Debbie Cerda's blog
The Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival closed out its inaugural event with the world premiere of Apt 3D, a psychological thriller set in New York in the dead of winter. Newly transplanted couple Erin (Maxxe Sternbaum) and Ben (Zack Imbrogno) struggle with new confining environs, unsure of what is imaginary and what may be real -- and whether their neighbors are the source of the enigma.
Battling fears and their own concerns they might be imagining things, the couple's relationship starts to fracture. However, as they look further into what happened to Ben's sister, the apartment's previous resident, they begin to wonder if the other residents of this complex might have it out for them.
I met with the lead actors the day after the screening to talk about Apt 3D -- in addition to starring in this film, Imbrogno wrote and co-directed and Sternbaum edited. They spoke about the writing process as well as the challenges of making their first feature film, as well as how the film reflected their own time in New York City.
The Other Worlds Austin science-fiction film festival blasted off to a great start last Thursday, with a pre-apocalyptic happy hour at The Tigress cocktail bar where several of us tried the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. I really appreciated that social events were scheduled around the screenings. Saturday morning's "2014: A Brunch Odyssey" was held at The Goodnight, and provided a great opportunity to network with other attendees including filmmakers.
Despite the fact that this was the first year for this film festival, which only spanned Thursday and Friday evenings and all day Saturday -- primarily at Galaxy Highland -- I was impressed by the number of filmmakers who traveled from as far as Los Angeles and New York to support their films. Just a few of the filmmakers in attendance included writer/director Cidney Hue (Odessa), director Bryan Costanich (Slumptown), and Apt 3D writer/director/actor Zack Imbrogno and editor/actress Maxxe Sternbaum.
A recent New York Times article reports that droughts are intensifying across the United States western and southwestern regions, with California, Nevada and Oregon bearing the brunt. Texas is also experiencing drought across much of the state, and prolonged dry conditions put a considerably strain on water supplies for all uses. Many states are using innovative technologies -- aquifer storage and recovery, desalination, water "scalping" -- but are still forced into placing restrictions on water use, with fights over water rights ensuing between local government, landowners and consumers.
This contemporary scenario supports the premise of production designer Thomas Hammock's (The Guest, You're Next) writing and directorial debut The Well, a "science factual" post-apocalyptic film thattakes place in a barren Oregon valley ten years after the last rainfall. Seventeen-year-old Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson) hides away in the attic of The Wallace Farm for Wayward Youth caring for fellow orphan Dean (Booboo Stewart), venturing out to check on the few remaining neighbors while scavenging for resources including water from their well and a vital piece of equipment to power an abandoned Cessna. Kendal and Dean dream of escaping in the plane, but they are thwarted by Dean's ailments and both vagrants and hunters that roam the valley in search of any remaining water.
Science fiction has long been a favorite genre for me in literature and film. At Texas A&M, I was a member of Cepheid Variable, a student group devoted to science fiction, fantasy, horror, science and technology. I first saw John Carpenter's cult classic Dark Star at a Cepheid Variable B-Movie Night, and Something Wicked This Way Comes as part of Cepheid's 1984 AggieCon, the largest student-run fan convention in the world.
My insatiable appetite for science fiction has me often yearning for more of it at local festivals, so I was ectastic to discover that Austin's first science fiction film festival, Other Worlds Austin, will be held at Galaxy Highland from Thursday, December 4 through Saturday, December 6. Even more exciting is that former Austin Film Festival programmer Bears Fonté is the fest's founder and director of programming. I've long been a fan of Fonté's programming and we share a passion for short films. Fonté has written and directed his own films including the thriller iCrime and the sci-fi dramatic short The Secret Keeper.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Fonté over lunch at our neighborhood pub. We discussed how the late Housecore Horror Fest founder Corey Mitchell encouraged Fonté to start his own science-fiction festival, and offered him support and advice. Five percent of all proceeds from Other Worlds Austin ticket sales and merchandise will be given to the foundation that was started to fundraise for Mitchell's family.
Here's what Fonté had to say about what attendees can expect at the inaugural Other Worlds Austin Film Festival this week.
To what length would a desperate and grief-stricken person go to end their life? Several failed attempts at suicide drive Percival (Leon Cain) to hire a professional hitman to kill him in The Suicide Theory, an Australian thriller written by Michael Kospiah and directed by Dru Brown.
Steven Ray (Steve Mouzakis) is dealing with his own personal tragedy -- his pregnant wife Annie (Zoe de Plevitz) was killed in a hit-and-run accident while crossing the street. He's developed such a phobia that he is stricken with seizures any time he attempts to step off a street curb, to the extent of taking cabs just to cross the block. The two men meet when Percival literally jumps from a building and lands on a cab that Steven is in, casing his next victim. What appears to be a chance meeting to Steven is fate to Percival, who appears to be delusional. However, as Steven repeatedly attempts yet fails to kill Percival, he begins to believe and even identify with Percival's desperation.
As the story of The Suicide Theory further unfolds, we learn that the tragic bond which brings these two unlikely friends together is much darker and complex than can be imagined. As the pieces of the puzzle are revealed and put in place, I found myself on the edge of my seat and engrossed in the revelations. Just enough comedic writing is woven in to help alleviate nervous tension from the seriousness of this film's main plot.
“If you think Hitler with an atomic bomb is bad, imagine Stalin with a time machine.”
As discussed in Austin Film Festival panel "Science Fiction Versus Science Fact," much of fiction is driven by the "What if?" In his feature directorial debut The History of Time Travel, Stephen F. Austin State University student filmmaker Ricky Kennedy takes on the high concept of time travel and the consequences of its use on both personal and world events. Kennedy wrote, directed and edited this fictional documentary, which premiered at AFF.
Filmed entirely on location in Nacogdoches, Texas, The History of Time Travel is presented as a well-constructed docudrama, relating the fictional story of the Indiana Project and the biography of a key contributor, physicist Edward Page (Daniel May). This project is the United States response to reports that Hitler was less interested in nuclear weapons after his scientists began exploring time travel as an ultimate power. Page works long hours for decades, neglecting his wife Anne (Elizabeth Lestina) and son Richard in the hopes of achieving one of man's greatest desires: the ability to travel through time and alter events in one's favor.
With the influx of transplants, the rise of condos and office buildings across the Austin skyline, and the gentrification of much of Austin's eclectic areas, it can be hard to remember the vibrant time of the past. You could people -watch all day at local cafes including the original Quack's on the Drag -- actually called "Quackenbush’s Intergalactic Dessert Co & Espresso Café" -- and Les Amis, then visit Sixth Street to listen to street musicians and buy a flower from a street vendor without having to step over the remnants of drunkenness.
Beef and Pie Productions filmmakers capture the nostalgia of old Austin in their 50-minute documentary film, Crazy Carl and His Man-Boobs, which premieres at this year's Austin Film Festival and screens again tonight at 7 pm at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. This quirky and entertaining film brings to light the forces that both created and are driving this phenomena away. As the economic and political landscape has changed in Austin, so has the heart and the people of this progressive city.
If you've ever been to Esther's Follies at Sixth Street and Red River, you may have seen Crazy Carl Hickerson. Best known for selling and spinning flowers, he can also be seen flashing his man boobs and dancing. What you may not know is that Hickerson has also been an Austin City Council candidate several times, with a penchant for odd platforms -- some even related to his foot fetish. Hickerson spends much of his time caring for his wife Charlotte Ferris, and the loving couple are a source of amusement with their good-natured tales.
I enjoyed several of this year's panels at Austin Film Festival, with my only complaint being how to choose between concurrent sessions. The quality and diversity of conversations and panels were superb.
My highlight was "Science Fiction versus Science Fact" on Friday, when Scott Z. Burns (Side Effects, Contagion), Eric Heisserer (Hours, The Thing) and Ashley Miller (Thor, X-Men: First Class) discussed the fictional future we see onscreen and how they've addressed unknown possibilities in their own screenwriting.
Burns spoke about preparing for Contagion by approaching it as if science fiction movie by asking experts, "Tell me what's possible? What hasn't happened yet?" He emphasized the importance of research first -- "it's a phenomenal procrastination tool, and you can get amazing gems for narrative" -- citing cell phone jammers as an example of how authorities plan to control the flow of information during crisis, which makes for a good dramatic point.
Writer and director Nick Matthews made his feature debut at this year's Austin Film Festival with One Eyed Girl, a riveting psychological thriller that takes place in South Australia but could just as easily occur anywhere. Co-written by co-star Craig Behenna (The Babadook), this film -- which just won the AFF 2014 jury prize in the "Dark Matters" category -- slowly reveals the layers of pain and guilt experienced by a psychiatrist and the unexpected rocky path to redemption and salvation.
Travis (Mark Leonard Winter) is a thirtysomething psychiatrist severely damaged by the death of former patient Rachel (Katy Cheel). Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Travis' relationship with Rachel extended beyond and was impacted by her mental health. Travis' inability to connect to his patients and Rachel is compounded by the desensitization to the violence and corruption of the modern world, as well as a refusal to accept his own identity. He is emotionally lost and on the brink of a nervous breakdown when he meets the mysterious teenager Grace (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), who's handing out brochures about a charismatic leader, Father Jay (Steve Le Marquand).
"Keep Austin Weird" isn't just a catch phrase created by some offbeat tourist marketing campaign, but rather a mantra that emulates the quickly diminishing quirkiness that drew me to Austin from the big city of Houston, Texas in 1993. The cast of characters often encountered in the local scene, whether on the Drag or downtown, contributed to the charm and allure of the Capital City.
Any given day or night you could walk down Sixth Street and see street musicians and vendors hawking their talents or wares, including Crazy Carl Hickerson -- is best known for selling and spinning flowers. Crazy Carl's penchant for flashing his man boobs and dancing outside of Esther’s Follies has long been a source of amusement -- and sometimes horror -- for unsuspecting visitors to the intersection of Sixth and Red River.
Beef and Pie Productions filmmakers including director Mike Woolf, producer Karen Yates, and director of photography Andrew Yates have captured the public and personal story of Crazy Carl in their latest documentary Crazy Carl and His Man-Boobs, which premieres at this year's Austin Film Festival. Woolf and Andrew Yates as well as editor Landon Peterson answered questions about the film via email recently, and here's what they had to say:
Slackerwood: Why Carl?
Andrew Yates: He is my neighbor. And he has boobs. Man-boobs.
Landon Peterson: Crazy Carl is Yates and Karen's (our co-director and producer) neighbor in an old neighborhood in central Austin. So they would see this aged hippie doing very noticeable things like checking the mail in his underwear and robe with his boob jars bulging underneath.
Mike Woolf: Yates started this whole film because he saw (partially naked) Carl taking care of his wife Charlotte Ferris who is a polio survivor. Yates said there is a great love story going on over there. I thought he was just enamored with Carl’s man-boobs.