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.
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.
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.
By Kayla Lee
It all started on the red carpet, just before the screening of director Ramin Bahrani's (Goodbye Solo, Chop Shop) new film At Any Price on the last day of SXSW 2013. The stars of the film, Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron, graced the streets of downtown Austin with their friendly humor and welcoming smiles. The screening, which took place at the Paramount Theatre, had a great turnout. The crowd was ecstatic when Janet Pierson welcomed the director and stars onto the stage to brief the crowd before the movie started.
An exhilarating atmosphere filled the room as Quaid and Efron greeted the guests with their down-to-earth swag and demeanor. After their brief introductions, it was time for the show. It was exciting to see Quaid (who sometimes lives in Austin) looking to the crowd for approval throughout the film from the balcony. Judging by the laughter from the audience and his constant smiling down into the crowd, I believe all were pleased.
By John Gholson
[Editor's note: This is part three of a three-part conversation between Austin film writers John Gholson and Peter Hall about what happens when film bloggers (and critics, journalists, columnists, etc.) move into filmmaking. Please read part one and part two if you haven't already.]
John Gholson: With Zero Charisma, the reviews are out -- they're not mentioning me. Film School Rejects mentioned me in their review, at the end, in a quasi-disclaimer kind of a thing. Scott Beggs didn't know I was in it when he sat down to watch and review it, but other than that, no one's doing me any favors by drawing attention to my performance in their reviews, and I know a lot of the people reviewing it. It's not like they're patting me on the back or anything.
What was the greatest Grow Up, Tony Phillips moment at SXSW?
Peter Hall: Maybe one of the surprises at the premiere was seeing people who were there that I didn't expect to be there -- like the Evil Dead director [Fede Alvarez] came and watched it. I didn't talk to him, but, hey, the director of Evil Dead was at our movie! Some web personalities that I don't know -- Film Critic Hulk -- I don't know whether he liked the movie or not. I haven't seen any reactions. I guess seeing the turnout was the most interesting thing and seeing that it was somewhat consistent throughout the festival.
By John Gholson
[Editor's note: This is part two of a three-part conversation between Austin film writers John Gholson and Peter Hall about what happens when film bloggers (and critics, journalists, columnists, etc.) move into filmmaking. Please read part one if you haven't already.]
John Gholson: My thing is if you like movies, I don't know why there has to be a line in the sand. I understand it from some degree, because it has to do with perceived professionalism, etc, but again, if you're interested in it, why wouldn't you want to be writing about films and producing films or acting in films?
Peter Hall: Biggest example that I've been studying is Todd Brown. Todd runs Twitch and is also a partner in a company called XYZ Films, which produces and puts together sales. They do a lot, globally, for cinema, and Twitch still covers the films Todd's involved with. They always put a disclaimer that XYZ is involved with the film. What they do is throw a thing in there that says "Twitch has a tie to this because of Todd Brown but Todd Brown had no editorial involvement in this piece" -- to me, that's fine. That gets them off the hook, because I know some of those guys and I know Todd, and even the ones I don't know, I know how Twitch operates. I know that they're above the board. There's really not anyone in this industry who I don't think isn't above the board.
By John Gholson
[Editor's note: Please welcome local film writers John Gholson and Peter Hall to Slackerwood. Gholson decided to interview Hall about what happens when film bloggers (and critics, journalists, columnists, etc.) move into filmmaking, since they were both involved in SXSW films this year. This is an issue that affected Slackerwood this year, too, so I'm pleased to present this conversation to you. It's long and in two parts, but fascinating and worth the time to read all the way through.]
It was an unusual year for some movie bloggers at SXSW. Peter Hall, an editor at Movies.com, produced Emily Hagins' Grow Up, Tony Phillips, a film that made it into the fest (and one that features appearances by movie bloggers Brian Salisbury, J.C. De Leon and Scott Weinberg), and I, a writer at Movies.com, have a role in Zero Charisma, a film that went on to win the Narrative Spotlight audience award at the fest. It was a year where we went beyond our typical coverage of the festival, to having a personal stake in the reception of the films that played.
For us, it's been a slow and natural evolution, but for readers, does the involvement of bloggers in the filmmaking process begin to color both professions in a negative light? During SXSW, one acquaintance insinuated that the film I was involved with got a great review from a certain website because the company doing the PR for the film was also handling the PR for the website where that positive review ran. Now, I know that wasn't the case -- no one was doing anything corrupt -- but it's a common perception that's worth discussing. What are the obligations a film blogger has, in their relationship with filmmaking, and how should our readers perceive these relationships, especially since the line continues to blur on a daily basis?
I sat down with Peter Hall after SXSW to discuss the question and our experiences, being bloggers who are now involved in the other side of the moviemaking process.
Please welcome guest contributor Brady Dial, an Austin-based film producer whose last film was the documentary Man on a Mission.
After seeing The Other Shore you'll either be inspired to pursue your most impossible dreams -- or to drop them in favor of fully appreciating your present. Either way, a win. There are many surprises in this documentary about Diana Nyad's attempt to swim the gulf between Cuba and Florida, not the least of which is this: it's not about swimming.
To be sure, the film includes plenty of training scenes, discussions of the perils of the trip and a history of Nyad's swimming career. But that's all merely icing on the dense layer cake that is Nyad herself. Her relentless pursuit of the Cuba-Florida swim is at once an inspiring story of dogged determination while also revealing the tragic costs of single-minded obsession.
At 60, after a 30-year hiatus from long-distance swimming, Nyad decides that she just can't let go of this one last goal. She starts training again for the grueling 103-mile swim from Cuba to Florida, fraught with perils including sharks, strong currents and the incredibly venomous box jellyfish. The scenes involving the latter are some the most harrowing moments of the film and a testament to Nyad's indomitable will.
By Jessica Pugh
Because Fourplay is such a unique film and could potentially appeal to only a select audience, I wasn't sure if there would be a full house at the Alamo Village the night I planned to see it. I could not have been more wrong. We were at full capacity, and there was excitement in the air to see what former Austinite Kyle Henry's movie would present.
After talking to producer Jason Wehling before the Fourplay screening, I asked him what someone should expect from Fourplay. He casually stated, "You might be offended, you definitely will be challenged." The audience didn't seem to be as anxious about the film as I was. Several people ordered a few drinks, and were casually chatting.
When the film ended, cast and crew gathered at the front of the theater for a Q&A and discussion about the film. The movie is an anthology of four shorts each set in a different city. Overall, "Tampa" stood out as far as sexual explicitness. Viewers seemed impressed with Henry and writer Carlos Trevino's boldness to not hold back, and construct a homosexual orgy experience where literally anything goes! However, it was "San Francisco" that seemed to complete Henry's desire to make sex a meaningful central part of a character's existence. It was a heartfelt experience, and I think it was a fantastic ending to the Fourplay series.
By Mariana Mora
School is all about learning, and sometimes it can get tiring and boring. In afterschool programs like ACE (Afterschool Centers on Education) though, it’s about having fun while learning new and exciting things. AFS Film Club is an ACE program where we at the Austin Film Society teach children from 17 different elementary, middle and high schools some basic skills in moviemaking, from script to screen.
The AFS Film Club Winter Festival 2013 took place in February at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. AFS screened dozens of student films made in ACE Film Club during the fall semester of 2012. Students from at least 10 of the 17 schools made it to this amazing event where we screened their movies.