I'm leaving the house in one hour (I hope) to head downtown for SXSW. I've got my tablet, my roasted chickpeas, my auxiliary battery ... and yeah, my antacids. Welcome to the wussy side of SXSW filmgoing.
I'm kicking off the fest by participating in the panel "A Beginners Guide to SXSW Film" at 2 pm in room 16AB of the Austin Convention Center. If you're down there, why not join us? You can ask questions or even offer advice of your own.
The other panelists will be film producer Kelly Williams (Hellion), Austin Chronicle Managing Editor Kimberley Jones, Film School Rejects editor Neil Miller, and filmgoer extraordinaire/Fantastic Fest programmer Brian Kelley. So this should be a hoot as well as very informative.
If you can't attend the panel and are seeking guidance, check out the Slackerwood guide to SXSW theaters and our guide for locals and wristband holders. In fact, check out all our SXSW articles since we have previews and interviews with local and Texas filmmakers.
Easy is a semi-autobiographical short about brothers from former Austinite/current Dallas resident Daniel Laabs. The director recently completed a successful crowdfunding campaign to cover post-production costs for the film, which will have its world premiere at SXSW. The short he co-directed with Julie Gould, 8, premiered at SXSW in 2011, where it won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Texas Short.
Easy will be shown as part of the Texas Shorts program at this year's festival. Laabs answered some questions I had via email before SXSW Film.
What drew you to tell the story of the two brothers in Easy?
Daniel Laabs: I tend to write films that come from personal experience. The idea of showing what it is like to be both an older brother and a younger brother was very interesting (I'm a middle child).
Each year, the programmers of the SXSW Film Festival deliver a fresh batch of documentaries and films that focus on music in the 24 Beats Per Second sidebar. With such a wide variety of bands and artists performing all over the city during the festival, it only makes sense that some of them would invade our darkened theaters too. We've taken a look at some of the most promising movies premiering this year to help you prioritize what you should add to your schedule.
American Interior (pictured above) -- Gruff Rhys, lead singer of Welsh rockers Super Furry Animals, went on a solo tour in 2012 retracing the steps of one of his relatives. Explorer John Evans left Wales in 1792 headed to America on what would be a seven year quest, searching for a lost tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans. Rhys followed Evans's path, playing music along the way and then eventually writing a book about what he learned. It was all captured by a documentary crew and the film makes its world premiere on Tuesday, March 11 at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz 1. It will also screen on Wednesday, March 12 at Stateside and on Friday, March 14 at Alamo Ritz 2.
The Gecko Brothers are back, and attendees of the 2014 SXSW Film Festival can see them first at the world premiere of the pilot episode of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series on Saturday, March 8, 4:30 pm at the Vimeo Theater in the Austin Convention Center. The debut is part of the new Episodic screening category for this year's festival.
The Episodic category was inspired by previous SXSW featured content, including A&E's Bates Motel and the HBO series Girls. Other series featured at this year's fest will include the educational Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, the comedic series Deadbeat, and Austin writer/director Mike Judge's Silicon Valley. The television premiere of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series will be broadcast on Tuesday, March 11, 8 pm CST on El Rey Network.
From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series is a re-imagined story based upon the original film but with the addition of new characters and storylines. This includes an intertwining of the Mesoamerican mythology that the main characters, bank robber Seth Gecko (D. J. Cotrona) and his volatile brother Richie Gecko (Zane Holtz), encounter while on the run from Texas Rangers Earl McGraw (Don Johnson) and Freddie Gonzalez (Jessie Garcia).
Dallas actress Augustine Frizzell shows up in two films at this year's SXSW, playing roles in both Kat Candler's Hellion and Toby Halbrooks' short Dig. Meanwhile, the short film she directed, I Was a Teenage Girl, premieres at the film festival as part of the Texas Shorts competition. Frizzell's short stars her daughter Atheena Frizzell and Claire Stuart Meiner as two teens having an intense discussion after one of them suffers a breakup.
Frizzell recently answered a few of my questions about her film via email.
Slackerwood: How did you conceive of the idea for your short?
Augustine Frizzell: I wanted to explore some of the issues that girls of this age face that feel (and are) much more mature than what they dealt with maybe a year earlier. We shot three shorts based around this concept, but only the third was finished in time. Each of the three was about these big issues and how they change the girls and impact their futures in unexpected ways.
Two Texas-based short films that were in competition at Sundance 2014 are making their Texas debuts at the SXSW Film Festival: writer/director Todd Rohal's Rat Pack Rat and Dig, by Dallas-based filmmaker Toby Halbrooks.
Halbrooks is an integral member of the filmmakers at Sailor Bear, a Dallas-based production company that includes David Lowery, James Johnston, Shaun Gish and Richard Krause. Last year's Sailor Bear feature Ain't Them Bodies Saints received an award for cinematography at Sundance, and this year's festival featured Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Philip, also produced by the Sailor Bear team.
I spoke with Halbrooks in Park City during Sundance about Dig as well as other Sailor Bear projects, including the short film Pioneer. Here's what he had to say.
Documentarian Margaret Brown's new movie, The Great Invisible, depicts the response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and resultant oil spill from multiple viewpoints. Brown has deep ties to Alabama, one of the states hit hard by the oil spill, and used to call Austin home as well. Her previous film work includes the acclaimed 2004 Townes Van Zandt documentary Be Here to Love Me and 2008's The Order of Myths (Jette's Cinematical review), a look at segregated Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile that went on to win an Independent Spirit Award.
The Great Invisible is showing as part of SXSW's Documentary Competition, and will have its world premiere at the fest. (The music is from Austin composer David Wingo.) Director Brown recently participated in this interview (via email) with me.
Slackerwood: Once you chose to document the response to the Deepwater Horizon spill, what was your approach? How did you pick the interview subjects?
Margaret Brown: At first I was interested in the aftermath in the area around Mobile, Alabama, where I grew up. I was curious about what would happen in a big disaster once the cameras went away, and the world's interest waned. I also started the film thinking it was going to be a personal film that was really just about where I grew up, much like my last film, The Order of Myths.
Paying big bucks for a badge isn't the only way to be a part of the SXSW Film Festival. For locals willing to forego lanyards and the feeling of being first in line, the wristband is another option -- often a good one, but one that requires a little more creative planning and patience.
Sold for $80 at various venues around town -- $75 at the Marchesa before any Austin Film Society event if you're an AFS member-- the wristband (known as the Film Pass before last year) grants access to any film shown during the festival, provided there is space available after badgeholders (Platinum, Film and Gold) have been seated. This means smaller venues like the Violet Crown and Alamo Drafthouse Ritz probably won't be worth trying, but larger theaters like the Paramount will most likely work out just fine (even single-ticket buyers can probably get into the Paramount, but more about that later).
If you're taking the wristband route this year, read on for a few facts, tips and observations that will hopefully help you get the most out of being a wristbandito (that's a term coined by Jette last year that deserves another go, I think).
An exhaustive amount of time, energy, and effort goes into programming one of the largest film festivals in the United States, and it takes a dedicated team of programmers to carefully select the best program for the SXSW Film Festival each year.
Recently the Austin Film Society (AFS) hosted "An Austinite's Guide to the 2014 SXSW Film Festival," a panel discussion moderated by AFS Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick and featuring Head of SXSW Film Janet Pierson, Producer and Senior Programmer Jarod Neece, and Short Film Programmer and Operations Manager Claudette Godfrey. And I've been chatting via email with Godfrey as well.
At the panel discussion, the SXSW programming team talked about what's new this year and what films they were excited about. Neece mentioned the new episodic category and is most excited for the new series Silicon Valley, directed and written by Austinite Mike Judge, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky.
Director Riley Stearns now lives in L.A. but was raised in the Austin area (Pflugerville, if you're being picky). His short film The Cub premiered at Sundance last year (and screened locally at the Hill Country Film Festival), and his feature film debut, Faults, will premiere at SXSW this March. This drama, which Stearns also wrote, stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as a young woman whose family hires deprogrammer Ansel (Leland Orser, Taken) to remove her from a cult.
The cast also includes Lance Reddick (from the recently-ended sci-fi series Fringe) and Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) along with Slackerwood favorite and prolific character actress Beth Grant (here's a podcast interview she did with us a while ago).
Before SXSW starts Friday, Stearns paused to talk to us via email about his new movie, working with his wife, and filming in hotel rooms.