Next Thursday, the sixth annual Austin Asian American Film Festival (AAAFF) begins for four days of films, panels and special events celebrating the best in Asian and Asian American independent film. Like other niche festivals, it's got a lot more to offer than the title might suggest to the uninitiated.
This is a town that celebrates film, not just the big festivals, so it should not be surprising that the films will have universal appeal despite their only common themes being an Asian connection. It is also a good reminder that Asia is much more than the countries with a northern Pacific coastline, and are as far west as Israel. And that Asian films are not just chop-socky; the program at AAAFF includes documentary, experimental, animated, narrative and social justice films.
Two such films are Sita Sings the Blues and Persepolis, the former an Independent Spirit Award nominated film, and the latter nominated for an Oscar. Both are beautifully made, personal stories within animated works that are equally poignant and sharp. And luckily for us, both are screening for free to the general public. Sita Sings the Blues is screening at the MACC, and Persepolis is part of an outdoor celebration that will include bands and food vendors.
Among the other films and events to catch during AAAFF:
Check out the latest movie news from Austin and Central Texas:
- Kelly Williams at Austin Film Festival has written a lovely remembrance of Bud Shrake that also contains an exciting piece of news: Before he died, Shrake had recorded a commentary track for an upcoming DVD release of Kid Blue. You know we'll keep you posted when more info becomes available.
- More on Shrake: the Austin Chronicle has republished Louis Black's excellent interview from 1985 with the Texas author and screenwriter.
- Galaxy Highland is installing "motion-enhanced seats" -- about 20 in one theater -- in time for Terminator Salvation to open this weekend. Austin Movie Blog tells us that tickets for these seats will cost about $8 more. My first thought was that such seating will make it even harder to get through a long movie without a bathroom break; a colleague of mine noted that vibrating seats might be more appropriate to certain other genres of film.
I don't know how I missed this earlier, but the Cine Las Americas lineup this year includes a popular film from Fantastic Fest, Santos. The Chilean movie is about a comic-book artist who suddenly discovers that the fantasy superhero world he's been writing about may actually be real. It's very silly and full of dorky jokes, and I got a kick out of it. I wasn't the only one -- Santos won a Special Jury Award for originality and vision at Fantastic Fest.
The above photo is from the Q&A after the film, in which writer-director Nicolas Lopez chatted with Alamo Drafthouse co-founder Karrie League. I don't have any notes from that Q&A, but check out Kevin Kelly's interview with Lopez from SpoutBlog.
Elizabeth Avellan was one of the film's producers -- I believe Troublemaker Studios helped out with some of the special effects. You might remember that Avellan was at the Fantastic Fest awards ceremony and even chugged a beer.
Santos will play Cine Las Americas on Tuesday, April 28 at 7 pm at Alamo Ritz. You can buy tickets or a fest pass from the Cine Las Americas website.
I attended AFI Dallas in its first year and had a great time. I'd love to go back this year, but it starts Thursday night and I'm still recuperating from SXSW.
This year's opening-night film is Rian Johnson's The Brothers Bloom, which played during Fantastic Fest as a sneak preview last year. Johnson was at the Austin screening, as you can see from the above photo. Johnson and Reiko Kikuchi are scheduled to attend the AFI Dallas event. Kikuchi nearly steals the movie, which is a comedy about con men, in the tradition of The Lady Eve.
The Brothers Bloom isn't the only film from Fantastic Fest 2008 to play at AFI Dallas this year. Zombie Girl, the documentary about Austin teenager Emily Hagins directing a horror film, is screening in competition. And a favorite short from the fest, The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon, is in the shorts competition.
In case you hadn't realized -- or you're like me and time just slipped by and you lost track of it -- the Austin Jewish Film Festival begins Saturday night and runs through next Friday, January 30. Most of the films are screening at Arbor, with a few also playing on the UT campus, at Texas Hillel, and even in Georgetown.
You can still buy tickets for the opening-night films at the Arbor: Someone to Run With (with the screenwriter in attendance) and Emotional Arithmetic. AJFF also has film badges and passes available. The whole festival has a nice mix of films, and there's nothing much good opening in theaters this weekend, so why not check it out?
If you're looking for something to do tonight that does not involve shopping, elves, eggnog, and that sort of thing, you might want to head over to Salvage Vanguard Theatre for the Austin Underground Film Festival (AUFF). You can get tickets at the door, and the event includes not only live music but about 30 short films from local and international filmmakers, including animator Don Hertzfeldt.
That Austin Girl recently interviewed AUFF founder Andy Gately about the fest and how it's changed in its three years. Gately's response on why you should go tonight: "Instead of popcorn we'll have falafels. We'll also be giving away free bongs, porn, massages, gift certificates, and Live Oak beer. And all of it's locally-made. Except the porn." Convinced yet?
Many people spent the past weekend shopping for Christmas gifts, or sending cards, or putting up a tree or festive lights. But a number of hardcore film geeks in Austin spent the weekend holed up in Alamo at the Ritz, watching 24 hours of movies, vintage trailers, clips from upcoming films, and even a TV episode. The ninth annual Butt-Numb-a-Thon packed the larger theater at the Alamo -- 13 of us were in the right-hand balcony, and we were all quite friendly quite quickly. (One of my favorite moments with the group was the domino effect with the milkshakes: One of us ordered a shake, and when it appeared, everyone else immediately had to get one for themselves.)
You can see the truly prepared BNAT-ters in the above photo, toting pillows and blankets to make sure they could sit in reasonable comfort in a theater seat for more than a day. I wish I could have taken some photos of BNAT itself -- the costume contest, the meat pies served during Sweeney Todd, and Tim League appearing in a rented wizard's costume (he inadvertently broke the staff) during the traditional showing of the trailer for Stunt Rock. But cameras and other electronic gizmos are banned from BNAT, which is good because you never hear someone's phone go off in mid-movie.
I wrote up all the details on the films shown and audience reactions for Variety's film-fest site, The Circuit. Check it out. Catching up on sleep afterwards sucked, but I had a wonderful time, and my husband even reaped some benefits ... he's been playing with the HD-DVD player given away to BNAT attendees this year, ever since I brought it home.
It's a big night at the Paramount, of course, with Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and Grace is Gone lighting up the big screen at the Bullock, but it's also your last chance to see a couple of the really great films that may not be coming to your local cineplex soon. Heck, you could spend the whole night at the Dobie and be supremely entertained:
America Unchained - in this amusing doc, a British gent decides to try driving a 1970 Torino station wagon from L.A. to New York without eating, sleeping, or tanking up at a chain restaurant/hotel/gas station. It's this last that becomes really difficult. A great audience flick. 6:00 p.m., Dobie.
First Saturday in May - There's a lot of buzz around this documentary about the Kentucky Derby, and rightfully so: it speaks from an insider's perspective and keeps things interesting by never letting the story rest for long. Even if horses aren't your thing, any sort of sports enthusiast should check this out. 7:45 p.m., Dobie.
Blood Car - In the very near future, gas is up to $30 and an enterprising young vegan inadvertently invents an engine that runs on blood. If you're thinking Roger Corman blood and guts and unpleasantness, you're half right -- it's all played for laughs, and rather successfully. If you're any kind of comedy or horror enthusiast, this is a can't-miss. 9:30 p.m., Dobie.
Tickets are $8 at the door. Visit austinfilmfestival.com for more information.
"Best bet" articles about film festivals always seem like such a raw deal -- sure, you're hearing about the big splashy films, but what about the undiscovered gems that will fill only half the theater? They deserve better. So here in chronological order are some of my picks for films that deserve your attention more than the big studio previews playing at the Paramount. (You'll be able to see those movies in a few months at the multiplex anyway, right?)
If human interest stories are your thing, turn your attention to Owl and the Sparrow tonight at 7, part of the Viet Film Wave series. If historical biopix are more your thing, check out Neal Cassady, which traces the life of Cassady "as he goes from his trip with Jack Kerouac on the road to literary stardom, a friendship with Ken Kesey and membership in the Merry Pranksters, toward a downward spiral into drugs and self loathing."
Need something with a little more oomph? Check out Bloody Aria at the Dobie (kind of a Korean Wrong Turn but with a decent screenplay) or the more uplifting The Go-Getter at the Bob Bullock. Ah, Zooey Deschanel ....
If you're in a documentary kind of mood, check out local filmmaker Anne Lewis' film Morristown, which examines the plight of migrant workers in a global economy.
Night owls should check out the Troma-esque Street Team Massacre at the Hideout.
All shows are $8 at the door or buy your film pass ($35 for unlimited films!) or badge at the Driskill Hotel.