Debbie Cerda's blog
Local filmmaker Ronald Short premiered his comedy Billi & Theodore (seen at top), at the Indianapolis International Film Festival in July 2012, and finally makes its Austin debut Saturday at 10:45 am at Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter. This buddy road-trip film features Jordan McRae and Travis Emery as best friends picking up the pieces as they endure a car-jacking, parking lot brawls, and angry exes. McRae will be in attendance at this special engagement.
Most folks know the ND Austin venue at 501 Studios as a music venue, but art and film offerings are also taking place throughout the month. On Tuesday at 7 pm, The Puro Chingon Collective presents a free screening of Alfonso Cuaron's Mexican road-trip tale Y Tu Mama Tambien. Be sure to check out ND Austin calendar for more film-related events including screenings with live scores, and note that the North Door Pizza kitchen opens for calendared events.
As part of the monthly series "A Decade of Comedy in Latin American Cinema," Cine Las Americas presents a free screening of the comedy O Cheiro Do Ralo (Drained) on Wednesday at 8 pm at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC). Pawnshop owner Lourenço (Selton Mello) manipulates his desperate clients for his own amusement. When he meets an attractive waitress (Paula Braun) at his local diner, he becomes obsessed with her "perfect well-shaped buttocks," much to his demise.
What a blur of activity and film that filled my first Sundance Film Festival, with my sixth day mostly at press screenings for Texas-related films Pit Stop, Prince Avalanche and Upstream Color. Read my review of Yen Tan's Pit Stop here, which you can watch at SXSW along with the low-key comedy Prince Avalanche and Shane Carruth's Upstream Color, his journey delving into psychological sci-fi.
I also watched Ass Backwards, a feminine version of the buddy road trip full of crass and self-absorbed humor. As much as I tried to enjoy this raunchy comedy, I found the storyline and editing quite messy, especially a subplot involving a reality TV personality who's a meth head and sex addict. Kudos to writers and stars June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson for putting their butts literally on the line, but save yourself time and instead watch the classic Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.
Day Seven was meant to be a writing and leisurely paced day with an interview with Shane Carruth, but I wound up at the well-attended Sundance Filmmakers Reception. The event provided a relaxed atmosphere for members of the press to mingle with filmmakers, including Pit Stop director Yen Tan and New York based writer/director Lauren Wolkstein (pictured at top).
"Which movies did you enjoy the most at Sundance, Debbie?" is a line I've heard often since returning from Park City. Despite several narrative favorites, the subcategory that really stood out was music documentaries. Two of these films will screen at SXSW next month: Twenty Feet from Stardom, the first film acquired at Sundance 2013, and Sound City, produced and directed by David Grohl of The Foo Fighters and Nirvana.
The festival opened with Twenty Feet From Stardom wowing audiences onscreen and later, offscreen with special performances. Producer/director Morgan Neville is no stranger to music docs, having directed several for television including Brian Wilson: A Beach Boy's Tale, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock'n'Roll, Johnny Cash's America, Search and Destroy: Iggy and the Stooges' Raw Power, and several American Masters and Biography series spotlighting music icons.
Twenty Feet from Stardom provides an intimate view of background singers Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and Judith Hill, who over the years have supported music icons such as Bruce Springsteen and Bette Midler with their distinct voice talent. These largely uncelebrated artists have helped to shape the sound of 20th century pop music, from Darlene Love in "He's A Rebel" to Merry Clayton in the Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter."
Director Yen Tan made his first appearance at the Sundance Film Festival this year with the drama Pit Stop, cowritten by Dallas filmmaker David Lowery. Inspired by stops along the Texas highways while traveling for a film project, Tan has woven parallel tales of two gay men dissatisfied with their current romantic relationships in a rural town. Tan received grants from both the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund and the Vilcek Foundation for the making of Pit Stop, which will also screen at SXSW Film Festival this March.
Construction worker Gabe (Bill Heck) can't quite accept the end of his affair with a married man and relies on the support of his ex-wife Shannon (Amy Seimetz), who is also trying to move on with her love life. Meanwhile, across town Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) avoids his younger ex-lover Luis (Alfredo Maduro) -- who currently still lives with him -- by escaping to the bedside of a ex-boyfriend whose health is failing. There he spends his time reading aloud gossip magazines and reminiscing about their life together.
Not many details were given in last month's announcement that Before Midnight would premiere at Sundance, which left many wondering what the latest episode between Jesse and Celine would entail. So I was interested to see how the movie would fare, the follow-up nine years after Before Sunset and 18 years after Before Sunrise. I am pleased to report that Before Midnight is by far my favorite of this Richard Linklater trilogy.
It's been nine years since Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) were reunited while he was on a book tour, and they now live in Paris with their twin daughters. Although Jesse is a successful writer and Celine still works for an environmental organization, they still have difficulties. Jesse is conflicted by the distance between himself and his son Hank, who resides with Jesse's ex-wife in Chicago. Celine struggles with her own identity, both in her work as well as dealing with fans of Jesse's books who are convinced she is the woman in his stories. While vacationing in Greece with their children, they engage in philosophical conversations about love with both friends and one another.
Austin Film Society members who are filmmakers have the opportunity to submit their short films to screen during the SXSW Film Festival as part of ShortCase, this year's AFS Community Screening. ShortCase is a 70- to 90-minute special screening of locally connected short films.
THe submitter must be a current AFS Make-level member (or above) and be either a producer, director or writer of the piece submitted -- one of the people most creatively responsible for the work. If you are not currently an AFS member at the Make level, you can join or upgrade here.
I'm curating the ShortCase film series again along with AFS Programs & Operations Manager Ryan Long and Marketing and Events Coordinator Austin Culp. We sincerely hope AFS filmmakers take advantage of the wealth of resources provided through AFS Artists Services, including the Texas Filmmaker Production Fund and Moviemaker Dialogues.
Be aware of a few changes for this year's SXSW ShortCase submission process:
Awardwinning writer/director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Shotgun Stories) pays homage to the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and a dying way of life on the Arkansas river in Mud. Nichols began working on the story in the 1990s, and delivers an engaging and mystical tale of broken hearts and strong friendships.
When teenage boys Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) venture to an island in the Arkansas River to investigate a boat stranded in a tree by floodwaters, they discover an inhabitant -- a fugitive named Mud (Matthew McConaughey). Shrouded by mystery and full of odd superstitions, Mud awaits a reunion with his childhood sweetheart, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). A hot pursuit is underway for him by both police and bounty hunters on the payroll of the powerful King (Joe Don Baker), whose son was killed by Mud.
At 135 minutes, Mud may seem a bit long as it meanders like the river it takes place on but it's hard to identify where to trim.The cinematography and production design effectively captures the slow-pace of the Arkansas River delta. Full of subplots and interesting characters, Nichols conveys personal stories including experiencing young love and dealing with rejection and divorce.
A phrase often heard at the Sundance Film Festival is "how to fest," and lesson number one that I've learned is that being on time isn't good enough, be early. A few times I've had ample time before an event, and filled in the gap with the frivolity of eating a meal. What I've then found is that I miss a couple of small events that fill up -- nothing major, but not the ideal scenario. Thankfully Sundance has so much to experience that flexibility is key, as you never know who you may meet on the shuttle bus or in line at a screening.
A highlight of my Sunday: Day Four was the Texas Party, presented by the Austin Film Society and Texas Monthly, and crowded with Austin and Texas filmmakers such as the Arts + Labor crew (seen above) including cast and crew from Pit Stop, Hearts of Napalm and Black Metal. Pit Stop and Black Metal screened at Sundance, while short films Hearts of Napalm and Spark were shown at the concurrent Slamdance Film Festival here in Park City.
I spent a short time at the party so I could ride with the Arts+Labor crew out to the Redstone Cinema for the premiere of Black Metal as part of the Shorts Program 4. This particular program featured several high-caliber but darkly toned short films, including On Suffocation by writer/director Jenifer Malmqvist, whose films Peace Talk and Birthday have previously screened at Sundance. On Suffocation centers around the execution of two homosexual males in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, relying solely on visuals with no dialogue.
2012 was a year of change not only for Slackerwood -- we were taken under the wing of Austin Film Society, does it get any better than that? -- but for me. Asked to describe what I do in five words or less, it's simply been "watch movies and drink beer." Sounds simple enough, but the creativity and inspiration I've discovered in the last year since a major career change has been both frightening and exhilarating. I became the lead curator for AFS SXSW Shortcase, and was admitted to the Austin Film Critics Association (AFCA), which meant watching a lot more films this year.
Top Ten Lists are interesting for less than ten seconds after reading, unless you disagree with a selection or the order -- then perhaps you might ponder the list for a few minutes. I use an analogy when talking about craft beer -- "it's a good thing people have different palates, or else we'd all be drinking macro American light lagers." Therefore I won't be listing any "Worst of" as there may be some merit in a film that others may appreciate.
So while I did compile a "Best of 2012" list recently, I'd also like to mention some special awards I would personally give based on particular merits. Without further ado, here are my alternative awards:
I hit the ground running on Saturday, my third day of Sundance, which isn't as easy at it sounds with early morning temperatures below zero and lungs still acclimating to 6900-foot elevation. Lots of water and rest plus a well-researched press and industry screening schedule allowed me to catch several films before my top priority -- the Mud red carpet with stars Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan, as well as writer/director Jeff Nichols (pictured above).
First up in the morning was the documentary I'd missed the previous night, Pussy Riot -- A Punk Prayer. Directors Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin present a well-balanced and intimate view of the three young women who were arrested for performing at Saint Basil's Cathedral. Friday's premiere at Sundance was sold out, and it was announced the next day that HBO Documentary Films acquired U.S. television rights.
Next on my schedule was Andrew Bujalski's locally filmed Computer Chess, a black-and-white mockumentary set around a man-versus-computer chess tournament in the 80s. Several familiar faces as well as real computer programmers are featured in this slow-paced dry oddity, including Wiley Wiggins, who effortlessly portrays experimental psychologist Martin Beuscher. I also caught a glimpse of fellow Slackerwood contributor Rod Paddock as an extra.