Everyone's familiar with the ongoing discussion about how the film and video game industries fit together. In this era of Doom live-action features and Harry Potter videogames, it's inevitable that the two industries would be talked about side by side. But the topic often turns heated, as film and game producers try to protect the integrity of their medium. "Can I make a movie of your game?" "Can I make a game out of your movie?" Stalemate.
From an education perspective, film and games are both great tools for teaching key academic concepts and improving student personal and social development. Both media have slowly crept into schools as a way to engage kids and excite them about learning. As the Austin Film Society's Community Education Manager, this type of programming is part of my world every day. Our Film Club afterschool program works with Austin Independent School District students daily on everything from claymation to documentaries, all with the goal of creating citizens of the 21st century. Being in Austin, with such a robust video game community, means I'm inevitably asked about video game curriculum. "Do you teach that?" "Could you and would you teach games?"
As part of the Austin Film Society's mission to explore game design curriculum, I recently attended the AMD Game On! Workshop, which was offered as an opening component of SXSWedu. The event consisted of three in-depth demonstrations of game technologies being used in K-12 classrooms. It was not only a fascinating workshop, but invigorating! I wanted to run home and write lesson plans. (Read: signs you know you're in education.)
Horror movie fans have been duped for years now. They've longed for an original idea in horror. For a while it was the "found footage" subgenre. The premise is that the events taking place in front of you are really happening and therein is the terror of the film. It worked a few times, and now it all seems unoriginal -- the best ones one-up a previous good found-footage film by having more gore and/or elements of the supernatural. It's a band-aid on the need that horror film fans have when it comes that genre.
Sinister, which had a "secret screening" at SXSW this weekend, is an anti-found-footage film. Its terror lies in the feeling that it gives you while watching because the events unfolding are genuinely terrifying, not because it wants a part of your brain to realize that these things are really happening. It's a saving grace for horror film fans, and it's the film they've been waiting years for.
Ellison (Ethan Hawke) is a true crime novelist. In his mind, he's a has-been true crime novelist who yearns for the glory days of having a New York Times bestseller once again. To regain that past glory, he's moved his family to the town where a grisly murder once took place. His family doesn't know that he's moved them into the very house that these murders took place, and his kids, along with the local police force, would much rather Ellison go back where he came from.
"How 'bout them Cowboys?"
-- Dallas Cowboys fan Stan "Tiger" Shults
Yeah, how 'bout them? Meh -- I'm not a sports fan, much less a fan of America's Team. Dallas Cowboys football culture -- with its mindless hero worship, distorted sense of importance and blatant displays of greed -- is one of a thousand reasons why I left Dallas 20 years ago and never will go back.
That said, I still found Austin actor and filmmaker Jonny Mars's new documentary America's Parking Lot to be a terrific examination of one of America's most passionate subcultures, the raucous tailgaters at Cowboys home games.
America's Parking Lot focuses on Stan "Tiger" Shults and Cy Ditmore, two longtime members of the Gate 6 Tailgaters, so named because they parked near Gate 6 of Texas Stadium, the Cowboys' former home dome. It is impossible to overstate Shults and Ditmore's enthusiasm for their team or the importance of its role in their lives. How devoted are they? Ditmore has invested more than $10,000 in his grilling trailer, which he dutifully tows to every Cowboys home game -- he hasn't missed one since 1988 -- and uses to cook upwards of a thousand dollars' worth of meat for hundreds of his fellow Gate 6 revelers.
Those of us who are geeks of the female variety have often lamented about the scarcity of admirable leading female characters, and that's certainly true in comics. What makes Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines stand out is that it explores the history of superheroines, particularly the iconic titular character.
Wonder Women! begins explaining not just the genesis of the character but the evolution of superheroines over nearly a quarter of a century. The interviews include experts from scholars, writers, actresses and even fans, from Gloria Steinem to Jane Espenson and Lynda Carter (pictured at top). It may be surprising to learn that the original character was written by a man who believed there would be a social shift towards matriarchy -- perhaps despite the titillating appearance of a chesty woman in a bustier.
Day three of SXSW actually began with the end of day two. Thanks to earlier screenings delaying the start of the super-secret screening of the Scott Derrickson/ C. Robert Cargill movie Sinister, Sunday was under way before the audience was admitted. The screening took place at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar.
Sinister, conceived and written by Austin film critic Cargill, was universally well received, spawning a number of reviews that all contain the phrase, "I must disclose that I'm friends with Cargill ..." The no-nonsense ghost story was described by many as the scariest movie they've ever seen. Cargill was joined after the film by director and writing partner Scott Derrickson, producer Jason Blum, star Ethan Hawke and producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones for a Q&A.
James Balog is an award-winning environmental photographer whose work is often seen on the cover of National Geographic magazine. In 2007, he began the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), his passion project to place cameras around the world and use time-lapse photography to document the retreat of glaciers. Chasing Ice documents Balog’s work with EIS as he conceives and begins to implement the project.
As a documentary film, the message in Chasing Ice is diluted. It is focused as much on Balog personally as on the importance of his work, and it is that work that is the real star. Visually, it makes a much larger impression to show mountains of ice disappearing within the span of six months and then demonstrate to the audience how ten years have seen a glacier recede as much as the previous century. This photographic work elevates an inconvenient truth to a terrifying fact.
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)?