I've often encountered a false assumption that all Austinites are familiar with every musical artist and band in the self-proclaimed "Live Music Capital of the World." Despite decades of involvement in the local music scene as a college radio station DJ, band manager and "merch girl," I probably only know one-tenth of who's playing the clubs nowadays. Therefore I welcome any films that feature local or unknown musical artists.
Music documentaries really stood out at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, but this year it was the movies that focus on fictionalized characters in the music industry that I enjoyed the most. Not only did I like the narrative aspect of these films, but also the introduction to some wonderful music that I'd not been familiar with prior to my movie-watching experience.
In the later days of SXSW 2014, I caught the movie Cumbres (English translation: Heights), which made its US premiere at the fest. A quiet film from Mexican writer/director Gabriel Nuncio, Cumbres slowly lets the audience into the world of Miwi (Aglae Lingow) and Juliana (Ivanna Michel). Their parents send the sisters on the road after something horrific happens involving older sister Juliana. We are shown a scar on her arm and told of bloody clothes in the sink. Just like the audience, Miwi is kept in the dark about the true extent of her sibling's troubles. Before they depart, Miwi's father reminds her to keep her thumbs on the outside of the steering wheel as she drives.
The sisters forge their way to Queretaro, where they've been told a family friend will help them. On the way, they pick up and drop off friend Danny, aka aspiring rapper Danisaurio (Abdul Marcos). Most of the movie is time spent between the two young women as they converse during this road trip. The relationship between the girls is so convincing that during one scene, I wondered if the actresses actually were related.
How close are you to your phone right now? Maybe it's in your pocket, or your purse. And what about your laptop? Best to keep those things on you at all times, right? You might think so, but Nacho Vigalondo's latest film Open Windows could leave you wanting to lock those devices in your closet.
I say this (somewhat) ironically as someone who always has her phone in her hand. I know my way around my own personal electronic devices, but I don't expect someone else to. This is where Vigalondo's writing got me: from the start, we're watching Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood) prepare for a date with his celebrity crush, Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). He's won a contest online and has flown to Austin to meet her. But we're not just watching as an audience -- we're watching as if we're Nick's laptop camera, observing his every move as if we're on a Skype session with him. And when an unknown caller starts to interfere with Nick's phone and computer, we learn about the scheme he's set to be involved in, realizing that his potential date is actually a setup for blackmail.
Conversations between artists have always fascinated me. It's one thing to listen to a conversation about someone who has been inspired by another person's work. It's another to listen to two well-known artists (in this case, filmmakers) compliment the other on work that the general public is familiar with. This is how filmmaker Gabe Klinger's film Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater feels to an audience: an intimate meeting and history of some intensely creative minds.
Every Austinite seems to have an opinion on Richard Linklater's films. Maybe you fell in love with Jesse and Celine in the Before series; maybe you could relate to being a stoner hipster like some of the folks in Dazed and Confused. Either way, Linklater's movies span across genre and style, held together by great stories with an engaging narratives. One would think his biggest influences would be filmmakers who create fast-paced comedies or heartfelt dramas. But although one can have many role models, Linklater cites filmmaker/documentarian James Benning as being one of his biggest.
Filmed in Texas and told "from the perspective of the San Marcos River," Yakona had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival last week and went on to win an Audience Award in the Visions category. This meditative and visually captivating film can't be neatly categorized, and it will surely speak to the hearts of locals, nature lovers and anyone who has ever taken a swim in the San Marcos.
Filmmakers Paul Collins and Anlo Sepulveda chose to use a Pure Cinema stylistic technique, which relies on vision and movement rather than traditional narrative storytelling (not a single talking head is included and there is only minimal speaking). Instead, with footage captured using underwater cameras and reenacted scenes depicting life from prehistoric to modern times, Collins and Sepulveda create a collage of moments and emotions that together capture the spirit of the San Marcos River and the ecosystem of which it is an integral part.
I interviewed a trio of native-Texas actors at SXSW for the comedy Premature, which premiered at the fest (my review). Alan Tudyk was born in El Paso and grew up in Plano. The veteran of Juilliard has a hefty list of credits in both television and film including roles in Serenity, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Suburgatory, Arrested Development, Firefly, Dollhouse and V as well as voice performances in the animated films Ice Age (and its sequels), Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen. Due to time constraints, Laurie Coker of True View Reviews and I interviewed Tudyk together.
True View Reviews: First time at SXSW?
Alan Tudyk: No, I've been here before. I worked in the music festival a few years ago. I have a good friend who lives in town. I used to come to Austin all the time. I used to spend every New Years here. This is where you could find me on New Year's, hanging out, watching music. Not so much these days. My girlfriend had a film here one year.
Slackerwood: Everybody wants to know know if there will be another Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.
Tudyk: There was almost one, but I think it's currently dead. Unfortunately. You know, it could be alive -- hell, what do I know? But it came close and then something happened with the producer-y guys, I don't know what it was, and then director Eli Craig got an offer to do some really big badass movie. [Co-star] Tyler Labine and I really want to do one, and he's starting to make movies now. He's producing movies, and he wants to do a movie with the two of us. We would love to do one.
I interviewed a trio of Texans at SXSW for the comedy Premature, which premiered at the fest (my review). One was Carlson Young, who's a native of Fort Worth. Her first role was on the Austin-shot TV series As the Bell Rings, and her career has included among others, roles in Heroes, Pretty Little Liars, True Blood, The League and Key and Peele.
[Note: Due to technical issues, we were not able to see Premature before interviews.]
Slackerwood: Why don't you tell me a little about your part in the film?
Carlson Young: Initially reading the script, I thought I could do something really different with the character, like I feel like she could come off as the stereotypical popular chick, you know? But I saw her as a lot more than that because I think she's the kind of girl who's like "I'm a badass" to be honest, and sees something she wants and she takes it. It's not about being popular or having friends, she's just a go-getter, literally. I really wanted to bring that driven, female-empowerment deal to the character.
Is that why you use the word "slutes" instead of "sluts"?
Young: Slutes, I love slutes. How did you know that?
It's in the press kit.
Young: OK, yeah then I'm a slute. She's a total slute.
How did you come up with that name?
Young: I got it from a friend of mine. She went to school in New Orleans at Tulane. She and her girlfriends had this crazy lingo. They had a different word for everything, and they were some of my best friends. I totally adopted the word from them, and I think it's pretty applicable to this situation.
At SXSW this year, I was able to interview three native-Texas actors from the movie Premature, which premiered at the fest (my review). Let's start with Houston native John Karna, who also starred in the 2012 Slamdance audience-award-winning comedy Bindlestiffs (Jette's Dallas IFF review).
Slackerwood: So this is your first big picture?
John Karna: This is, yeah. This is my first paid movie gig, which is awesome they trusted me to do it.
So Bindlestiffs was unpaid?
Karna: Unpaid, it was a passion project with my friends. We just decided when I was in high school, my friends and I -- Andrew Edison who directed and Luke Loftin who wrote it -- we decided to do this improv movie just for fun. And we finished it and submitted it, and it got into Slamdance and won the audience award and Kevin Smith was a huge fan of it, and that was pretty badass.
Did it get distribution?
Karna: You know, it's on Netflix, I think? [It is.] And it's on iTunes, which is pretty hilarious, because we were just a bunch of kids fucking around with a camera. It was a great time, and that kind of made me realize I'd love to do film. I was still going to college. I was studying musical theater, and I love singing and all that, but going to festivals... These people are so excited. I've never seen people more passionate about movies, and it makes you so excited about film and cinema. I love it.
You're from Texas?
Karna: Yeah, I am from Houston, Texas.
Arlo (Alex Dobrenko, Hell No) and Julie (Ashley Spillers, Loves Her Gun) are your typical young twentysomething Austinites. Arlo works at a software company but writes historical articles about General Grant on the side. Julie is a waitress at a restaurant that looks like Eastside Cafe. They live, love and get by in a fourplex on W. 29th. One day, Julie receives a couple of puzzle pieces in the mail.
Such is the premise for director Steve Mims' adorable mystery-comedy Arlo and Julie. Filmed around Austin -- and on a soundstage at UT's RTF department -- this movie is a quirky look at obsession. As Julie and Arlo become more and more engrossed in this puzzle of puzzles, their lives and goals are ignored. The script, which Mims also wrote, is filled with laughs and bits of Civil War trivia.
Old jazzy numbers punctuate scenes of Julie and Arlo waiting for the postman (Chris Doubek, The Happy Poet) or chatting with their friends Trish (Mallory Culbert, Saturday Morning Mystery), Rob (Hugo Vargas-Zesati) and Dirk (Sam Eidson, Zero Charisma). The music, witty banter, and backdrop of the downtown skyline bring to mind the best aspects of Manhattan.
Sí, se puede.
A wildly enthusiastic crowd chanted this Spanish slogan, meaning "Yes, it can be done" or "Yes, you can," after the SXSW screening of Cesar Chavez at the Paramount Theatre. In a testament to the film's inspirational power, the post-screening Q&A wasn't a Q&A at all -- it was a rally led by longtime labor activist Dolores Huerta, several cast members and Chavez's youngest son, Paul.
It's not surprising that Cesar Chavez inspired the impromptu celebration of Chavez's legacy. The film is heartfelt and deeply moving, a great tribute to Chavez and the movement he led.
Diego Luna's biopic of the exalted labor leader is tightly focused, following Chavez (Michael Peña) and his family from their move to Delano, California in 1962, the year Chavez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (later called the United Farm Workers), until the end of the union's successful grape boycott in the early 1970s. Cesar Chavez centers on Chavez and his wife, Helen (America Ferrera), as they struggle to raise eight children while fighting for farm workers' rights. But the movie is as much about the movement as it is about the man.