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.
Last month while at Sundance Film Festival, I spoke with local filmmaker Kat Candler -- seen above at the Sundance 2014 premiere -- about directing her feature film Hellion. which makes its regional debut in the Festival Favorites section at SXSW on Sunday, March 9, at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH. Check out my Sundance review of Hellion here.
This was the third year in a row that Candler and Austin producer Kelly Williams (Cinema Six, Pit Stop) made the trip to Park City in support of their film projects. In 2012, the filmmakers attended the fest for the premiere of the short version of Hellion. Last year, the gripping dramatic short film Black Metal debuted at Sundance and was even selected for the Sundance Festival's online Screening Room. Williams also received a fellowship to the 2013 Sundance Creative Producing Lab, where selected producers receive creative and strategic support as well as direct funding for development and production.
This year brought even more attention to the talents of Candler with the feature-length movie Hellion, starring Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis and in his acting debut, Dallas-based Josh Wiggins. The supporting cast includes actors from the original short including Deke Garner and Jonny Mars in this emotional drama about a widower and his sons who are grieving for their deceased mother in their own destructive manners.
Attendees at this year's South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival will finally have an opportunity to watch the coming-of-age family drama Boyhood, written and directed by local writer and director Richard Linklater over a period of a dozen years. Shot for a total of 143 scenes in intermittent 39 days, Boyhood was well received at Sundance Film Festival last month where it debuted even before the credits were completed. Linklater -- seen above with Boyhood stars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette -- seemed quite pleased that the movie had reached its own maturity.
Filmed from 2002 to 2013, Boyhood covers 12 years in the life of a family with a focus on the young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). They must deal with the impact of their divorced parents' decisions and actions while maturing into their own individuals who can determine the course of own lives. Read my Sundance review here.
Here at Slackerwood we often publish survival guides prior to film festivals to help attendees get the most of our their fest experience. Therefore my wrap-up of my 2014 adventure to Park City for the concurrent Sundance and Slamdance Film Festival will be worth re-visiting for the "lessons learned" for future years. As seen above, there are a lot of critical essentials -- chargers, transit maps, food and hydration supplies, hand sanitizer -- plus some extras to include when packing for a 12-hour day out and about in Park City.
Tackling two festivals in seven days proved a bit tricky as I tried to fit in as much content as possible, while skipping most social and party events. In hindsight, I regret not staying long enough to attend the Slamdance awards ceremony and closing party. It was a bittersweet and anxious experience to wait for Slamdance award announcements via social media as I was homeward bound on a late flight.
Of the five documentaries nominated for Academy Awards this year, four played Sundance Film Festival 2013. Festival Director John Cooper credited this to the heightened aesthetic excellence in the films at the festival as well as that "the world is accepting non-fiction in really interesting ways." During a discussion of the business and profits of independent films, Cooper stated that "at Sundance, we have to think a little differently. We think of impact. When you look at something like Invisible War is changing policy, when you look at Blackfish -- awareness is actually changing how things are done in our world. It's as important as how much money they (the films) make -- and actually way more important to us."
The documentary film that most affirmed this vision at this year's festival for me was director Michael Rossato-Bennett's documentary Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory. This moving and groundbreaking documentary received the Sundance Audience Award for U.S. Documentary, as well as a standing ovation at its premiere at Sundance 2014.
As high as I'd set my expectations for Alive Inside, the film far exceeded what I'd imagined. I nearly left the press screening that I attended simply because I was emotionally overwhelmed and in tears, while still a response that I would still describe as a positive experience from the aspect of grieving and healing after witnessing the mental deterioration of a beloved elder. Anyone who has ever had a loved one suffer from Alzheimer's disease, dementia, stroke or mental illness will recognize the profound impact of the this film's core message -- that personalized music therapy can not only awaken but in some cases prolong our emotional and mental faculties.
Preconceived notions about the male entertainment industry can drive some viewers away from film content, and I myself had little interest in seeing Magic Mike when it was released in 2012. However, a timely discussion with local filmmaker Richard Linklater about Matthew McConaughey's stellar roles of that preceding year led to his recommendation of Magic Mike due to the depth of McConaughey's performance as male strip club owner Dallas.
Joe Manganiello co-starred as Big Dick Richie in the film, which became a smash hit. Manganiello was so inspired by the discussions about the film's related topics of "objectification and post-feminist relations between the sexes" and interest in the characters that he and his brother Nick Manganiello decided to capture the men's stories themselves. The 3:59 Incorporated production team went to the birthplace of male entertainment -- the first La Bare club in Dallas, Texas, which has been open since 1978 -- resulting in their documentary, La Bare.
The men of La Bare are each unique and engaging in their own right. First up is the veteran Randy "Master Blaster" Ricks, a self-professed "205 lbs of twisted steel and sex appeal" who has danced at the club since its opening. His elderly mother Mary Lou supports him in his endeavors, even helping to run a side strip-o-gram service. Backing up Randy are the younger generation who go by first-name-only nicknames -- "Channing," "Chase," "Cesar," for example -- and who come from various backgrounds, including ex-military.
The Slamdance Film Festival tends to be overshadowed and thus overlooked by its larger concurrent counterpart, which is a shame due to the quality independent programming that takes place on the two screens at Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City.
At first glance one might think this story transcends locale, but Raso's unique twists affirm the selection of Denmark's capital for the setting. The colorful facades of the 17th-century buildings and deep canals of the Nyhavn district serve as the background of a lushly told story of young love and personal redemption for its main characters, Will (Gethin Anthony) and Effy (Frederikke Dahl Hansen).
"Are you ready for the summer?" Those lyrics from the 1979 summer classic Meatballs sprung to mind when I watched Ping Pong Summer, a film written and directed by now-Austinite Michael Tully. Although Tully's comedy takes place later in 1985, his movie embodies the whimsical and quirky nature of both Meatballs and National Lampoon's Vacation.
Meet the Miracle family on their summer vacation to Ocean City, Maryland -- the quirky father effortlessly portrayed by John Hannah and Lea Thompson as the mother who innocently mistakes her 13-year-old son Rad (Marcello Conte) as engaging in pre-pubescent self-gratification. Rad's shyness isn't bolstered by his father's insistence of loading his state trooper vehicle down with all their luggage, or his mother's selection of a summer cottage next to the town's crazy lady Randi Jammer (Susan Sarandon), but that doesn't stop him from making a new best friend and crushing on the most desirable girl in Ocean City.
Local writer and director Kat Candler returned to Sundance Film Festival for her third consecutive year, with the feature-length version of Hellion. In 2012 Candler debuted the short that served as the basis for this dramatic feature, and in 2013 her short film Black Metal screened at the fest and online.
Hellion stars Aaron Paul as Hollis Wilson, a disconsolate widower raising his sons Jacob (Josh Wiggins) and Wes (Deke Garner) with the support of his sister-in-law Pam (Juliette Lewis). The boys are left without supervision most of the time, with Jacob engaging in delinquent acts around their southeast Texas town of Port Neches and Wes insistent on tagging along. After Jacob's actions result in his younger brother being taken from their home, he must overcome his anger and pain from his father's abandonment and mother's death to repair the tenuous bonds that hold the Wilson men together.
With the wealth of emotions exhibited from the main characters in Hellion, this film could very well tip towards the more melodramatic under a less-conscientious filmmaker. However, Candler's direction as well as her solid writing provides an in-depth characterization of her lead actors. Paul and Wiggins are well suited and immersed in their roles, and their interactions are spot on.
Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater finally unveiled his long-awaited epic drama Boyhood at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, with a capacity crowd at both the premiere and press screening. Written and directed by Linklater and featuring Ellar Coltrane as the central character Mason, the movie is an opus of 164 minutes portraying the growth and influences on one boy. Mason -- along with his assertive older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) -- faces the challenges of the dysfunctional family structure comprising the fiercely maternal Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who is desperate to provide a father to her children in lieu of an absentee father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke).
Boyhood follows the family for 12 years, from 2002 to 2013, with seamless transitions between periods noted by aging of the main and supporting characters as well as by cultural references, music and wardrobes. From the introductory moment of Mason and Samantha engaged in a typical sibling interaction, viewers are engaged by the natural charm of these youngsters. As their father is "off in Alaska," Olivia must meet her children's needs while trying to fulfill her own desires for companionship and better herself through a college education.