Texas Film Fests
On Saturday, September 15, a small film showcase was held by indie film distributor UnderDogs.com in San Marcos to help highlight some of the indie films being made across the country that might otherwise fly under the radar.
UnderDogs, a non-exclusive distribution startup based out of Huntsville, Texas, has spent the last year cultivating a catalog of various indie titles with the idea of helping these filmmakers to "four wall" their movies in a variety of locales.
This event featured four very different features all making their Texas debuts. Opening the show was a documentary, The Right to Love: An American Family, following the Lefew family as they fight to stop Prop 8 in California. The film follows this same-sex couple and their children through their daily lives as they try to convince voters that gay marriage should not be banned.
A trip to a Tucson movie theater in 2010 provided San Antonio-based filmmaker Kimberly Suta with the inspiration to start what may be one of the Alamo City's most dreaded and fun-filled interactive film festivals.
In its third round, Gong Shorts promises to return with a bang at 7 pm tonight at the Alamo Drafthouse Park North in San Antonio.
The festival invites filmmakers of all ages and genres (except pornography) to submit their 3-15 minute films for the opportunity to be screened in front of a live audience. The catch: After three minutes of screen time, if audience members dislike the film they have the opportunity to yell "Gong," eliminating the filmmaker from the competition.
However, filmmakers may rework and resubmit their (hopefully better) film for future Gong Shorts events.
Suta co-owns NiffNot Productions, which runs the fest, with fellow San Antonian Catherine Nored. Suta has heard people are intimidated by the short film festival's theme, feeling as though they are being set up to fail.
"If it's a good film, people are going to watch it," she said. "People want something to win, but they're definitely happy to gong it."
Few genres have been as seminal a part of American and world cinema as the Western. Before the talkies, good guys in white punched and shot bad guys in black. While the genre has faded in recent years, several Western gems have stepped to the forefront. In 1993, Tombstone was such a gem.
Texas Frightmare Weekend held a reunion for the movie with Austin actress Dana Wheeler-Nicholson as well as Michael Biehn, Joanna Pacula, Michael Rooker and Buck Taylor. The men in the cast chatted about working with gunfight experts and living with their weapons for weeks to get the feel for it. The women were proud of their authentic costumes, with this drive for authenticity made more important to them when they learned of the competing film Wyatt Earp being shot at the same time. Tombstone was the underdog going up against the Kevin Costner Western.
It didn't take long for the fun anecdotes about playing with guns and fitting for cool costumes to give way to the same tension that plagued the Tombstone set. Beginning with what was, by all accounts, a brilliant script by Kevin Jarre, the production immediately dealt with the stress of dealing with a writer/director who didn't understand the delicacies of working with actors. Jarre felt that the actors were just there to say lines and bounce light. As the morale dropped Disney realized that Jarre wasn't getting coverage of the film, preferring to shoot the whole thing in wide shots. The studio learned of the frustration that the actors were facing from day one.
Part of the fun of Texas Frightmare Weekend comes from experiencing the new voices in independent cinema. Patrick Rea's movie Nailbiter serves as a great example of this. Before directing and co-writing his first feature, Rea has made a name for himself writing and directing award-winning short films, including Time's Up, Eve and Get Off My Porch. His writing and his meticulous work behind the camera put him ahead of his peers.
When writing Nailbiter, Rea and co-writer Kendal Sinn start by playing off our natural fear of Mother Nature. A family traveling through the Midwest becomes stranded in a random basement by a tornado. Immediately, we find that not all is well as a mysterious creature and a dark secret are attacking family members, one by one.
The camerawork shines above all else in this thriller. Rather than using the now-tired "dirty camera" to excess, the lens glides along the action at an almost comfortable pace. Nailbiter is gorgeously lit, creating eerie contrast with the gruesome narrative.
Also contrasting the narrative's horrific nature is the lack of gore -- Lea chooses to leave the violence just off-camera, as opposed to seeing how much Karo syrup he could get away with using in each scene. The result is a unique combination of old-school suspense and thrills with modern horror sensibilities.
With Nailbiter, Patrick Rea takes our natural fear of nature and pushes it past the boundaries of natural terror.
Keep an eye on the Nailbiter Facebook page to find out when the movie will screen next.
Texas Frightmare Weekend offered a diverse array of entertainment for horror fans of all generations. Indie film nerds could check out indie flicks of all budgets while fans of classic and old school horror could meet and talk to stars of films from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. All of these celebrities gathered in one place, creating some great opportunities to discuss classic moments from the history of cinema.
Once such moment was a reunion of three cast members from the classic movie Carrie (1976). Actresses Nancy Allen, P.J. Soles and three-time Oscar nominee Piper Laurie spent an hour sharing anecdotes from the making of the film.
All three women had different motivations for taking the job. Laurie, who played Carrie's mother Margaret, was retired from acting when she got the script, and was actually told that it was a satire when she took the role. It wasn't until rehearsals started that director Brian De Palma informed her that it was a drama/thriller.
By James Christopher and Terissa Kelton
[Editor's Note: James Christopher and Terissa Kelton of Twitchy Dolphin Flix spent the weekend at Texas Frightmare Weekend in Dallas, and are sending us dispatches, photos and other interesting material.]
On the first day of the blood-and-gore covered Texas Frightmare Weekend, we ran into a unlikely attendee of the Dallas genre fest -- iconic Texas actor Barry Corbin. Barry greeted us with the type of Texas welcome one might expect through the introductions we as an audience have had over a decades-long film career (War Games, Lonesome Dove). He welcomed us with a firm handshake and tip of his hat to Terissa.
He spoke about being honored by the Austin Film Society this year and how much it meant to him. Barry also let us in on what he's got going on now. He's still working, flying out to LA on a regular basis. He just wrapped ten episodes on the new Charlie Sheen show Anger Management. Barry chuckled when asked how Charlie was doing. Apparently, Charlie is still winning. So is Barry.
The Hill Country Film Festival programming this year included a number of blocks of short films, and on Saturday morning I decided to watch some shorts. After a quick breakfast (yay for having my own kitchen there), I zipped over to the Stagecoach Theater in plenty of time for the morning shorts program.
The main reason I picked this shorts program was because it included the Austin film The Man Who Never Cried. Debbie has been raving about this film for ages -- she visited the set and reviewed the film -- and I was pleased to have the chance to finally watch it myself. Filmmaker Bradley Jackson and producers Russell Groves and Andrew Lee were at the screening (pictured above, if a bit tiny).
The Man Who Never Cried is a sweet, sweetly funny tale about -- well, the title says it all. Ralph (Kier O'Donnell) has never been able to shed a tear. Now he works as a clown and tries to make people laugh instead. But when his father dies, he feels like it is high time he learned to cry like everyone else. The storyline may sound a little silly, but it's beautifully done with an expert cast led by O'Donnell and Jess Weixler.
Romantic comedies are a dime a dozen these days, whether they're Hollywood films trying to eke laughs out of cruel jokes and raunchy humor, or indies with the ever-popular Manic Pixie Dream Girl and an overly earnest soundtrack. 6 Month Rule, which I saw at Hill Country Film Festival, looked like it might fall into the latter category ... but some very real emotional scenes and a refreshing lack of artificiality made it a standout movie.
Tyler (Blayne Weaver) has a lot of rules about his frequent and brief relationships with women -- when to call (or not), what to say, how to "fade" out of a relationship, and how long it takes before recuperation from a painful relationship is complete (the title rule). A montage of breakups with women in the same bar, using the same lines, says it all. When his best friend Alan (Martin Starr) loses his fiancee to another man, Tyler takes him in and attempts to teach him the rules and find him someone even better.
Two out-of-town film festivals in one month -- what a jet-setting life I lead, except I barely left Central Texas. I went to Dallas International Film Festival two weeks ago, and last weekend I drove over to Fredericksburg for a few days at the Hill Country Film Festival.
As with Dallas, once again I got a late-ish start and tore out of the house and on the road unsure whether I'd get there in time for the first movie I wanted to see. In this case, I was less concerned because I figured if I missed the movie, I could get settled with food and check in to my B&B, and see the shorts program after it instead. Still, I rushed directly to the theater, and thank goodness the feature had a short in front of it, because I slipped in just as the feature started.
The movie was The Perfect Family, and I wrote a separate review, mainly because I had started writing a "brief" review as part of this article and then noticed it was 500 words long. At any rate, it was a nice entertaining way to start a festival experience and relax after 90 minutes of focused "in a hurry" driving.
Dear Kathleen Turner: I missed you. I confess I'd almost forgotten about you. And then you turned up surprisingly in the starring role of The Perfect Family, leading a cast that worked together beautifully to portray a very believable family, even amid an often-unbelievable plot. Don't be a stranger, okay?
In The Perfect Family, Turner plays Eileen Cleary, a devout Catholic middle-aged wife-and-mom whose spends her days in charitable church-related activities, such as delivering meals to the elderly, now that her children are grown and out of the house. Monsignor Murphy (Richard Chamberlain) nominates her for the church's Catholic Woman on the Year award ... and she'll be competing against a woman who's been her rival since grade school. The winner will receive the sacrament of absolution from the Archbishop of Dublin, who will attend the award ceremony.
The monsignor tells Eileen to expect a home visit where her children should be present, but he's not worried since of course, she has "the perfect family." What he doesn't know is that her son Frank Jr. (Jason Ritter) has separated from his wife and is dating the local manicurist, and that her daughter Shannon (Emily Deschanel) is about to get married to another woman. When Eileen herself finds out about what her kids have been up to, she is amazingly distraught and tries to get them to reconsider their choices.