Debbie Cerda's blog

Interview: Eric Byler, '9500 Liberty'

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9500 Liberty Filmmaker Eric Byler

As I noted last week, filmmaker Eric Byler was in Austin to promote 9500 Liberty, currently playing at the Dobie (Don's review). The documentary depicts the battleground in Virginia and on the Internet over an anti-immigration policy, the "Immigration Resolution," that the Prince William County board of supervisors adopted in 2008. To counteract the racial divisions that occurred in their community, county residents formed a resistance using YouTube videos and virtual town halls. The inflammatory showdown between the groups had profound and devastating social and economic impacts in their community.

Byler and Annabel Park not only co-directed 9500 Liberty, but co-founded the political action group Coffee Party USA in response to the politics that enabled the Virginia anti-immigration law to pass. Byler is the YouTube/Online Media Coordinator for the group, and has created a number of videos about political issues.

As he mentions in his interview, Byler screened two of his feature narrative films at SXSW: Charlotte Sometimes in 2002, which won an audience award; and Americanese in 2006, which won the Best Narrative Feature award and a special jury prize for Outstanding Ensemble Cast. I caught up with Byler before last week's 9500 Liberty special screening at the Texas History Museum and asked him a few questions.

See 'Batman' and Other Winged Creatures at Night of the Bat

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Night of the Bat Logo

Every summer night, hundreds of people gather to see the world's largest urban bat colony emerge from under the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin. Approximately 1.5 million Mexican freetail bats reside in this mostly female colony, until early June when each one gives birth to a single pup. On their nightly flight out from under the bridge, the Austin bats eat from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects, including agricultural pests. Recognizing the benefits of these gentle animals, the City of Austin has adopted the bat as its official animal, and is hosting its first ever city-sponsored family event "Night of the Bat" to celebrate these furry and fanged flyers.

Night of the Bat kicks off on Sunday, June 6 at 2 pm with a matinee screening of the original classic film Batman (1966), featuring the Batmobile and special guest and original Batman Adam West, who will introduce the film and host a Q&A. Batman made its world premiere at the Paramount Theatre forty years ago -- and a few months after the TV series debut. As a child of the '60s I watched re-runs of Batman religiously, although I thought that Batman was overly bossy towards quasi-hearthrob Robin. Hard to believe that Adam West is 81 years old, and still making appearances -- so don't miss this chance!

Marko Zaror Rocks Chilean Action Double Feature in Austin

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Marko Zaror, Isaac Florentine with Tim League

Local action film fans enjoyed an extra special double-fisted dose of bone-jarring action at a free screening of Mandrill and Undisputed III: Redemption at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar on Friday night. The audience was also treated to a Q&A with Mandrill producer and star Marko Zaror and Isaac Florentine, director of the second and third films in the Undisputed series -- seen above with Fantastic Fest and Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League.

I enjoyed Mandrill at Fantastic Fest, and it was interesting to see it again with an audience full of action fans. I was disappointed to hear that plans for an American version of Zaror's 2007 action film Mirageman have been scrapped. Zaror alluded to the release of Kick-Ass having an impact on the loss of interest in Hollywood for a film about a hero from the streets that fights only with his fists. Check out a nice photo of Zaror (wearing a Mirageman shirt!) after the jump.

Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is an epic action-adventure film based on the Ubisoft video game of the same name. Set in medieval Persia, the story's central plot focuses on an adventurous prince who reluctantly teams up with a rival princess to stop a ruthless ruler from unleashing a sandstorm that will scour the face of the earth. Director Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) attempts to create a film of epic proportions that falls a bit short of its predecessors.

Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) was born and raised a pauper, but after king Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) witnesses an act of bravery by Dastan, he is welcomed into the royal household. As an adopted prince and brother, Dastan enjoys wrestling with his men to the politics of the kingdom, leaving the future leadership to brothers Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell). The brothers invade the holy city of Alamut after their Uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) convinces them that the citizens of Alamut are providing weapons to their enemies. Dastan isn't fully convinced, but rather than disagree with his brothers he instead leads a successful and heroic attack on the city. There he meets the mysterious and beautiful princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), who is guardian to an ancient dagger that is a gift from the gods. Through chance, Dastan discovers the dagger's exceptional power -- by releasing the Sands of Time contained in the hilt, the possessor can reverse time. It doesn't take long for Dastan to realize that the dagger is the ultimate weapon -- someone with malicious intentions could use the dagger to rule the world.

Immigration Doc '9500 Liberty' Heading for Austin

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9500 Liberty

Arizona's new immigration law has provoked accusations of racial profiling, since it gives police the power to stop and detain suspects if they have "reasonable suspicion" they are in the country illegally. The law has triggered a national debate about immigration and the role that local and state authorities play in enforcing federal laws. A new documentary shines a spotlight on the social and economic impacts of immigration policies, including racial profiling.

The documentary 9500 Liberty, directed and produced by SXSW Award Winner Eric Byler (Americanese) and Coffee Party Movement founder Annabel Park, depicts the battleground in Prince William County, Virginia and on the Internet in the battle over immigration policy. Anti-immigration networks used online media to frighten local lawmakers and citizens in Prince William County. In order to counteract the racial divisions that occurred in their community, residents formed a resistance using YouTube videos and virtual townhalls. The inflammatory showdown between the groups had profound and devastating social and economic impacts in their community. 9500 Liberty shows how real people and local businesses were affected by the "Immigration Resolution."

2010 Guide to Austin Summer Film Camps

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Austin Film Society Digital Filmmaking Camp

Summer is almost officially here with plenty of free summer movies, and there's still time to register for kids' summertime filmmaking camps and workshops in Austin. A few of last summer's offerings are either full or are no longer taking place -- Dougherty Arts Center has no film classes this year -- but kids still have plenty of camps and sessions to choose from.

These affordable camps and workshops provide unique experiences for local youth in various aspects of filmmaking including acting, screenwriting, editing and animation. At the end of many of them, friends and family are invited to attend a screening of the movie campers helped make, or bring home a DVD to hold their own private screening party.

Here's a list of all the summer movie-related camps and classes in the Austin area that we could find. Some of the descriptions are pretty much verbatim from press releases or websites -- although I was the Sierra Cubs Camp director for several years, sadly I've yet to be involved in any kids' film camps. Although they're for kids and not adults, don't be too disappointed -- you'll find a couple of options for grownups at the end of the list.

If I've missed anything, let me know in the comments and I'll add the info to the list.

Review: Exit Through The Gift Shop

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Banksy art

Street art fascinates me -- although I can't recall seeing an artist in action, I've often wondered about the process of late-night tagging and wheatpasting. How did someone manage to paint the Roman symbol of Venus on the train trestle over Lady Bird Lake? The most well-known street art in Austin has to be Daniel Johnston's "Hi, How Are You?" mural with Jeremiah the Frog on the Drag, and the Flickr: Austin Street Art documents the vast and diverse street art on our city streets. Many people discredit this art as street vandalism, but a new documentary shows a different view of this fringe art form, including the hypocrisies and controversies surrounding street art.

Narrated by actor Rhys Ifans (Greenberg, Pirate Radio), Exit Through the Gift Shop is the first film from infamous street artist Banksy from the Bristol underground scene. Although his name might not be familiar to most, his reputation has spanned the globe. In 2004 in the Louvre, Banksy hung a picture he had painted resembling the Mona Lisa but with a yellow smiley face. In June 2007 Banksy created a circle of plastic portable toilets -- nicknamed "Portaloo Sunset" -- to resemble Stonehenge at the Glastonbury Festival, not far from the "sacred circle." Deemed inappropriate, his interactive installation itself was vandalized before the festival even opened. Most recently, an artistic feud developed between Banksy and his rival King Robbo after Banksy painted over a 24-year-old Robbo piece on the banks of London's Regent Canal. "Team Robbo" retaliated by painting over several Banksy pieces in London.

48-Hour Film Returns to Austin

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48 Hour Filmmaker: Austin 2010As a member of Austin Cinemaker Co-op -- a Super 8 filmmaking collective that is sadly no more -- one of the most popular events was our annual Make a Film in a (M.A.F.I.A.) weekend event. Filmmakers had 48 hours to film a short in camera with no editing, incorporating a prop that was provided at the beginning of the event. Nowadays local nonprofit Austin School of Film hosts a Youth M.A.F.I.A. Day Film Festival for SXSW every year. Students have only 24 hours to conceive, shoot, and edit their films.

One of the largest 48-hour filmmaking events, The 48 Hour Film Project, will include an Austin event this year. The project is spread across over 50 cities across the United States and another 34 international cities. Reel Women founder Sherry Mills is organizing the Austin event, which takes place June 25-27. 48 Hour Film Project began in 2001, and Austin filmmakers have participated since 2005. On Friday night, teams receive a character, a prop, a line of dialogue and a genre, all which must be included in their movie. They will then spend a wild and sleepless weekend writing, shooting, editing and scoring it -- in just 48 hours. The winning film will go up against films from around the world.

Want to participate but don't have a team? No problem -- just stop by one of the upcoming Reel Women events including the First Monday Mix at the Stompin' Grounds from 6-8 pm on June 7, or at the monthly meeting at 7 pm on Wednesday, June 16. First-timers can ask questions as former team leaders, cast and crew take part in a Q&A session. If you can't make the events, no worries. To help teams come together, 48 Hour Film Project hosts a networking service that you can join here.

Review: Babies

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Bayar of Babies

When an environmentally conscious friend told me that he and his wife planned to follow a primitive cultural practice of not using diapers on their firstborn son, I was intrigued -- how is this done? Award-winning French filmmaker Thomas Balmes and writer/producer Alain Chabat shed some light on this question and many other cultural habits in the documentary Babies, originally titled Bebe(s), opening in Austin theaters today. This amusing and inspiring film provides a charming cross-cultural vision of one year in the life of four babies from around the world, from Mongolia to Namibia to San Francisco to Tokyo.

Babies simultaneously follows the wee ones from birth to first steps: Ponijao, who lives with her family near Opuwo, Namibia; Bayarjargal, who resides with his family in Mongolia, near Bayanchandmani; Mari, who lives with her family in Tokyo, Japan; and Hattie, who resides with her family in the United States, in San Francisco.

Nonprofits: Submit Your Films to Lights. Camera. Help. Fest

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Lights. Camera. Help. FestivalLocal film nonprofit organization Lights. Camera. Help. is currently accepting submissions for their 2010 film festival, which will take place from July 29 to August 2. Filmmakers and nonprofits still have plenty of time to participate. The film festival does not charge a fee to submit a film, and all proceeds from ticket sales go directly to the prize winners.

Any film that heavily features a cause is eligible to submit to the Lights. Camera. Help. Nonprofit Film Festival, including films by or about nonprofit, non-governmental and/or grassroots organizations. Dramatic, documentary, experimental, and animation films are all welcome. Details on the submission process are available on the Lights. Camera. Help. Nonprofit Film Festival web page. All films must be received in the Lights. Camera. Help. office by June 30, 2010. The fest awards cash prizes for best feature film, best short film and the best public service announcement (PSA). 

If you want to attend the fest, film passes will go on sale starting on May 24. Early submissions include works from Global Voice Productions, Best Friends Animal Society, One Story Productions, ChannelAustin, Scottish Rite Learning Center and others. One of the feature-length films submitted is The Ancient Astronomers of Timbuktu, supporting history preservation in that region -- see the promo video here.

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