Austin was filmmaker Alex R. Johnson's "something better" from the hustle and bustle of New York City life. Johnson had searched for a city that wouldn't necessarily compete with his memories of the Big Apple, but for a community of like-minded individuals that weren't worried about their role on Law & Order. His dear pal and composer Andrew Kenny, aka Kenny, also made the move with his wife last year after an extended SXSW trip. The house that Kenny and his wife bought became the fictional home of a character in his and Johnson's latest movie Two Step (Don's review).
"I didn't really know what I was getting myself into," Kenny said.
That may have been an understatement. Once a truck and generator showed up at the Kenny home, they knew they were in for surprises. Memories of the ten-day shoot at their house continue to show up in the form of fake blood droplets.
"Still finding blood but no damage," Kenny said. "There's a little bit by the front door... it's gonna stay there." To Kenny's wife, it's kind of like Christmas, finding needles from the tree months later, Johnson said.
Working a film festival, selfies and internet privacy. These were just a few things that writer/director Nacho Vigalondo and actors Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey chatted about regarding their latest film, Open Windows, shot partially in Austin.
The movie premiered at SXSW (my review), and I was beyond eager to hear firsthand what went into the making of this film. Check out what they had to say about what drew them to the idea, as well as the technological hurdles they had to overcome.
Slackerwood: Congratulations on the premiere of your film here at SXSW. How does it feel to bring it back to Austin?
Nacho Vigalondo: It's amazing, but I prefer to come here [to this festival and others] without a movie because I enjoy movies -- I love watching them. I love other people's movies more than mine. I enjoy making my films, but I don't enjoy watching my own films. I hate to be a critic to myself.
Austin is called the "Live Music Capital of the World," and a very large influence on it was singer/songwriter Stephen Bruton. In 2007, only a week after completing his treatment for throat cancer and in his final appearance on stage, Bruton led his band through a four-hour, 38-song "Road to Austin" performance in front of 20,000 fans. Director Gary Fortin covers the concert and history of the Austin music scene from 1835 to today in Road to Austin, which premiered at SXSW 2014.
Beginning with Kris Kristofferson and John Paul DeJoria relating their experiences, Fortin weaves photos and film footage from the earliest days of Austin into a vivid tapestry. Artists recount tales of legendary venues, some now gone, including Threadgill's, Antone's, the Armadillo World Headquarters, Broken Spoke, Continental Club and Saxon Pub.
Road to Austin explores how the city became, like a microcosm of the United States, a musical melting pot where country, blues, Latino and psychedelic influences combined and grew, creating a unique scene and a strong community.
The interviews and history serve as an introduction to footage from the concert itself, where Bruton takes the stage with his band and a host of 60 star performers. The festival cut of the film includes eight songs emceed by Turk Pipkin. Blues, country, even an operatic performance by Cara Johnston are represented, but the peak of the concert has to be Malford Milligan's performance. When Milligan sings Bruton's "Bigger Wheel," you can't help jumping and dancing along. The energy is infectious and powerful.
The full concert includes artists Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton, Joe Ely, Eric Johnson, David Grissom, Bob Schneider, Carolyn Wonderland, Raul Salinas, Bobby Whitlock & CoCo Carmel, Lisa Hayes, Joel Guzman & Sarah Fox, Ian Mclagan, James Hand, Ruthie Foster, and the Tosca String Quartet.
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.