Austin Film Society

Texas Film Awards: The Honorees and Their Best Work

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TFA posterThe Austin Film Society hosts its annual Texas Film Awards, one of the most high-profile events in the city, on Thursday night, March 12. This year marks the awards' 15th year and to celebrate its "crystal anniversary" of honoring the best in Texas film, honorees include some of the biggest names in the industry from actors to producers to writers. Local filmmaker Mike Judge is this year's emcee.

The event itself is sold out, but a few tickets are still available to The Texas Party, the after-party featuring a DJ set by Wooden Wisdom, aka Elijah Wood and Zach Cowie.

In anticipation of Thursday's event, I thought a spotlight on each of the honorees and some of their finest contributions to the cinematic world was more than in order.

L.M. Kit Carson -- The American Dreamer (1971)

Precious few screenwriters in the history of film have been gifted with a voice as unique and diverse as Carson's. Helping to realize the masterpiece that is Paris, Texas (1984) may have put him on the cinematic map as one of the premiere screenwriters in film, but it is Carson's portrait of rebel actor Dennis Hopper in his documentary The American Dreamer that remains one of his most fascinating works.

'5 to 7' Proves Romantic Comedy Still Exists

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5 to 7

I've never been particularly fond of romantic comedies on the whole. For me, it is the one genre of film that I've found to be the most blatantly straightforward and unsurprising. The standard setups, usual characters and typical obstacles are always present and accounted for, regardless of how some filmmakers try to dress things up. And while such romantic comedy blueprints have given vast amounts of joy to countless movie lovers for ages, it seemed that there was always something lacking for me within that world.

It's true, you may find a title or two in my DVD collection that bears the romantic comedy stamp, but those specific titles tell stories of love from different angles. Take for example the little-seen Til There Was You (1997), a small film about two adults who experience a number of failed romances over the course of two decades, only to finally meet each other in the last few minutes of the movie. It's a funny and thoughtful comment on romance and the journey most people must take towards finding the one they are meant for.

If there was any film that would be a game changer for me in this regard, it's definitely 5 to 7 (2014). Upon viewing the film at the Austin Film Society pre-Valentine's Day screening, I can say that I have finally seen a film which truly embodies the term "romantic comedy." Produced by 2015 Texas Film Awards honoree Bonnie Curtis and written and directed by Victor Levin, 5 to 7 is loaded with sharp comedic moments and a compelling story squarely focused on the transformative power of love on the individual.

Site News: Slackerwood Goes Independent, Again

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Slackerwood, by John Gholson

For more than two years now, the Austin Film Society has been publishing Slackerwood. It's been an excellent relationship for everyone involved, and I've enjoyed the collaboration.

However, it's time for a change. As of September 1, 2014, I've taken over the reins again as the publisher of Slackerwood. AFS decided earlier this summer that it would make more sense for the nonprofit to pursue its own editorial voice, so we've worked out a very amicable separation.

I cannot stress enough how grateful I am to have had the Austin Film Society publishing Slackerwood for more than two years. AFS staff members have been extremely supportive and enthusiastic. In fact, I hope they'll continue to help us with previews and event coverage. I also want to thank ex-AFS-staffer Agnes Varnum, who met with me in a coffeehouse nearly three years ago to start hatching the collaborative scheme.

Now, what's on the horizon for Slackerwood? After weighing options available to me for possibly securing funding, I realized I'm first and foremost a writer. I love writing and I love editing articles to bring out the best in them -- these endeavors are an enjoyable use of some of my spare time. (And I love watching movies, but I don't have to tell you that.)

AFS Grants 2014: A Sneak Peek into Texas Filmmaking (Part Two)

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son of a bug still

Continuing from Part One, here are detailed descriptions of more 2014 AFS Grants winners. Again, if you have info we don't, feel free to share it in the comments or drop us a line if you're involved with one of the films.

Never Goin' Back (Narrative Feature) (pictured below)

  • The grant: $2,500 (AFS Grant Award) for production and $5,000 (MPS Camera Award) for camera package and equipment rentals
  • The blurb: "In an attempt to get rent money and avoid eviction, high school drop outs Jessie & Angela embark on a day of adventure that includes dudes, drugs, booze and an ill-advised heist. Just another day in the life of your average 16-year-old girl."
  • The filmmaker: Augustine Frizzell was born in Texas and currently lives in Dallas. She has done quite a bit of work as an actress (her credits include Ain't Them Bodies Saints and Hellion), and she also directed the short film I Was A Teenage Girl, which screened at SXSW last year (Elizabeth's interview with her).

AFS Grants 2014: A Sneak Peek into Texas Filmmaking (Part One)

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any rough times are now behind you

Congratulations are in order for several Austin and Texas filmmakers, as the Austin Film Society announced its 2014 AFS Grant recipients Tuesday. This year, $115,000 will be distributed to 40 individuals to help with production and distribution costs on a combined 37 feature and short films. Each year, we at Slackerwood look forward to this announcement because it provides a nice roundup of specific movies we can look forward to seeing in the coming months.

More than half of this year's grant recipients have never before received funding from AFS, and the remaining awardees include familiar Lone Star filmmakers like Andrew Bujalski, Yen Tan and John Fiege. All but three grants (not including Travel Grants) will assist Austin-based films -- there's a lot going on around here.

Here's an overview of this year's AFS Grant recipients along with a little context and background information. Let us know if you have anything to add, and feel free to reach out if you're involved with any of these projects and want to tell us more.

AFS Doc Nights Preview: Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger

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Whitey Bulger FBI mugshot from Whitey: The United States of America v. James J. Bulger

James J. Bulger, aka "Whitey," was a huge force in Boston for decades. He figured largely into the city's non-mafia Winter Hill Gang, killed numerous people, and eventually landed on the FBI's Most Wanted list -- just under Osama bin Laden. Some say he was an FBI informant, but he disputes those claims in the film Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger.

In Whitey, voices from Whitey's past and current life paint a certain picture of the man.  Along with the multiple people Joe Berlinger interviewed (including relatives of Whitey's victims), the director inserts old surveillance video and photos from investigations, as well as passages from Bulger's 2013 racketeering trial.

While this documentary may lack a cinematic feel  -- it comes off more as a longform true-crime TV special -- the movie still offers a deep look into the dealings of this criminal figure and the people who should have been working to stop him. As WBUR reporter David Boeri says in Whitey, the "real story is our government enabled killers."

AFS Series Preview: How Lars Picked the 'Roger Corman' Films

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A Bucket of Blood

We have him to thank for The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), The Trip, Bloody Mama and a half-dozen Poe adaptations. His producer credits include Piranha, Boxcar Bertha, TNT Jackson, Rock 'n' Roll High School and Sharktopus. (Perhaps best to disregard that last one.) He's notorious for shooting movies on little money in less than a week using sets from other films he'd just completed. Actors/filmmakers who worked on their earliest movies with him include Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller (pictured above in A Bucket of Blood), Robert Towne, John Sayles, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante and Martin Scorsese. Roger Corman has 56 director credits and 409 producer credits on IMDb, and he's still producing.

And Austin Film Society programmer Lars Nilsen had to narrow it down to four features -- plus a bonus documentary on Dick Miller -- for the latest AFS Arthouse series: "Films of Roger Corman." The series, screening Fridays and Sundays at the Marchesa, runs August 8-31. I emailed him (Nilsen, not Corman) to find out the story behind the series. Check out our mini email interview below -- followed by a longer list of Corman films Nilsen would have loved to include, so you can have your own enhanced Roger Corman experience at home.

Slackerwood: What made you decide to pick Roger Corman for this particular series at this time?

Lars Nilsen: I think summertime is the best season for light, fun entertainment movies. I can't recall any series of Corman's directorial work here anytime recently and it seems like a good time. I also took note of the fact that this year marks Corman's 60th year in the industry. The fact that the Dick Miller film [That Guy Dick Miller] was coming out just made the whole thing seem like good timing.

AFS Essential Cinema: Stanwyck in Her Prime

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Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper and other "professors" in BALL OF FIRE

If last summer's pre-code Barbara Stanwyck quartet of films left you hungry for more, you will be glad to know that additional Stanwyck movies are on the way! August's Essential Cinema series from Austin Film Society will showcase films from the prime of Stanwyck's career.  AFS Programmer Lars Nilsen has included a couple of well-known favorites with two titles that may be less familiar. 

I asked Nilsen why he chose to show more of this amazing actress's movies, and here's his answer:

Last year we showed the early Stanwyck. She had all the fire and personality and talent but you couldn't really call her a mature screen artist yet. The period covered here is Stanwyck as an experienced performer, fully aware of her craft and able to deploy great reserves of feeling and audience sympathy. I feel like if we had only shown the pre-Code films we would be short changing Stanwyck, who is even better in this selection of films.

AFS Hosts 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' Premiere

Sin City 2 posterLast week, Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez was at San Diego Comic-Con, promoting his latest movie Sin City: A Dame to Kill For with panels and parties -- even walking the convention floor in costume.

This week, the Austin Film Society has announced it will host the Texas premiere of the Sin City sequel, which will take place Wednesday, August 20 at the Paramount Theatre. The screening will be in 3D -- how many chances have you had to watch a 3D movie downtown at the Paramount?

Tickets are on sale now only for AFS members, who have until August 5 to buy tickets at a discounted rate -- as low as $20 for the balcony. On August 6, general-public tickets go on sale with no AFS member discount. Tickets include admission to an afterparty at the Rattle Inn.

Rodriguez co-directed Sin City: A Dame to Kill For with Frank Miller, who authored the original graphic novel and wrote the movie's script. Both of them also collaborated on the 2005 movie. Returning cast members include Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Jaime King, Rosario Dawson and Bruce Willis. Among the movie's many other stars are Josh Brolin, Powers Boothe, Rosario Dawson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt ... and Lady Gaga.

No word yet on any special guests for the premiere, but we'll keep you posted.

And just for fun, here's a photo of Rodriguez from the Texas Film Awards earlier this year, performing with musicians Patricia Vonne (who's his sister) and Alex Ruiz.

AFS Screening Preview: Lars Nilsen on 'The Sepia Screen'

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poster for Dirty Gertie from Harlem USASouthern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas owns an archive of 1930s and 1940s-era films -- shorts, newsreels and features -- made specifically for black audiences of the time.  These historic reels were found in a Tyler, Texas warehouse in 1983, and the team at SMU's G. William Jones Video and Collection has restored and digitized the movies.

You can view the films online, or if you're in Austin, watch a selection that Lars Nilsen, Austin Film Society Programmer, has compiled from the collection. "The Sepia Screen" program will play at the Marchesa on Sunday, July 27 at 2 pm [tickets info].

The 35mm films screening this Sunday include the short Vanities (1946), Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (1946) starring Francine Everett, and Souls of Sin (1949).

I talked (via email) to Nilsen about this upcoming program.

Slackerwood: How did you learn about this specific archive at SMU?

Lars Nilsen: I'm a big fan of these films and I was researching them when I ran across the archive and naturally the wheels turned in my head. I contacted them last year and they told me the films were on tour in South America, but I made plans to eventually bring them here to Austin.

What are your thoughts on the cultural relevance of these forgotten works?

Nilsen: First off, they are not "art films" by and large. They are very low-budget commercial films and plot-wise, they are very similar to their mainstream B-movie counterparts. The interest and value of these films comes from the fact that they are made for black audiences. While the humor is typically quite broad, it's instantly more sophisticated because it need not be slanted to fit a white audience's preconceptions. It can be very "inside" subversive humor.

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