AFF 2011 Day Four: Family Values in Filmmaking
What an exhausting but rewarding time I had at Austin Film Festival on Sunday. The Hair of the Dog Brunch always provides a wonderful opportunity to meet and mingle with filmmakers as well as cast and crew of short and feature films screening at AFF -- check back later for a photo essay from the brunch.
I met several filmmakers involved with the Texas Monthly's "Where I'm From" film contest, including I Heart SA filmmakers Robert B. Gonzales and Sarah Fisch (seen above with Elizabeth Avellan and Mariella Sonam Perez), who also writes as Chupacabrona for the Texas visual art website Glass Tire. A discussion about disparities between males and females that I've observed in online journalism and filmmaking led Sarah to introduce me to Mariella Sonam Perez (Going to Grandma's) who is one of the founders of the nonprofit organization South Texas Underground Film (STUF). STUF engages and inspires the South Texas film community by screening films without discrimination, creating new movies, teaching the art of filmmaking to the young and old and networking with fellow filmmakers local and abroad.
I then headed over to The Driskill to secure a seat at the next panel. After trying to help a visiting filmmaker who was quite upset and vocal about the lack of shuttle service to the Alamo South Lamar venue, I took refuge in the press room to sort out my schedule. I was intrigued by an ongoing interview in which I wasn't quite sure who were the interviewers and who was the interviewee. The confident interviewees who were guiding the young first-time interviewer were first-time director/writer Jeremiah Jones and lead actress Marianna Palka (seen above), who are at AFF to screen Restive, a dark atmospheric piece that explores and demonstrates the impact of domestic violence.
Jones and Palka had some extra time and invited me to an impromptu interview that we'll feature later. I was struck by Jones' enthusiasm in describing his inspiration for directing -- UT Coach Brown, as Jones played football himself -- and in setting expectations by treating everyone in his cast and crew as family.
The theme of family recurred during my next AFF conference event, "Producing Outside the Norm: A Conversation with Elizabeth Avellan." Avellan (pictured at right) co-founded Los Hooligans Productions in 1991 with Robert Rodriguez for the production of El Mariachi. Avellan is now co-owner with Rodriguez as well as Vice-President of Troublemaker Studios and President of EYA Productions. She has produced several other films including Desperado, Sin City, Grindhouse, and the Spy Kids franchise. With EYA Productions banner, she is producing Tim McCanlies' holiday feature, When Angels Sing.
Avellan's conversation was enlightening and entertaining, as she spoke of some of the pitfalls of financing a film. She attributes the reason for there being so many producers that are women is because women have a maternal familial energy that helps to keep a film project cohesive. Avellan firmly believes that it is important for producers and filmmakers in general to care about their cast and crew's personal lives. It is that quality that causes a team and family to form.
Avellan's session was only scheduled to run 45 minutes, but she stayed afterwards and answered one-on-one questions for almost an extra hour. I was impressed by her laser-like ability to assess each question and provide rather clear and concise guidance -- whether to an actor, writer or accountant.
After an afternoon in The Driskill, I decided to go home to recharge before an evening screening at the Regal Arbor, a venue I find appealing simply because it's closer to my home. One of the filmmakers who I'd met earlier had recommended 6 Month Rule which just happened to be screening at the Arbor. I almost didn't stay as the Q&A from an earlier film ran over time and the 6 Month Rule filmmakers and cast in attendance were sequestered elsewhere in a press interview, resulting in a late start.
I'm glad I stayed for 6 Month Rule, despite the realization within the first act that the lead character, Tyler (Blayne Weaver), is a rather unlikeable person. I'll admit a guilty pleasure to watching How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, but anyone dismissing 6 Month Rule on the premise of this movie being a similar rom-com are way off the mark. Weaver's film is more reminiscent of In The Company of Men or Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, but his characters aren't quite as deliberately ruthless.
On the subject of character development and casting, the supporting cast including the engaging and lovely Natalie Morales and the humorous Martin Starr (seen above with producer Steak House and Weaver) were so well-suited that the chemistry was genuine. Dave Foley and John Michael Higgins could have easily overpowered the screen with their presence, but the directing balanced out the entire cast.
Time for some sleep and planning of the rest of my festival -- feel free to make recommendations in the comment section below.
[Photo credits: All photos by Debbie Cerda, for Slackerwood on Flickr. All rights reserved.]