One of the SXSW screenings I eagerly awaited was the new film from indie director John Sayles. Go for Sisters depicts two childhood friends who meet up again as adults: parole officer Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton, The Practice) and parolee/recovering addict Fontayne (Yolonda Ross, Treme). Bernice requests Fontayne's help in finding her ex-marine son Rodney, and former police detective Freddy Suárez (Edward James Olmos) soon joins their search.
Watching the movie, a few elements reminded me of Sayles' earlier feature Passion Fish (one of my favorite films); both films share the themes of redemption and relationships between women. But Go for Sisters is an original, artfully blending humor and drama as these three journey to Mexico from California. The performances here are what you expect from a Sayles film: powerful and understated. Especially impressive is Ross as Fontayne, who keeps denigrating herself as an unworthy person -- since she served time and was addicted to drugs -- while we see during the film that she is anything but.
In New Orleans, we have some of the blackest white people and some of the whitest black people you're ever going to meet.
-- Ninth Ward resident Henry Irvin, Getting Back to Abnormal
Whether narrative or documentary, films about New Orleans often present the city as a collection of Big Easy clichés, as if life in the city revolves around po-boys, Bourbon Street, second-line parades and political corruption.* Fortunately, the superb documentary Getting Back to Abnormal looks beyond the clichés and far deeper into New Orleans culture. Focusing on a New Orleans City Council race but encompassing a much broader look at politics, race and culture in the city, the movie is a fascinating study of how New Orleans has changed after Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing floods.
The film's central story is the heated 2010 city council race between Councilmember Stacy Head, a self-proclaimed corruption fighter known for her abrasive, politically incorrect style, and Corey Watson, a minister and civic leader. Head is the first white official to represent the majority black District B in more than 30 years. Watson is black, and his challenge to Head raises the issue of how racial politics will factor into the race, given that New Orleans' black population decreased drastically after Katrina.
This year's SXSW Film Festival includes many movies with Austin connections, but perhaps none that can be considered so completely Austintacious as director Josh Johnson's labor of love, Rewind This! After three years of work alongside Christopher Palmer and Carolee Mitchell, the documentary about VHS premiered to a packed house at the Paramount on Monday.
Rewind This! is one of the most entertaining documentaries I've seen, detailing the birth and rise of home video recording technology in both VHS and Betamax formats and their impact on the filmmaking industry. Johnson, Palmer and Mitchell shot thousands of hours of footage with interview subjects like Lloyd Kaufman, Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), Charles Band, Jason Eisener (Hobo With a Shotgun) and Cassandra Peterson (Elvira), and cut the material down to a feature-length exploration that blends these among with many others into a single cohesive narrative voice.
In addition to the big names, local personalities like Alamo programmers Zack Carlson, Lars Nilsen and Brian Kelley, and film critics like Drew McWeeny of Hitfix and Twitch Film's Todd Brown provide their insights and anecdotes. From flea-market shopping to rummaging through video-store back rooms to expansive home collections, Rewind This! explores titles that are unavailable on any other format, titles that were produced only on VHS, and titles that are noteworthy only for their actual titles or box art.
It's a fascinating rabbit hole to jump into, accompanied by a driving score from Josh Freda that brings to mind many titles from the 1980s glory days of VHS. There is no way you could walk out of this film without wanting in some corner of your mind to go digging through a box or library somewhere to try and find one of the many crazy movies mentioned in Rewind This!
Austin connections: As aforementioned, a number of Austin film personalities are featured in the documentary, plus local stores Vulcan Video and I Luv Video, and shots of Alamo Drafthouse. Johnson lives in Austin, and Palmer and Mitchell are former Austinites.
Rewind This! screens again on Wednesday, March 13 at 9 pm at Violet Crown 1&2, and on Saturday, March 16 at 1:30 pm at Topfer Theater at ZACH.
Saturday night, my friend April and I tried Thai Passion downtown for dinner (I had it in mind after Bryan Poyser's interview) after catching the screening of Prince Avalanche that afternoon at the Paramount.
It wasn't that busy when we arrived, but a large group came in a little while later and sat near us. We tried figuring out which movie they were related to, and April pointed out that one guy at the table was wearing a John Waters shirt. We assumed they were celebrating before the premiere of I Am Divine later that night.
As we were leaving, I asked the group at the table which movie they were with, and indeed, our assumption was correct. When director Jeffrey Schwarz saw my name, he mentioned Dark Shadows (very few people bring that TV show up when they meet me). The folks at the table encouraged us to attend the premiere that night, but it played against Before Midnight, which we were definitely going to attend.*
But we (and you) still have two more chances to see the documentary at SXSW. I Am Divine screens Wednesday, March 13, 9:30 pm at Stateside and Thursday, March 14, 11:15 am at Alamo Slaughter (screening info).
*And speaking of Before Midnight, we also spotted the composer of that film's score, Graham Reynolds, eating at the Thai restaurant.
The I Am Divine trailer is embedded below.
Abdul Sattar Edhi, the Pakistani philanthropist, inspired filmmakers Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq to go to Pakistan to learn more about the man and his Edhi Foundation. When they got to the country, Edhi, who had originally welcomed them and promised full access, challenged Mullick and Tariq to instead look at the lives of people who work in or are supported by his organization. The Edhi Foundation has multiple programs, but among the many ways it serves is by providing ambulances in Pakistan. There are also sorts of fostering-type facilities run by the nonprofit to house runaway boys.
Thus, the two people the directors chose to follow in These Birds Walk are twentysomething ambulance driver Asad and young runaway Omar. Edhi shows up a few times, but is separate from the two stories we are told about Asad and Omar. This is striking, after Edhi pointedly remarks, "If you want to find me, you will find me among the people." Omar is housed with other boys in an EDHI facility in one of the most unstable areas of Karachi. Adult supervision seems lacking, as boys bout with each other. A kid even leads the other boys during prayer services.
Local poster czar Mondo kicked off SXSW in its own style, premiering a new show of original Game of Thrones-themed art at the gallery on Friday. The opening included a special blonde ale created by New York brewery Ommegang that was inspired by the hit television show. The "Iron Throne" beer, as it was called, luckily had a light, non-metal taste, and was a perfect subtle pairing for the art itself, which ranged in styles and subjects.
In the end, the art didn’t need the metaphoric "beer goggles" to ratchet up anticipation for the coming season of the HBO show. I know I walked away dying to visit Daenerys and her dragons again after seeing Jason Edmiston's sumptuous "Mother of Dragons" painting, pictured above. (Keep reading for more photos.)
We live in a noisy world, but how often do we really listen to the noise?
The unnamed teenage protagonist of euphonia listens often, to the point of distraction and obsession. Writer/director Danny Madden's film follows the teen as he tires of the dull noise of suburbia around him and, armed with a handheld sound recorder, searches for better sounds.
The teen (played by Madden's younger brother, Will) records sounds as he ventures around his suburban neighborhood and the downtown area of an unnamed city. He records an all manner of sounds, such as the noises made by hitting objects with sticks, rustling leaves, students reading poetry in class, gurgling fountains, traffic, children playing and street musicians. When he begins dating a girl in his English class (also unnamed and played by Maria Decotis), she hesistantly lets him record many of their conversations also.
The teen uses his recorder as a means to connect with the world around him and, eventually, to separate himself from it. As he builds a library of sounds, he finds himself more connected to the sounds than their sources, drifting away from reality and distancing himself from the monotony of his life.
The aptly titled movie Imagine is about blind people imagining what they cannot see, but it also encourages sighted people to imagine what life is like for the blind.
Set and filmed in Lisbon, Portugal, Polish filmmaker Andrzej Jakimowski's lyrical feature film tells the story of Ian (Edward Hogg), a British spatial orientation instructor who works with blind and visually impaired patients living at a renowned Lisbon clinic. The patients are an international group of children and young adults; Ian's job is to teach them mobility skills and help them gain the confidence to explore their surroundings.
Blind himself, Ian navigates using echolocation, which relies on acoustic echoes to define the positions and sizes of objects. Similar to the way bats and dolphins use ultrasonic sound to navigate, Ian locates obstacles in his path by listening for echoes while clicking his tongue, snapping his fingers and walking in special shoes that create loud footsteps.
"The culture of drink endures because it offers so many rewards ... above all the elusive promise of friendship and love" -- Pete Hamill, A Drinking Life: A Memoir
The documentary Hey Bartender opens with this fitting introduction into the world of cocktails. The story introduces us to several characters in this lively and engaging film from director Douglas Tirola (All In: The Poker Movie). We are introduced first to Dunville's owner Steve Carpentieri, who is struggling to keep his small business alive in Westport, Connecticut. Cheap beer flows at this hole-in-the-wall where everyone does know your name, but fancy cocktails don't cross the bar here. Carpentieri ponders whether to throw in the towel after almost 20 years in the business.
On the other end of the spectrum is Steve Schneider, a young man trying to advance in the ranks at Employees Only (EO), one of the most prestigious bars in New York City. It can take years to succeed as an EO principal bartender -- starting as a stocker and then serving two years as an apprentice before consideration as a principal. Schneider is proud of his hard-earned apprentice jacket, perhaps a little too much after receiving well deserved press in the print media.
My first day of SXSW 2013 began Friday afternoon with a preview of the Mondo Gallery exhibition of original Game of Thrones artwork (pictured at right) sponsored by HBO, which also included samples of the new Brewery Ommegang's new "Game of Thrones" beer. Look for Katy Daiger Dial's coverage of the exhibit, with more photos, later in the week on Slackerwood.
Although I had planned to catch opening-night movie The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, I decided at the last minute to skip it in favor of a documentary at the Topfer Theatre that I wouldn't have another chance to see, Unhung Hero.
Directed by Brian Spitz, it follows actor Patrick Moote through his rejected Jumbotron marriage proposal that garnered 10 million YouTube hits in four days ... and the subsequent journey he undertakes after being told by his ex-girlfriend that her rejection was due to his extremely small penis.
In spite of his shortcomings, Moote is endowed with charm, charisma, incredibly good looks and an enormous acting talent. All are on public display as he explores sexual culture and penis enlargement techniques in the farthest corners of the world. In spite of his little problem, Moote is self-deprecating but not self-pitying. His honesty and candor about the subject are a rare treat. Unhung Hero is fascinating, informative and hilarious.
The doc screens again at SXSW on Tuesday at 9:30 pm at the Rollins Theatre at the Long Center, and on Friday at 4:15 pm at Rollins.