Elizabeth Stoddard's blog
April 20, 2014 will be the fourth anniversary of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which caused a spill of an estimated 176 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This horrific incident seriously altered the lives of the men who worked on the rig -- and the families of the 11 who lost their lives -- as well as the communities who once survived off jobs based on healthy waters in the Gulf. In The Great Invisible, director Margaret Brown (The Order of Myths, Be Here to Love Me) explores the aftereffects of the explosion and oil spill from multiple viewpoints.
Doug Brown, the chief mechanic for Transocean on the Deepwater Horizon (owned by Transocean, but leased by BP), gave the director some video he filmed on the rig before the disastrous night. He and another victim of the explosion, along with their wives, talk about their experience that night and their current fragile existence.
Keith Jones, father of one of the men killed in the explosion, comments on America's "insatiable thirst for gasoline" and follows the BP/Halliburton/Transocean trial to New Orleans. Brown gives these interviews intimacy, while framing them against the larger issues of America's dependence on oil and our government's participation through oil leases.
On the nights when mariachi groups amass on Mexico City's Plaza Garibaldi, playing for pesos and stirring the emotions of the crowds, there are a few female musicians in their midst. Prolific German filmmaker Doris Dorrie focuses on some of these women in her new documentary, Que Caramba es la Vida, premiering Tuesday at SXSW.
Filmed in eight weeks during 2012, the movie introduces the viewer to Maria del Carmen, a thirtysomething woman who financially supports her mother and daughter through her singing with an all-male mariachi troupe; Lupita, a young wife whose husband cares for their son the evenings and weekends she plays violin in a predominantly female troupe, Las Estrellas de Jalisco; and the older women of Las Pioneras de Mexico, some of whom were among the first female mariachis 50 years ago.
Like Caitlin, I wanted to skip downtown the first night of the SXSW Film Fest and keep the night low-key. A friend and I met at the Marchesa to check out Texas Shorts, and we stuck around for the Austin premiere of Ping Pong Summer. Well, at least that was the plan.
Michael Tully's '80s-tastic movie had a full house waiting for the film to start at 9:30 pm. We were told there would be a delay because of projection issues. A few people left, but most stuck around as Tully endeared himself to the audience with his self-deprecating humor. Debbie, also in attendance, introduced me to some local film folks as people chatted in their seats. Some time later (and some beers later), it was announced that the Marchesa's digital projector was not going to be working at all that night.*
Easy is a semi-autobiographical short about brothers from former Austinite/current Dallas resident Daniel Laabs. The director recently completed a successful crowdfunding campaign to cover post-production costs for the film, which will have its world premiere at SXSW. The short he co-directed with Julie Gould, 8, premiered at SXSW in 2011, where it won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Texas Short.
Easy will be shown as part of the Texas Shorts program at this year's festival. Laabs answered some questions I had via email before SXSW Film.
What drew you to tell the story of the two brothers in Easy?
Daniel Laabs: I tend to write films that come from personal experience. The idea of showing what it is like to be both an older brother and a younger brother was very interesting (I'm a middle child).
Dallas actress Augustine Frizzell shows up in two films at this year's SXSW, playing roles in both Kat Candler's Hellion and Toby Halbrooks' short Dig. Meanwhile, the short film she directed, I Was a Teenage Girl, premieres at the film festival as part of the Texas Shorts competition. Frizzell's short stars her daughter Atheena Frizzell and Claire Stuart Meiner as two teens having an intense discussion after one of them suffers a breakup.
Frizzell recently answered a few of my questions about her film via email.
Slackerwood: How did you conceive of the idea for your short?
Augustine Frizzell: I wanted to explore some of the issues that girls of this age face that feel (and are) much more mature than what they dealt with maybe a year earlier. We shot three shorts based around this concept, but only the third was finished in time. Each of the three was about these big issues and how they change the girls and impact their futures in unexpected ways.
Documentarian Margaret Brown's new movie, The Great Invisible, depicts the response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and resultant oil spill from multiple viewpoints. Brown has deep ties to Alabama, one of the states hit hard by the oil spill, and used to call Austin home as well. Her previous film work includes the acclaimed 2004 Townes Van Zandt documentary Be Here to Love Me and 2008's The Order of Myths (Jette's Cinematical review), a look at segregated Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile that went on to win an Independent Spirit Award.
The Great Invisible is showing as part of SXSW's Documentary Competition, and will have its world premiere at the fest. (The music is from Austin composer David Wingo.) Director Brown recently participated in this interview (via email) with me.
Slackerwood: Once you chose to document the response to the Deepwater Horizon spill, what was your approach? How did you pick the interview subjects?
Margaret Brown: At first I was interested in the aftermath in the area around Mobile, Alabama, where I grew up. I was curious about what would happen in a big disaster once the cameras went away, and the world's interest waned. I also started the film thinking it was going to be a personal film that was really just about where I grew up, much like my last film, The Order of Myths.
Director Riley Stearns now lives in L.A. but was raised in the Austin area (Pflugerville, if you're being picky). His short film The Cub premiered at Sundance last year (and screened locally at the Hill Country Film Festival), and his feature film debut, Faults, will premiere at SXSW this March. This drama, which Stearns also wrote, stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as a young woman whose family hires deprogrammer Ansel (Leland Orser, Taken) to remove her from a cult.
The cast also includes Lance Reddick (from the recently-ended sci-fi series Fringe) and Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) along with Slackerwood favorite and prolific character actress Beth Grant (here's a podcast interview she did with us a while ago).
Before SXSW starts Friday, Stearns paused to talk to us via email about his new movie, working with his wife, and filming in hotel rooms.
John Fiege is an Austin director whose interest in environmental issues -- he holds an M.S. in cultural geography and environmental history -- plays into his filmmaking decisions. His 2007 film Mississippi Chicken (Slackerwood review) documented immigrants working at a rural Mississippi poultry plant, and his newest work follows Texan landowner David Daniel as he protests the Keystone XL pipeline.
Fiege directed, produced and served as cinematographer on Above All Else, which will have its world premiere at SXSW in a couple of weeks. Before the fest, he was able to take part in the following interview via email.
Slackerwood: What drew you to document David Daniel’s fight against the Keystone XL pipeline? How did you first hear about his story?
John Fiege: In fall of 2011, I started making a film about the BP oil spill in South Louisiana, but the Keystone story was in the news and caught my attention. It was another potential environmental disaster with people from a wide diversity of backgrounds organizing to stop it before it became another BP. The pipeline was slated to end in Texas, where I live, so I began hunting for Texas landowners fighting the pipeline.
The Iron Giant may not have been a box-office success upon its original 1999 release, but the animated film based in 1957 Maine has come to be loved and appreciated by many in the years since. The quirky, heartbreaking sci-fi tale pairs the beauty of its hand-drawn animation with a powerful message.
Hogarth (Eli Marienthal, American Pie) is a young boy in fictional coastal town Rockwell (presumably named after this Rockwell) who stumbles upon a ginormous alien machine one night. Hogarth befriends the giant, who has lost most of his memory, and attempts to pass knowledge on to the larger being. Harry Connick, Jr. figures into the voice cast as a hipster scrap metal collector/artist who supervises some of Hogarth and the giant's interactions.
Meanwhile, Hogarth's widowed mom Annie (Jennifer Aniston) rents out a room to government agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald, Thelma & Louise), sent to the town after reports of metal monsters and strange happenings make their way to Washington. As Hogarth tries to teach the giant that he can choose to be what he wants (instead of what the machine may have been designed for), Mansley is determined to prove the dangerous existence of the imposing metal figure.
More keynotes (Tilda Swinton!) for this year's SXSW Film Festival were announced yesterday, with a few more films added to the schedule. Many features and documentaries with Austin and/or Texas connections are on the schedule for SXSW 2014, which takes place from March 7-15. Here's the rundown, with some familiar names joining new voices.
Veronica Mars -- Creator/writer/director/Austinite Rob Thomas kickstarted the budget for this silver-screen continuation of the cult favorite TV series. Kristen Bell (Veronica) and Jason Dohring (Logan) -- and many more from the original series cast -- reprise their roles when this detective movie makes its world premiere at SXSW. (screening times)
Joe -- Current Austin resident and director David Gordon Green, whose Prince Avalanche played at SXSW 2013, directed this Nicolas Cage vehicle about an ex-con (Cage) who befriends a teenage boy (Tye Sheridan, Mud). The movie was shot in Austin, Bastrop, Lockhart and Taylor, and Austin-based actress Heather Kafka has a brief but memorable role. Jette caught this at a press screening and says you do not want to miss it. (screening times)