Debbie Cerda's blog
The 2014 Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) runs from Thursday, April 3 - Saturday, April 13, and features over fifteen films that originated in the Lone Star State. From Texas musicans to epic Southern fables, there's plenty of great Texas-based content stretching from Dallas to the Piney Woods of East Texas to the coastal towns of Taft and Port Neches.
Austin-based writer and director Eric Hueber made his feature directorial debut at the Dallas International Film Festival in 2011 with his documentary Rainbow's End. Originally from Nacogdoches, Hueber studied film at Stephen F. Austin State University and has worked as an editing assistant for director Terrence Malick. Hueber returns to DIFF with the touching family drama Flutter (screening times).
Flutter focuses on nine-year-old Johnathan (Johnathan Huth Jr.), who loves sea monsters and his massive pet pig Wee Wee. His eyes flutter and he is also going blind as a result of nystagmus and severe glaucoma. Johnathan's mother JoLynn (Lindsay Pulsipher) raises him on her own with some help from her husband David's parents. David (Jesse Plemons) is absent, out on the road in search of musical fame as a singer/songwriter. JoLynn makes personal sacrifices for her son that jeopardize her own safety.
I've often encountered a false assumption that all Austinites are familiar with every musical artist and band in the self-proclaimed "Live Music Capital of the World." Despite decades of involvement in the local music scene as a college radio station DJ, band manager and "merch girl," I probably only know one-tenth of who's playing the clubs nowadays. Therefore I welcome any films that feature local or unknown musical artists.
Music documentaries really stood out at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, but this year it was the movies that focus on fictionalized characters in the music industry that I enjoyed the most. Not only did I like the narrative aspect of these films, but also the introduction to some wonderful music that I'd not been familiar with prior to my movie-watching experience.
The red carpet at the Texas Film Awards featured stars from near and far, but the spotlight was mostly on local filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and his cast and crew of El Rey's From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series. Iconic supernatural crime movie From Dusk Till Dawn, which originated it all, was awarded the prestigious Star of Texas award. The award was accepted by Rodriguez as well as by Fred Williamson, Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero and Danny Trejo (pictured above).
This year's event was hosted by master of ceremonies Luke Wilson and honored several Texas-related film industry professionals. Country music icon Mac Davis received the Soundtrack Award, presented by Priscilla Presley. SXSW co-founder and senior director Louis Black received a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater and Variety Executive Editor Steven Gaydos. Other honorees included former Austinite Amber Heard with a Rising Star Award and filmmaker David Gordon Green, whose award was presented by Danny McBride.
Following the awards ceremony, attendees enjoyed The Texas Party with great food and libations, as well as the Lady Luck lottery and a live auction of film-related items and local services. According to the Austin Film Society, "$580,000 was raised for programs that support filmmakers, promote film culture and build a renowned film community." These programs include the AFS Grants, community education and artist services.
The University of Texas at Austin alum Wes Anderson returned to his home state this month for the premiere of his latest movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival (Don's review). This adventurous story recounted by the elder Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) spans several decades and stars colorful characters including lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), who accompanies legendary concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) in a battle for a priceless painting.
Recurring Anderson ensemble cast members are liberally planted throughout this entertaining and often exotic film, including Tilda Swinton as a wealthy lover of M. Gustave, Adrien Brody as her money-grubbing relative Dmitri, Edward Norton as the police captain Henckels hot in pursuit, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman as fellow members of the clandestine fraternal order "The Society of the Crossed Keys."
I joined fellow film critics for a roundtable interview with Anderson while he was in Austin last week. We spoke at length about the production of The Grand Budapest Hotel as well as his personal influences. His unconventional production process lends to the lavishly complex style of his projects including this entertaining film.
As the main subject of the documentary Butterfly Girl, written and directed by Houston-based writer and director Cary Bell, lovely 18-year-old Abigail Evans appears to be a typical teenager -- moody, stubborn, and sometimes overly dramatic -- longing for her first alcoholic drink and someone to hold her who is not a parent. However, her everyday drama and challenges are far apart from the usual high school experience. Abbie was born with the life-threatening skin disease of epidermolysis bullosa (EB), and has been homeschooled by her mother Stacie so that she can be safer at home or on the road with her father, Austin musician John Evans.
Much of Abbie's life has been spent in hospitals being treated for her genetic disease and the physical damage wreaked upon her hands, skin and esophagus. She depends on her mother as a caregiver, who does her laundry and housework. Unable to eat regularly due to blisters in her esophagus that require multiple surgeries a year, Abbie must supplement her caloric intake through a gastrostomy tube daily.
The Gecko Brothers are back, and attendees of the 2014 SXSW Film Festival can see them first at the world premiere of the pilot episode of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series on Saturday, March 8, 4:30 pm at the Vimeo Theater in the Austin Convention Center. The debut is part of the new Episodic screening category for this year's festival.
The Episodic category was inspired by previous SXSW featured content, including A&E's Bates Motel and the HBO series Girls. Other series featured at this year's fest will include the educational Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, the comedic series Deadbeat, and Austin writer/director Mike Judge's Silicon Valley. The television premiere of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series will be broadcast on Tuesday, March 11, 8 pm CST on El Rey Network.
From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series is a re-imagined story based upon the original film but with the addition of new characters and storylines. This includes an intertwining of the Mesoamerican mythology that the main characters, bank robber Seth Gecko (D. J. Cotrona) and his volatile brother Richie Gecko (Zane Holtz), encounter while on the run from Texas Rangers Earl McGraw (Don Johnson) and Freddie Gonzalez (Jessie Garcia).
Two Texas-based short films that were in competition at Sundance 2014 are making their Texas debuts at the SXSW Film Festival: writer/director Todd Rohal's Rat Pack Rat and Dig, by Dallas-based filmmaker Toby Halbrooks.
Halbrooks is an integral member of the filmmakers at Sailor Bear, a Dallas-based production company that includes David Lowery, James Johnston, Shaun Gish and Richard Krause. Last year's Sailor Bear feature Ain't Them Bodies Saints received an award for cinematography at Sundance, and this year's festival featured Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Philip, also produced by the Sailor Bear team.
I spoke with Halbrooks in Park City during Sundance about Dig as well as other Sailor Bear projects, including the short film Pioneer. Here's what he had to say.
An exhaustive amount of time, energy, and effort goes into programming one of the largest film festivals in the United States, and it takes a dedicated team of programmers to carefully select the best program for the SXSW Film Festival each year.
Recently the Austin Film Society (AFS) hosted "An Austinite's Guide to the 2014 SXSW Film Festival," a panel discussion moderated by AFS Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick and featuring Head of SXSW Film Janet Pierson, Producer and Senior Programmer Jarod Neece, and Short Film Programmer and Operations Manager Claudette Godfrey. And I've been chatting via email with Godfrey as well.
At the panel discussion, the SXSW programming team talked about what's new this year and what films they were excited about. Neece mentioned the new episodic category and is most excited for the new series Silicon Valley, directed and written by Austinite Mike Judge, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky.
In August 2012, I visited the set of the movie Thank You A Lot, which features Texas singer/songwriter James "Slim" Hand as a fictionalized version of himself along with actor Blake DeLong as a small-time music agent who struggles within the Austin music scene. Texas musicians who appear in the film include hip-hop artist Da'Shade Moonbeam, members of the Austin band Hundred Visions and jazz vocalist Keri Johnsrud.
Thank You A Lot will debut at this year's SXSW Film Festival in the Narrative Spotlight category, with the premiere screening at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH on Friday, March 7 at 7 pm. Additional screenings take place on Sunday, March 9 at the Marchesa and Saturday, March 15 at the Vimeo Theater in the Austin Convention Center.
I recently spoke with writer/director Matt Muir and producer Chris Ohlson to continue our discussion about the journey of Thank You A Lot from the set to the screen. Muir and Ohlson are business partners in the film and video company Revelator, and the duo perform commercial and corporate work while developing film projects within their schedule.
Ohlson also produced David and Nathan Zellner's critically acclaimed narrative Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (my Sundance review), which makes its regional debut at SXSW on Tuesday, March 11, 1:45 pm, at The Paramount Theatre.
Last month while at Sundance Film Festival, I spoke with local filmmaker Kat Candler -- seen above at the Sundance 2014 premiere -- about directing her feature film Hellion. which makes its regional debut in the Festival Favorites section at SXSW on Sunday, March 9, at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH. Check out my Sundance review of Hellion here.
This was the third year in a row that Candler and Austin producer Kelly Williams (Cinema Six, Pit Stop) made the trip to Park City in support of their film projects. In 2012, the filmmakers attended the fest for the premiere of the short version of Hellion. Last year, the gripping dramatic short film Black Metal debuted at Sundance and was even selected for the Sundance Festival's online Screening Room. Williams also received a fellowship to the 2013 Sundance Creative Producing Lab, where selected producers receive creative and strategic support as well as direct funding for development and production.
This year brought even more attention to the talents of Candler with the feature-length movie Hellion, starring Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis and in his acting debut, Dallas-based Josh Wiggins. The supporting cast includes actors from the original short including Deke Garner and Jonny Mars in this emotional drama about a widower and his sons who are grieving for their deceased mother in their own destructive manners.