Austin Film Festival (AFF) has announced the 2009 Audience Award winners, and I'm happy to report that among the winners were a few Texas films as well as some of our favorites from the fest. AFF also announced the dates for next year's film festival and conference: October 21-28, 2010.
Throughout the week of the festival, audience members were invited to rate films by ballot after each screening. Check out Jenn Brown's review of Happy Ending, which was written and directed by Atsuriho Yamada, and which won the AFF Narrative Feature Competition audience award.
Another favorite film that won was Herpes Boy, in the Comedy Vanguard Audience Award category. I caught up with writer Byron Lane and director Nathaniel Atcheson at their second screening after-party, and they expressed gratitude to AFF for allowing them to premiere their film in Austin.
Texas writer/filmmaker Tisha Blood also scored a win in the Documentary Feature category for Torey's Distraction, which made its world premiere at AFF 2009. Torey's Distraction is the first in a slate from Dallas' M3 Films filManthropy division, which uses traditional and philanthropic business practices to produce and distribute movies with a message, and in turn, generate awareness and funding for nonprofit, philanthropic ventures. Their next project will document the efforts of Forgotten Diamonds, an organization that focuses on improving the literacy of people impacted by civil war in Sierra Leone.
Finally, congrats to Austin filmmaker Kat Candler (Jumping Off Bridges), whose short Love Bug won the Narrative Short Audience Award. A complete list of audience award winners is after the jump.
At first glance, writer/director Gary Lundgren's Calvin Marshall could be mistaken for just another "baseball movie," but this poignant and humorous film delivers much more. Baseball is the focus of the main character, yet the heart of this film, which had its world premiere at Austin Film Festival, is more about passion and human nature.
Title character Calvin (Alex Frost) lives and breathes baseball, getting up before dawn to practice -- unfortunately it's a lost cause, as he just doesn't have the skills for the local junior college baseball team. Despite his gruff exterior, the team's head coach (Steve Zahn) has a soft spot for Calvin, and can't bring himself to cut him from the team despite the constant urgings of his assistant Coach Dewey (Abraham Benrubi).
Funny things happen on the way to an orgy. Three young couples, in various levels of committment, decide to have an orgy over a weekend getaway at Cummings Farm. Why, it's not clear, but what what happens up to the moment of truth reveals more about the intended participants than anyone ever expected.
Alan and Yasmine are dating, Tina and Todd are married with children, and Rachel and Gordon are living together. Even before everyone arrives at the farm, it's clear that no one really thought out the consequences of a sexual free-for-all. Rachel (Aimee-Lynn Chadwick) is supportive of Gordon (Jordan Kessler), but he's an alcoholic. Alan (Adam Busch) is uptight, and Yasmine (Yasmine Kittles) is demanding. Tina (Laura Silverman) is the devoted wife and mother, and how the crude and selfish Todd (Ted Beck) managed to win her is a mystery. These are three very different relationships, none of which will survive unaltered by the experience.
The obvious approach for a film about the Donner Party, one of the most infamous stories of deadly misadventure in American history, would be horror. But in T.J. Martin's The Donner Party, an Austin Film Festival selection, the historic event gets a well deserved dramatic approach that makes it all the more unsettling.
Like most dramatic retellings, the ultimate end is known, but the journey, quite literally in this case, is more important than the end result. Several groups of pioneers converged to form the Donner Party on the way to California, but after following a "new" route, ended up stranded in the Sierra Nevadas through the winter and spring of 1846.
Playing with genre conventions is not a new idea. Scream and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon deconstructed the contemporary horror convention; Adaptation and Stranger than Fiction flipped story conventions on their ears. So the idea of deconstructing a genre and making its devices an open part of the plot isn't revolutionary. Yet Atsuhiro Yamada's first feature, Happy Ending, is a charming little film that will likely make most cineastes smile.
Momoko (Nahana) unashamedly borrows horror films without paying for them from the neighborhood rental shop. Kuroda, a fellow film buff and frequent companion at the local second-run arthouse theater, keeps reminding her that she owes 52,700 yen in rental fees (nearly $600US), as well as trying to get her to watch some romances. When Momoko drops a romance novel and picks it up at the same time as a handsome young man, her friend Maki is convinced Momoko is living a romance story. When the "prince" (Ryunosuke Kawai) keeps appearing, Momoko starts to believe it herself.
Austin Film Festival soared into the skies with the closing-might film Up in the Air, which included a rousing intro and Q&A by Jason Reitman. Yeah, there were other films, but I was in a mood for a major release that night. Plus, it was only a few blocks away from the closing night part at Annie's Cafe.
Before the film, Jette and I had a quick dinner at Parkside Cafe. She knows I wasn't exaggerating about how great the food was. Service was just as good this time, and the chef even came out to check on us. I don't know if that happens all the time, but maybe it was the fact I ordered the marrow. Whatever the case, he and his team make really good food.
Up in the Air is a solid, funny film, in the haha only serious kind of way. The aerial shots alone are worth it, but watching Vera Farmiga and George Clooney is a guilty pleasure, they have such great chemistry. Reitman was a hoot, almost Kevin Smith-esque in his energy and jokes, but without the profanity. Or toilet jokes.
You miss me yesterday? Wondering why I didn't write a dispatch? Well, I was home, watching DVD screeners, so I could get a couple reviews in. So now you know about two films you should catch on Thursday. And I mean that seriously; just because I wasn't overwhelmingly in love with a film does not negate its merit.
This afternoon, I headed over to Guero's for a Baghdad Texas party. I couldn't stay long, but I did have a chance to talk about movies with co-writer Shaneye Ferrell (pictured above), who also plays Kathy, the FBI agent, in the film. We talked about the disappointment in the "Hollywood happy ending" and the draw to complex, humanized villains. I wish I could have stayed longer, but only had time to meet actor Booka Michel before I dashed off to The Donner Party.
The new Off the Record category at Austin Film Festival includes a documentary where the ultimate goal is to get to Austin for SXSW. Promoter Todd P set up a series of free, unofficial performances at SXSW, and eventually was invited to come back and put together an official showcase, as documented in Todd P Goes to Austin. When viewed as a performance documentary, Todd P Goes to Austin is a must-see for music fans.
Todd P Goes to Austin starts out with a mumble: director Jason Buim opens with a performance by Dan Deacon, and even when Todd P is talking, it's not clear what the focus of the film is really supposed to be. The tagline touts it's a film about doing it yourself, but the focus is really on the performances and the travel to Austin from various locations by the highlighted bands, including Matt and Kim, Mika Miko, The Death Set, and Japanther.
Todd Patrick, also known as Todd P, is a Brooklyn based DIY promoter who works with underground bands and performers. Little screen time is spent on the actual efforts required to set up the showcases and get the word out to potential audiences. Instead, most of the movie is devoted to actual performances. It's hard to follow that two different SXSW festivals are covered. The film dwells significantly on the featured groups making their way to Austin, and shot by themselves, from car trouble to broken jacks, contributing to the DIY sensibilities.
The comedy Herpes Boy sold out both its screenings during Austin Film Festival (AFF) this week. The director, producer and cast gave up their seats at the second screening so more festival attendees could gain admission. Speaking afterwards with writer/lead actor Byron Lane and lead actress Ahna O'Reilly (who is Tim O'Reilly's niece) confirmed the humility and enthusiasm of cast and crew for what proves to be a funny and poignant film. I also enjoyed talking with director Nathaniel Atcheson about the film and festivals, but the true gem was co-producer and actress Beth Grant. I spent more time talking with her over the last few days than any other filmmaker at AFF. Keep an eye on Slackerwood for a special podcast where Beth talks about Herpes Boy along with Donnie Darko, Rain Man, Sandra Bullock, Marlo Brando, Johnny Depp and so much more.
[Photo credit: Byron Lane and Ahna O'Reilly at Herpes Boy Afterparty, by Debbie Cerda. More photos on Flickr.]
The Austin Screens category at Austin Film Festival is a showcase of local emerging talent that might not otherwise be on everyone's radar. Arguably the best film in this category in 2009 is Baghdad Texas.
A fleeing Middle Eastern dictator's plane crashes. Three Texas ranchers coming back from a rowdy time in Mexico hit what they think is a Mexican illegal immigrant. When they look through his clothes, they notice foreign currency with the likeness of Brando (Al No'mani), the most wanted man in the world, and the scrambling begins.
Finances have forced Randall (Robert Prentis) to turn to exotic hunting to make ends meet, with the help of his son Limon (Ryan Boggus), ranch hand Seth (Barry Tubb), and a pragmatic housekeeper, Carmen (Melinda Renna, pictured above). An eager FBI agent (Shaneye Ferrell) is looking to prove herself despite a lackadiasical boss. When the ranchers realize who they put in the back of their truck, the antics begin. As everyone pursues their own interest to comedic ends, the two illegals who occasionally work on the farm engage in spectator sports.