At the center of this oddly tragicomic story is 10-year-old Annie (Sydney Aguirre), a virtually parentless girl whose father, Marvin (Nathan Zellner), is too preoccupied with his goat farming, demolition derby driving and beer drinking to pay much attention to his lonely and bored daughter. Left to entertain and fend for herself, tomboyish Annie does, well, kid things, exploring the world around her rural home near Austin and getting into various forms of mischief. She makes crank phone calls, shoplifts, smashes things with a baseball bat and hurls balls of dough at passing cars. She is anything but a model child.
On a walk through the woods, Annie hears a call for help and discovers Esther (Susan Tyrrell), a woman trapped at the bottom of a well. But rather than summoning help, Annie visits Esther repeatedly, bringing her food and carrying on bizarre conversations with the increasingly desperate woman. Annie checks in with Esther as if toying with her is just another childish amusement, like playing with fireworks or splattering various objects with her paintball gun.
Day two of SXSW, and I'm already exhausted. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels like the rain has sapped a lot of their energy. And the spring ahead to Daylight Savings Time certainly doesn't help.
Despite all that, I made it to five movies on Saturday. I didn't think I'd make it to Eating Alabama, but it seems every screening I went to was about a half-hour late starting. This very personal approach to the locavore phenomenon was an interesting meditation on the lost art of farming, even in a rural state. The documentary would make a great companion piece to King Korn.
Next up was the provocative and disturbing film Girl Model, but I have to disagree with co-director Dave Redmon, who said in the intro that the documentary wasn't an expose. I think it is, in the sense of holding back the curtain on something of which we're already aware: young girls are exploited in the model industry. But what Redmon and co-director Ashley Sabin do is make it personal, focusing on a young Siberian and her struggling family, and on the model scout (and former model) who discovers her. Girl Model is powerful stuff.
Austinite Jonny Mars may be best known for his roles in front of the camera in Texas independent films such as The Happy Poet and Wuss, but he's also spent a considerable amount of time over the last five years behind the camera directing his first film project, America's Parking Lot. In this documentary, Mars captures the story of Cy Dittmore and Stan "Tiger" Shults, two die-hard fans of "America's Team" and leaders of the legendary Gate 6 tailgate party, as they spend their last season with the Dallas Cowboys at the historic Texas Stadium. The economics and politics within the NFL threaten to dissolve the friendships and traditions these blue-collar tailgaters have built over 20 years.
I spoke recently with Jonny Mars as well as America's Parking Lot editor Robin Schwartz and sound engineer Eric Friend to discuss their film, which debuts at SXSW 2012 on Sunday afternoon.
Slackerwood: Describe America's Parking Lot in a few sentences.
Jonny Mars: Effectively America's Parking Lot chronicles the journey of two tailgaters as they move from their old stadium and 25-year-old tradition to a new billion dollar stadium, as they try to hold on to their tailgating tradition as well as their friends and identity over a four-year period.
Remember how I mentioned in the Insider's Guide for SXSW to plan for all sorts of weather? Betcha you're glad you listened. Or peeved that you didn't. Bit nippy out there, huh? No worries, it will be balmy in a few days. I'm glad I picked up my badge Thursday afternoon; on Friday, the lines were hours long at one point. On early Thursday afternoon, I spent more time walking the labyrinth in the registration room than I spent waiting for my badge.
I stopped by the Beginners Guide to SXSW Film panel, which had some great classic tips (Network! Plan but be flexible! Ride the #3 bus! -- the last from yours truly in the peanut gallery). After a quick dinner, it was off to Thale.
I should point out that I rarely go to official opening-night movies at any festival. I usually find a gem playing opposite, and it's a great way to support filmmakers who might not have a full theater because of the siren call of Big Names. Not dissing Joss Whedon or Cabin in the Woods, but one of the bet things about SXSW is seeing the films you might not see elsewhere, and you know Cabin in the Woods will play at a theater near you in another month or so. That wasn't the case for Thale, which sold out despite the rain and the cold -- the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar lines are all outdoors -- and an inexplicable delay in seating. Perhaps it was because Matthew Lillard was there for the Fat Kid Rules the World red carpet (pictured at top)?
Native Texan Amy Seimetz may be familiar to Austin film fans as the winner of Fantastic Fest's Best Actress Award for her role in A Horrible Way To Die. Now she's back in town for SXSW to premiere her latest film, the thriller Sun Don't Shine, which she wrote and directed. If that seems like a vague Austin or Texas connection, keep reading, there's a veritable Who's Who to follow.
Describe Sun Don't Shine for us in a couple of sentences.
Two lovers on the back roads of Florida do very bad things. That is all I will tell for now ...
Last month, I had the chance to interview the director and one of the producers of Somebody Up There Likes Me: Bob Byington and Nick Offerman, respectively. Offerman also has a starring role in the movie, which will premiere at SXSW 2012 on Sunday night. As is the case with good interviews, I ended up with a lot of material -- too much for one article. But Byington and Offerman were so much fun together, I hated to leave anything out.
Look for a longer feature about the movie itself on Monday morning, based on my interview, and featuring a great photo of Offerman from the set of the movie. In the meantime, I'd like to share the parts of the interview where Byington and Offerman talk about Austin itself (and Smithville) -- barbecue, Brad Pitt's mojo, the Texas heat, and some SXSW advice (sort of).
It started when I asked Byington and Offerman what they liked about working together.
Nick Offerman: Well, I like any excuse to visit Austin and sample the barbecued meats there.
Just a quick reminder -- okay, I guess it's a shameless self-promotion, really. But SXSW Film starts tomorrow (Friday, March 9) and one of the first panels is "Beginners Guide to SXSW Film," which is a lot of fun even if you have been to the fest before. The panel starts at 2 pm in Austin Convention Center, Room 16AB.
As in past years, the panel will be skillfully moderated by Agnes Varnum, Austin Film Society Director of Marketing. I'll be on the panel too -- it's my second year, as will Austin film producer Joel Heller (Winnebago Man), film writer/programmer/consultant Basil Tsiokos, and attorney George Rush.
We all have our standard tips and tricks for people who haven't been to the fest before, and in addition, we'll take questions from the audience. It's a lot of fun. So I hope you'll be there and ask us about any area of SXSW Film for which you feel you need advice.
This second part of my SXSW shorts coverage takes a marked musical turn, including a number of music videos, a short with no dialogue, and an adaptation starring Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew. In case you missed it, you can go back and read Part One.
Christeene: African Mayonnaise (Music Videos)
If you're not familiar with Christeene Vale, this latest music video from the outrageous Texan drag queen is a great introduction. Performing first in the mall, she is chased out by a mall cop on a Segway and then moves on to other recognizable Austin locations. This is the most in-your-face drag queen you're likely to find, and I only hope I'm fortunate enough to witness a live performance at some point. Directed by Austin filmmaker and cinematographer PJ Raval.
Knife (Texas Shorts)
Rich, immersive sound mixing is integral to this short, which tells a story without the use of dialogue. An unsettling tone is enhanced with a beautiful original score. Written and directed by Fort Worth filmmaker James M. Johnston. Edited by DFW-area filmmaker David Lowery, whose SXSW 2011 short Pioneer was produced by Johnston.
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.