Change is in the air at Austin Film Festival: They recently announced a few major updates to the film and conference staff structure and have also revealed a year-round programming slate packed with special events.
First, former Conference Director and Film Programmer Erin Hallagan has been named Creative Director of the newly-combined Conference and Film departments. Austin Film Festival (AFF) Co-Founder and Executive Director Barbara Morgan describes Hallagan as "an inspired programmer and leader" and calls her promotion "the natural next step."
Also taking on new roles are Elizabeth Mims and Harrison Glaser, both previous festival employees, as well. Mims was a Young Filmmakers Program Director at AFF and also directed Only the Young, a documentary selected to screen during AFF in 2012 (here's Elizabeth's interview with the Austin-based filmmaker). Mims will now act as a Senior Programmer for the festival. Glaser, who served as a Conference Assistant for the last two years, has been named the new Film Program Coordinator.
The official festival doesn’t happen until October, but several AFF-hosted screenings and panels take place between now and then. Highlights include the On Story conversation series and an ongoing partnership with the Los Angeles-based Writers Guild Foundation.
Awards season is in full swing, and the Austin Film Festival, known for its recognition of screenwriters, announced last week that Academy Award-winning writer/director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot) will receive this year's Distinguished Screenwriter Award, joining past award recipients Harold Ramis and Robert Altman, among others. Sheridan will accept the award at the fest's annual awards luncheon on Oct. 25 and will also speak on panels during the 2014 conference.
Other confirmed panelists at the 21st annual AFF and Screenwriters Conference, which will take place Oct. 23-30, 2014, include writers and producers from such television series as Breaking Bad, Girls and Seinfeld and movies like Fight Club and Donnie Darko. Some of these industry insiders will be present for meet and greets and roundtables during the conference, as well. Read the full list of 2014 panelists at the bottom of this article.
But you don't have to wait until October to stay up to date on the movie industry. This Saturday, Beau Willimon -- creator of the Netflix Original Series House of Cards -- will discuss the show's creative process at 2 pm at the Harry Ransom Center through AFF's Conversation in Film Series.
Updated Nov. 18, 2013.
The Slackerwood team was all over Austin Film Festival this year. Here's our coverage, including guides, reviews, interviews and fest dispatches.
Austin Film Festival may be well behind us, but I am still thinking about some older Texas films at the fest that I stumbled upon almost accidentally. As I was planning my schedule for the Sunday of the fest on Saturday night, I noticed some oddly named films at the Rollins with descriptions that included "Texas independent film." I ended up skipping My Man Godfrey (which I can watch any time) to see what this screening was about.
All I knew about Invasion of the Aluminum People (1980) and Speed of Light (1981) were that apparently Jonathan Demme liked them, since he was going to "present" them. I assumed "presenting" meant he would do a nice intro, then scoot, as is typical at many such events.
The theater was about halfway full and I was one of the younger audience members. Later I would learn that many people in the audience had worked on one of the two films, or provided music, or been in a band with someone involved with the film. Both films employed a lot of musicians as their cast and crew. Well, it was Austin in 1980, I kind of assumed most of the people living here were musicians (or claimed to be). Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater sat a couple of rows in front of me, and I took that as a good omen -- this must be worthwhile.
Written and directed by University of Texas graduate Michael Bilandic (who we interviewed before Austin Film Festival began), Hellaware is a playful modern morality tale that explores the ups and downs a young photographer experiences while trying to make himself a part of the New York art scene.
Hellaware stars Keith Poulson (Somebody Up There Likes Me) as Nate, a slacker with abstract dreams of fame and just a few vague ideas about how to actually achieve it. After his girlfriend (Kate Lyn Sheil) dumps him to be with the pigtail-wearing Brooklyn artist of the moment, he descends into a downward spiral of self-pity and complaints. One night while attempting to mute his sorrows with booze, drugs and the internet, Nate and his friends (played by Sophia Takal and Duane C. Wallace) stumble across something on YouTube that is mesmerizing in its repulsiveness.
An absurd rap/rock video made by an Insane Clown Posse-type group (they're called the Young Torture Killers) captures Nate's attention, and before he knows it he's setting off to Delaware to track down a bunch of violence-obsessed teenagers with a taste for purple drank. Nate looks down on the group (he thinks they are backwards and terrible musicians), but is also intrigued by their authenticity. These audacious kids are different from the pretentious wannabe-artists he's surrounded by, and ultimately he hopes to capitalize on their rawness to his own advantage -- ideally in the form of a photography show that will jumpstart his career.
What follows is an arrangement where Nate takes what he wants from his subjects (exploitative photos they haven't given permission to use), and then a sleazy art gallery owner in turn takes advantage of Nate. Talk of truth and beauty goes out the window when money and notoriety beckon, and soon enough everyone starts to show their ugly sides as tempers flare, friendships tangle, and egos get really, really big.
When was the last time you talked to your next door neighbor? With all of the crazy reports out there in the news today, it seems that we as human beings have become more closed off to the world. I recall having a realization that, after almost one-and-a-half years of living in my apartment, I had never introduced myself to (or even seen) the person next door. I'm sure I looked rather foolish making an introduction after so long, but it seemed so unusual to live right next door to someone and not know anything about them -- even their name. Writer/director Ron Judkins explores this exact topic in his latest film, Finding Neighbors.
Sam (Michael O'Keefe) is a graphic novel artist, famous for works he did many years ago. It appears that he's hit a lull in his career and is struggling to create anything for his latest book (we gather this through the many voicemails from his publisher). Although he is happily married to his wife Mary (Catherine Dent), he still seems to be missing some sort of outside connection. Working from home doesn't help this problem, either. Sam feels as if things won't ever change -- until he meets his sassy gay next-door neighbor, Jeff (Blake Bashoff). Jeff knows about Sam and his work, but Sam knows nothing about Jeff. In learning about Jeff's life and struggles, Sam begins to put the pieces of his life back together.
Director Alexandra Lescaze came to Austin and spent several years following a group of local women, most of whom met via a Yahoo message board for BBWs (or "big beautiful women"), for her second feature-length documentary film, All of Me. They started out as a tight-knit support group not just because they were all overweight, but because they were proud and happy about it.
As members of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, the majority of these ladies came together to celebrate and have social outings where they wouldn't be judged by the outside world. While the group initially seems to have a strong resistance to losing weight, the film focuses on the successes and struggles of a few of them to undergo weight-loss surgery and how it affects everybody around them.
A long-form poem set to film and interspersed with dialogue, Sombras de Azul from Kelly Daniela Norris takes the viewer on a scenic trip to Cuba. Maribel, played by the director's cousin Seedne Bujaidar, arrives in the country after the sudden death of her older brother Carlos. In the touristy areas, silent museums and colorful back streets of Havana, she looks for hints of her brother at the same time she pays a sort of tribute to him.
During her short time in the country, Maribel meets friendly cafe owners, a Swedish tourist (Charlotta Mohlin, True Blood), and carpenter/failed thief Eusebio (Cuban actor Yasmani Guerrero). Each in their different way aid in her healing process.
Sombras de Azul moves in quiet meditation, with Maribel's reflections about her brother spoken over scenes of landscape, cityscape or beach. People in white congregate on the streets for an unnamed sacred event. Maribel sits silently in a graveyard under a tree, the audio of her narration softly spooling out a tall tale Carlos once told her about a snake.
Austin Film Festival ended last week, but the news flashes aren't over yet. The 2013 Audience Award winners were announced Monday and include a few with Austin/Texas connections -- most notably All of Me, an Austin-based documentary, and Sombras de Azul, which was written and directed by Austin filmmaker Kelly Daniela Norris.
The Marquee Feature Award went to Tommy Oliver's family drama 1982, and the Narrative Feature pick Beside Still Waters was also a Jury Award winner. Directed and co-written by Chris Lowell, this ensemble piece explores heavy themes using humor and heart. Many Audience Award winners from past years have gone on to more widespread attention and acclaim, including Silver Linings Playbook, Spinning Plates and 2011's The Artist.
Take a look at the full list of 2013 awardees:
- 1982 -- Marquee Feature Audience Award, written and directed by Tommy Oliver.
- Beside Still Waters -- Narrative Feature Audience Award, written by Chris Lowell and Mohit Narang and directed by Chris Lowell.
The territory Alexander Payne explores in his films, that place where melancholy and outlandish human behavior collide, is once again accessed in his latest movie, Nebraska. Starring Bruce Dern as an aging alcoholic and Will Forte as his well-meaning son, the film meanders across the plains and valleys of family relationships, nostalgia and regret to reveal moments of sad beauty and awkward humor.
Falling for a magazine marketing ploy, old Woody Grant (Dern) believes he's won a million-dollar sweepstakes prize. Though his son David (Forte) knows it's simply junk mail, he has nothing better to do -- so he agrees to drive from Montana to Nebraska with his father to collect the money and let him find out the truth for himself. Along the mishap-laden journey, the two men visit Woody's hometown and encounter a cast of family and old friends.
Filmed in black and white in a landscape defined by sparseness and open space, Nebraska is filled with striking moments of stark desolation and piercing loneliness. Woody embodies these traits himself; he is a man who often tried his best over the years, but never shared himself with his wife and sons and mostly devoted himself to drinking instead. As David travels with his estranged father and finds out more about him, he is greeted with surprise after surprise and realizes he never knew much about Woody at all. The more he learns the more confused he becomes about his own life, which he seems to be passively enduring.
Payne explores similar themes to the ones found in About Schmidt, but in that film he cleverly used an epistolary device to dive into the depths of his main character's head and heart. Unfortunately he has less success with revelation here; Woody remains largely inscrutable and distant, and David functions as a question-asker and chauffeur but doesn't get to do much else. Overshadowed by imagery (lovely as it is), the two main characters never feel fully formed in the ways that many of Payne's previous creations have been.