It was another busy year for Texas filmmakers, and it looks like their hard work will once again be recognized with awards. Last week the 29th annual Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations were announced, and Austin and Texas-connected productions including Mud, Upstream Color, Computer Chess and Before Midnight are in the running in a variety of categories.
Up for Best Director you'll find Austinite Jeff Nichols (who participated in a featured panel at Austin Film Festival last October), nominated for Mud, and Shane Carruth, director of the Dallas-filmed Upstream Color. Mud (Holly Herrick's review) will also receive the Robert Altman award, which recognizes one film for its director, casting director and ensemble cast. Upstream Color (J.C.'s review) was nominated for Carruth and fellow Texan David Lowery's editing work, as well.
Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.
Local nonprofit festival Lights. Camera. Help. is changing it up a bit for the 2014 Reel Change Film Frenzy through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to support their ten filmmaking teams in sharing stories about local nonprofit organizations. Backers can become a producer of their very own cause-driven film by donating as little as $10. The goal is to raise $10,000 to be split between the teams to cover their costs.
At higher levels, backers are eligible to receive tickets to the Reel Change Film Frenzy screening at the Alamo Drafthouse, a cameo appearance in one of the films, or video coaching sessions by Lights. Camera. Help. educators. Even if the campaign does not reach its goal, the filmmakers have agreed to split evenly any funding received through January 4.
Stuntwoman Patty Dillon has taken on a new role in the film industry as a documentary filmmaker with There Will Be No Stay, the personally intimate story of the men faced with the unbearable act of taking another person's life on behalf of the criminal justice system. Austin-based Arcanum Pictures (Grow Up, Tony Phillips) producers Paul Gandersman and Peter Hall support this salient documentary, which was filmed across the nation from South Dakota to Texas and North Carolina.
The film, which provides a rare glimpse into a difficult profession, is currently funding through Wednesday, December 11 on Kickstarter, for funds to cover post-production including final film and sound editing as well as music licensing and film festival application fees.
Watch the thought-provoking preview of There Will Be No Stay after the jump.
Austin Film Festival may be well behind us, but I am still thinking about some older Texas films at the fest that I stumbled upon almost accidentally. As I was planning my schedule for the Sunday of the fest on Saturday night, I noticed some oddly named films at the Rollins with descriptions that included "Texas independent film." I ended up skipping My Man Godfrey (which I can watch any time) to see what this screening was about.
All I knew about Invasion of the Aluminum People (1980) and Speed of Light (1981) were that apparently Jonathan Demme liked them, since he was going to "present" them. I assumed "presenting" meant he would do a nice intro, then scoot, as is typical at many such events.
The theater was about halfway full and I was one of the younger audience members. Later I would learn that many people in the audience had worked on one of the two films, or provided music, or been in a band with someone involved with the film. Both films employed a lot of musicians as their cast and crew. Well, it was Austin in 1980, I kind of assumed most of the people living here were musicians (or claimed to be). Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater sat a couple of rows in front of me, and I took that as a good omen -- this must be worthwhile.
The Lone Star Film Festival kicks off tonight in Fort Worth, and it will live up to its name with a number of Austin and Texas selections, as well as some honored guests. The festival runs through Sunday, November 10.
The Austin Chronicle co-founder and SXSW director Louis Black, musician and actor Lyle Lovett and Fort Worth businessman Stephen Murrin, Jr. will be honored tomorrow for their role in film and the arts at the Fort Worth Club. In addition, the following movies all have Austin or Lone Star connections:
- Bob Birdnow's Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self, about two friends who reunite at a conference, just won the Ron Tibbett Excellence in Filmmaking Award at this year's Memphis Indie fest. Writer/director Eric Steele and producer Adam Donaghey are owners of the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, Texas. Donaghey also produced LSFF selection Little Hope Was Arson.
- Tim's Vermeer, LSFF's opening night film, follows Texas-based inventor Tim Jenison on his quest to understand the painting techniques used by Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer (Girl with a Pearl Earring).
- Little Hope Was Arson (Elizabeth's interview) made its Texas premiere at Austin Film Festival. This debut documentary from Theo Love takes a look at the string of fires set at East Texas churches in January 2010, igniting the largest criminal investigation that area has ever experienced.
Director Alexandra Lescaze came to Austin and spent several years following a group of local women, most of whom met via a Yahoo message board for BBWs (or "big beautiful women"), for her second feature-length documentary film, All of Me. They started out as a tight-knit support group not just because they were all overweight, but because they were proud and happy about it.
As members of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, the majority of these ladies came together to celebrate and have social outings where they wouldn't be judged by the outside world. While the group initially seems to have a strong resistance to losing weight, the film focuses on the successes and struggles of a few of them to undergo weight-loss surgery and how it affects everybody around them.
A long-form poem set to film and interspersed with dialogue, Sombras de Azul from Kelly Daniela Norris takes the viewer on a scenic trip to Cuba. Maribel, played by the director's cousin Seedne Bujaidar, arrives in the country after the sudden death of her older brother Carlos. In the touristy areas, silent museums and colorful back streets of Havana, she looks for hints of her brother at the same time she pays a sort of tribute to him.
During her short time in the country, Maribel meets friendly cafe owners, a Swedish tourist (Charlotta Mohlin, True Blood), and carpenter/failed thief Eusebio (Cuban actor Yasmani Guerrero). Each in their different way aid in her healing process.
Sombras de Azul moves in quiet meditation, with Maribel's reflections about her brother spoken over scenes of landscape, cityscape or beach. People in white congregate on the streets for an unnamed sacred event. Maribel sits silently in a graveyard under a tree, the audio of her narration softly spooling out a tall tale Carlos once told her about a snake.
By Frank Calvillo
The Housecore Horror Film Festival debuted in Austin this weekend. An offshoot of Housecore Records, the four-day long event was a combination of a series of concerts from many heavy-metal bands as well as a showcase of indie horror flicks that ranged from classic to little-seen, plus advance screenings.
"First year" was a term thrown around quite a few times over the weekend as a reminder that this was the festival's inaugural year, and understandably so. A few screenings were delayed, while others were postponed or canceled -- and occasionally zombies on the screen had to compete with goblins on the stage with only several feet of space separating the two.
Yet, despite unavoidable mishaps, for a festival in their "first year," Housecore presented one of the most eclectic and impressive lineup of horror titles, leading this scare fiend to wonder what kind of blood splatter future years will hold.
Gardner (Joseph Mazzello, Jurassic Park) is a socially awkward, 25-year-old mail carrier in the indie romantic comedy Dear Sidewalk. He keeps to a usual routine which includes a postal route walking through Austin neighborhoods, a daily chat with sarcastic retiree Trudy (Lana Dieterich) and weekly meetings with his small philatelic club. This stamp-collecting group is made up of his postal service co-workers (Davi Jay, Hugo Perez and C. K. McFarland) who encourage him to get out more. Meanwhile, he sleeps in a boat in front of his best pal Calvin's (Josh Fadem, 30 Rock) house.
Then fortysomething divorcee Paige (Michelle Forbes, True Blood) moves into a house on his route and disrupts his daily pattern. She flirts with him and takes him to the Cathedral of Junk. She throws his watch in Town Lake (or Lady Bird Lake, if you prefer). What does this mean for Gardner?
Mazzello at first appears uncertain of how he wants to portray Gardner, but grows into the role as Dear Sidewalk progresses (or maybe it just bothered me less as the film went on). The relationship between Gardner and brother-from-another-mother Calvin is sweet -- they are both odd birds -- and fits with the goofy vibe of the film. Indeed, their friendship seemed more believable than the idea of Paige and Gardner getting together.
The character of Paige comes off as incomplete. We're given some facts about her (she's recently divorced, used to be an artist and hates the blind dates her brother keeps setting her up on), but there is much left unknown about her and not as much depth to the role as I would like.
Sure, the plot is a smidge disjointed, but the writing made me laugh out loud more than once. The supporting characters (diverse in age and ethnicity, yay) were standouts of the movie. Trudy is fearless and flirty. Gardner's co-workers are quirky and full of advice for him. I can't neglect to mention Ashley Spillers, who injects some verve into Dear Sidewalk as a love interest for Calvin [see our interview with Ashley].
Dear Sidewalk is director Jake Oelman's first feature film, and shows Austin as a walkable city: Gardner doesn't own a car, and seems to take the path near Auditorium Shores daily. As the mail carrier traverses streets dense with trees, the film also features some colorful houses in town. The Austin in this movie has the feeling of a smaller suburban town -- with a great view of downtown easily available.
The best of the films I saw last weekend at Polari 2013 was on Saturday afternoon. Polish writer-director Malgorzata Szumowska explores the feelings of a gay priest working in a school for troubled youths in the poignant film In the Name Of.
Trapped by the requirements of his faith with nobody to whom he can turn for a human connection, Adam (Andrzej Chyra, who bears a strong resemblance to Daniel Craig) longs only for the comfort of human embrace. A good man who always has a positive influence on his charges, Adam never does anything wrong, though almost completely unfounded accusations repeatedly result in his transfer to other parishes.
Szumowska peels back the stoic exterior to reveal the depths of longing and loneliness suffered by a man striving to set the highest example of godliness and the tragic unfairness that can result from unfounded suspicions. In the Name Of is a moving bittersweet story that treated a delicate subject fairly but with tenderness.
While most of the Polari screenings were downtown, Friday night brought a detour to the Marchesa to take in a screening co-sponsored by the Austin Film Society.
Animals is a Spanish film by director Marçal Forés about a troubled teen dealing with feelings for a new classmate with a dark secret. In a failure of mood over substance, the film is beautiful to look at, with an attractive cast acting against the mountains of northern Spain but following an aimless story with little payoff.
Forés oversells the teen angst in an attempt to establish a feeling akin to Donnie Darko and then fails to follow up on numerous hints of deeper backstory to which he has alluded. There is no clear motivation in Animals for just about anything any of the characters do including -- and especially -- a tasteless display of school violence.
Unfortunately, on Saturday I caught the most boring movie I have ever seen. Shot in Austin, Pit Stop -- directed by Yen Tan, who co-wrote with Dallas filmmaker David Lowery -- stars Bill Heck, Marcus DeAnda and Amy Seimetz in two stories of heartbroken men who converge when they meet for a sex date arranged online. Nothing ever happens to indicate why these two might be right for each other. They don't appear to have much in common, and neither displays any appreciable personality.
Saturday was far too beautiful a day to spend in a movie theater. But watching the Polari screening of God Loves Uganda at the Stateside Theater on Saturday afternoon was worth sacrificing a couple of hours of stunning Austin weather.
God Loves Uganda is a terrific, must-see documentary that both enlightens and infuriates. It's relentlessly unpleasant viewing, but this gripping movie casts a much-needed spotlight on one of society's great outrages: American evangelical Christians' quest to spread homophobia in Uganda.
As the growing acceptance of gay marriage demonstrates, evangelicals have long been losing the culture wars in the United States. But decades before gay marriage was legal in any state, fundamentalist Christians already were seeking greener proselytizing pastures in the developing world. Uganda became a prime target for evangelism after Idi Amin's brutal regime ended in 1979, giving American missionaries an opportunity to build churches and schools and recruit new followers.