The Slackerwood staff is slowly recuperating from SXSW Film Festival, although we're still posting plenty of reviews. Keep an eye on Slackerwood this week for reviews of Austin movies playing SXSW as well as other films we caught, an interview or two and of course plenty of photos.
To kick off the week, I thought I'd share my second-favorite photo of the fest: with both the State and Paramount Theatres serving as SXSW Film venues this week, they lit up the Austin night in an especially festive way. For those who are interested, I took this photo just before My Sucky Teen Romance premiered at the Paramount. (My favorite photo? The one topping this entry, no question about it.)
Feel free to share links to any SXSW Film photos on Flickr or elsewhere that you like. My own best SXSW photos are now publicly viewable in a Flickr set.
The challenges of autism have inspired many great films, from the often-quoted classic Rain Man to the Austin-made Temple Grandin. This isn't surprising, because while autism can be devastating, the successes of autistic people can be very inspirational. Their stories are tailor-made for powerfully dramatic movies.
Fly Away is an example of how autism's challenges can translate into interesting cinema. The low-budget indie, which played SXSW this year, is the story of single mother Jeanne (Beth Broderick) and her teen daughter Mandy (Ashley Rickards), whose severe autism impacts their lives in both expected and unexpected ways. While Fly Away is uneven, it's a mildly entertaining and poignant depiction of living with autism.
Mandy has reached a point in her life where Jeanne must make some difficult decisions about the girl's future. Now an adolescent, Mandy still behaves like a young child at times, throwing tantrums and demanding her way. But she's also becoming a woman who's curious about dating and marriage. She exhibits common autistic behaviors such as fixating on objects, constantly repeating words and phrases, and not listening to others, as if she's in her own world. Jeanne can manage these behaviors, but is less able to handle Mandy's violent outbursts, which get her suspended from her special education program.
"A man walks into an Alamo Drafthouse for the first time" sounds like the start of a joke. But no matter how many times I see someone get giddy over the experience, it makes me happy to live in Austin. The man in question was a SXSW Platinum badgeholder who finally was taking the opportunity to catch a movie on the last evening of the festival. I don't know if he liked the film, but he sure made the waitress laugh with his enthusiasm at being able to order food and beer at his seat.
As for me, I made it to three more films; four technically, but the last film wasn't holding my attention and being so exhausted, I figured it was better to walk and and wonder if it got better.
The funny and controversial Kumaré, about a man who pretends to be a guru and collects a following, played to a packed house but unfortunately without a Q&A. As James Rocchi described it, Kumaré is "Being There plus The Music Man, with real heart and insight with the absurdist comedy." He said it better than I could.
Updated with all Audience Award winners
Trying to match the SXSW award winners with their encore screenings the last two days of the SXSW Film Festival? We're making it easy for you with a listing right here, for screenings this afternoon through tomorrow. The last three audience award titles will be announced tomorrow morning but we have placeholders for them so we can quickly update this page.
Editor's correction/retraction: When we published this article on Friday, it included a couple of errors, including mislabeling the Lone Star States Jury Award winner as the Audience Award winner. We have corrected the errors, and apologize for any confusion and misunderstanding that they caused. Please don't hesitate to contact us immediately if you notice anything incorrect on our website in the future.
Friday Special Screenings
Grand Jury Award Narrative Feature: Natural Selection (yes, it's playing twice today)
2 pm, Rollins Theater
Audience Award Winner, Documentary Competition Feature: Kumaré
6:30 pm, Regal Arbor (satellite venue)
It bodes well for Austin filmmaker Emily Hagins's new feature, My Sucky Teen Romance, that the current Twilight-fueled vampire craze shows no signs of abating. Last year's installment of the bloodily romantic franchise, Eclipse, grossed more than $300 million, and new Twilight movies will be released this year and next. It seems that tweens and teens (and adults who dare admit it) have not yet had their fill of films and novels about pale, fanged, lovelorn teenagers. (No, I'm not one of those adults. But I think you knew that.)
Of course, I'm sure Hagins has no aspirations that her film will gross $300 million; the teenage filmmaker probably be happy just to find a distributor. But if the wildly enthusiastic reception at My Sucky Teen Romance's raucous world premiere at the Paramount on March 15 is any indication, a lot of Hagins's friends and fans hope the movie will be a smashing success.
The so-called American Dream is little more than a fantasy for many Americans. We're told to pursue an ideal life of finding a good job, owning a home, and living in a happy, stable family situation. But for much of America, this life isn't reality and never will be.
The impossible disconnect between the increasingly mythological American Dream and life's harsh realities is the underlying theme of Inside America, an unfiltered and unflinching look at the lives of six high school students in Brownsville, Texas. A narrative film with the look and feel of a documentary, Inside America (which had its US premiere at SXSW on March 14 at the ACC Vimeo Theater) is jarringly, agonizingly realistic.
Curiously, while Inside America was filmed in Brownsville, it's actually an Austrian movie. Austrian director and writer Barbara Eder spent a year as an exchange student in Brownsville in 1994; her experiences during that time gave her the idea for the movie. She and producer Constanze Schumann spent three weeks in Brownsville in 2006 hanging out with students and gathering material for the script. They returned in 2007 and managed to shoot a terrific movie with a crew of only five people, a miniscule budget (all the actors are volunteers), and limited access to the film's main set, Brownsville's Hanna High School.
My favorite part about SXSW Film is not the film, it’s the people. And today was a "people" day.
I didn’t intend for it to start that way; after getting to bed at 5 am, I didn’t get moving until noon, and then ended up arriving late to A Bag of Hammers, which was sold out. It seems I wasn’t the only one avoiding downtown today, as I got shut out of Cave of Forgotten Dreams as well. But it’s all good; I ended up going on a long walk, getting drinks and dinner with a couple of people I’d met before but didn’t know well, and it was a damn good day. Earlier this week I was feeling very unfocused without having a set schedule, but I wouldn’t trade a day like today for anything.
I really don't want to deal with the madness of downtown tomorrow, but I just may brave it. There are seven encore screenings with audience award titles peppered through the day's schedule. We have the announced award screenings here, but there will be an announcement later this morning with the final audience award winners, so check back to help plan your final day of SXSW 2011.
The SXSW Texas Shorts screening is a diverse and impressive mix of shorts made in Texas or by Texas filmmakers. While the nine films range widely in their subjects and filmmaking styles, many of them are either dark or darkly funny, exploring everything from substance abuse to a murderous automated pool cleaner. Collections of short films can be hit or miss, but I enjoyed all the Texas Shorts selections. The smallish crowd at the screening on March 15 at the Rollins Theatre seemed very appreciative of the films also.
The most interesting of the lot is Chainsaw Found Jesus, directed by Spencer Parsons (I'll Come Running). Described as a "suburban fairy tale," the Austin-made film is a tragicomic story about two fathers and their sons who spend an afternoon together. While the kids entertain themselves with porn magazines and a neighborhood walk, the fathers do a drug deal in the garage and discuss why one of them recently turned to Jesus. The film is very funny and yet slightly bitter, and Sonny Carl Davis adds a bit of indie-film royalty to the mix.
Arguably the most intense film is Drawback, directed by Daniel Rigdon. In this Austin-made short, an impoverished, beaten-down man visits his former girlfriend. From their conversation and several slickly edited flashbacks, we learn that he's lived a hard life of bad choices and bad news; now he's trying to make sense of his fate. Well crafted, empathetic and thoughtful, Drawback is a captivating look at a life no one would envy.
For me, SXSW 2011 may be the year of the charmingly disturbing film ... although come to think of it, I saw a few of those in 2010 too. I've always said that I don't want to watch movies with unsympathetic main characters, but in the past couple of years, filmmakers -- those in Texas particularly -- have made me change my mind if the film is sufficiently good (or better yet, funny). The latest film from Texas filmmaker Clay Liford (who just moved from Dallas to Austin) is Wuss, a movie about a pathetic wet noodle of a loser, someone you'd shrink away from at a party or in the office breakroom, who is far more compelling than you might initially guess.
Part of the credit here must go to Nate Rubin, who portrays the character described in the title, Mitch. Mitch manages at first to draw the attention of a charming woman at his high-school reunion, even when he admits he's a high-school English teacher living with his mom ... however, she's suddenly repelled by him after he cows to verbal nastiness from the school's vice principal, Wally, played by local filmmaker Alex Karpovsky, who's developing a niche for believably awful characters.
I'm a longtime fan of films that deal frankly with society's worst problems. Poverty, domestic violence, crime, racism and other harsh realities of the human condition can be the stuff of stunningly powerful cinema.
Unfortunately, the gritty and earnest Yelling to the Sky isn't quite the powerful social statement it aspires to be. While it presents many convincing images of an impoverished and completely dysfunctional family, it suffers from clichéd story elements, uneven pacing and underdeveloped characters.
The film, which screened at the Arbor on the first Saturday of SXSW, is the story of Sweetness O'Hara (Zoë Kravitz), a Queens teenager doing her best to survive in her beaten-down world. Her father, Gordon (Jason Clarke) is a violent, manic depressive alcoholic who's often AWOL from the household. His wife, Lorene (Yolanda Ross) suffers from depression and other vague ailments that leave her barely able to function. Sweetness's older sister, Ola (Antonique Smith) is pregnant by an abusive loser.