21 Years: Richard Linklater, which had its world premiere at Austin Film Festival on Oct. 24, primarily consists of two types of footage: interviews with charismatic actors who have worked with Richard Linklater, and scenes from the director's films up to and including Before Midnight (Boyhood is mentioned in passing). The result is often enjoyable but limited in scope, and ultimately the film comes off as more of a puff piece than an insightful documentary.
The question underlying 21 Years seems to be, "Why isn't Linklater better known and and as universally well loved as he is in Austin?" It's a good one to ask, but directors Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood don't so much answer that question as compile a series of examples that he is truly respected and admired by actors who have worked with him.
Repeat collaborators like Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey seem to have nothing but nice things to say about their pal Rick, and the enthusiasm and awe they exhibit is infectiously positive. From specific stories about filming to broad appreciation of his zen-like demeanor, the talking heads enlisted for this project are clearly happy to sing the praises of Richard Linklater.
Fans of the director and his movies will be helpless to resist the charms of attractive actors telling fun stories, and the sense of an underdog receiving his due makes it easy to be swept along with the pleasant nostalgia of watching clips from Slacker and Dazed and Confused, among other films. The fact that the discussion never goes deeper than surface-level adoration is a little disappointing, though; thoughts from people who have worked extensively with Linklater behind the camera (editors, producers, cinematographers) are nowhere to be found.
Unless you're watching 21 Years as a complete newcomer to the director's work, you won't learn anything about him. Making the film even harder to take seriously are the animated segments accompanying the interviews. Playful and silly, these images cement the fact that this production is all about fun and only tangentially concerned with substance.
With the influx of transplants, the rise of condos and office buildings across the Austin skyline, and the gentrification of much of Austin's eclectic areas, it can be hard to remember the vibrant time of the past. You could people -watch all day at local cafes including the original Quack's on the Drag -- actually called "Quackenbush’s Intergalactic Dessert Co & Espresso Café" -- and Les Amis, then visit Sixth Street to listen to street musicians and buy a flower from a street vendor without having to step over the remnants of drunkenness.
Beef and Pie Productions filmmakers capture the nostalgia of old Austin in their 50-minute documentary film, Crazy Carl and His Man-Boobs, which premieres at this year's Austin Film Festival and screens again tonight at 7 pm at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. This quirky and entertaining film brings to light the forces that both created and are driving this phenomena away. As the economic and political landscape has changed in Austin, so has the heart and the people of this progressive city.
If you've ever been to Esther's Follies at Sixth Street and Red River, you may have seen Crazy Carl Hickerson. Best known for selling and spinning flowers, he can also be seen flashing his man boobs and dancing. What you may not know is that Hickerson has also been an Austin City Council candidate several times, with a penchant for odd platforms -- some even related to his foot fetish. Hickerson spends much of his time caring for his wife Charlotte Ferris, and the loving couple are a source of amusement with their good-natured tales.
I enjoyed several of this year's panels at Austin Film Festival, with my only complaint being how to choose between concurrent sessions. The quality and diversity of conversations and panels were superb.
My highlight was "Science Fiction versus Science Fact" on Friday, when Scott Z. Burns (Side Effects, Contagion), Eric Heisserer (Hours, The Thing) and Ashley Miller (Thor, X-Men: First Class) discussed the fictional future we see onscreen and how they've addressed unknown possibilities in their own screenwriting.
Burns spoke about preparing for Contagion by approaching it as if science fiction movie by asking experts, "Tell me what's possible? What hasn't happened yet?" He emphasized the importance of research first -- "it's a phenomenal procrastination tool, and you can get amazing gems for narrative" -- citing cell phone jammers as an example of how authorities plan to control the flow of information during crisis, which makes for a good dramatic point.
Boxer Heather "The Heat" Hardy lives with her parents, sister, nephew and her own young daughter in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood. She trains with her trainer/boyfriend Devon at the famed Gleason's Gym and dreams of making a full-time career out of fighting and moving out of her current crowded living situation. In the documentary Hardy, from first-time filmmaker (and Austin native) Natasha Verma, the boxer asserts, "I don't wanna get paid like a female, I wanna get paid like a boxer."
The film shows Hardy's path toward signing with a big-time promoter and making more money. In 2012, boxing became the last sport at the Olympics to accept women, and Verma's film displays some aspects of the macho culture still involved in the sport. Posters plugging fights for the male athletes adorn the gym, while Heather is responsible for selling a certain portion of tickets to her bouts. As she waits impatiently before one of her fights, rapper 50 Cent comes into the dressing room full of mostly men and makes disgusting jokes about domestic violence and women who fight back.
Writer and director Nick Matthews made his feature debut at this year's Austin Film Festival with One Eyed Girl, a riveting psychological thriller that takes place in South Australia but could just as easily occur anywhere. Co-written by co-star Craig Behenna (The Babadook), this film -- which just won the AFF 2014 jury prize in the "Dark Matters" category -- slowly reveals the layers of pain and guilt experienced by a psychiatrist and the unexpected rocky path to redemption and salvation.
Travis (Mark Leonard Winter) is a thirtysomething psychiatrist severely damaged by the death of former patient Rachel (Katy Cheel). Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Travis' relationship with Rachel extended beyond and was impacted by her mental health. Travis' inability to connect to his patients and Rachel is compounded by the desensitization to the violence and corruption of the modern world, as well as a refusal to accept his own identity. He is emotionally lost and on the brink of a nervous breakdown when he meets the mysterious teenager Grace (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), who's handing out brochures about a charismatic leader, Father Jay (Steve Le Marquand).
In a near frigid Driskill ballroom, the Austin Film Festival audience sat to listen to "A Conversation with Whit Stillman" on Sunday afternoon. The director of Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco and Damsels in Distress was suffering a cold from a trip to Poland and seemed to huddle in the chair he'd moved out of the way of an A/C vent. For the first ten minutes, the moderator asked about Stillman's entry into the world of film.
We learned that the first film Stillman saw was Bambi, and that at the age of 16, he wanted to be a novelist like F. Scott Fitzgerald. In his twenties, he viewed journalism and writing short stories as his career option -- until he saw John Sayles' Return of the Secaucus Seven. That film showed Stillman "the way a short story writer could become a filmmaker." He worked on his script for Barcelona while living in Madrid, but didn't think it strong enough for a first film.
My friend and I attended the Austin Film Festival's opening night screening of musical The Last 5 Years, starring Anna Kendrick (Up In the Air, Pitch Perfect) and Jeremy Jordan (a Corpus Christi native who's been in Joyful Noise and Smash). My heart was in my throat as soon as Kendrick's Cathy started singing, and this twisty story kept my emotions on edge from then on. Jamie (Jordan) and Cathy sing monologues about the current state of their relationship; her songs move backward in time as his move forward (which seems obvious after the fact, but I didn't note this at the time). They only sing together in the proposal scene.
Director Richard LaGravenese (who also directed the less-extraordinary Beautiful Creatures, which the same friend viewed with me) warned the audience before the film that The Last 5 Years is practically all song. The movie contains very little dialogue -- the songs pretty much say everything.
Post-screening, the director talked about working on this film for seven years. He hadn't seen a production of the original 2002 musical by Jason Robert Brown, but fell in love with the cast recording and felt moved to bring the story to film. He and his crew filmed in Harlem in 21 days, with the actors working on multiple takes of the same song in one day (incredible when you consider the challenging nature of the music involved).
Sunday is the last full day of the Austin Film Festival (there are no more conference panels after today, but plenty of late afternoon and evening film screenings run through Thursday). Remember to check the website to keep up with schedule changes, and take a look at a few top picks.
Sunday Panel Picks:
A Conversation with Luke Wilson -- The Dallas-born actor has starred in over 50 film and television projects and has several upcoming releases, including Satellite Beach, which he co-directed, wrote and stars in. Today he sits down with moderator John Merriman to discuss his career and answer questions. (Sunday, Oct. 26, 11:30 am - 12:45 pm, Driskill Hotel Ballroom)
A Conversation with Susannah Grant -- Susannah Grant has an impressive list of writing credits, including Erin Brockovich, Pocahontas, Ever After and In Her Shoes. Come learn about her career and bring your smartest question. (Sunday, Oct. 26, 11:30 am - 12:45 pm, Driskill Hotel Maximilian Room)
A Live Script Reading of Flarsky, written by Dan Sterling -- Live script readings are a fun AFF tradition, and this one will feature actors Mike Birbiglia, Jason Ritter, Austin Nichols and Sunny Mabrey taking on a romantic comedy about a down-on-his luck guy pursuing a powerful politician. (Sunday, Oct. 26, 12 pm - 2:30 pm, State Theatre)
Sunday Film Picks:
Whit Stillman Presents Excerpts from The Cosmopolitans -- In films like Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco, director Whit Stillman explores the lives of young city dwellers who are entertainingly self-involved. He now has a new Amazon series that explores similar topics and themes, this time amongst a group of Americans living in Paris. (Sunday, Oct. 26, 1 pm, Alamo Drafthouse Village)
It's another full day at the Austin Film Festival -- are you ready? If your brain is starting to lag a little and you need some direction, here are a few promising film and panel picks to help you plan the next few hours.
Saturday Panel Picks:
Independent Filmmaking Track: The Climate of Indie Film -- Local director Kat Candler is one of the indie filmmakers on this panel geared towards aspiring creatives. Texan (and former AFF staffer) Ryan Piers Williams, Frank Hall Green and Jeffrey Brown (co-producer of No No: A Dockumentary) join Candler for this discussion, which aims to help attendees make sense of a changing industry. (Saturday, Oct. 25, 9 - 10:15 am, Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Assembly Room)
Scribble to Screen: My So-Called Writing Process -- If you're here to perfect your craft or learn how the experts work, sit down with Winnie Holzman, the creator of My So-Called Life and writer of Wicked and Thirtysomething, as she discusses her storytelling methods. (Saturday, Oct. 25, 9 - 10:15 am, Driskill Hotel Citadel Room)
A Conversation with the 2014 Awardees -- If you don't have time to make it to the individual conversations with this year's festival honorees, see all three at once at this panel led by AFF Executive Director Barbara Morgan. Jim Sheridan, Matthew Weiner and Edward Zwick will draw on their impressive histories to discuss their careers and offer advice to developing writers and directors. (Saturday, Oct. 25, 10:45 am - noon, Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental Ballroom)
Friday is the first full day of the Austin Film Festival (bravo to you if you make it all the way from a 9 am panel to the last film of the night), and whether you plan to wing it or stick to a schedule, here are just a few of the many events worth considering.
Friday Panel Picks:
Short Films, Big Leaps: Story Development in Pixar Short Films -- Pixar panels tend to be pretty entertaining, and today's will be led by Mary Coleman, a Senior Development Executive at Pixar Animation Studios. Her job is a fascinating one, and she's here to share. (Friday, Oct. 24, 9 am - 10:15 am, Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Assembly Room)
Deconstructing: No Country for Old Men -- Walk through this Coen brothers, Texas-filmed classic with Rachel Getting Married writer Jenny Lumet and Noah Hawley, creator and producer of the television show Fargo. Accompanying this panel will be Cormac McCarthy archival material presented by the Wittliff Collections on display in the Jim Hogg Parlor in the Driskill. (Friday, Oct. 24, 10:45 am - noon, The Driskill Hotel Maximilian Room) UPDATE: This panel has been rescheduled for Sunday, Oct. 26, 11:30 am - 12:45 pm and will be held in the Driskill Hotel Crystal Room.
Chicks with Bics -- Hollywood has a long way to go before it can be called female-friendly, and this conversation will check in with a few women working in the industry to find out about the particular challenges they face. The panel consists of writers Jenny Lumet, Tiffany Paulsen, (former Austinite) Pamela Ribon and Liz Tigelaar, who together have an incredible amount of television and film experience to draw from. (Friday, Oct. 24, 3:15 pm - 4:30 pm, St. David's Episcopal Church, Historic Sanctuary)
Friday Film Picks:
The Twilight Zone, Presented by Matthew Weiner -- Peek into the brain of the adored and awardwinning Mad Men creator when he screens and discusses two of his favorite Twilight Zone episodes: "It's a Good Life" and "A Stop at Willoughby." (Friday, Oct. 24, 1 pm - 3:15 pm, State Theatre)