My favorite selection from Fantastic Fest 2013 combines the best aspects of all genres represented at the fest. It is a powerful science fiction story with an element of horror in biting social commentary played out in a half real, half animated Bakshi-esque environment. Loosely adapted by director Ari Folman from the Stanislaw Lem novel The Futurological Congress, The Congress expands on the story set down by Lem in a production of which he would likely approve.
Robin Wright won a Fantastic Features best actress award at the fest for her role as Robin Wright, a fictional version of herself who is encouraged by her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) to sell her digital likeness to the studios. In exchange for a small fortune that will allow her to spend her life with her ailing son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee), she can never perform again even in something as small as a church play.
Wanting to maintain the illusion of control, she consents to a 20-year contract with stipulations that her likeness would not be performing in various kinds of roles to which she would object. Unable at first to get comfortable with the scanning apparatus, Robin displays the full range of her emotions as Al relates a story to her that is alternately happy and heartbreaking. Perhaps as a result, at the end of her contract 20 years later, the studio (cleverly called "Miramount") is pushing for a renewal as her digital image has become the most popular actor in their stable.
This is where the story in The Congress more closely resembles Lem's novel, as Robin travels to the "animated zone" to meet and sign her new contract. A chemical cocktail alters her perceptions, and the world takes on a look as if it were animated by Tex Avery, Max Fleischer, Moebius, and Ralph Bakshi in a shared dream. Desert sands assume psychedelic colors, planes undulate like lazily-swimming whales -- in an aquarium, penis-fish swim around while others have mouths resembling vaginas sucking the glass like algae-eaters.
After a lifetime of making bad choices, Robin still seems to be making them, and she is plunged into a situation that may forever separate her from her family. The Congress spells out thematically a powerful update to Lem's commentary on the role of drugs in modern society and adds to it some statements on the monetization of Hollywood as well as making a critical point about the short attention span of modern audiences. Demonstrating the horror that can lay behind "truth" and the vast loneliness inherent in hiding within a world of dreams and fantasy, Folman presents a world that is simultaneously utopian and dystopian, where actors are reduced to a chemical commodity that can be eaten or drunk, and a shared hallucination allows anyone to be anyone or anything they desire.
The last time Austin-based filmmaker Emily Hagins went trick-or-treating was her senior year of high school, when her friends wanted to show a French foreign exchange student what the holiday was like in America.
That was two years ago.
"(I)t was really, really weird because we were getting weird looks, but the (French) girl was having a blast," Hagins said. "She had no idea that we were too old to be doing this."
The idea that certain childhood passions have no expiration date is explored in Hagins' fourth feature film Grow Up, Tony Phillips (Elizabeth's review). Because age, after all, is just a number. The movie is scheduled to hit VOD platforms this Halloween and later home video through Rogue Arts, an indie distributor that first approached the film's creators after its SXSW Film Festival premiere this year.
The Texas-produced feature film Searching For Sonny is on tour around Texas this month as part of the Texas Independent Film Network's Fall 2012 program. It returns to Austin after having its world premiere at Austin Film Festival 2011. After winning 13 major awards on the festival circuit -- including the Best of Fest at the Hill Country Film Festival -- writer/director Andrew Disney (pictured above) will be at the screening when the roadshow lands in Austin next week.
You can buy tickets now to see the Fort Worth-shot movie at the Violet Crown Cinema on Tuesday, August 21 at 7:30 pm. I saw it at AFF and my review describes it as "kinky and subversive, dark and outrageous." Here's my synopsis from that review:
"Jason Dohring stars as Elliot Knight, an unsuccessful 28-year-old pizza delivery driver. Jason receives a surprise invitation to his 10-year class reunion from his estranged best friend, Sonny (Masi Oka). As soon as he arrives at the reunion, he meets up with twin brother Calvin (Nick Kocher) and classmate Gary (Brian McElhaney). Together, the three of them set out to find Sonny, following clues left on their postcard invitations, and uncover a larger scheme involving their former high-school principal."
Another Austin film, another distribution deal. You may have heard that Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission was picked up by First Run Features and will open in Austin in mid-January. And the Twittersphere positively exploded with the news that Emily Hagins' My Sucky Teen Romance was picked up by Dark Sky Films a few weeks ago. The latest news: Austin goes global with Sushi: The Global Catch, from Austin filmmaker Mark Hall.
Sushi: The Global Catch just played the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival ("IDFA") in Amsterdam last week, and has been picked up by Kino Lorber for North American theatrical release in early 2012. The documentary won a Special Jury Award Seattle International Film Festival in June.
It was just yesterday that Jenn Brown and I were plotting our SXSW coverage strategy for Slackerwood (and other outlets) and hoping B-Side would host a Festival Genius site for scheduling SXSW Film. All of us at Slackerwood who have covered film festivals have loved the scheduling application from B-Side and found that it made fest planning vastly easier.
So we were very sad to learn that Austin-based B-Side Entertainment will be closing its doors this week. Filmmaker Magazine's blog is reporting that the company has been unable to find new investors and is out of funds. B-Side employees have all been laid off, many of which we've become familiar with at local film festivals -- including occasional Slackerwood contributor Chris Holland -- and we are obviously personally unhappy about the news as well. Back at SXSW 2007, I interviewed B-Side founder Chris Hyams (pictured at right) for Studio SX (sadly, SXSW no longer seems to have it archived) and his company sounded like an exciting business model.
Here's what Hyams has to say about the closing on the B-Side website: "I am sad to have reached the end of this chapter, but am incredibly proud of what we've achieved. I am confident that our efforts will have a lasting impact on this business. I am also confident that the B-Side team will bring their experience to new ventures that will pick up where B-Side is leaving off."
The soundtrack to Stingray Sam, the Fantastic Fest fave that had people singing for days afterwards, is now on sale. Written and performed by director Cory McAbee and co-produced with Robert Lurie, it's full of delightful absurd and often deconstructed songs like "Lullaby" or the progeny naming song "Fredward."
The episodic interplanetary adventure musical is still on the festival circuit, wowing crowds with its old-school serial wrapped in Western sensibilities. Both the soundtrack and the movie itself are available for purchase online at corymcabee.com, as digital media downloads or as discs.
To celebrate, we're giving away DVDs and soundtrack CDs. Find out how to win after the jump.
As we head into Thanksgiving week, Austin-area filmmakers and film fans have a lot to be thankful for. Here are a few reasons:
- The Academy Award shortlist for Best Documentary Feature nominees was released last week. One of the 15 films was SXSW 2009 selection Garbage Dreams. The doc tells the story of the Zaballeen, who live in "garbage villages" made of the city's garbage, and until recently were the only system in place for trash removal. Their livelihood is now being threatened by international outsourcers.
- Good news for another movie that premiered at SXSW 2009: B-Side Entertainment has picked up now-Austinite filmmaker Alex Karpovsky's latest film: Trust Us, This is All Made Up. Jette caught the movie in March and although it took a few minutes to get going, really enjoyed the long-form, detailed improv performance staged by T.J. Jagodowksi and David Pasquesi.
- One more from SXSW, this time 2008: David and Nathan Zellner's feature film Goliath will be out on DVD on January 12, 2010. You can pre-order it now from Amazon. Jette loved this Austin-made comedy about a guy who just can't live without his cat, which premiered at Sundance in 2008. Slackerwood interviewed the Zellners via email about the film.
Goodness gracious, this is turning into a big week of distribution news about films I've enjoyed at SXSW, some of which have Austin connections. Is it coincidence, or what? That's not the only news I have, but it's certainly news I'm happy to share.
- Medicine for Melancholy, which played SXSW 2008, is now available on DVD. This lovely film is one of my top-ten films from that year, and as soon as I'm finished writing this paragraph, I'm buying a copy. Seriously, this is a lovely film about two people who meet in San Francisco ... find a way to watch it, this weekend. One of the film's stars is Wyatt Cenac, whom you might recognize from The Daily Show.
- Another favorite SXSW film of mine, Gretchen from 2006, has also been released on DVD this week. Gretchen was shot around Central Texas and while its director and stars may not live here now, still seems very Austin-y to me. I'm hoping to get my hands on a copy soon and share the details, but it sounds like an excellent DVD package from Watchmaker (which did a gorgeous job with The Whole Shootin' Match), including several of Steve Collins's short films with actors John Merriman and Courtney Davis. Gretchen is also available on Netflix Watch Instantly.
Over the past week, an amazing number of news items have rolled in about distribution for Austin movies or movies that have played in local fests. Check out this list to see if any of the movies you've liked at recent fests will be getting a wider release and a second chance to grab audiences.
- Richard Linklater's most recent films are both in the news this week. First of all, Me and Orson Welles, which played at SXSW this year, now has U.S. distribution through Cinemax. As Linklater told us during the Extract red carpet, the movie will hit theaters around Thanksgiving. Jette thinks it's the best Zac Efron movie she's seen to date.
- In addition, Linklater's documentary about Longhorn baseball and coach Augie Garrido, Inning by Inning, is now available on iTunes. The movie was released on DVD in May. Jette doesn't like baseball much, but liked this movie a lot anyway.
- Speaking of movies you can watch from a computer or other device, the locally shot feature For Love & Stacie, written and directed by Raymond Schlogel, is now available for viewing online at Underground Planet.
Austin film-related news does seem to have a definite musical theme going this week. Or maybe I'm just stretching the point to justify the above title? I do have a whole lot of movie news today, some of which has nothing to do whatsoever with music, but you can always sing while you're reading or play some nice show tunes in the background.
- A small paragraph in the Arts: Casting Call section of the Austin Chronicle provides us with the news that Salvage Vanguard Theater and Doctuh Mistuh Productions are planning to stage Evil Dead: The Musical in Austin in the near future. They're still holding auditions this week, so contact Elle Mahoney at stylelle [at] gmail [dot] com for details. I'm looking forward to seeing this very curious theatrical production when it opens: Ash! He sings, he dances, he uses a chainsaw!
- The celebrity-spotting related to Machete shooting in Austin has already started. Several people, including our own Jenn Brown, spotted Danny Trejo (pictured at right) catching a movie at Alamo Ritz over the weekend. In addition, Austin Metblogs' Tim Trentham got a peek at Tom Savini while at the Paramount watching Forbidden Planet. Obviously if you want to see the coolest cast and crew from Robert Rodriguez's production, you should go to the movies. (I know my audience: I bet most of you would rather see Savini than Lindsay Lohan.)