Elizabeth Stoddard's blog

Austin at SXSW 2015: Director Trey Shults at Home with 'Krisha'

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Still from Krisha

Krisha is a passion project by Austin director Trey Shults set during a fraught family Thanksgiving dinner. The intimate film was shot in his parents' house and stars members of his family, with his aunt Krisha Fairchild playing the lead. Shults based the feature -- premiering at SXSW 2015 -- on his short that played last year at the fest and won a Special Jury Award.

Some familiar faces with Texas ties also participated in the film: Chris Doubek and Alex Dobrenko, along with actress/director Augustine Frizzell (see my interview with her from last year).

Shults answered a few questions I had about the making of Krisha via email interview.

Slackerwood: What was the process like to adapt your short film into this feature?

Trey Shults: We got the ball rolling on the feature pretty soon after the short played SXSW last year. The short seemed to be well received at SX but it wasn't like anyone was coming up offering us money to make the feature version. So we took matters into our own hands.

SXSW Preview: The Jones Family Will Make a Way

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Still from The Jones Family Will Make a Way

If you keep up with Texas gospel music, you have likely heard of the Jones Family Singers. The family, based out of Bay City, has performed together for more than 20 years despite many setbacks.

Austin's own Arts & Labor tells the musical family's story in the documentary feature The Jones Family Will Make a Way, debuting at SXSW. The film will premiere Wednesday, March 18 at the Paramount Theatre [more info] and some of the family members will likely be in attendance.

The Jones Family Will Make a Way includes interviews with Bishop Fred A. Jones (pictured above), the glue that holds the band together, as well as his daughters and sons, who discuss their faith journeys and how involved they are in the group. Music critic Michael Corcoran also plays a large part in the film, as he expresses his love for gospel music and joy in finding this musical group.

Texas at SXSW 2015: Director Micah Magee on 'Petting Zoo' and Filming in San Antonio

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Still from Petting Zoo

Writer/director Micah Magee may not live in Texas full-time now, but she has strong connections to the Lone Star State. She graduated from UT (dual degree Plan II Honors and Radio-TV-Film) and worked as programming director for Cinematexas International Short Film Festival. Most recently, she filmed her feature Petting Zoo in San Antonio.

In Magee's film, Layla (young actress Devon Keller) is a teenager living on the edges of poverty whose plans to attend college are subverted by an unexpected pregnancy. Petting Zoo played as part of the Panorama Special programming at Berlinale in February, and has its North American premiere at SXSW later this month.

In these hectic days before the festival begins, Magee answered questions for us via email interview.

Slackerwood: What drew you to tell this story?

Micah Magee: Petting Zoo was shot in San Antonio, Texas. It was filmed in the places of my childhood, where my teenage cousins live now: high schools built by prison architects, trailers, rock bars, abandoned half-built subdivisions, the corporate parks between the fields. I wanted to highlight the kinds of people in the film, and San Antonio itself. I think if you can be super specific about a community and a place, other local communities identify with that too -- somehow from being really specific and local, you can reach universal.

SXSW 2015 Preview: Remember the Ladies

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Sofía Espinosa in Gloria

After covering SXSW for the past several years, I felt a sort of aimlessness upon seeing the slate of films this time, like maybe I should shake things up as far as my viewing selections go. In the past year I've tried to watch more films made by women, even starting a feminist film club with a couple friends. Why shouldn't I try to carry that focus into SXSW?

So I am aiming to see films at SXSW 2015 made by female filmmakers, or based on work by women screenwriters. Spy, directed and written by Paul Feig, is the only film in my schedule that doesn't follow my rule, but I really want to see it at the Paramount!

I am also a little over-excited to hear directors Ava DuVernay (Selma, Middle of Nowhere) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, Love & Basketball) speak at the conference.

Here are some of the movies I'm most looking forward to at SXSW:

Lone Star Cinema: The Rookie

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Still from The Rookie

My alternate Super Bowl programming this year was a DVD of The Rookie I checked out from the library. I had first seen the baseball drama closer to its original theatrical release in 2002 and remembered enjoying the story, but hadn’t really thought of the Disney film in the past ten years.

Dennis Quaid (Frequency, The Day After Tomorrow) leads the movie based on the true story of Jimmy Morris, a Texas high-school baseball coach who makes a deal with his team that he will try out for the major leagues if they win district and go on to state. Rachel Griffiths (Muriel's Wedding) plays his wife Lorri, the school counselor. I had forgotten that before he started the sitcom mega-hit Two and a Half Men, Angus T. Jones played the adorable son here. See how young he is in the still posted above.

We are shown the origins of the strained relationship between adult son Jimmy and his father Jim Morris Sr. (Brian Cox, only about seven years older than Quaid). It feels like this is something that might have been compounded more in the screenplay than in real life. Still, it is an interesting contrast to the relationship Jimmy has with his own young son, who helps in team practices and is almost a little shadow to his dad.

Review: A Most Violent Year

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Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year

We may currently be in the midst of a pop-cultural infatuation with the antihero archetype, but A Most Violent Year presents us with a more elusive figure. Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis) is surrounded by those who want to bring him down to their level, where firearms and shady business practices abound. A wealthy owner of a heating oil company in 1981 New York, his trucks are carjacked, his workers attacked, and his business investigated by a power-hungry DA (David Oyelowo, Selma). Morales is determined to stay above it all, working hard to respond in a way that’s legal and yet still gets results.

2014 in Review: Elizabeth's Favorite Women Onscreen

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Top: Gugu Mbatha-Raw in BEYOND THE LIGHTS, Bottom row: Reese Witherspoon in WILD, Jenny Slate in OBVIOUS CHILD, Essie Davis in THE BABADOOK

Jette asked me to reprise the theme from my post last year, so here are the female characters I found most memorable in 2014 film:

8. Mom, Boyhood

I may not have adored this Linklater movie as so many of my colleagues do, but I do find the mother played by Patricia Arquette the most layered in this cast of characters (and the best part of the film, IMHO). She stumbles through marriages, survives an abusive partner, works her way through an advanced degree, and questions her decisions all the while. (Debbie's Sundance review)

7. Mason, Snowpiercer

Tilda Swinton escapes deeply into this sadistic martinet, hungry for power and not as in control as she would like to be. (Matt's review)

2014 in Review: Elizabeth's Top Scores/Movie Music

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Still from The Hundred-Foot Journey

I made up this list before the Oscar nominations (grr) came out, and strangely enough, none of my picks for Best Score received a nod, even the one I assumed was a sure thing. Nevertheless, some movies this year featured phenomenal music, and I'd like to recognize them here.

I'll repeat my standards from a 2010 post: "The best film score complements the film perfectly and doesn't distract from the action onscreen, but is still distinct enough to stand on its own. Shoddy film music can ruin a movie (for me, at least), but a great film score serves to make a good movie even better."

5. Birdman, Antonio Sanchez

It seemed a given that, along with the other recognition this frenetic film received from the Academy, the percussion score would make the cut, but alas. The music by Sanchez adds so much to the Michael Keaton film (frankly, it's the only part of the movie I could appreciate) and easily adds to the frantic feel of the story (Mike's review). Here's a taste:

The Stars at Night: Desk Set

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Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill, Sue Randall and Katherine Hepburn in DESK SET

By the 1950s, Texas-raised actress Joan Blondell (see earlier column) must have resigned herself to filling supporting roles in film. In 1952, the former Miss Dallas received her lone Oscar nomination for her work as supporting actress in The Blue Veil. Five years later, she appears as Katherine Hepburn's wisecracking best friend, Peg Costello, in Desk Set. Her character may not be the focus of the comedy, but Blondell helps make the movie memorable.

I chose Desk Set for this month's column as a sort of counterbalance to the hoopla surrounding the 2014 film The Imitation Game (Marcie's review). This movie is a more humorous take on the early days of computing machines, and actually includes more than one woman in its plot -- whereas the British biopic ignores the many women who worked at Bletchley Park.

In the 1957 film, four reference librarians work for the fictional Federal Broadcasting Company, answering random questions that come up in TV productions. Hepburn’s Bunny Watson is the managing librarian, stuck in a static years-long relationship with a network executive (Gig Young, That Touch of Mink, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?). Spencer Tracy plays a curious older man named Sumner whom the women assume is preparing to cancel out their jobs and replace them with a machine.

Review: Selma

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Colman Domingo, David Oyelowo, Andre Holland and Stephan James in SELMA

"What we do is negotiate, demonstrate, resist."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma

Director Ava DuVernay and a combination of other talent create in Selma a deeply emotional, standout work about a short moment in history: the early months of 1965. The historical drama, attributed to screenwriter Paul Webb although DuVernay herself rewrote most of it, revolves around Martin Luther King, Jr. (British actor David Oyelowo, Lincoln, Middle of Nowhere) and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as they plan nonviolent protest in Selma, Alabama.

At this point in history, segregation had been outlawed, but county clerks continued to turn away black Southerners who attempted to register to vote through "literacy" tests and other deceptive means. In the movie, activist and preacher King pleads with President Lyndon Baines Johnson (British actor Tom Wilkinson, Belle, Michael Clayton) to enact voting rights legislation.

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