On Friday, the movie Upstream Color opened in Austin and is currently screening at Violet Crown Cinema and Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter.
While at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, I sat down for a conversation about the film with writer/director Shane Carruth, pictured above with producer Casey Gooden, production designer Tom Walker and editor David Lowery. This psychological science-fiction narrative is Carruth's long-awaited second feature.
Carruth also stars in the film with Amy Seimetz as a couple reluctantly brought together by forces of nature and fate beyond their control. Together they must piece together their lives and come to an understanding of their connection to one another and other people.
What a blur of activity and film that filled my first Sundance Film Festival, with my sixth day mostly at press screenings for Texas-related films Pit Stop, Prince Avalanche and Upstream Color. Read my review of Yen Tan's Pit Stop here, which you can watch at SXSW along with the low-key comedy Prince Avalanche and Shane Carruth's Upstream Color, his journey delving into psychological sci-fi.
I also watched Ass Backwards, a feminine version of the buddy road trip full of crass and self-absorbed humor. As much as I tried to enjoy this raunchy comedy, I found the storyline and editing quite messy, especially a subplot involving a reality TV personality who's a meth head and sex addict. Kudos to writers and stars June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson for putting their butts literally on the line, but save yourself time and instead watch the classic Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.
Day Seven was meant to be a writing and leisurely paced day with an interview with Shane Carruth, but I wound up at the well-attended Sundance Filmmakers Reception. The event provided a relaxed atmosphere for members of the press to mingle with filmmakers, including Pit Stop director Yen Tan and New York based writer/director Lauren Wolkstein (pictured at top).
"Which movies did you enjoy the most at Sundance, Debbie?" is a line I've heard often since returning from Park City. Despite several narrative favorites, the subcategory that really stood out was music documentaries. Two of these films will screen at SXSW next month: Twenty Feet from Stardom, the first film acquired at Sundance 2013, and Sound City, produced and directed by David Grohl of The Foo Fighters and Nirvana.
The festival opened with Twenty Feet From Stardom wowing audiences onscreen and later, offscreen with special performances. Producer/director Morgan Neville is no stranger to music docs, having directed several for television including Brian Wilson: A Beach Boy's Tale, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock'n'Roll, Johnny Cash's America, Search and Destroy: Iggy and the Stooges' Raw Power, and several American Masters and Biography series spotlighting music icons.
Twenty Feet from Stardom provides an intimate view of background singers Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and Judith Hill, who over the years have supported music icons such as Bruce Springsteen and Bette Midler with their distinct voice talent. These largely uncelebrated artists have helped to shape the sound of 20th century pop music, from Darlene Love in "He's A Rebel" to Merry Clayton in the Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter."
Director Yen Tan made his first appearance at the Sundance Film Festival this year with the drama Pit Stop, cowritten by Dallas filmmaker David Lowery. Inspired by stops along the Texas highways while traveling for a film project, Tan has woven parallel tales of two gay men dissatisfied with their current romantic relationships in a rural town. Tan received grants from both the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund and the Vilcek Foundation for the making of Pit Stop, which will also screen at SXSW Film Festival this March.
Construction worker Gabe (Bill Heck) can't quite accept the end of his affair with a married man and relies on the support of his ex-wife Shannon (Amy Seimetz), who is also trying to move on with her love life. Meanwhile, across town Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) avoids his younger ex-lover Luis (Alfredo Maduro) -- who currently still lives with him -- by escaping to the bedside of a ex-boyfriend whose health is failing. There he spends his time reading aloud gossip magazines and reminiscing about their life together.
Not many details were given in last month's announcement that Before Midnight would premiere at Sundance, which left many wondering what the latest episode between Jesse and Celine would entail. So I was interested to see how the movie would fare, the follow-up nine years after Before Sunset and 18 years after Before Sunrise. I am pleased to report that Before Midnight is by far my favorite of this Richard Linklater trilogy.
It's been nine years since Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) were reunited while he was on a book tour, and they now live in Paris with their twin daughters. Although Jesse is a successful writer and Celine still works for an environmental organization, they still have difficulties. Jesse is conflicted by the distance between himself and his son Hank, who resides with Jesse's ex-wife in Chicago. Celine struggles with her own identity, both in her work as well as dealing with fans of Jesse's books who are convinced she is the woman in his stories. While vacationing in Greece with their children, they engage in philosophical conversations about love with both friends and one another.
On the last night of the Sundance Film Festival, a special awards ceremony to honor the winners of special prizes and audience awards is held in Park City, just as filmmakers and judges alike are ready to crawl back under the rocks from whence they came for another year. It's the last opportunity to put on the Ritz, do some hardball networking and consummate that fling you've been gunning for all week.
These awards, unlike the ceremonies we watch on TV, are less about competition than camaraderie. As emcee Joseph Gordon-Levitt put it, "This is art. Not basketball." Even so, it never hurts to brand your emerging feature with more than just the Sundance official selection logo when negotiating with would-be buyers.
In the night's very first announcement, the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize went to the Austin-shot movie Computer Chess, from local filmmaker Andrew Bujalski. Producer Houston King, pictured above at right, accepted the award. The prize, which honors the union of science and film, means that $20,000 in funds will be made available to the team for their next endeavor. The jury selected the film based on its "off-beat and formalistically adventurous exploration of questions of artificial intelligence and human connections."
Now that Sundance is over, you might be wondering how the Austin and Texas films fared. Here's the latest update, plus some links to local coverage (and at the end, fun videos!). I hope we'll see a few of these in Austin in March (or in Dallas in April).
- Before Midnight was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics for North America and UK distribution. This is the third movie in Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater's series with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Elizabeth revisited the original Before Sunrise recently for Lone Star Cinema.
- Andrew Bujalski's black-and-white film about man vs. computer in the 80s, Computer Chess, won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at Sundance. This award is given to a film that has a science or technology-related theme, or that has main characters who are scientists or engineers. In addition, AMC/Sundance Channel bought the international broadcast rights.
- Another big winner was DFW-area filmmaker David Lowery's latest feature, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. The movie's producers, James M. Johnston and Toby Halbrooks, took home the Indian Paintbrush Producers Award. Director of photography Bradford Young received the Sundance Cinematography Award for his work on this movie and Mother of George. And IFC was also a winner, landing U.S. distribution of the movie.
- New-to-Austin filmmaker David Gordon Green premiered Prince Avalanche at Sundance, and landed a North American distribution deal with Magnolia. The movie stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, and was shot in Central Texas. The film's composer is Austinite David Wingo, who also scored Mud.
Awardwinning writer/director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Shotgun Stories) pays homage to the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and a dying way of life on the Arkansas river in Mud. Nichols began working on the story in the 1990s, and delivers an engaging and mystical tale of broken hearts and strong friendships.
When teenage boys Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) venture to an island in the Arkansas River to investigate a boat stranded in a tree by floodwaters, they discover an inhabitant -- a fugitive named Mud (Matthew McConaughey). Shrouded by mystery and full of odd superstitions, Mud awaits a reunion with his childhood sweetheart, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). A hot pursuit is underway for him by both police and bounty hunters on the payroll of the powerful King (Joe Don Baker), whose son was killed by Mud.
At 135 minutes, Mud may seem a bit long as it meanders like the river it takes place on but it's hard to identify where to trim.The cinematography and production design effectively captures the slow-pace of the Arkansas River delta. Full of subplots and interesting characters, Nichols conveys personal stories including experiencing young love and dealing with rejection and divorce.
I may not be in Park City, but I am enjoying many aspects of the Sundance Film Festival from the comforts of home (you can too!). Today's vicarious living involves the Texas Party, hosted by the Austin Film Society and Texas Monthly at the height of Sundance festgoing. The party celebrated the number of Lone Star films at this year's Park City fest.
AFS Marketing and Events Coordinator Austin Culp and other photographers to be named later [update: Ryan Long and Chris Cortez] took a number of photos at the event, and I'm amused because if I showed you the photos and didn't tell you where they were taken, you would have assumed it was a filmmaker party here in Austin. Former and current Austinites and Texans were everywhere ... well, admittedly they did seem to be everywhere at Sundance in general this year.
I'm not sure why actor/filmmaker Jonny Mars and producer Kelly Williams appear to be sparring in the above photo. I'll let them tell me sometime. They were at the party shortly before departing for the premiere of Black Metal, which Debbie has detailed in her Sunday dispatch.
I've included more of my favorites below. If that's not enough for you, check out the Texas Party photo set from the event.
A phrase often heard at the Sundance Film Festival is "how to fest," and lesson number one that I've learned is that being on time isn't good enough, be early. A few times I've had ample time before an event, and filled in the gap with the frivolity of eating a meal. What I've then found is that I miss a couple of small events that fill up -- nothing major, but not the ideal scenario. Thankfully Sundance has so much to experience that flexibility is key, as you never know who you may meet on the shuttle bus or in line at a screening.
A highlight of my Sunday: Day Four was the Texas Party, presented by the Austin Film Society and Texas Monthly, and crowded with Austin and Texas filmmakers such as the Arts + Labor crew (seen above) including cast and crew from Pit Stop, Hearts of Napalm and Black Metal. Pit Stop and Black Metal screened at Sundance, while short films Hearts of Napalm and Spark were shown at the concurrent Slamdance Film Festival here in Park City.
I spent a short time at the party so I could ride with the Arts+Labor crew out to the Redstone Cinema for the premiere of Black Metal as part of the Shorts Program 4. This particular program featured several high-caliber but darkly toned short films, including On Suffocation by writer/director Jenifer Malmqvist, whose films Peace Talk and Birthday have previously screened at Sundance. On Suffocation centers around the execution of two homosexual males in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, relying solely on visuals with no dialogue.