Debbie Cerda's blog

Dallas IFF 2014: On the Red Carpet with 'Words and Pictures'

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Fred and Mary Schepisi of 'Words and Pictures'The 2014 Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) opened last week with the premiere of Words and Pictures, a lovely comedic drama starring Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen as teachers at a prestigious academy who go head-to-head over the timeless literary vs. artistic debate.

As it's shot in Vancouver by Australian director Fred Schepisi and features big-name and critically acclaimed stars, this movie's Texas connection may not be obvious at first. However, Schepisi -- pictured above with his wife and "muse" Mary Schepisi -- proclaims a strong bond to the Lone Star State because his first American film Barbarosa, starring Willie Nelson and Gary Busey, was filmed in west Texas in 1982.

Schepisi quipped during the Q&A that "Texas is the one state that has the same sense of humor as Australia -- I feel sorry for you," but spoke highly of the support from Dallas. Words and Pictures would not have been possible without its producers, who are mostly Dallas-based private investors including Curtis Burch, Derrick Evers and Bob and Judy Gass.

Dallas IFF Review: Flutter

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WeeWee and Johnathan -- Flutter Still PhotoTo what length will mothers go to protect their children -- or grandchildren -- and what's the definition of a "bad" parent?

That's the core theme of Flutter, the narrative debut for Austin filmmaker Eric Hueber, who wrote this moving family drama as an homage to his own deceased own mother. That personal connection lends to an intimate portrayal of a mother's unconditional love for her son.

Johnathan (Johnathan Huth Jr.) is obsessed with the sea, and battles the imaginary creatures within along with his 300-pound pet pig Wee Wee. Due to an often debilitating condition of of nystagmus and severe glaucoma, Johnathan must take medication to relieve the excruciating pain and pressure that could cause irreversible blindness.

Dallas IFF 2014 Preview: Traveling Across the Globe

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Words and Pictures still photoThe 2014 Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) is changing it up a bit this year with the film venues and number of screenings. Although there are fewer screenings per day, it will be easier to make it to consecutive movies centralized at the Angelika rather than catching a shuttle to the Magnolia, which is not a DIFF venue this year.

The film festival opens on Thursday, April 3 at the Dallas City Performance Hall, with Words and Pictures starring Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen. This narrative feature portrays the challenges faced by educators in their attempts to inspire students in art and education in a day and age full of obsessions with social media, grades and status among peers.

I am looking forward to several of the international titles that are premiering in Dallas, including my personal 2014 Slamdance Film Festival favorite and Audience Award winner Copenhagen (screening times), written and directed by Mark Raso. Read my Slamdance review, and check back soon for an interview with filmmaker Raso and stars Gethin Anthony and Frederickke Dahl Hansen. On a side note, when I asked Hansen about her acting influence she named Juliette Binoche.

Texas Films at Dallas IFF: Landscapes, Cowboys and Music

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Flutter Still PhotoThe 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.

SXSW 2014: Connecting With Local and Indie Music Through Film

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James Hand and Blake DeLong of 'Thank You A Lot'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.

My SXSW film experience began appropriately on opening night with Matt Muir's Thank You A Lot, a project that we've been following since my set visit in the summer of 2012.

Photo Essay: 2014 Texas Film Awards

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Robert Rodriguez with From Dusk Till Dawn alum on the Texas Film Awards Red Carpet, , by Rick Kern, on Flickr

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.

Interview: Wes Anderson, 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'

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Wes Anderson of Grand Budapest HotelThe 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.

SXSW Review: Butterfly Girl

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Butterfly Girl Still PhotoAs 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.

On the Set of 'From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series'

Zane Holz and D.J. Cotrona as the Gecko Brothers

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).

Texas at SXSW 2014: Toby Halbrooks, 'Dig'

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Toby Halbrooks of Dig

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.

Dig stars Austinite Jonny Mars and newcomer Mallory Mahoney, who plays a young girl intrigued by the large hole her father (Mars) is digging in their backyard.

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.

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