Two Texas-based short films that were in competition at Sundance 2014 are making their Texas debuts at the SXSW Film Festival: writer/director Todd Rohal's Rat Pack Rat and Dig, by Dallas-based filmmaker Toby Halbrooks.
Halbrooks is an integral member of the filmmakers at Sailor Bear, a Dallas-based production company that includes David Lowery, James Johnston, Shaun Gish and Richard Krause. Last year's Sailor Bear feature Ain't Them Bodies Saints received an award for cinematography at Sundance, and this year's festival featured Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Philip, also produced by the Sailor Bear team.
I spoke with Halbrooks in Park City during Sundance about Dig as well as other Sailor Bear projects, including the short film Pioneer. Here's what he had to say.
Documentarian Margaret Brown's new movie, The Great Invisible, depicts the response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and resultant oil spill from multiple viewpoints. Brown has deep ties to Alabama, one of the states hit hard by the oil spill, and used to call Austin home as well. Her previous film work includes the acclaimed 2004 Townes Van Zandt documentary Be Here to Love Me and 2008's The Order of Myths (Jette's Cinematical review), a look at segregated Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile that went on to win an Independent Spirit Award.
The Great Invisible is showing as part of SXSW's Documentary Competition, and will have its world premiere at the fest. (The music is from Austin composer David Wingo.) Director Brown recently participated in this interview (via email) with me.
Slackerwood: Once you chose to document the response to the Deepwater Horizon spill, what was your approach? How did you pick the interview subjects?
Margaret Brown: At first I was interested in the aftermath in the area around Mobile, Alabama, where I grew up. I was curious about what would happen in a big disaster once the cameras went away, and the world's interest waned. I also started the film thinking it was going to be a personal film that was really just about where I grew up, much like my last film, The Order of Myths.
Paying big bucks for a badge isn't the only way to be a part of the SXSW Film Festival. For locals willing to forego lanyards and the feeling of being first in line, the wristband is another option -- often a good one, but one that requires a little more creative planning and patience.
Sold for $80 at various venues around town -- $75 at the Marchesa before any Austin Film Society event if you're an AFS member-- the wristband (known as the Film Pass before last year) grants access to any film shown during the festival, provided there is space available after badgeholders (Platinum, Film and Gold) have been seated. This means smaller venues like the Violet Crown and Alamo Drafthouse Ritz probably won't be worth trying, but larger theaters like the Paramount will most likely work out just fine (even single-ticket buyers can probably get into the Paramount, but more about that later).
If you're taking the wristband route this year, read on for a few facts, tips and observations that will hopefully help you get the most out of being a wristbandito (that's a term coined by Jette last year that deserves another go, I think).
An exhaustive amount of time, energy, and effort goes into programming one of the largest film festivals in the United States, and it takes a dedicated team of programmers to carefully select the best program for the SXSW Film Festival each year.
Recently the Austin Film Society (AFS) hosted "An Austinite's Guide to the 2014 SXSW Film Festival," a panel discussion moderated by AFS Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick and featuring Head of SXSW Film Janet Pierson, Producer and Senior Programmer Jarod Neece, and Short Film Programmer and Operations Manager Claudette Godfrey. And I've been chatting via email with Godfrey as well.
At the panel discussion, the SXSW programming team talked about what's new this year and what films they were excited about. Neece mentioned the new episodic category and is most excited for the new series Silicon Valley, directed and written by Austinite Mike Judge, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky.
Director Riley Stearns now lives in L.A. but was raised in the Austin area (Pflugerville, if you're being picky). His short film The Cub premiered at Sundance last year (and screened locally at the Hill Country Film Festival), and his feature film debut, Faults, will premiere at SXSW this March. This drama, which Stearns also wrote, stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as a young woman whose family hires deprogrammer Ansel (Leland Orser, Taken) to remove her from a cult.
The cast also includes Lance Reddick (from the recently-ended sci-fi series Fringe) and Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) along with Slackerwood favorite and prolific character actress Beth Grant (here's a podcast interview she did with us a while ago).
Before SXSW starts Friday, Stearns paused to talk to us via email about his new movie, working with his wife, and filming in hotel rooms.
In 1970, baseball player Dock Ellis somehow pitched a no-hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates while out-of-his-mind high on LSD. Along with his generally brash and outspoken demeanor, this act helped solidify Ellis' legendary status both as a great player and all-around fascinating person, and it's his life on and off the baseball field that Austin filmmaker Jeffrey Radice explores in No No: A Dockumentary.
Making its regional premiere at the SXSW Film Festival this month, No No earned high marks from many who saw it at Sundance and should be a highlight for anyone looking to catch all the Texas-based movies featured this year.
Radice was kind enough to answer a few questions via email for Slackerwood about the film and how it came to be. No No: A Dockumentary will have its SXSW premiere on Saturday, March 8 at the Paramount at 11:30 am and screens again the following Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday (find the details here).
The Austin Film Society jury has chosen eight selections for the AFS ShortCase program, which annually presents to SXSW attendees a diverse mix of shorts created by AFS members. The 2014 jury included Austin filmmaker Clay Liford (Wuss), AFS programmer Lars Nilsen and Slackerwood contributor Debbie Cerda.
The ShortCase screening will take place during the first weekend of the fest, Saturday March 8 at 2 pm at the Marchesa. (Add the screening to your schedule here.) It's free and open to the public even if you don't have a SXSW badge or wristband -- but get there early, because last year this event filled up fast and a number of people were turned away.
The short features and documentaries include:
Digging for the Water (Joshua Riehl) -- In the hilltop village of Creve, Haiti residents have no electricity or running water. Their only supply, which they must carry by hand from a neighboring village, is contaminated with bacteria. Volunteers from the organization Mountain of Hope and The University of Texas at Austin arrange to help drill a well for the village.
Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.
- The Austin-shot film Hellion has been acquired for US distribution by Sundance Selections (via Hollywood Reporter). The movie premiered at Sundance this year and will screen at SXSW. Read Debbie's review and her interview with filmmaker Kat Candler.
- At the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, the Robert Altman Award went to Mud (Debbie's review), from Austin filmmaker Jeff Nichols (via Indiewire). The award is given to a director and ensemble cast -- for Mud, the cast includes Austin actor Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan (Joe) and Reese Witherspoon. In addition, McConaughey took home the Best Actor award for his role in Dallas Buyers Club (Caitlin's review).
- But that wasn't all for McConaughey, who also won an Academy Award last night for Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club.
- In Alamo Drafthouse news, Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez's El Rey Network has partnered with the Drafthouse to screen the premiere episode of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, a television adaptation of his 1996 cult film From Dusk Till Dawn, on Tuesday, March 11 at nine Drafthouse markets across the country to coincide with its television premiere at 8 pm that day, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League will host a live Q&A with Rodriguez and the series cast following the Austin screening at Alamo Slaughter. This Q&A will be livestreamed into other participating Drafthouse theaters and on the El Rey Network YouTube channel. The Austin-shot From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series will be the first scripted original series to air on Rodriguez's new cable network.
The next few weeks of specialty screenings are going to be directly impacted by the SXSW Film Festival, but there are definitely some unique events on the horizon that you need to know about. We've already covered this weekend's Noir City festival at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in great detail here. It's an incredible opportunity to catch 10 rare film noir titles in 35mm, many in newly restored prints. There isn't much else going on at the Ritz for the next few weeks due to SXSW, but they will have select screenings of 12 Years A Slave and The Wolf Of Wall Street for those of you who still need to catch up.
The Alamo Slaughter Lane has a screening on Saturday afternoon of Medora, a sports documentary that played at SXSW last March about an underdog basketball team. Veronica Mars fans will want to head to the Alamo Village on Monday night for an Austin Film Festival screening of Beside Still Waters, the directorial debut of Chris Lowell who played "Piz" on the show. It was an Audience Award winner at AFF last fall.
The Paramount 100 screening this week is happening on Tuesday night because of SXSW getting ready to take over that theater as well. They'll be showing a digital restoration of 1924's The Thief Of Bagdad. Starring Douglas Fairbanks, this was one of the most expensive films made in the 1920s.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, House of Wax) has worked with Liam Neeson previously on the movie Unknown, but there is another clear reason Neeson was cast for the role of alcoholic air marshal Bill Marks. The actor has the talent and star power to elevate an otherwise unremarkable, movie-of-the-week script like Non-Stop into a moneymaker with wings.
The story, penned by a team whose credits include TV's Big Brother and WWE/WrestleMania, lands Neeson in the role of Bill Marks, an air marshal on a transatlantic flight. He's confronted with text messages from an anonymous villain who promises to kill someone on the flight unless the exorbitant sum of $150 million is wired into an account within an unlikely time limit of 20 minutes. With the clock ticking and no clues to help him, he must reveal the hijacker even as the villain's complex plan unfolds to frame him for the deed.
The ensuing tense whodunit occupies the audience with guessing games, attempting to lead them astray with characters that play on ethnic stereotypes and dirty looks as Marks and his allies Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) and Nancy (Michelle Dockery) attempt to expose the culprit.
As the flight's body count increases, so does Marks' level of stress, until Neeson is enraged, throwing passengers around like rag dolls and progressing only in cementing his image as a hijacker, already being painted in the media on the ground.
Non-Stop is best enjoyed by those who don't pick apart a script and can allow themselves to be caught up in the tense situation. Collet-Serra has a few tricks to keep the pace moving, including some impressive hand-to-hand choreography within the confines of the plane's lavatory. These tricks make for an enjoyable film, in spite of the descent into monologues as the clock is ticking and swift loss of direction when the hijacker is finally revealed.