Contributors's blog

'El Mariachi': 20 Years Later


EL MARIACHI 20th Anniversary graphicBy Charles Ramírez Berg

Robert Rodriguez never expected anyone to see El Mariachi.

He made it for $7,000 and hoped to sell it to the Spanish-language video market for $15,000. It didn't matter if nobody saw it, what mattered was getting the money to make Part 2. Then he'd repeat the process and finish the Mariachi Trilogy. "Those three films," he says now, "were going to be my film school, because the only way you learn to make movies is to make movies."

But his plan failed because El Mariachi was too good. He took it to LA, and showed it to a Spanish-language video company, which was slow to respond. While waiting, he decided to drop off a VHS copy of his nine-minute student film, Bedhead, which contained the two-minute trailer for El Mariachi, at ICM (International Creative Management), one of the world's largest talent agencies. He just walked in off the street and handed the tape to the receptionist, so I imagine he got a variation of the standard "Don't call us, kid, we'll call you" line.

They called him the next day.

They loved Bedhead, and they were really interested in that trailer. Was it for a feature? Was it finished? Could they see it? He immediately delivered a VHS copy of El Mariachi.

"Why didn't you just drop off the complete El Mariachi the first time?" I asked him at the time. "I wanted them to ask me to see it," he said, "instead of me asking them." You see how that changes the dynamic of the relationship, and how savvy this 23-year-old junior in the Radio-TV-Film Department at the University of Texas was -- and still is today. ICM loved El Mariachi and signed Robert, promising him a major studio contract. Studios scrambled to sign him, and Columbia won.

Columbia's first idea was for Robert to remake it in English (eliminating the need for those dreaded subtitles) with a star in the lead. But to get an idea of how the film would play, Columbia sent Robert and El Mariachi (with subtitles) on the festival circuit. Festival audiences ate it up -- subtitles and all. It won the Audience Awards at the Sundance and Deauville Film Festivals, and Columbia decided to release it theatrically just as Robert made it. Receiving glowing reviews by critics (two thumbs up from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert) and aided by the entertaining appearances Robert made on The Today Show and David Letterman, the movie was a sleeper hit, and Robert's career was off and running.

'Girl Walk // All Day' Provides a Vibrant Finale to Cinema East's Summer


Girl Walk All DayBy Lara Morgan

Outdoor summer film series Cinema East went out with an emphatic bang Sunday night at Yellow Jacket Stadium, with its finale screening of Girl Walk // All Day (Jette's SXSW review). Approximately 700 Austinites watched the musical; some with beers, some with (what would become futile) chairs, almost all destined to dance that evening, whether they knew it or not walking into the venue.

Set to Girl Talk's marvelous mash-up album All Day, with no dialogue, Girl Walk // All Day is a strange mix of narrative-yet-documentary, silent-yet-musical film. The movie follows a dancer (Anne Marsen) who feels the sudden urge to bust out of her ballet class and dance around New York City. She then reacts to passersby and the cityscape with ingenuousness and charm and the craziest amalgamation of dance styles imaginable.

I had seen Girl Walk // All Day before, and could not have been more content with it, but still I couldn't help but think: How did this album-long, epic music video of a movie come about? In a video that showed before the film, director Jacob Krupnick, told the story about how the concept came to fruition: Years ago, while working on a film project, he asked for amateur dancers to come and throw caution to the wind, dancing with their all to a song they love. Marsen showed up and totally knocked him off his feet with a nonstop performance to Daft Punk's "Human After All," incorporating capoeira, hip-hop and ballet.

From that moment he knew he wanted to "turn her loose in New York," waiting for the perfect soundtrack to make his "giant music video" -- when he heard Girl Talk's All Day he knew it was time. Krupnick then hired a small crew to sneak through New York City, filming in a way that had "minor impact on the city, but would also incorporate the passersby and the visitors and the businessmen and the daily flow and traffic of the city." He describes it as "somewhat planned, somewhat improvised," for though it interacts with real people and settings, the movie is a narrative with plot, characters, and masterful choreography.

Austin Filmmaker's 'Agenda' Attempts to Channel Classic Noir


By Amanda Natiello

When I heard about last month's screening of Agenda, a film meant to "pay homage to another era of storytelling, the film noir genre," I was thrilled. Film noir offers so much for consideration: the aesthetics, the complex plot structures, hard-boiled detective characters and the debate about what makes a film noir. I see noir as both an aesthetic and a narrative style that evokes a certain era of movies, specifically the period immediately following World War II, and a specific genre of film, usually of the mystery or detective varieties.

In channeling what I knew of film noir and what I had read in James M. Cain's novels, I began to play detective, listening to conversations as patrons trickled in, and piecing together what information I could gather about filmmaker Jonathan de la Luz in the cocktail hour before the screening. He had at least one friend in the audience, a man working the room who, like the rest of us, did not know much about the director's works. The audience, from what I gathered, also did not know much about film noir.

That is not to say that the director does not know his noir; rather, he knows it too well, but employs his knowledge on a shallow level. The film description reads, "Agenda is the story of a young man who comes into the life of a married couple and wreaks havoc." That sums up the movie in a nutshell, and immediately reminded me of the plot to The Postman Always Rings Twice and as one audience member reminded me, Body Heat. The basic plot structure was the first indication of de la Luz's source material.

Thomas Haden Church and 'Killer Joe' at Violet Crown


By James Pound

On Thursday, August 2, the Austin Film Society hosted a preview screening of Killer Joe, the shocking dark comedy from director William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection) and starring Matthew McConaughey. (See Debbie's review.) All four screens of the Violet Crown Cinema were sold out and the audience couldn't have been more excited to be there, especially because co-star Thomas Haden Church was there to introduce the movie.

With his booming voice yet laid-back demeanor, Church (or THC, as my friends and I like to call him) was a true crowd-pleaser. He was more than willing to sign autographs on Killer Joe posters as well as merchandise from previous projects ranging from Sideways DVDs to Spider-Man 3 action figures. I'll always remember him for his lovable doofus character Lowell on Wings, though. Church posed for many pictures with fans as well, and gave a great intro to the film, helping to set the mood in each auditorium.

Guests were also treated to some amazingly delicious snacks before the film. Fitting in with the soon-to-be infamous fried chicken scene featured in Killer Joe, patrons got to sample some fried chicken sliders from Ms. P's Electric Cock food trailer that were "out of this world" good. Moviegoers also got to sip on some handcrafted cocktails featuring Cinco Vodka, served up by Violet Crown's accomplished bartenders. I got to sample the Killer Joe Margarita, and I have to say the drink packed just as much punch as the NC-17 movie. Also on tap was a refreshing array of Austin's own Independence Ales that paired quite nicely with the chicken.

'Juventud' Filmmaker Visits Austin Via Skype


By Gabriela A. Treviño

As an intern, I would not say that I am a jetsetter just yet. Instead of catching planes at Austin Bergstrom this summer, as one may have dreamed, I settled for catching movies at the Alamo Drafthouse. Not too shabby, I'd say, since I was able to visit Gotham City in The Dark Knight Rises, root for love at Camp Ivanhoe in Moonrise Kingdom and sit amidst a south Louisiana storm with Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild. It was, indeed, a wonderful summer for film.

In addition to screening great movies like the aforementioned titles this summer, the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar hosted the Austin Film Society's Essential Cinema programming on Tuesday nights. "CineSur: Films of Latin America" was the theme for June and July; the lineup included films from México, Peru, Cuba and Argentina. (Read Essential Cinema programmer Chale Nafus' thoughts on Latin-American cinema here.)

On Tuesday, July 31, the film series concluded with a beautiful film called Juventud (Youth), a Mexican film directed by Jaime Humberto Hermosillo, who joined the audience from his home in Guadalajara via Skype for a Q&A session after the screening. Having directed well over 30 films, Hermosillo is one of México's most prolific filmmakers.

Despite having many years of experience and contacts within the industry, for Juventud Hermosillo worked with non-actors, inexperienced crews and students in his hometown of Aguascalientes, in central México. The reason the film was made this way was Hermosillo's intention. As a homage to his hometown, Hermosillo set up a month-long workshop in the city with the mindset of, "Let's teach young people in Aguascalientes how to use digital technology," he said during the Q&A. After the workshop, he shot the film in three weeks with his newly recruited crew.

Ken Marino Brings Austin His 'Burning Love'


By Lara Morgan

Reality television has almost become a parody of itself. Utilizing the exact same editing style and transitions (set to indistinguishable, beat-driven music) and sensationalized dramatic situations, the genre is a redundant and perverse copy of life. No wonder, then, that aside from mockumentary-style shows (The Office, Parks and Recreation), no one has really touched reality TV. I mean, how can you cleverly mock the utterly mockable?

Well, the Yahoo! web series Burning Love, created by husband-and-wife duo Ken Marino (The State, Party Down) and Erica Oyama (Childrens Hospital) does just that, with blazingly hysterical results. Watching the series for my third time through at the Alamo Drafthouse this past Saturday, with Marino and Oyama present, Burning Love was more hilarious than ever.

The show follows Mark Orlando (Marino), a dimwitted firefighter who is looking for love, but isn’t picky: trying to find "someone who can make [him] laugh, but isn’t afraid of robots. Maybe somebody… ethnic?" In keeping with The Bachelor rules, Mark lives in a mansion with 16 women, getting to know them on group and one-on-one dates, faced with the impossible task of eliminating one or more girls in his weekly "hose ceremony."

Of course, Burning Love being a comedy, rather than having a harem of sane women throwing themselves at him -- well, as sane as someone seeking marriage from a television show can be -- Mark finds himself surrounded by the likes of a homeless woman (Malin Akerman), an 84-year-old grandmother (Helen Slayton-Hughes), a drunk who doesn't believe in pants OR panties (Natasha Leggero) and an "exotic" blonde named Ballerina (the always-funny Ken Jeong). As funny as Marino is as the shallow and clumsy bachelor, the series wouldn’t work without the barrage of comedic bachelorettes who battle not only for Mark's love, but also for the most laughs.

'In Cold Blood' with Kat Candler at Cinema Club


By Rachel Hudson

Whether referencing Truman Capote's spine-tingling novel In Cold Blood or Richard Brooks' blood-curdling 1967 film of the same name, the chilling tale of the Clutter family murder is undoubtedly horrifying and incredible. The movie In Cold Blood tells the story magnificently, and there is no better place to see the in-your-face cinematography of Conrad Hall and truly remarkable acting of literally every character, principal or minor, than on the big screen.

The Alamo Drafthouse is home to the Cinema Club series, which screens movies that the programmers have deemed to be essential classic films from cinema history. Each month, two of the programmers and a prominent film historian introduce the film and then lead a discussion afterwards.

For In Cold Blood, the film historian was Kat Candler, an independent filmmaker (Hellion, Love Bug) and film instructor based here in Austin. Candler's enthusiasm and passion for film and In Cold Blood were palpable and contagious, and the two programmers who spoke with her had done their homework, and had many interesting factoids to share about the production of the film. Do you know how Capote chose Brooks to direct the film adaptation of his novel? According to one programmer, Capote and Brooks both attended a dinner party at which John Huston was berating each and every guest. Brooks was the only man who didn’t cry when given hell by Huston, and Capote took notice.

Did you know that the studio didn’t want to hire unknowns to play Dick and Perry, the two murderers? Brooks chose Robert Blake to play Perry Smith and Scott Wilson to play Dick Hickock, to whom he bears a striking resemblance. The studio complained and tried to get Paul Newman and Steve McQueen into the roles, but Brooks stood his ground, and thank goodness! Having stars play the parts would have changed the essence of the film, not to mention we would have missed the superb performances given by Blake and Wilson.

Spending the 'Summer @ Austin Studios' with Young Filmmakers


By Josiane Amezcua

Growing up in Laredo, I spent my summers going to a math and science camp at the local university. While I learned a lot, it was not my first choice for summer vacations. I always wanted to go to a film camp, but it was not an option where and when I grew up. Luckily, for kids in Austin interested in movies, the Austin Film Society provides a variety of film camps this summer, led by several talented filmmaking mentors. Interns at the Austin Film Society assist the camps and are also able to lend their knowledge to the young filmmakers.

Summer @ Austin Studios 2012 presented week-long camps that included Indie Filmmakers I, II and III, Animation Adventure, Scary Filmmaking, Animation Creation and Sci-Fi & Fantasy Filmmaking. Children from ages nine through 18 not only had the opportunity to learn about the different types of film, but also made their own movies. The campers were given the chance to film on the lot at Austin Studios, which provided the perfect setting for many of their videos. 

As a community education apprentice for AFS, I had the opportunity of assisting with the summer camps this year. From helping to make clay models for Animation Creation to building props for Scary Filmmaking, it was fun helping out and being part of the camp experience. It was a joy to see the passion the campers displayed when making their movies. During the Indie and Animation Film camps, whenever I would ask about their videos, the kids would light up and speak with such enthusiasm when describing their stories. From music videos to stop-motion Lego movies, they showed a great amount of creativity and made some unique films.

Three Filmmakers Named to 2012 TFPF Review Panel


We're excited at the Austin Film Society to annouce that filmmakers Matthew Akers (Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present), Paola Mendoza (Entre Nos) and Brent Hoff (Wholphin) will be coming to town in August to serve on our 2012 Texas Filmmakers' Product Fund review panel. All three will be part of the process of dividing up the $100,000 in cash and in-kind support that will go toward helping Texas filmmakers work on their film and video projects.

TFPF, created in 1996, has given away around $1.2 million to assist Texas filmmakers in getting their projects made. Funding for the program comes from revenues from benefit film premieres as well as donations and the Texas Commission on the Arts. So far, over 348 projects have been the beneficiary of TFPF grants. This year, we received over 168 applications seeking funding. Grants for the 2012 TFPF will be announced on Monday, August 27.

"We're honored to have three highly accomplished filmmakers join us in Austin to determine this year's Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund recipients," said Holly Herrick, AFS associate artistic director. "The panelists represent a broad spectrum of the creative potential of independent film; all have worked across forms and genres throughout their careers. They are well suited to identify a diverse group of projects in need of TFPF support."

AFS Pilot Program Teaches Students Game Design


By Ayshea Khan

In March, Austin Film Society Community Education Manager Katy Daiger Dial explored the connections between filmmaker and game designer as a part of the AMD Game On! Workshop at SXSWedu 2012. In an age where movies and games are modeled after one another, where exactly do the two professions intersect? Can they work together to provide effective learning tools for our students?

Thanks to the support of the AMD Foundation’s Changing the Game initiative and AISD's ACE Afterschool, AFS had the opportunity to explore these issues and find some answers with the Summer Digital Media Magic pilot program. This three-week summer workshop served as a continuation of June's AFS Film Club for Martin and Mendez middle-school students. A transmedia curriculum consisted of core game design concepts alongside filmmaking techniques. Digital Media Magic not only gave students a free and fun reason to get out of the house, but also continued Film Club's mission to cultivate creativity and skills necessary in a 21st-century workforce.

While learning the elements of game design, it was important to AFS that the program not stray from AFS's filmmaking roots altogether. As the AFS community education senior apprentice, I was put to the task of drafting filmmaking lesson plans that would support game design curriculum and vice versa. For example, what happens when you change the space of your video game? Is it similar to changing the location of your scene?

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