Debbie Cerda's blog

Sundance 2014 Dispatch: Familiar Texas Faces

Kelly Williams and Tim League

The 30th Sundance Film Festival is well underway, with plenty of familiar faces from Texas. My first day in Park City was relatively low-key, as I settled into my lodging and re-acquainted myself with the free public transportation and picked up the essentials -- credentials, groceries and booze. I opted out of opening-night parties to plan my activities for Day Two, knowing I would have a full day of interviews, premieres, receptions and screenings. My "sleep is the enemy" fest mantra has been replaced with the "it's a marathon, not a sprint" mentality.

Friday marked the premiere of the Austin feature film Hellion. I briefly saw producer Kelly Williams as he was entering the theater -- pictured at top with Alamo Drafthouse and Drafthouse Films founder Tim League. League and I spoke about what films we had seen so far and especially those we enjoyed -- quite a common interaction between festivalgoers here at Sundance.

Watch Texas Shorts at Sundance 2014 ... at Home

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Sundance LogoYou don't have to travel to Park City to enjoy great content from the 30th annual Sundance Film Festival. YouTube is offering quite a bit of content for film fans to view online via the Sundance Film Festival YouTube Channel.

As the presenting sponsor of the Sundance 2014 shorts program, YouTube is showcasing several of the official shorts in competition. Fifteen films were selected from this year's competitors, including two short films from Texas: Rat Pack Rat and Dig. The Austin-shot Rat Pack Rat is directed by Todd Rohal and produced by several Austinites including Zack Carlson, Clay Liford, and Ashland Viscosi. Dig is written and directed by DFW-area producer Toby Halbrooks.

The YouTube Audience Award will be presented at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony on Saturday, January 25, to the short film in official competition that receives the most views on YouTube between January 16-24, 2014. And Slackerwood has both Texas shorts embedded for you to watch after the jump.

Dig, which stars Mallory Mahoney and Jonny Mars, was produced by Sailor Bear, a production company that includes David Lowery, James Johnston, Shaun Gish and Richard Krause. Sailor Bear also has a feature at Sundance, Listen Up Philip. Mahoney plays a young girl who is intrigued by the large hole her father (Mars) is digging in their backyard.

I spoke to Halbrooks about the selection of Dig for the YouTube Channel. He was pleased the Sundance Institute chose his short film for the spotlight.

"Any exposure is good for short film, as there are not many outlets," he noted. "Typically if you put a film on YouTube not many people would see it and it's hard to find an audience."

Slamdance 2014: DIY Filmmaking

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Slamdance 20The 20th annual Slamdance Film Festival will run concurrently with the 2014 Sundance Film Festival -- January 17-23, 2014 in Park City, Utah. Last year I stumbled into Slamdance a couple of days before the fest wrapped up, but this year I've placed it at the the top of my "things to do in Park City when not at Sundance" above things like skiing, sleeping and eating.

The infectious and dynamic vibe throughout the sole venue of the Treasure Mountain Inn, in the historic Old Town portion of Park City, makes it a great place to enjoy the well-rounded programming and social events. As the only festival programmed by filmmakers, Slamdance's film slate this year features 93 selections from emerging independent talent all over the world.

In honor of its anniversary, Slamdance will host a special premiere of DIY, a short documentary directed and produced by Slamdance president and co-founder Peter Baxter along with Slamdance TV's Ben Hethcoat and Eric Ekman. This short film focuses on the historical development of the "do-it-yourself" independent film movement that has fueled the festival for two decades.

Slamdance alumni films will also be featured, including Bill Plympton’s Cheatin’ and Lise Raven’s Kinderwald. Alumnus Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight) will be honored with the inaugural Founder's Award. Nolan's first film, Following, which screened at Sundance in 1999, was shot with friends for a budget of $6,000.

Sundance 2014: Lone Star Films and Other Highlights

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Boyhood Still Photo

With 121 feature-length films representing 37 countries screening at the festival between January 16-26, it's been quite a treat putting together this year's "must-see" list at Sundance this year.

A lot of interest is building for Austin Film Society (AFS)-supported films at the fest, but the latest buzz is focused on filmmaker and AFS founder Richard Linklater. Special preview screenings of the anxiously anticipated movie Boyhood, written and directed by Linklater and featuring Ellar Coltrane (seen at top), will take place at this year's festival with a premiere on Sunday, January 19.

Boyhood follows 12 years in the journey of Mason (Coltrane) from childhood into adulthood. He is influenced and supported by his parents, portrayed by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, and his sister Samantha, portrayed by Lorelei Linklater. What makes Boyhood so unique and captivating is that this drama was filmed over several short periods from 2002 to 2013.

Review: Lone Survivor

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Lone Survivor Still PhotoIn 2005, four members of a Navy SEAL team were assigned to a reconnaissance mission in the Hindu Kush mountain region of Afghanistan as part of Operation Red Wings. Their goal was to gather intelligence about Taliban movements in the area, but unfortunately the mission was compromised when the team was discovered and then outnumbered by over 200 Taliban fighters. In the subsequent rescue mission to extract the team, 16 Special Forces personnel, including eight SEALs, were killed when their helicopter was shot down by the Taliban fighters. It was the largest single-day loss of life in SEAL history.

Native Texan and Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell was the only team member to survive enemy contact that day, and his book documenting the event is the basis of the action drama Lone Survivor. Director Peter Berg has painstakingly captured an ultra-realistic vision of what that day must have been like for the brave men who endured the brutal elements of a mountainous region while wounded by enemy bullets. Most importantly, he has captured the brotherhood between the men who push their bodies to almost superhuman strength and endurance to succeed and survive at all costs while adhering to the rules of engagement.

Film on Tap: Repeal, Cinema Six and A Very Bad Santa

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Cinema SixFilm on Tap is a column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.

The 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition was marked earlier this month with special events at local bars and brewpubs. Local PBS station KLRU re-aired the 2011 Ken Burns three-part documentary Prohibition. Directed by Burns and Lynn Novick, this fascinating series documents the contributing factors of Victorian-age morality and events that led to the passage of the 18th Amendment that prohibited alcohol.

If you missed the rebroadcast of Prohibition, you can watch this well-crafted documentary on Netflix or iTunes. Prohibition is also available to rent at both locations of Vulcan Video.

Rogness Brewing Company offers a monthly film event at the brewery, and the featured film on Saturday, December 21 is indie comedy Cinema Six, which was filmed in Central Texas. Mark Potts wrote and directed this humorous film, and I'm sure some local cast (seen at top) and crew will be in attendance at this free event. The screening starts at 7 pm, and pints of Rogness Brewing craft beer will be available for purchase in the tasting room.

Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugI have been quite excited to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug despite my disappointment with last year's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Like many viewers, I was disengaged by the overblown focus created by filmmaker Peter Jackson's technique of shooting and playing back at 48 frames per second (fps), especially upon the practical effects of makeup and the jerky movement in action scenes.

Thankfully, for The Desolation of Smaug, moviegoers will be able to choose for themselves whether to see the film in 24 or 48 fps, as well as in 3D. I watched the 24 fps 3D format, and am pleased to report that the overall viewing experience is much improved. The artificial hair and prosthetics could still be improved upon for some of the dwarves, but it's not nearly as noticeable as in An Unexpected Journey.

In the latest installment of The Hobbit, the journey for Bilbo (Martin Freeman), the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and the band of dwarves led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) to the Lonely Mountain continues. Along the way the group must elude and fight multiple creatures and enemies, as well as escape the dungeons of the Woodland Elves.

Our Holiday Favorites: 'A Christmas Story'

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A Christmas Story Still PhotoWelcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise

I suspect that when most folks are asked what movie is most firmly ingrained in their lives, many would list The Princess Bride, The Godfather or even Scarface. For me it's my holiday favorite that I can watch the year round -- A Christmas Story. I never asked Santa for an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle like Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), but I did want a pink bunny suit -- even if it would mean that I would look like a "deranged Easter Bunny" in the words of Old Man Parker (Darren McGavin).

One of my little idiosyncrasies is throwing movie quotes into everyday conversation, and this film adaptation of the satirical recollection by late humorist and radio personality Jean Shepherd from his book of essays titled In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash is a cornucopia of memorable quotes. With recent temperatures across Texas dipping below the 40-degree mark, forcing Native Texans like me to bundle up, I've baffled many a companion by stating, "My brother Randy lay there like a slug -- it was his only defense." The word "fudge" has long replaced less appropriate profanity at times of duress.

Ready, Set, Fund: 'Crowd Speak' for Successful Crowdfunding

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Still Photo from Foreign Puzzle

Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.

Of all the contributions that I've made over the last 4.5 years to Slackerwood, I find this monthly feature, which can be quite rewarding for filmmakers through the promotion of their funding campaigns, to also be personally rewarding. I enjoy following the progress of many of our featured film projects from creation to production to screening at prestigious film festivals including Sundance, SXSW and Austin Film Festival.

Over the last two years, this column has expanded beyond just film projects with the inclusion of television and web media as well as tools to help filmmakers. For example, one of this month's featured fundraising campaigns is for WriterDuet collaborative screenwriting software. WriterDuet is currently available for free online, but this fundraising campaign, which is funding through Thursday, December 19 on Kickstarter, will fund the creation of a desktop version.

We also receive a considerable amount of feedback each month from filmmakers regarding their fundraising efforts. This month's column thus features two new sections: Projects that we've featured in a past column, and tips from the industry to help with fundraising efforts.

First Sundance 2014 Announcement Includes 5 AFS-Supported Films

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Sundance Film Festival 2014Last week, the Sundance Film Festival announced 43 independent films selected for its 2014 fest, in the US Documentary and Narrative Competitions and NEXT section. Among the films selected, five projects have received assistance from Austin Film Society (AFS), including several AFS Grant recipients.

Local filmmaker Kat Candler and producer Kelly Williams received news that their feature Hellion -- based on the short by the same name -- was accepted into the U.S. Dramatic Competition for the fest, which takes place January 16-26 in Park City, Utah. Williams received a fellowship in 2012 to the Sundance Institute's Feature Film Creative Producing Lab for Hellion.

"I am very honored that the Sundance Institute sees the potential in Hellion to get behind it and has the faith in Kat and I to see it through," Williams said about the project in 2012 (source).

"When we got the call from Sundance it was so early, I had this weird pit in my stomach that they were calling to tell us we didn't get in. Y'know, let us down early. I almost didn't want to answer the phone," Candler told me last week via email. "So when Kim Yutani [Sundance programmer] said, 'Kat, we want to play Hellion at Sundance this year,' I just crouched in the empty hallway and couldn't stop saying 'Thank you' over and over again."

This is Candler's third consecutive year getting a movie into Sundance -- her short Black Metal premiered there in 2012, and the short film Hellion  screened in 2011.

"The misconception is that if you've gotten into Sundance once, you have a free pass for life. It's totally not the case. So every time I get that call after weeks of stomach-turning stress, I thank every one of my lucky stars. We were fortunate to have worked with insanely talented people, and the most amazing southeast Texas community who put their heart and souls into this film," Candler said.

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