Austin Film Society

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.

AFS Doc Nights Preview: Sweet Dreams

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Drummers of Ingoma Nshya in Sweet Dreams

2014 marks 20 years since the Rwandan genocide. The months-long attack led by Hutus in 1994 resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, almost 20 percent of the country's population. The 2012 documentary Sweet Dreams, screening next week for Austin Film Society's Doc Nights series, depicts a community-building program that is helping female Rwandans recover from those horrific events.

Ingoma Nshya is the first all-female drumming troupe in Rwanda, formed of Hutus and Tutsis. Some members lost family in the genocide, and some have family in jail for their participation in the mass killings. Troupe leader Kiki Katese meets some ice-cream makers from Brooklyn and is inspired to have the Rwandan women start their own shop, Inzozi Nziza (which means "sweet dreams").

Sweet Dreams has many interviews with women from the group. There's Clementine, a young woman who walks 1.5 hours to town for rehearsals. Another woman, whose parents are currently jailed, says, "If ever there's a place you can find peace, that place is Ingoma Nshya. That's where I was reborn." Co-directors Lisa and Rob Fruchtman follow the ladies through the formation of their co-op and past the troubled days leading up to the store's opening.

AFS Essential Cinema Preview: Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman, Painfully Connected

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persona still

The next Austin Film Society Essential Cinema Series, "Liv and Ingmar," will run on Thursdays at 7:30 pm from July 3-31 at the Marchesa. The following column from programmer Chale Nafus provides some context for the films.

Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg, John Wayne and John Ford, Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater. Throughout film history there have been directors who frequently work with one particular actor through whom they can realize their cinematic dreams. Familiarity with an actor's face, body, voice, mannerisms and psychological depths can provide a director a preview of how a movie might look and sound even before the cameras roll.

Such was the 12-year relationship between Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann and Swedish writer/director Ingmar Bergman. Together they made eight feature films and one television miniseries, beginning with Persona (1966) and ending with Autumn Sonata (1978). They also fell in love during the production of their first film together.

The filming of Persona (which screens July 3) took place on the remote Swedish island of Fårö, an island off the coast of an island, a place Bergman had loved ever since filming Through a Glass Darkly there in 1961. He was drawn to its solitude and stark natural beauty. It easily served as a setting that forced people to confront their own inner demons as well as those of the people around them. Such would happen with Bergman and Ullmann.

Summer Viewing: Linklater Follows Up 'Jewels in the Wasteland' with Early 80s Film Recs

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Eating Raoul

By Richard Linklater

[Editor's note: Austin Film Society co-founder and filmmaker Richard Linklater recently curated "Jewels in the Wasteland," a series focusing on films of the early 1980s. Today, as a guest columnist for Slackerwood, he recommends other movies he was unable to include in the series.]

We're looking forward to continuing the "Jewels in the Wasteland" series at some point with films from 1984-1986! Below are various titles that would have fit nicely in this first section of 80s films. Before we get going again, we'll likely have some one-off screenings (hopefully Pixote and Baby It's You) that represent additional titles from the first part of the 80s, so keep an eye out for them.

In the meantime, please feel free to check out the below suggestions:

  • Last month's Atlantic City begs you to continue with both Louis Malle's My Dinner with Andre and Bill Forsyth's Local Hero with Burt Lancaster. If you love Local Hero like I think you will, please check out an earlier film of his, Gregory's Girl. I noticed Danny Boyle included a clip from it during his Olympic opening ceremonies.

AFS Doc Nights Preview: Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq

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George Balanchine and Tanaquil Le Clercq, from Afternoon of a Faun

Perhaps, as I was, you are unfamiliar with the name Tanaquil Le Clercq. This skilled dancer, a principal with the New York City Ballet struck with polio at the age of 27, is the focus of Afternoon of a Faun. The documentary about the ballerina's life comes from Nancy Buirski (The Loving Story), and is the Austin Film Society Doc Nights selection for June.

Tanaquil, known to her friends as "Tanny," started dancing at a young age and impressed choreographers such as George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.  A friend says, "Her body created inspiration for choreographers." She would form strong relationships with those two -- going on to marry Balanchine in 1952 and having a decades-long intense friendship with Robbins. Correspondence between Tanny and Robbins is read during Afternoon of a Faun, showing her dark humor and glimpses of her character, as well as the deep affection felt between them.

Along with these letters, director Buirski compiles interviews with friends and fellow dancers, vintage video, old photos, and audio clips from a past interview with Le Clercq to give the viewer a sense of the ballerina's story. Even in the sometimes scratchy video clips included in the movie, Le Clercq's magnificent talent is obvious. Her performance of Balanchine's La Valse is especially haunting. Portions of Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun start and close the film.

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq will screen on Wednesday, June 11 at AFS at the Marchesa. Ticket information is on the AFS site.

AFS Essential Cinema Preview: Films of WWI

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paths of glory still

The latest Austin Film Society Essential Cinema series, "Films of World War I," runs on Thursdays at 7:30 pm, from June 5-24, at the Marchesa. The following column from programmer Chale Nafus offers some background on the movies selected to screen.

In August 1914, World War I broke out in Europe, ostensibly because of the assassination of the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But Germany and France had been itching for war, the former to extend her territories, the latter to regain Alsace-Lorraine, lost to the Prussians in 1870. A series of interlocking treaties pulled Great Britain, Italy and Russia into the maelstrom until the entire continent was up in flames and running red with the blood of millions. Each side thought it would win and be home for Christmas.

Four years later, when the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918 (because of American military power entering the war in 1917 and exhaustion on the part of all combatants) nearly 10 million people (soldiers and civilians) had died. Three empires (Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman) fell and were carved up by greedy neighbors or ethnic groups with long memories. Monarchies disappeared, to be replaced initially by well-intentioned attempts at parliamentary governments, but many of those would turn fascist in the 1920s and 1930s. Diseases, especially influenza, traveled home with soldiers and decimated civilian populations. The world was forever changed by The Great War, only to begin the entire process over again on an even larger scale 20 years later. 

Motion pictures were in their adolescence when World War I began. Italy started making feature films in 1913 about the glorious Roman empire, and in the US, D.W. Griffith was filming his racist masterpiece The Birth of a Nation (1915). By the end of the war, the feature-length film was the new norm for film producers all over the world. World War I inevitably became a subject for narratives. Many such movies would question the entire endeavor. One of the first to do so was by French filmmaker Abel Gance.

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