Debbie Cerda's blog
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.
The most important rule of any film festival is to treat it as a marathon rather a sprint, to prevent hitting the wall. Don't get me wrong -- I'm still indulging free drinks at parties and late-night conversations about film and music -- but with the fear of altitude sickness and flu, I've been sleeping at least seven hours. My "sleep is the enemy" mantra is only effective for short-timers who are here for a long weekend.
My second day was fairly light as I continued to deal with the commute into Park City. I attended the press screening of Austin filmmaker Jeff Nichols' feature Mud, which seemed well received and which I thoroughly enjoyed. Afterwards I headed down to the Library for my first Sundance red carpet for The Spectacular Now, with a quick stop by the Stella Artois Studio for complimentary beer and a glimpse of spokesperson and British actor Noah Huntley.
The Spectacular Now red carpet featured director James Ponsoldt (seen above), lead actors Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Winstead also appeared in Ponsoldt's film Smashed, which debuted at Sundance last year, and appears in the comedy A.C.O.D. that also debuts at Sundance. She also produced the dark comedy Cub -- a short film also premiering at Sundance as part of the Midnight Film Series.
Relying on public transportation in an unfamiliar town while staying on the outskirts has its disadvantages. I only attended an hour of the Sundance Film Festival opening-night party since my last bus departed at 11:15 pm -- but the bus is a great place to meet both helpful locals and filmmakers in Park City.
On the way in I met screenwriter/director Tal Granit, who traveled from Israel to premiere his short film Summer Vacation at the festival. I made it to fest headquarters to navigate the press office and pick up credentials, before heading to the Egypt Theatre for the Day One press conference. Salt Lake Tribune film critic Sean Means moderated a discussion with actor, filmmaker and Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford, Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam and Sundance Film Festival John Cooper (seen above).
Watch the press conference its entirety after the jump.
I'm passionate about short films -- as evidenced by my role as a programmer for Austin Film Society's ShortCase series -- and hope to see quite a few at Sundance this coming week. A record number of 8,102 short films were submitted for the 2013 Sundance Short Film program, with only 65 short films making the cut.
You don't have to trek to Park City to enjoy some of these shorts -- a dozen of the best are now available online in The Screening Room, a YouTube channel curated by Sundance short film programmers. Austin represents with local writer/director Kat Candler's Black Metal, starring Jonny Mars (Saturday Morning Massacre, Hellion) and Heather Kafka (Lovers of Hate). This short yet powerful and evocative piece leaves viewers wanting more of the story of Ian, a death metal rocker who must deal with the consequences of a fan's actions.
Watch Black Metal here after the jump.
Reflecting on the past year's selections of films and performances leaves me more excited than I was this time last year after a lackluster 2011. Blockbusters such as The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers demonstrated that there is still energy and originality in these long-familiar characters. Just as 007 fans will argue that Sean Connery is the one and only James Bond -- personally I think Daniel Craig in Skyfall has picked up that gauntlet -- I will argue for director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale truly owning the Batman franchise.
2012 also featured impressive performances from many new and veteran actors, and the standout portrayals were from stars who transformed into their characters so effortlessly. The slate of films worthy of recognition is quite substantial, so I've shared a short summary of what influenced my choices for 2012.
Best Film: Cloud Atlas
A series of stories interwoven that demonstrate the power of one person's actions, "by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future." Blending the genres of historical drama, sci-fi, romance, espionage, and comedy, Cloud Atlas is a visually stunning masterpiece that shows the triumph of the human spirit through love and kindness over greed and vice. My fellow Slackerwood critics seem to agree -- read Mike's review as well as Jette's Fantastic Fest review.
I'm looking forward to seeing up close how the Lone Star Films will shine at Sundance 2013. If last week's press preview at the Austin Film Society Screening Room is any indication, audiences will not be disappointed, especially with Pit Stop and Black Metal. Filmmaker Yen Tan's story in Pit Stop comes from his curiosity while on road trips between Dallas and Houston, wondering whether gay people lived in the small towns along the route. His research led to a story of individuals who live their lives normally in rural environments, and the preview I saw of a few dramatic scenes was thought-provoking.
Another thought-provoking film was Kat Candler's Black Metal -- check back for a full review on Friday as well as info about how you can see it even if you're not in Park City. Black Metal shows tragedy rarely seen, of how blame laid on multimedia -- music, horror films, shooter video games -- can affect the creators as well. I spoke with lead actor Jonny Mars and writer/director Kat Candler about their short film as well as Sundance 2013 projects, including the development of Candler's Sundance 2012 short Hellion as a feature through the Sundance Feature Film Creative Producing Lab for creative producer Kelly Williams. Mars credits the genius and unique approach of Candler for directing the "little humans" of Hellion and Black Metal.
I'll be in Park City for the next 10 days, covering the red carpet for the major features from Texas filmmakers including Jeff Nichols' Mud and Before Midnight, as well as premieres for any Austin film that my and the shuttle schedule will allow. I'm also planning to see many, many movies. Here are some of the features and documentaries I'm especially looking forward to viewing.
Local filmmaker Craig Elrod's feature directorial debut The Man from Orlando premieres locally on Saturday night, and although tickets sold out for the main event, a second screening has been added at 10:30 pm at the Stateside Theatre. This Austin-based comedy features familiar faces including Alan Metoskie, John Merriman, Chris Doubek, Sam Eidson and former Austinite Lee Eddy. Co-writer and lead actor Jason Newman portrays Orlando, a former gangster lifeguard who is stuck in a love triangle. Get your $10 general admission tickets online here before it's too late.
Austin Film Society has quite a bit to offer this week. On Monday night, catch Francine, the "The Narrative Edge: Spotlight on Factory 25" selection screening at the AFS Screening Room. AFS Essential Cinema presents Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale as part of the "Asia: Hot and Cool" series on Tuesday night at Alamo Drafthouse Village. On Wednesday at Alamo Village, AFS Doc Nights will present Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters. Over a period of ten years, Crewdson created "giant format photos of street scenes in disappearing small towns of the American Northeast."
Enjoy a special screening in 35mm of the drag queen-filled comedy To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar presented by nonprofit organization United Court of Austin on Sunday night at Alamo Ritz. The event is a fundraiser for Project Transitions.
Movies We've Seen
Zero Dark Thirty -- This Oscar nominee is a dramatization of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, through his death in 2011. Jessica Chastain stars as Maya, a CIA operative driven by determination to track down bin Laden and bring him and his collaborators to justice. Elizabeth says, "Although Maya's search provides the trajectory for the film, Zero Dark Thirty is far more story-driven than character-driven." Read her review. (wide)
Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.
At first glance it might seem rather odd to feature English music icon Phil Collins in this month's column, but Collins has quite a personal connection to Texas history. Due to his interest in the Battle of the Alamo of 1836, his personal collection of artifacts related to the Alamo numbers in the hundreds, and he's narrated at a sound and light show about the Alamo. While on a publicity tour across Texas to promote his new book, The Alamo and Beyond: A Collector's Journey, Collins was interviewed by Texas Filmmakers Production Fund recipient filmmaker Ben Powell about his obscure collection as well as his retirement from music.
Phil Collins and the Wild Frontier, which is currently funding on Kickstarter through Sunday, January 20, focuses on Collins' attempt "to redefine his public persona." Powell further states that "observing the impact his music career has on his life and the more painful realities of being a celebrity, what unfolds is an examination of mankind's obsession with artifacts. Mr. Collins, a man absorbed in a collection of objects from a bygone era, is himself a relic of 80s pop culture and objectified by his stardom."
Awardwinning filmmaker and local film instructor Steve Mims (Incendiary: The Willingham Case) is seeking funding on Kickstarter through Wednesday, January 23, for his feature-length comedy Alex & Ash, which he wrote specifically for the humorously talented Alex Dobrenko (Hearts of Napalm) and Ashley Spillers (The Bounceback, Saturday Morning Massacre). The pair portray a couple so obsessed with a puzzle that they become not only disconnected from the real world but also from one another.