The final day of aGLIFF was much like the days before it: moderate crowds, the usual broad mix of films and the continued comforting presence of Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann welcoming us to the festival before each screening.
I started the day with the My Queer Movie Competition shorts, a just slightly eclectic collection of 13 films in every conceivable style. Kudos to the aGLIFF programmers for presenting a shorts program with something for every taste, from David Goldstein and Jeff Keith's beautifully romantic Now & Forever to Eliane Lima's dark and striking (if somewhat impenetrable) Leonora to one of my favorites, Austinite Zach Green's hilarious The Green Family Elbow, about a family enduring anti-gay bullying although no one in the family is gay.
Another favorite short is Christopher Peak's Looking, a poignant documentary about men who use Craigslist to meet other men for secret sexual encounters. The five men interviewed in Looking are amazingly candid about their activities, telling us that such liaisons are very common, and many of the participants are married or have girlfriends. I also enjoyed Kate Lefoe's Under Pressure, an Australian import about two high-school girls who reveal their secret sexual desires while hiding from a shooter at their school.
If you're a parent, September rolls in and BAM! Fall begins instantly. There's a similar jolt as the theatrical releases for kids dry up until Thanksgiving weekend and Christmas, so it's slim pickings for kids at the movies this month.
Notable Theatrical Releases
The Lion King 3D (September 16, rated G) -- I think I'm already on the record as being bored (if not outright offended) by the 3D movie hype. Lion King is a marvelous movie, but I don't think it will be helped much by the injection of 3D. I suppose it's an opportunity to see this Disney classic on the big screen though, even if you have to order some 2-D glasses.
I must start my coverage of my second half of aGLIFF by correcting a grievous omission in my coverage of the first half. Hollywood to Dollywood screened along with two notable shorts. The first of these was a mind-blowing three minutes of J-Pop music video meant to explore ideas of body image and gender identification. DOKKA DOKKA (Pounding Ground) is viewable on YouTube and worth a watch. The second of the two shorts was an intriguing and contemplative piece. Tu E Eu presented a couple's argument and breakup over the phone, but the conversation was repeated by different pairs of varying races and genders. As they argued about their parents' refusal to accept their choice of partner, viewers are left to reflect based on their own assumptions about the participants.
Moving on, the weekend encompassed the bulk of the festival. Because of traffic and Austin's new extended parking meter hours, I avoided Friday Night's activities at the Paramount which included the centerpiece film Mangus and a dance party on the Paramount stage. Saturday, however, kept me busy. My selections overlapped quite a bit with those Don covered in Dispatch #4, starting with Buffering.
One of the Austin movies at SXSW this year was My Sucky Teen Romance, a comedy about real vampires who blend in perfectly at a science-fiction convention where everyone is in costume. Filmmaker Emily Hagins shot the movie while she was still in high school ... and this was her third feature film. Jenn interviewed Hagins before the movie premiered, then Don reviewed My Sucky Teen Romance after its premiere at the Paramount, calling it "campy, escapist fun."
My Sucky Teen Romance will return to Austin this week for its first local screening since SXSW. Austin Film Society will screen the movie on Wednesday at Alamo Drafthouse Village as part of its "Best of the Fests" series. And now I have even better news about the screening: Slackerwood contributor Rod Paddock will moderate the Q&A after the movie. Hagins will be there ... and I wouldn't be surprised if other cast members turned up. Rod is the perfect choice for a moderator, since he was an extra in the film.
Tickets are available online right now through Austin Film Society, with a discount for AFS members. I've embedded the trailer below. And I just remembered that Slackerwood contributor Mike Saulters also appears as an extra ... there he is in the trailer.
aGLIFF was surprisingly uncrowded on Saturday. Not that this is a bad thing at all -- there were no long lines for most films, and I had no trouble finding a good seat in any of the five (yes -- five!) screenings I attended. And the crowds were as enthusiastic as ever. (I attribute much of the enthusiasm to the cheerful pre-show greetings from two well-known supporters of the LGBT community, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.)
My first screening of the day was I Am, a moving and intensely personal documentary that chronicles the LGBT community's struggles for acceptance in India. After an 11-year absence, director Sonali Gulati returns to Delhi to re-open her family home, which has been empty since her mother's death. Gulati regrets never coming out as a lesbian to her mother. While in India, she interviews other gay and lesbian Indians and their families about their experiences, and the resulting film is a painful reminder that homosexuality still is strongly condemned in many cultures. I Am is a very well made and powerful movie that captures a rarely seen side of Indian society.
Next up was Buffering, a film that could not be more different from I Am. A farcical sex romp about a young gay British couple deeply in debt, Buffering reminds us how money -- specifically, lack thereof -- can inspire many people to do just about anything to pay their bills. Seb (Alex Anthony) and Aaron (Conner Mckenzy) lead a quiet life in English suburbia until monetary woes lead Aaron to film the couple's sexual encounters and launch a website featuring the films, all without telling Seb. When Seb discovers the ploy, he's horrified -- that is, until he sees the profit potential, and soon enough the two begin producing ever wilder (and more lucrative) videos.
If you haven't been attending the 24th Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (aGLIFF), you're missing out. Mike and Don will have more dispatches soon, but in the meantime, check out some of the folks in attendance.
In the above photo, Skot Tulk, former Executive Director of aGLIFF; filmmaker Monte Patterson, director of the powerful short Caught; and aGLIFF programmer Frank Hai take a moment between the fun Mangus! screening and the Majestic Dance Party at the Paramount.
While I'm not generally a fan of sports or fight movies, writer/director Gavin O'Connor's film Warrior has made me a believer. Echoing the struggles in Rocky and The Fighter, Warrior includes more than just incredible MMA fighting action; it's an amazing character piece that tells two very different stories about brothers from a broken family and smashes their worlds back together.
People are already talking about Nick Nolte for an Oscar in this incredible role modeled after his own experiences with alcohol and substance abuse. As an estranged father who hasn't seen one of his sons for 14 years, Nolte's character has cleaned up his act but struggles to reconnect with children who hate him for the mistakes that destroyed their family. Nolte is desperate for a chance to rebuild his relationship with sons Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton), who themselves are estranged.
Tom Hardy is comfortable by now with quiet, angry roles and bulked up for his performance as Bane in the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises. As Tommy Conlon, he is a soldier returned from Iraq motivated by a mysterious past. He seems to work out his anger aggressively on his opponents in the ring and constantly, silently threatens to explode outside the ring. He is hammered by his past but not beaten as he doggedly pursues the MMA title.
With aGLIFF going strong through Sunday, and it being Pride weekend, there are a lot of film options this weekend that by for and about LGBTQIA friendly topics. If you're up for a sing-along tonight, Alamo Drafthouse is screening all of the best divas, gay icons, and camp classics they're titling Way Gay, which promises to be a lot of fun. But I personally recommend the aGLIFF Centerpiece Film Mangus! (pictured above), which happens to have been filmed near Dallas, and also happens to be followed by the Majestic Dance Party at the Paramount.
Former aGLIFF Programming Director Lisa Kaselak's documentary about the "Texas Cupcake Controversy" is kicking of the Reel Policy film series Thursday at the Center for Health and Social Policy (part of UT's Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs). Let Them Eat Cake follows the implementation of a Texas policy initiative to ban junk food in public schools. More information about the screening is available on Facebook. Kaselak will be in attendance for a discussion following the film.
If you haven't had a chance to see Slacker 2011 yet, it's playing on Sunday at Alamo Drafthouse Village. Later this week you can also see the comedy classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on Thursday at Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in. And oh yeah, there are new releases in town, too.
Movies We've Seen:
Contagion -- Steven Soderbergh, the director behind The Girlfriend Experience and Ocean's Thirteen now brings us up close and personal with a deadly pandemic ... and a stellar cast. Elizabeth says in her review, "No one is going to contest the pedigree of the cast in this thriller. However, such a large number of actors creates a challenge to get too invested." (wide)
Echotone -- Austin as the "Live Music Capital of the World" is captured through musicians' eyes by Austin filmmaker Nathan Christ. The documentary has a special run at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar Sunday through Tuesday. Read Debbie's AFF 2010 review for more.
Higher Ground -- Vera Farmiga's directorial debut embodies the faltering journey of someone trying to embrace faith despite undergoing a spiritual crisis. It may not top your best of the year list, but it will get you talking and thinking. Read my review for more. (Regal Arbor, Violet Crown)
Steven Soderbergh's latest film, Contagion, opens on "Day 2" as traveling businesswoman Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) soon falls victim to a virus that is hitting a few others worldwide. A Japanese businessman faints on a bus, a twenty-something man in Hong Kong walks around in delirium and a model in London feels unwell at a photoshoot. Beth is married to Mitch (Matt Damon), who is immune to the virus, but whose teen daughter may not be. Theirs is just one of the many stories in this frenetic film.
While World Health Organization doctor (Marion Cotillard) finds trouble during her Hong Kong research, CDC doctor Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) heads to Minneapolis to investigate the source of this MEV-1 virus, and her boss, CDC Head Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), deals with higher-ups (Bryan Cranston) and a long distance fiancee (Sanaa Lathan). And also! Jude Law plays a paranoid blogger (his blog has 12 million unique visitors, y'all), and Jennifer Ehle (best known for her Elizabeth in BBC's Pride and Prejudice miniseries) and twee hipster comedian Demetri Martin play CDC labworkers.
The programming for this 24th year of aGLIFF offers a frequently dark and somber lineup of selections. Opening-night film The Lulu Sessions, covered by Jenn in Dispatch #1, was a sobering look at the final days of a terminal cancer patient. This was presented along with Communication, a 20-minute short that also dealt with the death of a loved one, as a youth contemplates the missed possibility of an almost-relationship with his former professor.
Though I was unable to attend the earlier screenings Thursday, they continued the morbid trend with So Hard to Forget, which includes the words "painful" and "bitter loss" in the synopsis. Meanwhile on the other screen, We Were Here documented the early days of AIDS with a movie that was described by one viewer as "devastating, but incredibly well done."
In the later time slot was Amphetamine, a Chinese romance complicated by drug addiction. However, I opted for something lighter and more frivolous, which turned out to be delightfully touching. Twin brothers/reality stars/actors Gary and Larry Lane document their love of Dolly Parton in Hollywood to Dollywood.