Debbie Cerda's blog
Five years and 51 weeks -- that's when I was added to the Slackerwood website, although my official first article about a beloved made-in-Texas film, True Stories, was actually published on June 24, 2009. Coincidentally, my first Slackerwood-related article, "Coffee and Cigarettes at the Alamo," was written two years earlier on June 25, 2007 for the Alamo Downtown Blog-a-Thon, co-hosted by Slackerwood and Blake Ethridge of formerly of Cinema is Dope and now the Museum of Cinema.
Sharing my personal experience of handling the Coffee and Cigarettes director Jim Jarmusch at the original Alamo Drafthouse (on Colorado) during SXSW Film Festival 2004 was truly a defining moment in my career in film journalism. That same year I recall Louis Black assisting at the door at a special midnight screening of Hellboy at the Paramount, with star Ron Perlman talking to fans outside the theater until the wee hours of the morning.
I truly believe that without the efforts and support of local film industry vanguards like Louis Black of Austin Chronicle and SXSW, and Tim and Karrie League of Alamo Drafthouse, I would not have met Slackerwood's founder and editor Jette Kernion. Most if not all of my initial conversations with Jette about film took place on the outdoor patio at Alamo South Lamar either during subsequent SXSW and Fantastic Fest film festivals.
On that special night in 2004 that I blogged about, I was introduced to writer and director Jonathan Demme by Black, and assisted Crispin Glover and Canadian filmmaker Ron Mann (Go Further, Know Your Mushrooms) in and out of the screening at the personal -- and quite polite -- request of Jarmusch. Over the years of writing for Slackerwood I've encountered Mann on his annual visits to Austin for SXSW, and enjoy hearing about his latest film projects. Additionally he graciously gave Courtney Cobb (Crafting a Nation) and me some documentary filmmaking tips while we were in pre-production for Pushing Cadence.
Fantastic Fest, SXSW Film Festival and Austin Film Festival provided me with great opportunities to cover great independent film and network with filmmakers, actors and industry representatives from around the world. Six years ago I never would have thought that I would cover a film festival outside of Austin such as Dallas International Film Festival, let alone Sundance Film Festival. And yet I've made it to Park City for the last three years to cover both Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals simultaneously to the best of my capability.
Film on Tap is a column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.
Pursuing multiple and consecutive careers in film, water and craft beer can be quite challenging to juggle more often than not, so I'm extremely appreciative for the patience, understanding and support that Slackerwood founder Jette Kernion has given me over the last six years. One of the columns that I've been most proud of is "Film on Tap," launched during Austin Craft Beer Week in October 2011.
Born out of Slackerwood's "How to Drink Like an Austinite" guides, I've enjoyed sharing memorable experiences of well-crafted beer and film -- as well as skillfully mixed cocktails and film curation.
While waiting out the torrential rains last Saturday evening, I enjoyed a delectable cherry-infused bourbon Old-Fashioned at The Highball and observed the crack bar staff as they served theatergoers, bar patrons and karaoke enthusiasts. Of all the bars and restaurants in town, there's probably no crew that can match the high frenetic pace and demands of a diverse crowd in the skillful manner that The Highball team handles nightly.
Whereas in many crime dramas the difference between the good guy and the bad guy is painted in black and white, writer and director Cedric Jimenez brings the more complex nature of both sides in the emotionally gripping movie The Connection. Based on the true story of French law enforcement's battle with the heroin-dependent drug traffic among France, New York and the rest of the world, this award-worthy film focuses more on the characterization of key players in the battle rather than rely on hyperviolence.
Despite his reluctance, French magistrate Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin) is transferred from the juvenile to the organized crime division in the middle of mob wars in Marseilles, France. As a former gambling addict, Michel channels his obsessive nature into getting to the bottom of the complex network of drug lords, discovering that corruption exists at the top and around him.
The cornerstone to all the corruption is Gaëtan "Tany" Zampa (Gilles Lellouche), a racketeer who offers "protection" through the violent persuasive nature of his gang: Bimbo, Franky Manzoni (Moussa Maaskri), and Le Fou (Benoit Magimel). Zampa's expansion from prostitution and gambling into manufacturing and selling heroin places him at the top of the Marseilles crime scene, making him a target as well for the police and competitors.
"Ready, Set, Fund" is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.
It's hard to believe that it has been over 3.5 years since the first "Ready, Set, Fund" column appeared here on Slackerwood. This recurring column has served as an incredible vehicle to immerse our writers in local film productions. From set visits to personal interviews with cast and crew, we are all grateful for getting a behind-the-scenes perspective and following film projects from "cradle to grave" over these last few years. Even when a campaign falls short of its funding goals, many filmmakers find other creative avenues to accomplish their film production goals.
One such creative talent is Austinite and local performer Troy Dillinger, who has been championing the preservation of historical homes in the hills of west Austin and around Barton Springs and Town Lake. Dillinger has been quite active at Austin City Council meetings as well as on social media to alert Austinites of the pending destruction of several mid-century modern custom homes built by Arthur Dallas "A.D." Stenger throughout his 55-year career. Each home was custom designed for the lot they were built on, often built with repurposed stone from each lot.
Local filmmaker Kat Candler is hosting a two-day indie filmmaking workshop May 2-3. As frequent Slackerwood readers surely know, Candler is an award-winning writer and director. Her films Hellion (both short and feature), Black Metal and Jumping Off Bridges screened at Sundance, SXSW Film Festival, and many other film festivals.
Candler's feature film Hellion, starring Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis, was a Sundance Creative Producing Lab participant and premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. I saw the movie at Sundance 2014 --- read my review and Don's review -- and interviewed Candler while I was there. Hellion was released in theaters last June through IFC Films.
Candler is also a 2014 Sundance Women’s Initiative Fellow, and was one of the panelists for the "Indie Filmmakers Share Their Secrets For Working With Actors" session at the SXSW Film Conference last month.
"Fast, faster, and disaster"
-- Johnny Knoxville, producer of Being Evel
Generations have been affected over several decades by the spirit of legendary icon Evel Knievel. As a child growing up in the 70s, my own most prized possession was my Evel Knievel stunt cycle and action figure. "Popping a wheelie" on my bicycle was an exhilarating micro-attempt to emulate the excitement of witnessing Evel's televised stunt jumps.
Filmmaker Daniel Junge was influenced enough to tell the complex story and legacy of a hero who wasn't always the good guy in his new documentary Being Evel. Junge has artistically created a thorough portrayal of an extraordinary man who was inherently flawed. Knievel's lavish spending and frequent womanizing were quite public, as were his temper and stubbornness. As a showman and king of the daredevils, Knievel set the foundation for the culture of action and extreme sports in the United States.
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Daniel Junge (Iron Ladies of Liberia) was in Austin last month for the SXSW screenings of Being Evel, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2015. The documentary highlights the dynamic and stark reality behind icon Evel Knievel, who launched his stunt cycle in the 60s and 70s, inspiring generations and impacting the daredevil culture.
Junge's short film Saving Face, which follows the heart-wrenching experiences of acid attack survivors in Pakistan, won the 2012 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short as well as an Emmy for Best Documentary. His film They Killed Sister Dorothy, which documented the murder of 73-year-old activist Catholic nun Sister Dorothy Stang, won the SXSW Grand Jury and Audience awards in 2008. His most recent documentary Beyond the Brick: A Lego Brickumentary premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and is set to be released by Radius/Weinstein.
Junge hosted a Q&A session after all three of the SXSW screenings of Being Evel with consulting producer Lathan McKay of Evel Knievel Enterprises (pictured at top). The pair hosted an informative and engaging dialogue with audience members. Junge spoke about the intensity of working with the Knievel family as "not always easy, but it's always entertaining" and his appreciation of the collaboration. Junge said the film was the fruition of 35 years of "reconciling the hero in my mind with the real person who is sometimes less than heroic."
The 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:
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)
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)
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.
Last 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.