Jonathan Demme, director of such feature films as Rachel Getting Married and Philadelphia, and such documentaries as Jimmy Carter Man from Plains, will receive the top award at the 2013 Austin Film Festival this fall. Demme is being honored with the fest's "Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking" Award.
Demme won an Oscar for his direction of The Silence of the Lambs. Recently Demme has done directing work on TV shows such as HBO's Enlightened. His Fear of Falling, based on a screenplay by Wallace Shawn, is currently in post-production. The photo above is from SXSW 2009, when Demme brought the concert documentary Neil Young Trunk Show to Austin.
AFF also announced its "Outstanding Television Writer" for 2013: Vince Gilligan, acclaimed for his creation of and work on the AMC series Breaking Bad. Gilligan also served as executive producer for The X-Files, and wrote screenplays for Hancock and the Texas-shot movie Home Fries. (Does this mean we might see Home Fries at AFF in October?)
By Marcelena Mayhorn
The Capital City Event Center was abuzz last Wednesday night with Austin Film Festival's Conversation in Film with Brian Helgeland, writer and director of 42, which hit theaters two days after the event. Moderated by AFF Executive Director Barbara Morgan, the conversation focused on Helgeland's career as a writer. I'll admit I'd seen many films Helgeland wrote but never realized he was the man behind the curtain.
Helgeland opened the conversation by letting the audience know he started his career by writing horror movies, his most notable (in his opinion) being 976-EVIL. It was through horror films that he began to get involved with other writers, eventually working on some television series episodes as well.
The screenwriter then jumped into the process of adapting L.A. Confidential, which I was astounded to hear took three whole years to write. His biggest challenge was trying to transform a 496-page book into a two-hour film, the plot of the film ultimately being much different than the book. Helgeland won an Academy Award (along with director Curtis Hanson) for the adapted screenplay in 1997.
He then went on to talk about writing and directing Payback, the 1999 adaptation of a Donald Westlake novel, starring Mel Gibson. Off all of his works, this seemed to present the most hurdles, the final straw being that he was fired as director by Gibson himself. Helgeland said after that he felt like he was in "movie jail" and the only escape was to write his way out.
He did just that, with the following year's A Knight's Tale putting him back on the map. This was perhaps my most favorite part of the talk, as he discussed the research he did for the film. The biggest obstacle? Finding people who could joust, and were also willing to do it!
By Marcelena Mayhorn
[Please welcome our newest contributor, Marcelena Mayhorn. She's a freelance writer in Austin who's also contributed to CultureMap Austin, and who previously worked for Austin Film Festival.]
Learn some tricks of the trade from the Austin Film Festival ongoing Conversations in Film Series. A year-round collection of film workshops and script readings, the series has three notable events coming up in the next couple of months.
The next Conversations in Film will take place this Saturday, April 6 with "A Conversation with Larry Wilmore" at the Harry Ransom Center. Having written for shows such as In Living Color and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Larry Wilmore (currently a correspondent on The Daily Show) will discuss how to maximize a writer's comedic potential, breaking into the industry and marketing your work.
The series continues Wednesday, April 10 with "A Conversation with Brian Helgeland" at the Capital City Events Center (6700 Middle Fiskville) and an advance screening of the writer-director's latest movie, 42, starring Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford. Brian Helgeland, who directed Payback and scripted Man on Fire, Mystic River and other films, will discuss his process of writing and adapting screenplays. Attendees can then head to Galaxy Highland for the screening, which will be followed by a Q&A about the making of 42.
Gearing up for the summer, AFF will also host "A Conversation with David Magee" on May 22. David Magee, who adapted the novel Life of Pi into the acclaimed 2012 feature, will discuss writing visionary stories and his philosophies about the process. The discussion will be followed by a retrospective screening of Magee's first film, Finding Neverland.
Tickets for all three sessions are on sale now through the AFF website, with a discount for AFF members.
Updated November 6, 2012.
The Slackerwood team has been all over Austin Film Festival this year. Here's our coverage, including guides, reviews, interviews and features.
I couldn't think of a more fitting movie for this Election Day than Mr. Cao Goes to Washington, and my only regret is that I can't urge you to watch it right now. The documentary screened at Austin Film Festival last month, and PBS will broadcast it in January, but in the meantime you'll have to watch Butter or The Candidate instead. (Or Idiocracy, but I digress.)
The subject of Mr. Cao Goes to Washington is Anh "Joseph" Cao, a Republican who won a U.S. Congress seat in 2008 for Louisiana's Second Congressional District, which includes most of New Orleans district and which had elected Democrats for more than a century. Cao was running against the incumbent, William Jefferson, whom I will refer to as a politician in the very oldest traditions of Louisiana politics. Cao's victory was considered an upset, which tells you even more about why the oldest traditions of Louisiana politics are still around. (I used to live there, so I get to say that.)
Movies like Flight are why reviews are necessary. I had seen the trailer and expected the film to be a legal thriller: what happened to the plane Denzel Washington's character pilots to cause it to crash? And how was he able to land it with only a small number killed in the process? Well, the laugh was on me, because you discover the answers to these questions in the first 30 minutes of the movie. Instead of being a thriller, Flight -- which screened at Austin Film Festival and opens in wide release Friday -- is a drawn-out drama about alcoholism.
The movie kicks off with the Barenaked Ladies song "Alcohol," which pretty much tells you what you need to know about this movie. All the late-1990s music in the soundtrack had me wondering if the movie really was based in the 21st century. Pilot Whit Whitaker (Denzel Washington) lounges in a hotel bed, chatting on a cell phone as his flight attendant ladyfriend (Nadine Velazquez) walks around s-l-o-w-l-y getting dressed for the day and lighting up a joint. Whit finishes up a beer, snorts some coke and walks to his plane as Joe Cocker's "Feelin' Alright" plays. And then disaster strikes, and Whit is able to overcome it.
A number of well known faces appeared around Austin Film Festival this year. While some stars walked the red carpet for movies such as It's a Disaster, Silver Linings Playbook and Jayne Mansfield's Car, others happily wandered around the festival, sat in panels and watched movies. Fortunately we had a couple of intrepid photographers covering the AFF red carpet events who captured some lovely photos for those of you who happened not to inadvertantly sit next to James Franco -- pictured above before the screening of Francophrenia -- or his General Hospital co-star Steve Burton. Many thanks again to Molly Dinkins and Dick De Jong for the photos below.
Let's start with Andrea Riseborough, the British actress in Austin for the film Shadow Dancer. She's also been in W.E., Made in Dagenham and Never Let Me Go.
An "exquisite corpse" has many definitions and variations. At its most basic, it's a collaboration project, in which each collaborator puts in his contribution, followed by a peer who has to abide by a specific rule. For example, if three people were assigned to draw a character, each would take a different part: head, torso and legs. Each person would draw their portion with no knowledge of the others' work. This type of collaboration is the basis for the movie The Exquisite Corpse Project.
The Olde English comedy troupe has seen success, but the peak of their success has come and gone. Each member of the troupe has gone off on their own and started to establish their careers in different ways. But troupe member Ben Popik has an idea for an exquisite corpse project that would serve as the group's final hurrah.
Each member writes 15 pages of a script for a feature film, and the rules are that the person following could only read the previous five pages of the script ahead of them in the line. Each participant also provides a cast and location list. The result is absolute mess of a movie, but a hilarious atrocity. Interspersed between the footage shot for The Exquisite Corpse Project is a documentary-style presentation of interviews with each member of the troupe candidly speaking about the project and other topics.
To look at this film as a straight documentary would be a disservice. At the same time, to look at The Exquisite Corpse Project only for the 75 minutes of "film" footage shot is only going to make your head explode. The untitled movie-within-the-movie is an absolute disaster. Not only is each portion written differently, but continuity isn't maintained, and the direction differs in each segment. The performances are over the top, and characters are given strange names that no one can pronounce from segment to segment. Nothing about this should work on any level. But it does.
It works because one thing remains constant throughout each segment, and that is the honesty with which each member of the troupe approaches their pages. They each try to predict what the other will write and try to confuse the one coming after them. It's a big-screen version of the way they try to outshine each other comedically in the short films that made them famous.
This year's Austin Film Festival Documentary Feature Audience Award co-recipient Spinning Plates features three restaurants that not only initially seem worlds apart -- molecular gastronomy at Alinea in Chicago, the historic Breitbach's Country Dining in Balltown, Iowa, and the Mexican restaurant Cocina de Gabby in Tucson -- but also beyond most viewers' personal experiences. That first impression is quickly dispelled as viewers find themselves immersed in the very personal stories within each subject's environs.
The highly rated restaurant Alinea in Chicago seems the most impersonal due to its progressive menu, artistic decor and high-priced multi-courses, yet is the most engaging through the story of chef Grant Atchatz. Chef Atchatz talks about his career in the same manner that one would expect an artist to express himself. In fact, many of his gastronomic creations are multi-dimensional masterpieces, inspired by both art and nature.
Despite Atchatz putting so much of his personality into the menu, he conveys the importance of the team within the kitchen at Alinea -- a critical point when he learns that he has Stage 4 cancer of the tongue and may not only lose his sense of taste, but very likely his life. Atchatz must overcome the odds to see his restaurant achieve the ultimate goal -- three stars in the Michelin food guide for Chicago -- as well as balance his life as a husband and father
Atchatz's health is not the only tragedy that Spinning Plates portrays -- the 150-year-old historic Breitbach's restaurant suffers not just one but two massive fires, destroying this local landmark. Breitbach's is not just an eatery, but a daily community gathering spot for the residents of Balltown. There are silver linings in this story, though, as one of the Breitbach girls meets her future husband on the carpentry team that helps the family rebuild their restaurant.
The third story told within Spinning Plates is of Cocina de Gabby, where a young Mexican couple struggle to survive and provide for their young daughter. They've literally given up everything for their restaurant that is sparsely frequented, with both parents and family members working nearly around the clock to cook and serve.
Common threads run throught the stories within Spinning Plates, including the ability to overcome personal tragedies, focus on family, and leave a legacy as well as create a community. The editing and cinematography is visually stunning and intimate, connecting the audience to the film's subjects. The score resonates within and engages viewers as well, and leaves the audience with a sense of hope for the future of these seemingly different restauranteurs.
Although I would not describe myself as a gourmet, I must admit that after watching Spinning Plates I was left with such an insatiable taste for these featured restaurants offerings that I hope to experience both Alinea and Breitbach's Country Dining one day. I highly recommend watching this film that provides an intimate insight into the passion and creativity behind these establishments -- while Alinea received the only three-star rating for Chicago in 2012, sadly the third subject Cocina de Gabby closed its doors not long after the film was completed.
If you were to mash up No Country for Old Men with equal parts The Getaway and any romantic comedy, you'd have Spring Eddy. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but one can't help but think about that while watching this movie. Making his feature film debut, Spring Eddy was written and directed by George Anson. It's got all the markings of a complex crime dramedy, complete with a lot of notable Texas landmarks and some funny performances.
Eddy (Gabriel Luna), a small-time Chicago criminal who commits some dim-witted schemes, is on the run. He ripped off his boss, and now he's heading to Mexico ... but gets distracted by a pretty hitchhiker on the way. What started as a normal everyday hookup ends with Eddy beaten up, broken down and penniless somewhere in Texas.