Local Cast and Crew

Scott Harris Brings 'Being Ginger' to Texas

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being ginger still

Three months short of graduating from the University of Edinburgh, The University of Texas at Austin film alumnus Scott P. Harris couldn't find the right subject for a movie. But the color of Harris's hair came up continuously when discussing the theme of his final project with friends three years ago. The former Dallasite said redheads in Scotland have a really hard time because they take the brunt of numerous jokes, like the one that says each freckle on a ginger's face denotes a soul they have stolen.

Harris was cautious of making Being Ginger because he didn't want people to think he was just complaining or whining about the color of his hair, but as he began documenting his experiences as a redhead in 2011 it became therapeutic and a way to exercise past demons. 

Jokes and taunts from bystanders, and a rant from a blonde woman about why she wouldn't date a ginger, are captured onscreen. And Harris himself discusses his own personal biases against redheads that may stem from classroom childhood experiences where fellow students would repeatedly tell him that they hated him based on the color of his hair. 

Sundance Review: Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

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Kumiko The Treasure HunterAfter seeing the premiere of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter at Sundance this week, it is easy to understand why Alexander Payne (Nebraska) and Jim Taylor (Sideways) signed on as executive producers for the latest feature from Austin filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner (Kid Thing). This film is a superlative visualization of a lonely woman's quest to escape her reality in Japan for the mythical destination of Minnesota in the "New World" of the Americas.

Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) deviates from the traditional Japanese society, as she isolates herself from her coworkers and silently rebels against her conservative boss. Her mother's disembodied voice on the phone reminds Kumiko incessantly that if she remains unmarried, she should return home to live. Not that Kumiko's current lifestyle is the most appealing, as she lives in a cramped apartment with her pet rabbit Bunzo as her only true companion.

Sundance 2014 Dispatch: Familiar Texas Faces

Kelly Williams and Tim League

The 30th Sundance Film Festival is well underway, with plenty of familiar faces from Texas. My first day in Park City was relatively low-key, as I settled into my lodging and re-acquainted myself with the free public transportation and picked up the essentials -- credentials, groceries and booze. I opted out of opening-night parties to plan my activities for Day Two, knowing I would have a full day of interviews, premieres, receptions and screenings. My "sleep is the enemy" fest mantra has been replaced with the "it's a marathon, not a sprint" mentality.

Friday marked the premiere of the Austin feature film Hellion. I briefly saw producer Kelly Williams as he was entering the theater -- pictured at top with Alamo Drafthouse and Drafthouse Films founder Tim League. League and I spoke about what films we had seen so far and especially those we enjoyed -- quite a common interaction between festivalgoers here at Sundance.

Watch Texas Shorts at Sundance 2014 ... at Home

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Sundance LogoYou don't have to travel to Park City to enjoy great content from the 30th annual Sundance Film Festival. YouTube is offering quite a bit of content for film fans to view online via the Sundance Film Festival YouTube Channel.

As the presenting sponsor of the Sundance 2014 shorts program, YouTube is showcasing several of the official shorts in competition. Fifteen films were selected from this year's competitors, including two short films from Texas: Rat Pack Rat and Dig. The Austin-shot Rat Pack Rat is directed by Todd Rohal and produced by several Austinites including Zack Carlson, Clay Liford, and Ashland Viscosi. Dig is written and directed by DFW-area producer Toby Halbrooks.

The YouTube Audience Award will be presented at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony on Saturday, January 25, to the short film in official competition that receives the most views on YouTube between January 16-24, 2014. And Slackerwood has both Texas shorts embedded for you to watch after the jump.

Dig, which stars Mallory Mahoney and Jonny Mars, was produced by Sailor Bear, a production company that includes David Lowery, James Johnston, Shaun Gish and Richard Krause. Sailor Bear also has a feature at Sundance, Listen Up Philip. Mahoney plays a young girl who is intrigued by the large hole her father (Mars) is digging in their backyard.

I spoke to Halbrooks about the selection of Dig for the YouTube Channel. He was pleased the Sundance Institute chose his short film for the spotlight.

"Any exposure is good for short film, as there are not many outlets," he noted. "Typically if you put a film on YouTube not many people would see it and it's hard to find an audience."

Lone Star Cinema: D.O.A.

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D.O.A.

Had the stylish thriller D.O.A. been more plausible, it might be more than a footnote in the history of Austin film.

Released in 1988, the murder mystery had much promise. After all, it was a loose remake of an iconic Fifties whodunit of the same title. Its leads were Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, two sexy Hollywood darlings on the verge of megastardom. At the helm were Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, co-directors of the innovative, critically acclaimed and quintessentially Eighties TV series The Max Headroom Show.

But for all its potential, the movie D.O.A. is mostly forgettable mix of crime thriller clichés and farfetched plotting. It's a watchable bit of neo-noir, but nothing more.

Austin Comic Con 2013: Family Fun

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Paul Alvarado-Dykstra and Bethany Rhoades at Wizard World Austin Comic Con

My perception of fantasy conventions in the past was that they tend to be more adult-oriented with anime and cos-play, but the Wizard World Austin Comic Con provides a well-rounded experience for families to enjoy together. Until this weekend I had never seen children attending a panel, yet there were several young kids in the Tailchaser's Song Animated Film Sneak Peek session on Sunday. The movie is an animated adaptation of Tad Williams' popular novel about a group of feral cats who journey through the treacherous world of humans and other animals.

Local producer Paul Alvarado-Dykstra and associate producer/writer Bethany Rhoades (pictured above) talked about how this project came to fruition and provided a "behind-the-scenes" look at the concept art of the film. Local animation artist and voice actor Samantha Inoue-Harte -- who was unable to attend due to illness -- brought in Animetropolis, which she co-owns with Alvarado-Dykstra. Rhoades had initially approached Inoue-Harte for a consultation on how to adapt Williams' novel to the screen, and Inoue-Harte was enthused enough to also join as a producer for the project.

Lone Star Cinema: Friday Night Lights

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Friday Night Lights poster

For this Thanksgiving week edition of Lone Star Cinema, I selected an influential football film from the mid-aughts. Before the acclaimed series Friday Night Lights started shooting in town, the 2004 film, starred Billy Bob Thornton as coach to a Texas high school football team. Based on the same-titled book by Buzz Bissinger, Friday Night Lights depicts the 1988 season of the Permian Panthers of Odessa, from the promising pre-season to their challenging finish at state.

The movie places quick scenes from the lives of several of the senior players in between montages of the Friday night action in Odessa's Ratliff Stadium. Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher) plays Boobie Miles, an assured running back who is the team's star. I'd argue Luke gives the best performance in the movie. Midway through Friday Night Lights, his character faces an obstacle he may not be able to overcome, and Luke aptly conveys Boobie's bluster, might and heartbreak.

Quiet quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black, Sling Blade, Jarhead) finds it hard to engage in the game as his thoughts dwell on his uncertain academic future and the fate of his sickly mother. Billingsley, the fullback played by Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy), lives with an abusive drunk dad (country singer Tim McGraw) who was once on a Permian team that won the state championship. 

I wanted to know more about the backstories of younger player Comer -- the recently departed Lee Thompson Young (The Famous Jett Jackson) shows such promise here -- as well as stoic linebacker Ivory Christian (former UT player Lee Jackson) and safety Chavez (Jay Hernandez, spotted on ABC's Nashville). For a film that is practically two hours long, Friday Night Lights is relatively light on plot and spends much of its time on the field. I guess if I want to know more about the players, I'd have to read the book.

AFF 2013 Dispatch: 'A Conversation with Jeff Nichols'

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jeff nicholsMany Austin Film Festival-goers kicked off their week by attending one of the first panels on the schedule -- "A Conversation with Jeff Nichols." In a Q&A session that lasted a little over an hour on Thursday afternoon (it was moderated by Christopher Boone), the Austin-based director discussed the three films he has completed so far (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud) as well as his upcoming release, Midnight Special. As a writer and director who has achieved critical success while working with both small and big budgets, Nichols had plenty of advice and entertaining tidbits to share with the audience. 

Nichols, who comes off as both boyish and wise, eschews traditional film-school techniques (such as following a strict screenplay formula) but stresses the importance of adhering to certain personal storytelling rules. He described his process as beginning with various large ideas (masculinity, first love, financial anxiety, etc.) and then filtering them through a story that is ultimately about the characters he has created. Nichols' actual writing process involves arranging notecards filled with scenes and plot points and holding tightly to the idea of point of view.

Humble about his creative accomplishments and clearly knowledgeable about the business of making movies, Nichols made for a practically ideal AFF guest. The audience remained rapt and appreciative throughout, and this panel was an excellent reminder that AFF is all about dissecting the filmmaking process and appreciating good work. Here are a few highlights from the session:

  • Much to Nichols' disappointment, Shotgun Stories was rejected by both Sundance Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival. However, it was embraced at the Berlin International Film Festival and also screened here at AFF, where it received the Feature Film Award in 2007. 
  • Nichols often writes about white men (because he is one), but expressed the desire to include strong and realistic female characters in his work. That Jessica Chastain's character was domestically-oriented in Take Shelter was a reflection of his mother, who Nichols considers one of the strongest women he has known. 

Review: Shepard & Dark

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Shepard and Dark Still Photo

As much as I'd admired Sam Shepard as an actor for decades, I was not familiar with his writing until I read a collection of his short stories, Cruising Paradise. This anthology of 40 short tales written between 1989 and 1995, set mostly in remote reaches of the U.S. and Mexico, depicts the loneliness of a man who grew up in with familial discord brought on by alcoholism. Some of the stories are fictional, but several come straight from Shepard's personal diary.

The poignant documentary Shepard & Dark by filmmaker and part-time Austinite Treva Wurmfeld reveals even more of the life and loves of Shepard, told through both personal interviews and archival footage and letters exchanged between himself and Johnny Dark. The pair met in the Sixties during an off-off Broadway play in Greenwich Village that Shepard had written. One playwright from California, the other an odd-jobber from Jersey City, talked about their childhood of airplanes and dogs and found a connection when they shared stories of their fathers.

AFF Interview: Ashley Spillers of 'Dear Sidewalk' Remembers Her Sunscreen

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Rachel Myhill and Ashley Spillers in DEAR SIDEWALK

One of the made-in-Austin films having its premiere at this year's Austin Film Festival is Dear Sidewalk, a romantic comedy about a mail carrier (Joseph Mazzello, Jurassic Park, Justified) who falls for an older divorcee (Michelle Forbes, True Blood, The Killing).  Also featured in the cast is one Ashley Spillers, who has acted in many buzzworthy local films of late (The Bounceback, Pit Stop, Loves Her Gun) and even appears in the viral short Hell No.

The former Austinite also stars in the horror-comedy Saturday Morning Massacre (aka Saturday Morning Mystery if you are buying it at Wal-Mart), which screens at the Housecore Horror Film Festival on, appropriately enough, Saturday morning.

Before Austin Film Festival started up, Spillers took part in this email interview for us.

Slackerwood: How did you come to be involved in Dear Sidewalk?

Ashley Spillers: Well, I auditioned! Beth Sepko was casting and she called me in to audition (while I was on set of Zero Charisma) for the role of the Barista, but Jake and Ford Oelman were in the room, and I guess they saw me more as a... Tracy! Which I was thrilled about, of course.

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