SXSW starts tomorrow, and one of the best parts of the festival is the shorts program, a perennial favorite. I've pre-screened a number of this year's excellent entries, and here is part one of my pre-fest short film coverage.
Tumbleweed! (Texas Shorts)
Wow! Offbeat, whimsical, and completely delightful. Tumbleweed! is an inspirational story of a tumbleweed that refuses to tumble. This seven-minute short is the kind of little nugget that makes the shorts program a must-see. Very loosely set in Texas.
Heimkommen (Narrative Shorts)
A poignant and touching look at sibling tensions in the wake of a tragic accident, Heimkommen (Come Home) tells a story that is simple yet deep. Director Micah Magee is a San Antonio native and UT Austin grad, and she's also a former Cinematexas co-director.
In the Pines (Narrative Shorts)
In nine minutes, In the Pines managed to re-create the mood I felt after two hours watching Tree of Life. Meditative, hopeful, and brilliant, it features stunning macrophotography shots interspersed between grand natural vistas. I could watch hours of this.
Brute Force (Documentary Shorts)
Brute Force is the stage name of musician Stephen Friedland, who performed with The Tokens and wrote for Peggy March, Del Shannon, and The Chiffons among others. This is important to know, as he's such a character the 15-minute documentary about him would almost seem a mockumentary. By the time it reached his song "The King of Fuh," I was convinced it couldn't be real. But this is a man who indeed is real and was admired by (and performed with) The Beatles. Directed by Austin filmmaker Ben Steinbauer, who brought us another fascinating real-life character in Winnebago Man. Read Jenn's interview with Steinbauer.
In September 2009, I noticed an unusual special event in an Austin Film Society weekly bulletin about a unique performance piece. The Trash Project was meant to "educate audience members about waste reduction while acknowledging the hard work Austin’s sanitation workers." Choreographer Allison Orr of Forklift Danceworks had organized "the biggest dance of [her] life." It was almost a footnote that director Andrew Garrison (Third Ward TX) would be documenting the event, especially when it included 15(!) vehicles.
Now the film Trash Dance is set to make its world premiere at SXSW on Saturday. Andrew Garrison directed, shot, and produced the documentary, with editing by Angela Pires and sound design by Graham Reynolds. Steve Mims (Incendiary: The Willingham Case), Deb Lewis (Troop 1500, Crawford) and Nancy Schiesari (Tattooed Under Fire) provided additional photography. Here's what Garrison and Allison Orr had to say about their project.
Slackerwood: Describe Trash Dance for us in a couple of sentences.
Andrew Garrison: A choreographer and city trash collectors make something ridiculously beautiful together. It is funny, unexpected, and genuinely powerful.
I haven't been writing about film for very long. I've always been passionate about it, but I never had the kind of access to it that I have now. Though I still have a lot to learn and great colleagues to learn it from, I know that in a short time, I've come a long way.
How do I know this? As little as three years ago, when the SXSW film lineup would come out, I'd scour it for hours figuring what I'd want to see later that year. This would result in maybe three to five films a year from SXSW that I'd look forward to. This year, based on cast, writers, directors, studio affiliations, past festivals and general industry knowledge, I can glance at this year's lineup and easily identify upwards of 20 films I am chomping at the bit to see.
I've compiled a list of ten films that I'm really anxious to watch at SXSW 2012:
10. The Last Fall (schedule) and The Announcement (schedule)
These are both sports movies, which if you know me, you know that I love. The Last Fall examines what goes on in a player's mind when his playing career is over, and The Announcement is a documentary about the day Magic Johnson retired from the NBA due to being HIV positive. Incredibly compelling stories, neither of which have ever really been told. Here's the trailer for The Last Fall:
Updated March 10 with a new section on free non-SXSW screenings!
I've been getting a surprising number of email messages this year that run along these lines: "We know there are a ton of cheap and free concerts and parties with live music during SXSW, what about free movies?" SXSW has set up several screenings and film-related events that are free to the public this year. In addition, I've found at least one other free movie-related event happening during the fest that I can recommend. If I've missed anything, don't be shy about letting me know in the comments.
Remember that although these events are free, you might have to pay to park near some of the venues. Check out our Guide for Locals and Passholders for some parking and transportation tips.
Free Panels and Events
Women in Cinema's SXSW Panel: Wednesday, March 14, 7-9 pm, Studio 4D, CMB, The University of Texas
This event might have been perfect for the SXSW Film Conference, but is actually on the University of Texas campus and is sponsored by Women in Cinema, a UT student organization that supports student filmmakers. The group's brought together a powerhouse panel of female filmmakers and actresses who have films at SXSW this year -- a don't-miss lineup. UT instructor Kat Candler (Hellion) is moderating the panel, which includes Houston filmmaker Kelly Sears (Once It Started It Could Not End), Megan Griffiths (Eden), Amy Seimetz (Sun Don't Shine), Annie Silverstein (Spark), new-to-Austin Hannah Fidell (The Gathering Squall), producer Kim Sherman (V/H/S, Sun Don't Shine), and actress Anna Margaret Hollyman (Somebody Up There Likes Me, Gayby). I can't believe this event is free.
Who knows the Austin food scene better than Austinites? Hungry festgoing Austinites (and a few honorary locals). For SXSW 2012, Austin has been through some restaurant changes -- closures, moves, new venues. and more alternatives to brick-and-mortar restaurants. This guide will help you find your way. We'll start with some general tips, then venue-specific recommendations, followed by some other recommendations by Slackerwood contributors and filmmakers.
Four Star Dining, Two Step Dress. The best part about Austin is few restaurants employ a strict dress code. Which means it's okay to show up at Barley Swine in your jeans. Some upscale restaurants like Uchiko do have a "smart casual" dress code, so don't show up in shorts and flip flops, mmk?
Top Chef. Speaking of Uchiko, yes, Paul Qui is an Austinite (and from all accounts as nice as he is talented). No, you are not likely to be able to use your connections to get a seat at Uchiko. Few reservation slots are available for Uchiko (and fewer for Uchi) during SXSW on OpenTable. But don't forget, Qui also co-owns East Side King food trailers, which has three locations along 6th Street.
No Reservations. If there's a place you really want to dine at during SXSW, check to see if they make reservations and make one ASAP. As in, stop reading this guide and go make the reservation now, especially if you're planning brunch.
When I wrote last year's guide for Austinites planning to see movies at SXSW, I worried about the future of the SXSW Film Pass. It seemed like so many movies at SXSW 2010 filled up for badgeholders only. However, the festival was aware of the problem and has done several things to make the film pass worth its $80 -- an excellent value if you know the best opportunities for filmgoing. In addition, Austin film lovers who just want to see one or two SXSW films can buy individual tickets if a theater still has room after admitting badge and passholders.
If you're a local without a badge, your best bet is to see movies at the two "SXSatellite" theaters, Alamo Drafthouse Village (schedule) and the brand-new Alamo Slaughter (schedule). Out-of-towners won't be able to find or reach these places, and festgoers with cars often prefer to stay downtown so they can easily go from movie to movie to party. Bonus: both venues have ample free parking. You're not getting the "full fest experience" but you're not spending a lot of money, either. (Besides, the full fest experience sometimes involves driving in gridlocked traffic frantically praying to find parking before your 2 pm movie, or having to eat soggy heatlamped breakfast tacos for lunch. There are highs and lows.)
In case you aren't a seasoned SXSW Film vet, here's how the access works for each movie: Film, Gold and Platinum badgeholders are all in one line and are allowed in the theater first. After that, the film passholders are let in, if space allows. Finally, if there's still room, ticketholders can get into the screening. Tickets usually go on sale 15 minutes before the movie starts if seats are available; some tickets are on sale already, as I explain below.
Last year at SXSW, Austin band Bee vs. Moth performed a special live score accompanying Buster Keaton's silent movie The Cameraman. And they're back again, this time for The Oyster Princess. If you fell in love with The Artist or caught the live-score event last year, this is a must-see event. I tracked down Sarah Norris of Bee Vs. Moth to get the inside scoop.
Slackerwood: Describe the film for us in a couple of sentences.
Sarah Norris: The Oyster Princess is a 1919 German silent comedy by Ernst Lubitsch. The film tells the story of a spoiled heiress whose quest to marry a prince leads to mishaps, mockery and mistaken identities. Austin band Bee vs. Moth plays our original soundtrack live with the film.
What's one thing about the film that is going to make it impossible for people to resist seeing it?
Watching a silent film with live accompaniment is a fun, engaging experience that really brings the film to life. Bee vs. Moth's original score is witty and modern, making a surprising complement to the film's irreverent critique of the rich.
In our annual SXSW Survival Guide, Slackerwood contributors share our advice for having a great film-fest experience. But we don't know everything, so we consulted some filmmakers and other members of the Austin (and Texas) film community for their advice. Here's what they had to share.
Clay Liford, filmmaker; cinematographer, SXSW 2012 selection Gayby
Don't just go see the bigger studio films playing at the fest. Most of them are coming out in the regular rotation a few weeks later anyhow. Go see the little film you never heard of before (if it sounds interesting, of course). Many of these smaller films won't get a traditional release and this may be your only chance to see a gem you'd never have the opportunity to see otherwise. I assume you could extrapolate this advise to Music as well.
Angela K. Pires, filmmaker; editor, SXSW 2012 selection Trash Dance
You are not going to see all the films you planned to see, and that's OK. Be flexible and enjoy what you couldn't predict, like having a margarita with the director of an obscure film that you never intended to see.
Filmmakers David Redmon and Ashley Sabin (pictured above) have been collaborating on documentaries for years, including such titles as Kamp Katrina (SXSW 2007), Mardi Gras: Made in China (which earned a Documentary Grand Jury Prize nomination at Sundance 2005) and Intimidad (SXSW 2008). This time Redmon and Sabin tackle the provocative subject of fashion-model scouting, from the perspective of a former model turned scout and a young girl from Siberia pursuing a modelling career to support her family, in Girl Model. Redmon hails from north Texas.
What’s one thing about Girl Model that is going to make it impossible for people to resist seeing the film?
It's a strange journey into a house of mirrors, a place where you don't know who to trust.
Is there anything the audience should know about the movie before seeing it?
Girl Model took four years to make. We traveled to Siberia, Tokyo, Paris, NYC and China – several times – to make Girl Model. The most difficult aspects were the personalities. It was our most challenging production to date.
This year's SXSW Community Screening: Austin Film Society ShortCase will be held Saturday, March 10 at 11 am in the Canon Screening Room (aka Rollins) at the Long Center, and will feature short films by Central Texas filmmakers ranging from Richard Garriott to Bob Ray.
I was pleased to be invited to curate the ShortCase -- I've said for years that I'd love to help host a short-film festival. The response from AFS filmmakers was overwhelming, with over 100 short films submitted in a two-week timeframe. I cried, laughed, and screamed -- and even hit the Rewind button a few times to savor certain scenes. AFS Interim Artist Services Manager Austin Culp, intern Reid Connell and I worked together to select the 10 best films to fill the 90-minute screening time. It was a daunting task with so much wonderful content representing the talent of AFS filmmakers, but we somehow agreed on the final slate.
For filmmakers who didn't make the cut, we hope that you'll submit films for future ShortCase events -- I'm already formulating a cunning plan to get some of the content into a screening later this year. Feedback will be provided to filmmakers who requested it, and we encourage everyone to take advantage of the programs available to the AFS filmmaker members.
Without further ado, here are this year's SXSW ShortCase films.