Texas Film Fests
The 2014 Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) opened last week with the premiere of Words and Pictures, a lovely comedic drama starring Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen as teachers at a prestigious academy who go head-to-head over the timeless literary vs. artistic debate.
As it's shot in Vancouver by Australian director Fred Schepisi and features big-name and critically acclaimed stars, this movie's Texas connection may not be obvious at first. However, Schepisi -- pictured above with his wife and "muse" Mary Schepisi -- proclaims a strong bond to the Lone Star State because his first American film Barbarosa, starring Willie Nelson and Gary Busey, was filmed in west Texas in 1982.
Schepisi quipped during the Q&A that "Texas is the one state that has the same sense of humor as Australia -- I feel sorry for you," but spoke highly of the support from Dallas. Words and Pictures would not have been possible without its producers, who are mostly Dallas-based private investors including Curtis Burch, Derrick Evers and Bob and Judy Gass.
To what length will mothers go to protect their children -- or grandchildren -- and what's the definition of a "bad" parent?
That's the core theme of Flutter, the narrative debut for Austin filmmaker Eric Hueber, who wrote this moving family drama as an homage to his own deceased own mother. That personal connection lends to an intimate portrayal of a mother's unconditional love for her son.
Johnathan (Johnathan Huth Jr.) is obsessed with the sea, and battles the imaginary creatures within along with his 300-pound pet pig Wee Wee. Due to an often debilitating condition of of nystagmus and severe glaucoma, Johnathan must take medication to relieve the excruciating pain and pressure that could cause irreversible blindness.
The 2014 Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) is changing it up a bit this year with the film venues and number of screenings. Although there are fewer screenings per day, it will be easier to make it to consecutive movies centralized at the Angelika rather than catching a shuttle to the Magnolia, which is not a DIFF venue this year.
The film festival opens on Thursday, April 3 at the Dallas City Performance Hall, with Words and Pictures starring Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen. This narrative feature portrays the challenges faced by educators in their attempts to inspire students in art and education in a day and age full of obsessions with social media, grades and status among peers.
I am looking forward to several of the international titles that are premiering in Dallas, including my personal 2014 Slamdance Film Festival favorite and Audience Award winner Copenhagen (screening times), written and directed by Mark Raso. Read my Slamdance review, and check back soon for an interview with filmmaker Raso and stars Gethin Anthony and Frederickke Dahl Hansen. On a side note, when I asked Hansen about her acting influence she named Juliette Binoche.
The 2014 Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) runs from Thursday, April 3 - Saturday, April 13, and features over fifteen films that originated in the Lone Star State. From Texas musicans to epic Southern fables, there's plenty of great Texas-based content stretching from Dallas to the Piney Woods of East Texas to the coastal towns of Taft and Port Neches.
Austin-based writer and director Eric Hueber made his feature directorial debut at the Dallas International Film Festival in 2011 with his documentary Rainbow's End. Originally from Nacogdoches, Hueber studied film at Stephen F. Austin State University and has worked as an editing assistant for director Terrence Malick. Hueber returns to DIFF with the touching family drama Flutter (screening times).
Flutter focuses on nine-year-old Johnathan (Johnathan Huth Jr.), who loves sea monsters and his massive pet pig Wee Wee. His eyes flutter and he is also going blind as a result of nystagmus and severe glaucoma. Johnathan's mother JoLynn (Lindsay Pulsipher) raises him on her own with some help from her husband David's parents. David (Jesse Plemons) is absent, out on the road in search of musical fame as a singer/songwriter. JoLynn makes personal sacrifices for her son that jeopardize her own safety.
The final day of the Austin Polish Film Festival held, by far, the most intriguing of all the films screened that weekend; each one more different than the last, and each one mesmerizing and completely unforgettable.
Up first was Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir by film historian and documentarian Laurent Bouzereau. I must confess this was the film I was looking forward to all weekend, being after all a student of film, an admirer of Bouzereau and a fan of Polanski. The movie was shot during Polanski's time under house arrest in Switzerland following his entry into the country in 2009.
Shot as a conversation between Polanski and his long-time friend and collaborator Andrew Braunsberg, the famed director gave what is perhaps his most frank and candid interview ever. No subject was off-limits for Polanksi, including his experiences as a child during the invasion of Poland, the murder of his wife Sharon Tate and their unborn child, and the charges brought against him that still prevent him from ever returning to the United States.
The Lone Star Film Festival kicks off tonight in Fort Worth, and it will live up to its name with a number of Austin and Texas selections, as well as some honored guests. The festival runs through Sunday, November 10.
The Austin Chronicle co-founder and SXSW director Louis Black, musician and actor Lyle Lovett and Fort Worth businessman Stephen Murrin, Jr. will be honored tomorrow for their role in film and the arts at the Fort Worth Club. In addition, the following movies all have Austin or Lone Star connections:
- Bob Birdnow's Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self, about two friends who reunite at a conference, just won the Ron Tibbett Excellence in Filmmaking Award at this year's Memphis Indie fest. Writer/director Eric Steele and producer Adam Donaghey are owners of the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, Texas. Donaghey also produced LSFF selection Little Hope Was Arson.
- Tim's Vermeer, LSFF's opening night film, follows Texas-based inventor Tim Jenison on his quest to understand the painting techniques used by Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer (Girl with a Pearl Earring).
- Little Hope Was Arson (Elizabeth's interview) made its Texas premiere at Austin Film Festival. This debut documentary from Theo Love takes a look at the string of fires set at East Texas churches in January 2010, igniting the largest criminal investigation that area has ever experienced.
The second annual Oak Cliff Film Festival seeks to showcase the best of independent filmmaking of all genres from Oak Cliff (a Dallas district), Dallas, Denton, Fort Worth and Austin. From June 6-9, these films will be screened in the heart of the city's burgeoning Bishop Arts District and in some of its most historic movie theaters, like The Kessler Theater, which is said to have opened in the spring of 1942. The fest's home theater is the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, which hosts eclectic repertory film programming year-round (and which has a colorful history).
The nonprofit fest, which donates a portion of all ticket and badge sales to the North Texas Food Bank, announced its lineup earlier this week. Highlights include movies screened at this year's SXSW Film Festival, like Oak Cliff's opening night films Drinking Buddies (Rod's review), about the relationship between two co-workers at a Chicago brewery, and the documentary Pussy Riot: a Punk Prayer, that follows three members of a Russian art collective who were arrested on charges of religious hatred after performing a 40 second "punk prayer" inside one of the country's main cathedrals.
In addition, the fest's closing-night film is the regional premiere of Bobcat Goldthwait's latest movie, Willow Creek, a horror film starring Alexie Gilmore. And DFW-area filmmaker David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) will present some short films, a secret screening, and a not-so-secret screening of McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
For the second year in a row, I spent a lovely spring weekend in Fredericksburg for the 2013 Hill Country Film Festival. This is not one of those film fests where you get up early to get a good ticket reservation/spot in line and then proceed to watch four or five films, and then at 2 am collapsing in exhaustion (or going into overtime with karaoke) before getting up early to do it again, downing Red Bull and energy bars for sustenance.
This is a film festival where you watch a movie, and then go have some brunch, and then watch another movie, and perhaps go shopping, and enjoy cocktails with filmmakers, and maybe watch another movie or have a leisurely dinner, then go to a party and talk about the movies you watched while enjoying more cocktails. There was a screening in a winery (pictured above) on Sunday and yes, there was wine as well as sausages from Austin restaurant Frank. I took it very easy, which is why my dispatches are coming to you after the fest and not during.
Look for my capsule reviews/descriptions of many of the shorts and features I saw later this week. In the meantime, I thought I'd share some photos from my time at the fest.
The Marfa Film Festival is back after a hiatus of a couple of years, and several of us at Slackerwood couldn't be more thrilled. Yesterday, the fest announced most of the movies that will screen from June 26-30. The lineup includes several films with Austin and Texas connections:
- An Oversimplification of Her Beauty -- Dallas native Terence Nance's narrative film is about what happens when a young man is stood up. It will screen here in Austin at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz later this month.
- The Taiwan Oyster -- Don reviewed this movie about two Americans on a road trip in Taiwan when it screened at SXSW 2012. He said, "The Taiwan Oyster is a gorgeous and captivating film, a physical and spiritual journey in an exotic land. It has much to say about life, loneliness and death, and our eternal struggles with all three." Filmmaker Mark Jarrett is from Austin.
- The Passage -- Houston filmmaker Alex Douglas shot this documentary about the Panama Canal. The movie will have its world premiere in Marfa.
- Houston -- This German film was shot partially in the title city. A German headhunter is sent to Houston on a business errand and finds his life upended. Director Bastian Gunther is now living in Austin.
- See the Dirt -- This short documentary from local filmmakers Eric Mauck and Chelsea Hernandez is about a 14-year-old boy who collects and is fascinated with vacuum cleaners. It won the documentary short jury prize at Austin Film Festival 2012.
- Sahasi Chori (Brave Girl) -- Former Austinite Erin Galey made this short about a 13-year-old Nepalese girl traveling to her first job in the city. Brave Girl was one of the Austin Film Society ShortCase films this year -- see Debbie's article for more details and a short interview with Galey.
After accomplishing attending Sundance Film Festival in January and SXSW last month, I thought for sure that I'd be burnt out on film festivals. However, my "one day on, one day off" approach to SXSW this year kept me rested enough to keep the pace going into my first Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF). I was only able to attend the first four days, but that was more than enough time to enjoy the hospitality and diversity of the Dallas film community. I also enjoyed seeing familiar Austin and Texas faces whom I met on the festival circuit before, including the Pit Stop crew of actor Richard Jones, cinematographer HutcH and director/co-writer Yen Tan (pictured above).
I was quite impressed by the overwhelming amount of enthusiasm and support from locals for the Dallas Film Society and DIFF. Well-dressed Dallas socialites calling out greetings across the theater to friends during seatings was rampant, a distinct contrast to Austin festival audiences. I also met and spoke with folks extremely active in the local film scene, including filmmaker and Dallas Producers Association (DPA) president Russ Jolly. The DPA offers frequent networking opportunities for its members such as "Third Thursday Breakfast" and mixers, as well as filmmaker conversations that are open to the public.