Debbie Cerda's blog

Sundance Review: Ping Pong Summer

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Ping Pong Summer Still Photo"Are you ready for the summer?" Those lyrics from the 1979 summer classic Meatballs sprung to mind when I watched Ping Pong Summer, a film written and directed by now-Austinite Michael Tully. Although Tully's comedy takes place later in 1985, his movie embodies the whimsical and quirky nature of both Meatballs and National Lampoon's Vacation.

Meet the Miracle family on their summer vacation to Ocean City, Maryland -- the quirky father effortlessly portrayed by John Hannah and Lea Thompson as the mother who innocently mistakes her 13-year-old son Rad (Marcello Conte) as engaging in pre-pubescent self-gratification. Rad's shyness isn't bolstered by his father's insistence of loading his state trooper vehicle down with all their luggage, or his mother's selection of a summer cottage next to the town's crazy lady Randi Jammer (Susan Sarandon), but that doesn't stop him from making a new best friend and crushing on the most desirable girl in Ocean City.

Sundance Review: Hellion

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Hellion Still PhotoLocal writer and director Kat Candler returned to Sundance Film Festival for her third consecutive year, with the feature-length version of Hellion. In 2012 Candler debuted the short that served as the basis for this dramatic feature, and in 2013 her short film Black Metal screened at the fest and online.

Hellion stars Aaron Paul as Hollis Wilson, a disconsolate widower raising his sons Jacob (Josh Wiggins) and Wes (Deke Garner) with the support of his sister-in-law Pam (Juliette Lewis). The boys are left without supervision most of the time, with Jacob engaging in delinquent acts around their southeast Texas town of Port Neches and Wes insistent on tagging along. After Jacob's actions result in his younger brother being taken from their home, he must overcome his anger and pain from his father's abandonment and mother's death to repair the tenuous bonds that hold the Wilson men together.

With the wealth of emotions exhibited from the main characters in Hellion, this film could very well tip towards the more melodramatic under a less-conscientious filmmaker. However, Candler's direction as well as her solid writing provides an in-depth characterization of her lead actors. Paul and Wiggins are well suited and immersed in their roles, and their interactions are spot on.

Sundance Review: Boyhood

Boyhood Still Photo

Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater finally unveiled his long-awaited epic drama Boyhood at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, with a capacity crowd at both the premiere and press screening. Written and directed by Linklater and featuring Ellar Coltrane as the central character Mason, the movie is an opus of 164 minutes portraying the growth and influences on one boy. Mason -- along with his assertive older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) -- faces the challenges of the dysfunctional family structure comprising the fiercely maternal Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who is desperate to provide a father to her children in lieu of an absentee father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke).

Boyhood follows the family for 12 years, from 2002 to 2013, with seamless transitions between periods noted by aging of the main and supporting characters as well as by cultural references, music and wardrobes. From the introductory moment of Mason and Samantha engaged in a typical sibling interaction, viewers are engaged by the natural charm of these youngsters. As their father is "off in Alaska," Olivia must meet her children's needs while trying to fulfill her own desires for companionship and better herself through a college education.

Sundance 2014 Dispatch: Party with Austin Filmmakers

Richard Linklater and Holly HerrickThis month's major "Film on Tap" event that I experienced was the "Austin at Sundance Party" at the Wasatch Brew Pub & Brewery. This Main Street brewpub, founded in 1986, was the first brewery in Park City since Prohibition, and features ski and snowboard movies every Monday night. More importantly, Wasatch was a great respite from the frenzy of Sundance premieres and liquor-heavy events elsewhere, with great craft beer and food at the Austin Party.

The party was co-sponsored by the Austin Film Society (AFS) and the Austin Film Commission, in honor of seven films that debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival. AFS founder and writer/director Richard Linklater debuted his long-awaited film Boyhood last week to a full house at Eccles Theatre with over 1,200 attendees. Linklater is seen above with AFS Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick, who also produced Ping Pong Summer, a whimsical underdog story written and directed by Michael Tully.

Sundance Review: Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

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Kumiko The Treasure HunterAfter seeing the premiere of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter at Sundance this week, it is easy to understand why Alexander Payne (Nebraska) and Jim Taylor (Sideways) signed on as executive producers for the latest feature from Austin filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner (Kid Thing). This film is a superlative visualization of a lonely woman's quest to escape her reality in Japan for the mythical destination of Minnesota in the "New World" of the Americas.

Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) deviates from the traditional Japanese society, as she isolates herself from her coworkers and silently rebels against her conservative boss. Her mother's disembodied voice on the phone reminds Kumiko incessantly that if she remains unmarried, she should return home to live. Not that Kumiko's current lifestyle is the most appealing, as she lives in a cramped apartment with her pet rabbit Bunzo as her only true companion.

Sundance 2014 Photos: Texas Association of Film Commissions Reception

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James Faust and Jonny Mars

With nine films at the Sundance Film Festival this year, Texas was well represented both on the screen and at festival events. The Texas Association of Film Commissions hosted a special Film Texas reception at the festival this week, which included representatives from each of Texas' metroplexes. A number of attendees were from various parts of the Texas film community, such as Austin actor Jonny Mars and Dallas International Film Festival Artistic Director James Faust, pictured above.

Deputy Director Alfred Cervantes of the Houston Film Commission, Janis Burklund, Director of the Dallas Film Commission, and San Antonio Film Commission Drew Mayer-Oakes (pictured below) were also in Park City, along with staff members from the Texas Film Commission.

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.

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