jess Weixler), who catches Max's eye. Eventually Lyla and Max marry, and ...

You know, recounting this story does no good. It's not important what the characters are doing as much as how they're changing, or not changing, through the years. Because Somebody Up There Likes Me spans decades, although some characters never seem to look any older. Is this a reflection on how much they've matured inside? Possibly. The characters do a number of things externally that might be symbolic of their inner lives.

For example, during Max and Lyla's first date, their conversation is full of misses -- someone mishears, someone misspeaks. It's funny, it's a little awkward, and it's an apt representation of how relationships work (or don't). Lyla loves breadsticks ... and how does her enjoyment of them factor into the film? Lyla's father (Marshall Bell) appears to be an almost tangential character, but what is the extent of his influence on the events in the movie? Kevin Corrigan appears in a single scene, but his advice to Max might be critical. On my second viewing, I wondered fleetingly if Sal and Max were actually different aspects of a single character. And I haven't even mentioned the suitcase.

AFF Brings Three Writers (and One Sneak Preview) to Austin

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42 movie poster

[Please welcome our newest contributor, Marcelena Mayhorn. She's a freelance writer in Austin who's also contributed to CultureMap Austin, and who previously worked for Austin Film Festival.]

Learn some tricks of the trade from the Austin Film Festival ongoing Conversations in Film Series. A year-round collection of film workshops and script readings, the series has three notable events coming up in the next couple of months.

The next Conversations in Film will take place this Saturday, April 6 with "A Conversation with Larry Wilmore" at the Harry Ransom Center. Having written for shows such as In Living Color and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Larry Wilmore (currently a correspondent on The Daily Show) will discuss how to maximize a writer's comedic potential, breaking into the industry and marketing your work.

The series continues Wednesday, April 10 with "A Conversation with Brian Helgeland" at the Capital City Events Center (6700 Middle Fiskville) and an advance screening of the writer-director's latest movie, 42, starring Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford. Brian Helgeland, who directed Payback and scripted Man on Fire, Mystic River and other films, will discuss his process of writing and adapting screenplays. Attendees can then head to Galaxy Highland for the screening, which will be followed by a Q&A about the making of 42.

Gearing up for the summer, AFF will also host "A Conversation with David Magee" on May 22. David Magee, who adapted the novel Life of Pi into the acclaimed 2012 feature, will discuss writing visionary stories and his philosophies about the process. The discussion will be followed by a retrospective screening of Magee's first film, Finding Neverland.

Tickets for all three sessions are on sale now through the AFF website, with a discount for AFF members.

Interview: PJ Raval and the Men of 'Before You Know It'

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A title card at the beginning of Austin-based filmmaker PJ Raval's documentary Before You Know It (Don's review) states that an estimated 2.4 million self-identified gay, lesbian and transgendered senior citizens live in the U.S. Throughout the course of the movie, Ty Martin, Robert "One of the Ugliest Girls in the South" Mainer and Dennis Creamer transcend this statistic as we follow them from Rainbow Vistas in Gresham, Oregon, across to Harlem and south to Galveston. Raval's years-long research for the film brought him face-to-face with his own immortality and the discovery that LGBT seniors are half as likely to have health insurance and five times less likely to access social services than their heterosexual counterparts.

But Raval's subjects are more than just a number: They seek to educate audiences on a personal level and connect with them through their life stories. Like Creamer, a widower who didn't identify as gay until his 70s. Before You Know It follows him on dates with people he met on the Internet as he explores his "new" female identity under the name Dee. Or, Martin, who is an LGBT activist who lives in Harlem with his longtime partner Stanton. And Mainer, who struggles to retain his gay-friendly bar, Robert's Lafitte in Galveston, when confronted with legal troubles and his failing health.

I spoke with Raval, Before You Know It director/co-producer, and the documentary's cast an hour before its world premiere at this year's SXSW Film Festival. The film can next be seen at the 11th Annual Independent Film Festival Boston, which takes place April 24-30.

Dallas IFF 2013: Austin and Texas Films

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The Bounceback

This year's Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) kicks off tomorrow night and runs through April 14. Many familiar faces and movies have made their way there from Sundance and SXSW, not to mention Austin Film Festival. In addition, the film festival will debut movies with local and state connections, some as part of the Texas Competition, a juried competition of films either shot in or relating to the Lone Star State.

Austinite Jeff Nichols' movie Mud screens on Friday, April 5, as part of the Premiere Series at DIFF -- read my review from Sundance. This engaging and mystical tale features Austin native Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan from Eckhart, Texas, with music by local composer David Wingo and sound by Austin's Stuck On On.

Here are all the other films we found with Austin and Texas connections -- let us know if we're missing anything.

  • The Bounceback (Don's review) (screening times)
    Austin filmmaker and two-time Independent Spirit award nominee Bryan Poyser's latest feature shows us that breaking up can be even more difficult if your ex hasn't given up and is willing to travel many miles in the hopes of making up. It's even harder when your friends who are breaking up try to keep you apart as well. (Elizabeth's interview)

SXSW Review: Continental

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Continental posterThe documentary Continental faces a tough challenge: Very little film footage or still photos exist for the legendary NYC bathhouse in its heyday. It's understandable -- this was not a place where many people wanted their pictures taken. But it means Continental has to drum up visual interest in other ways.

The movie takes us along on a breezy historical tour of the Continental Baths, one of the most well known and innovative bathhouses in New York in its prime. Steve Ostrow invested in the facility when it was a dark, dank warren of gay sex, and transformed it into a sophisticated gathering place and much cleaner, safer warren of gay sex. Eventually the Continental even drew a straight nightclub crowd for its concerts -- this is the place where Bette Midler launched her career.

Midler isn't one of the interview subjects -- she's represented only by still photos -- but many of the Continental's former employees and regulars happily recount tales of their time there. Interviews with Ostrow are the backbone of Continental, and in fact at times the story is not the history of the bathhouse as much as it is the history of the man who made it great, his work with the gay community, and his lifelong ambition to be an opera singer. He's such a magnetic interview subject that it's understandably why filmmaker Malcolm Ingram would focus on him.

To keep the documentary from being nothing but talking heads, Continental includes many contemporary shots of the hotel that used to be the home for the Continental, as well as the neighborhood surrounding it. It gets a little visually dull after awhile, but then I'm not sure what else Ingram could have done, unless he wanted to totally re-create the premises, a la Errol Morris? Which would have made for a very different movie. The rare footage and stills that do appear onscreen are fascinating -- I wish there were more.

Learning About Props On The Set of 'Parkland'

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Austin Studios

By Sasha Esquivel

Along with a few lucky others, I recently had the opportunity to be a part of the hustle and bustle of a real film set in town. Thanks to the City of Austin, the Austin Film Society and local chapters of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, I got to intern with the props department on the set of Parkland.

The movie is described on IMDb as being about "the chaotic events that occurred at Dallas' Parkland Hospital on the day U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated." The cast includes current/former Texans Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Duplass, and Marcia Gay Harden; plus Billy Bob Thornton (who won the Tom Mix Honorary Texan Award at the Texas Film Hall of Fame in 2009), Zac Efron and Ron Livingston, among many others.

This was my first time on a film set and the entire experience taught me a lot about the filmmaking process. From the moment I arrived on set I felt welcomed, and everyone was extremely helpful.

Slackery News Tidbits: April 1, 2013

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Here's the latest in Austin and Texas film news -- no April Fooling here.

  • The 16th Annual Cine Las Americas International Film Festival has announced its opening and closing-night movies. Blancanieves will open the festival April 16 at the Stateside Theatre. The drama, a twist on the Snow White fairy tale that centers on a female bullfighter in 1920s Seville, was chosen by Spain as its Foreign Language Film Academy Awards nominee in 2012. 7 Cajas (7 Boxes), about a boy's journey transporting unknown cargo, will close the festival April 21, also at Stateside. 
  • In celebration of April Fools' Day, the Austin Film Festival will screen the fest's 2012 audience award-winning comedy Junk at 7 pm at Alamo Drafthouse Village as part of its Best of Fest series. Junk follows two B-movie co-writers through their film's festival debut.
  • Ryan Long, former Austin Film Society programs and operations manager, has been named director of programming at Tugg, Austin 360 reports. Tugg, co-founded by Austinites Nicolas Gonda and Pablo Gonzalez, allows people to bring the movies they want to see to their local theaters. Long joined AFS in Nov. 2010 and co-founded the Texas Independent Film Network, a statewide tour of independent movies, which concludes its spring run with Hands on a Hard Body
  • Hands on a Hard Body documents an annual endurance competition in Longview, Texas, in which 24 participants attempt to keep their hands on a Nissan Hard Body pickup truck for as long as possible. The last person with their hand on the truck gets to drive away with it. Director S. R. Bindler will be in attendance at select TIFN screenings throughout the month, which begin Tuesday in McAllen, Texas. It reaches Austin on Friday, April 26 -- more details as they're confirmed.