Debbie Cerda's blog

SXSW 2015 Guides: Austin and Texas Features

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Manglehorn Still PhotoThe number of features and documentaries with Austin and/or Texas connections at SXSW Film Festival, which takes place from March 13-21, is staggering this year. As in the past, many familiar local filmmakers and cast have multiple movies with which they're associated. Here's this year's slate:

Headliners:

Manglehorn (pictured at top) -- During my interview with director David Gordon Green at Dallas IFF last year, he described this film starring Al Pacino as an urban movie "looking through the face of characters, three wandering souls looking for their place on a magical journey. Melancholy but full of hope and life and love." (screening times)

Narrative Spotlight:

7 Chinese Brothers -- Written and directed by Bob Byington (Somebody Up There Likes Me), this film features Jason Schwartzman as despondent and drunk Larry, whose only true companion is his French bulldog, as he pines for his Quick-Lube boss Lupe (Eleanore Pienta). In 2010, Austin Film Society awarded this project a Texas Filmmakers Production Fund grant (now known as the AFS Grant). (screening times)

Sundance Review: The Forbidden Room

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The Forbidden Room Still Photo

The Forbidden Room debuted at Sundance Film Festival, and a significant portion of the audience left the screening within the first 15 minutes of the opening credits. This polarizing film is a symphonic cacophony of visual and aural stimulation, with interludes of absurd humor to relieve the pressure. Co-directors/writers Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson along with co-writers Robert Kotyk, John Ashbery and Kim Morgan crafted the story like a traditional Russian nesting doll, with tales within tales -- and sometimes within inanimate objects such as a urine stain within which a battle rages. Lovers, murderers, chanteuses, vampire bananas, motorcycle girls and skeletons are just a few of the macabre players in this delightfully demented and disturbing tale.

The challenge of The Forbidden Room is to follow the threads of each of the stories that are interwoven in a crudely but lovingly handcrafted tapestry. After a brief introduction on "How to Take A Bath," we meet the crew of a submarine that has been trapped underwater for months due to an unstable cargo and missing captain. While the men struggle to survive by eating -- and breathing via -- flapjacks, they encounter a woodsman (Roy Dupuis) who mysteriously appears aboard their doomed home. As they contemplate the fate they are not willing to accept, they encounter even more fears in the dark rooms and corridors as well as within the woodsman's tales. The internationally acclaimed cast include Clara Furey, Louis Negin, Céline Bonnier, Charlotte Rampling, Géraldine Chaplin and Luce Vigo.

Slamdance 2015: Festival Director Anna Germanidi

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anna germanidi headshotLast spring Slamdance announced that co-founder Peter Baxter was turning over the reins of Festival Director to Anna Germanidi, who had served as festival manager since 2012. Baxter remains the president of the organization and also has oversight on Slamdance's distribution.

Germanidi received a bachelors degree in economics from the University of Piraeus as well as a filmmaking certificate from the London Film Academy, followed by a masters in television, radio and film from Syracuse University in 2011. She then joined Slamdance as a submissions and programming intern, and within six months became the programming and filmmaker relations manager.

Germanidi's diverse background, which includes production on several short films (Kiosk, Téa, To Be Discontinued), bolsters her new position, with new additions to this year's Slamdance. This year the film festival featured "Fearless Filmmaking: Art on Your Own Terms," a block of micro-shorts that were shot on Digital Bolex's D16 cameras. The micro-shorts were judged by Amber Benson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), filmmaker and former Austinite Todd Berger (It's a Disaster), and other Slamdance alumni.

I met with Germanidi during this year's festival, and we spoke about her new role and the growth of Slamdance Film Festival.

Slackerwood: What's it like to experience the festival as its director?

Germanidi: Familiar and wonderful but hectic -- it's a very interesting experience. We have a great team and I've been involved for awhile. I had take the lead this year and learn more about how to produce this festival. I had a very close relationship with the producer, so I had to learn how to actually put together the event.

Slamdance Review: Clinger

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Clinger Still Photo

Houston-shot comedic horror film Clinger premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival with full houses for both screenings. This quirky feature directed by Michael Steves (Hello, Cruel World) and co-written by Gabi Chennisi (Dark Water), Bubba Fish, and Steves is entertaining horror that turns the rom-com genre on its head, both literally and figuratively.

Jennifer Laporte stars as Fern Peterson, a high-school girl who aspires to receive an athletic scholarship to MIT. She experiences her first love with classmate Robert Klingher (Vincent Martella), who overwhelms Fern with adoration and gifts. Just as Fern admits to Robert that they should end their relationship, Robert dies in a freak accident and returns from the dead as a love-sick ghost. With the aid of her track coach and semi-retired ghost hunter Valeria Kingsley (Alicia Monet Caldwell), Fern must overcome Robert's attempts to ensure their everlasting love.

Clinger is a refreshing departure from a typical high-school romantic comedy, with strong characterization of lead and supporting actresses. While Fern clearly appreciates the affection from Robert, there's a reluctance that can be seen in her expressions -- especially in a photo where Robert grasps her in an overly affectionate stranglehold. Laporte is phenomenal in her role of a young woman conflicted by her emotional attachment to her first love and its impact on her chosen path in life.

Sundance 2015: Partying with the Lone Star State

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Texas Film Commission with RESULTS star and Dallas Commissioner

The number of parties in Park City, Utah, during Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals can be overwhelming for any festgoer who wants to experience more than just the extensive film programming available. To balance between screenings, interviews and parties, I select a few events to attend each year.

Most important are the film commission events, which provide a great opportunity to network with industry colleagues and learn about movie projects supported by the film associations. The Texas Association of Film Commissions hosted their annual Film Texas reception last week, with representatives from various film commissions including Kim LeBlanc from the Texas Film Commission and Janis Burklund, director of the Dallas Film Commission, both seen above with Results star Tishuan Scott.

The San Antonio Film Commission also hosted an event with director Drew Mayer-Oakes in attendance. Both events provided a great opportunity to discuss the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program. Many of the conversations that I took part in focused on filmmakers expressing their concern about the impact of legislative changes that could come about in the upcoming legislative session under a new governor. A reduction or elimination of the incentive program could result in the relocation of film projects that are currently on hold.

Sundance Review: Tangerine

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Tangerine Still Photo

Tangerine captures a seedy side of Los Angles rarely seen on film, in the bowels of a subculture that was not of personal interest until I watched this crudely engaging tale at Sundance Film Festival.

Transgender prostitute Sin-Dee (Kiki Kitana Rodriguez) has just been released from jail on Christmas Eve when her best friend and fellow sex worker Alexandra (Mya Taylor) reveals that Sin-Dee's pimp boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) has been sleeping with a meth addict "fish," Dina (Mickey O'Hagan), during Sin-Dee's incarceration. Sin-Dee strikes out with Alexandra in tow to find both Chester and Dina so she can settle matters.

"There is nothing out here but the hustle," states Alexandra, and that's what the pair do as they embark on a fast-paced journey through the streets of Los Angeles. Their stories are intertwined with that of Armenian cab driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian), who has a weakness for transgender prostitutes, and especially for Sin-Dee. Days spent dealing with difficult customers and nights with his overbearing mother-in-law have Razmik desperate for his own release through carnal pleasure.

Slamdance Review: Bloodsucking Bastards

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Bloodsucking Bastards Still PhotoThe 2015 Slamdance Festival opened on Friday night with a splash -- or rather copious amounts of blood -- in Bloodsucking Bastards, a horror comedy directed by Brian James O'Connell and penned by Ryan Mitts and the Dr. God comedy group. The well-attended opening-night party included the cast and crew in attendance, and plenty of complimentary libations for attendees.

Not since the Spierig brothers' 2009 vampire horror movie Daybreakers have I witnessed such a deluge of fake blood, but the action and humor keep the gag reflex at bay in this film that has been aptly described as "Office Space meets Shaun of the Dead," but with vampires instead of zombies.

Fran Kranz stars in Bloodsucking Bastards as Evan, the acting sales manager in a regional office of a big corporation. He is frustrated with his current work situation with his co-worker and ex-girlfriend Amanda (Emma Fitzpatrick), as well as his slacker buddy Tim (Joey Kern) and the rest of the underperforming sales team. When his boss (Joel Murray) brings in his old nemesis Max (Pedro Pascal) to take on the sales manager position, officemates begin acting strangely and some even go missing. It's up to Evan to convince everyone that an evil force is taking over the office and more than just their jobs are at stake.

Watch Texas Films from Past Sundance Festivals

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Before You Know ItThe Sundance Institute Artist Services program recently announced the availability of 14 independent films through digital video on-demand platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Vudu. Launched in 2011, Sundance Institute's Artist Services is designed to connect consumers directly with films associated with the Sundance Film Festival and Institute through partnerships with key online distribution platforms.

Four films in this new collection are from Texas, all of which received support from the Austin Film Society. For details on the additional titles available in this new collection, visit the Sundance Institute's "Now Playing."

Before You Know It -- Three gay seniors (pictured at top) "navigate the adventures, challenges and surprises of life and love in their golden years." Check out Don's SXSW review and Jordan's interview with director PJ Raval. The documentary is available for purchase at this new website featuring bonus extras including Gary and Ose's wedding video and behind-the scenes-material. (on iTunes)

Sundance/Slamdance 2015: Austin and Texas Connections

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Results Still Photo

The Sundance Film Festival begins tomorrow -- Thursday, January 22 -- and runs through Saturday, February 1. Although Texas isn't as heavily represented as the last two years I've attended, I see plenty of Texas-related content to choose from.

Local filmmaker Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess) wrote and directed Results, which was shot in Austin and stars Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce. The comedy is about two incompatible personal trainers who experience more challenges than usual from a wealthy client's demands.

Texas actor Tye Sheridan (Mud, Joe) continues his run of Sundance appearances with a pair of movies premiering at the festival this year. Sheridan co-stars in the historical drama Last Days in the Desert, an addition to the trials and tribulations of Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness. Jesus (Ewan McGregor) struggles with the Devil for the fate of a family in crisis that he encounters in the desert.

Sounds Like Film: The Cinematic Legacy of KVRX

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KVRX 20 Years on FM Radio Logo

Last month, current and alumni volunteer staff of 91.7 KVRX, the University of Texas at Austin's student-run radio station, gathered for a reunion to celebrate 20 years the station began broadcasting on the FM dial. Part of Texas Student Media, KVRX streams online 24/7 and is on the air from 7 pm-9 am weekdays and 10 pm-9 am on weekends, sharing the frequency with KOOP community radio.

Over the years, KVRX has provided opportunities for students to receive practical experience in radio news, sports and entertainment programming and in broadcast management, and served as a source of campus information for students, faculty and staff as well as an outlet for alternative programming unavailable in the Austin market. Any UT student can volunteer at the station.

Quite a few KVRX alumni have gone on to careers in television and film industry. The reunion provided the perfect opportunity for me to chat with them about how their student-radio experiences impacted their careers.

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