After feeling extremely disappointed in a documentary that I highly anticipated due to its subject, I was hesitant to see another documentary on a topic I thought I had less interest in -- the game of Monopoly. Sure, I played the game as a kid, but I'd expect a feature-length film about a board game would be dry and boring. I'm not too proud to admit that the filmmakers behind Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story proved me wrong. Kevin Tostado directed and co-wrote along with Craig Bentley a delightfully engaging piece on a classic game that is firmly rooted in households across the world. The game is now sold in over 110 countries around the world in 40 languages, although as stated in the film, Monopoly "doesn't get translated, it gets located."
Narrated by Chuck star Zachary Levi, Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story presents a cohesive story with several storylines, one of which is the history of the game and other notable facts. Most notably, I was surprised to learn that although Charles Darrow has historically been known as the founder of Monopoly, it was actually Elizabeth Magie who'd originated the concept in 1903 as an anti-capitalist game known as "The Landlord's Game." Thirty years later the game had evolved and Darrow was the final developer who was successful at selling the game to Parker Brothers. The game's initial success is credited with the same reason that Darrow created the game-- he needed a way to earn money during the Depression. Monopoly was well-received as unemployed and poor folks could play a game that allowed them to buy property and houses.
Filmmaker Lucy Walker's documentary Waste Land is lovely to behold ... yes, a lovely film about creating art from trash. A few years ago, artist/photographer (and native Brazilian) Vik Muniz made a decision to use his art to create social change, and the film documents his plan and how it was carried out.
"What I really want to do is to be able to change the lives of a group of people with the same material that they deal with every day," Muniz tells the camera at the start of the film. He travels from his home in the U.S. to Jardim Gramacho in Brazil, the largest landfill in Latin America. Here he comes to know some catadores, people who pick out recyclable items from the garbage in the landfill.
Muniz involves the catadores in his art project, constructing portraits of them out of items found in the landfill. As he learns more about them, we do as well. Zumbi started working the landfill at a young age, was almost killed when the back door of a truck fell down on him, and is upset when people throw away books. Tião, the young president and co-founder of Associação dos Catadores do Aterro Metropolitano de Jardim Gramacho (something like a union for catadores), reads Machiavelli and dreams of a better life for the workers. Irma, an elderly woman, cooks for the workers. Suelem, a teenager, is separated from her two children during the week as she works in the landfill. Magna, a wife and mother, comes to realize her worth during this artistic process.
Iranian cinema is not known for taking on complex social issues, particularly those that challenge the current regime's restrictive expectations. Somehow, Dog Sweat was filmed and has reached international audiences. Maryam Azadi's debut script features six young Iranians with intertwined lives struggling to reconcile their not-so-conservative longings with contemporary Tehran realities just prior to the 2009 elections.
Shot clandestinely throughout Tehran, Dog Sweat opens with Homan, Massoud, and Hooshang getting drunk while arguing the value of Johnnie Walker whiskey and contemplating some unusual tactics they'd employ if America invades, unequivocally establishing Dog Sweat as a very different film than the usual Iranian fare that makes it to American shores. Each character is at a crossroads, following one's heart's desires or cowing to societal pressures. The consequences aren't minor; these are criminal acts in Iran, and as each character makes their choice, there is no turning back.
Massoud is more concerned about where to get liquor, be it Johnny Walker Blue or home brewed "dog sweat." Hooshang enjoys spending all his free time with Homan, but considers the trappings of marriage as a means to finding freedom. Counterpoints to these young men are Katie, Katherine and Mahsa -- a self-proclaimed feminist hiding her affair, a shy girl who just wants to "have fun" with Kate's brother, and an aspiring singer who could be arrested for even attempting to fulfill her dream.
Probably the most eagerly anticipated event at Austin Film Festival each year is the traditional Hair of the Dog Brunch. I'd heard talk of the brunch for years, but didn't attend until last year when I learned what all the fuss was about. Despite crowds spilling out of Ranch 616 and onto the sidewalk to eat, it's a great place to relax and enjoy great food and good company.
Every year there's a couple of people I'll continually encounter during AFF, and this year it has to be Ya'Ke Smith of Katrina's Son. I stopped to say hello and warn him that his mug would be Slackerwood's next AFF Quick Snaps. We talked about his upcoming projects, including a feature-length version of Katrina's Son. Behind him in line were more AFF 2010 award winning filmmakers -- the crew from Adios Mundo Cruel (pictured at top), including Yossy Zagha Kababie, Jack Zagha Kababie and Enrique Chmelnik. Yossy had read my review of their film, and asked me to explain who Jean-Pierre Jeunet is. They are hopeful for Adios Mundo Cruel to be picked up for distribution soon. An encore of Adios Mundo Cruel will screen tonight at the Bob Bullock Museum IMAX Theatre at 9:30pm.
Also at the brunch were some of my favorite women in the Texas film industry -- Texas Film Commission's marketing director Carla Click, another TFC staffer whose name escapes me (sorry!) and Deputy Director Carol Pirie.
Updated November 15, 2010.
Slackerwood was all over Austin Film Festival this year, from panels to brunches to script readings to parties ... oh, yes, and of course watching actual movies. We've got a lot of coverage to share and thought it would be handy to have it all in one place. The following list (after the jump) includes all our 2010 AFF coverage to date, and will be updated regularly.
After an abbreviated day yesterday, I decided to brave the Hair of the Dog Brunch, which I've never gone to before. Held at Ranch 616 on Nueces, it was simple Texas style fare, but ohhh, soo delicious. I think I found a new brunch spot. I could get addicted to their chorizo scrambled eggs and the shredded beef. Damn, that was good. And the crowds seemed happy, too, not just because staffers and volunteers were handing out Topo Chico mineral water to those waiting in line, but because as people finished eating, the musical chairs seemed to be a blessing, as people got to meet new people.
The Texas Film Commission folks were there, and I chatted with a couple of their staffers for a while, and who joined us, but Alfred Cervantes of the Houston Film commission, and then Andrew Lee and DE Ward of The Spirit Molecule. In our conversation, Andrew and I talked about indie film promotion and Andrew indicated that they hadn't worked out a complete plan on that yet for The Spirit Molecule, but just happened to mention that they had over 54,000 "likes" on ther Facebook page. I think you all would agree that if you have 54,000 fans on Facebook, you don't have to rush.
Does hanging out with "good" people make you a good person? New Low attempts to address this question. Twenty-something Wendell (played by writer/director/editor Adam Bowers) is a slacker video-store employee living in Gainesville. In his free time, he helps write stand-up material for his pal Dave (Toby Turner). He has no desire to venture into the world of stand-up himself, though. This says a lot about his character: he's lackadaisical with no forward momentum.
He meets dumpster-diving bartender Vicky (Jayme Ratzer), who on their first date points out three of Wendell's physical faults (and sleeps with him anyway). Vicky is happy to troll dumpsters for food or mooch off of free food offered at gallery openings. She appears to be stuck in a rut, but at least (we discover as the movie progresses) she does have goals as far as her art is concerned.
Joanna (Valerie Jones) -- the other woman -- is an activist/feminist who happens to be an artist as well. While Vicky is the type of gal who tosses her empty cigarette packets on the ground, Joanna is the type who picks up other people's litter, telling Wendell, "I don't understand why people insist on living in such a shitty world." She drags Wendell along to parties where he never really fits in and gifts him with a book on environmental/social action.
I took my own advice from the AFF 2010 Dining Guide and stopped in at Thai Passion for a meal before the Brother's Justice premiere at the Paramount Theatre on Sunday. Several AFF attendees were enjoying dinner at the restaurant, including UT alum and filmmaker Ya'Ke Smith. I ran into him again in front of the Paramount where I snapped the photo above. Smith has a good reason to smile. AFF announced the winners of the juried film competitions, and his short film Katrina's Son won in the narrative short category. I'd recommended Katrina's Son in the AFF 2010 Preview: Selected Shorts, and was glad to tell Smith personally how much I enjoyed his short film.
Smith just completed production on a documentary entitled Father, which addresses a domestic issue that's very personal to him -- the challenges and pain of growing up fatherless. According to a U.S. Census Bureau, 1 out of every 3 children grow up without their fathers in the home. For African-American children that number is even higher at 65%. Father focuses on five individuals who must deal not only with the absence of a male role model, but other issues in their household. One of the subjects is Lawrence, whose mother suffered from alcoholism and mental illness. You can get a glimpse at the material for Father here. I look forward to news of Father on the big screen soon.
Some people really know how to work a festival, including Slackerwood contributor Chris Holland, who also happens to be the author of Film Festival Secrets. Another person is Mark Potts, whose film S&M Lawn Care is one of several of his films that have played AFF. Mark was on the "The $2 or the $200,000 Film: What You Need to Know" panel, which I was planning on seeing and missed, but thanks to Chris's tweets, it was almost like I was there. Check out the hashtag for #lowbudgetfilm that Chris used to get the gist of the panel, at least Mark's comments.
I made it to the Showrunner panel with Noah Hawley and Peter Murrieta, which was moderated by Andy Langer. I loved the analogy that a Showrunner is like a writer who's also a manager of a 7-11. Sounds a lot like being a *gasp* manager. Only with assistants helping to avoid the other minions when you need a breather.
Austin Film Festival has announced its winners today, and with no further ado, here they are:
- Best Narrative Feature: Adios Mundo Cruel – Writers: Jack Zagha Kababie, Enrique Chmelnik
- Narrative Feature Special Jury Mention: Dog Sweat – Writers: Maryam Azadi, Hossein Keshavarz
- Best Documentary Feature: Louder Than a Bomb - Directors: Greg Jacobs, Jon Siskel
- Best Narrative Short: Katrina’s Son - Writer: Ya’Ke
- Narrative Short Special Jury Mention: The Six Dollar Fifty Man - Writers: Louis Southerland
- Best Documentary Short: Birthright – Director: Sean Mullens
- Best Animated Short: The Lost Thing - Director: Shaun Tan
- Best Narrative Student Short: Down in Number 5 - Writer: Kim Spurlock
The Festival is accredited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which means the award-winning narrative short and narrative student short films are also eligible for an Academy Award, so try to see them again in their encore screenings, and you just might have bragging rights to say "I saw it when it played AFF."