Elizabeth Stoddard's blog

Stateside Brings Gondry's 'The We and The I' to Austin


poster for The We and the I The We and the I, the latest feature film from Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind), is a glimpse at a bus ride home on the last day of school in the Bronx. Flirtations flicker, bullies torment, obnoxious guys are obnoxious and friends tease and giggle with each other.

There is not much of a constant adult presence in the movie (except for the bus driver, played by a real-life MTA driver), which leaves the teens to be themselves -- or at least however they want their peers to see them.

Gondry brought over his sketch of an idea for The We and the I to an afterschool program, The Point, after a screening of his movie Be Kind Rewind there. The kids he found through the program not only acted in the eventual film, but also collaborated on it. Indeed, most of the teenagers in the film play versions of themselves.

The We and the I premiered at Cannes in 2012 but didn't reach the U.S. until about a month ago. Now you get a chance to catch this vibrant and original film when it is shown at Stateside Theatre this Monday night, April 15, as part of their Stateside Independent series. [ticket info]

For more details about the movie, read Don Simpson's review from local film website Smells Like Screen Spirit. And watch the trailer below:

AFS Doc Nights Preview: High Tech, Low Life

Blogger "Zola" in High Tech Low Life 

Director Stephen T. Maing's documentary High Tech, Low Life depicts a period of time (2008-early 2012, I think) in the lives of two Chinese bloggers as they attempt to circumvent censorship in China, aka "The Great Firewall." We are first introduced to "Zola," a 26-year-old produce seller from Hunan Province who likes to post stories that state media won't and other reporters can't.  He says, "The truth is, I don't know what journalism is... I just record what I witness." 

This is a marked contrast with "Tiger Temple," a 57-year-old retiree based out of an apartment in Beijing, inspired to start a blog in 2004 after witnessing and documenting a murder in the street. Tiger Temple rides his bike long distances  to cover stories upon request/small donation, and tends to get emotionally involved. After finding homeless folk in Tiananmen Square, forgotten by the country that had removed them from their rural homes decades ago, he starts raising funds on his site to provide them with housing. 

Stateside Independent Series Brings 'War Witch' to Austin


War Witch poster

Shot in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011, the movie War Witch spins the tale of Komona (new actress Rachel Mwanza, who won a few awards for this role), a young girl abducted at the age of 12 by rebels during an attack on her village. The film is narrated by Komona, telling the story of her past two years to her unborn child. 

After she is forced by the rebels to commit atrocious acts, Komona comes to be valued and esteemed for her intuition and preternatural ability. The "milk" the fighters drink causes her to see visions, ghosts of the dead. Still, amid Komona's horrific situation, we see small glimmers of hope in her budding relationship with a fellow child soldier, a search for a white rooster, and her ingenuity. 

Writer/director Kim Nguyen's film is made up of memorable, haunting imagery and subtle, powerful performances (especially from Mwanza) that keep it grounded.  Despite the violence obviously implied in scenes, War Witch never veers into gory territory. We are seeing the story through Komona's eyes, and for her, bulletholes in a cloth are as stark a reminder of death as any blood shed.  

Stateside Theatre offers you a chance to see War Witch on the big screen. On Monday evening, April 1, the movie will be shown as part of their new Stateside Independent series. This Austin premiere will be screened in HD digital presentation on Blu-ray. [ticket info]  If you decide to go (and you should!), it might be a good idea to pack some tissues.

War Witch was Canada's submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the recent Academy Awards, and ended up as one of the five final nominees. You can see the trailer after the jump.

AFS Moviemaker Dialogues: Austin Editor Sandra Adair

Sandra Adair at AFSThe Austin Film Society hosted a Moviemaker Dialogue last week with Austin film editor  Sandra Adair. Chale Nafus moderated the conversation, interviewing Adair and teasing her about his being cut out of Waking Life

Adair told us that as a kid she wanted to paint, but in high school, she became inspired by her older brother's student film. Her first film job was as apprentice editor on Memory of Us in 1974. She'd moved up to assistant editor for her next movie, The Swinging Cheerleaders* (heh). She lived in Austin for a period of time -- during which she synced dailies as assistant editor on Outlaw Blues -- but moved back to L.A. soon afterwards. 

The 1991 recession brought Adair back to our fair city. A connection at Texas Motion Pictures Services (which she said used to be located in a building behind Capital Plaza in northeast Austin) told her about Richard Linklater shooting Dazed and Confused in town.  After sending a letter of introduction, Linklater and the film's producers interviewed her during pre-production. Adair has worked as editor on Linklater's films since.

The editor discussed her collaboration with Linklater, how soon in the process she begins editing (pretty much as soon as the first scene has been done), the technical progression of editing tools through the years, and more. We watched clips from recent films she edited: Bernie, documentary Shepard & Dark (about the long epistolary relationship between actors Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark), Before Sunset ... and naturally, Dazed and Confused

SXSW Review: Grow Up, Tony Phillips


Grow Up, Tony Phillips posterGrow Up, Tony Phillips, the new comedy from Emily Hagins, made its world premiere at SXSW last week, in the Vimeo Theater of the Austin Convention Center. The audience was eager and excited to see the latest project by this young Austin-based director.

Tony Phillips (Hagins film regular Tony Vespe) is an easygoing senior in high school who still dresses up for Halloween and loves trick-or-treating.  He spends his fall months thinking up costume ideas, even sketching concepts in his college prep class. He tells his mom that he sees these costumes as his "legacy." 

His two closest pals are cool kid Craig (Devin Bonnee, another Hagins regular) and Elle (Katie Folger, also in Zero Charisma); both attempt to get Tony to get past this fascination with October 31. In one discussion with Tony, Elle comments, "You don't really worry about anything, do you?" They have their own reasons for worrying about Tony. Craig is falling in with the popular kids and Tony embarrasses him. Elle fears that kids at their school will laugh at her friend.

Tony also has a much younger friend/babysitting charge Mikey (Caleb Barwick, Army Wives) who looks up to him, and an older cousin Pete (AJ Bowen, You're Next) whom Tony himself esteems. As time passes in the film, we see how Tony's interactions with these four characters help him discover more about himself.

During the Q&A afterwards, Hagins said that she doesn't care to define the time or location of the movie. I easily figured out it was Austin, however, as soon as I saw a scene filmed in a familiar courtyard at my old high school (Johnston, RIP). The set design is punchy (Tony has a poster for fictitious movie Space Hipster in his room) and fully establishes us in the season of autumn starting with the cute opening credits sequence.

Some Austin character actors appear later in Grow Up, Tony Phillips to provide more laughs -- Byron Brown, especially. This saves the film from a slight dragginess. Although, honestly, the seats at the Vimeo Theater were so awfully uncomfortable that it may have just felt like the movie slowed down towards the end.

The kids in this film come off as genuine, awkward humor and all. There's not a whole lot of depth to Grow Up, Tony Phillips, but does there need to be? The film is cute and charming.  It's refreshing to see a coming-of-age story wherein teenage characters remain true to themselves. 

SXSW 2013 Photos: 'Sake-Bomb' Premiere


director Sakino and cast of SAKE-BOMB

I had planned to see the dark foreign film The Five Seasons at the Violet Crown on opening night, but was easily convinced by my friend Anna Hanks to try Sake-Bomb instead. The light cross-cultural road-trip comedy was just what I needed after the intense Upstream Color screening. Sake-Bomb was filmed in both Japan and California, and follows sake factory employee Naoto (Gaku Hamada) as he visits his uncle and cousin Sebastian (Eugene Kim) in L.A. and tries to find the woman who broke his heart (and lives in Petaluma).

Director Junya Sakino introduced the film, and since it was the movie's world premiere, some cast members were in attendance as well. I was in theatre 4 during the screening, and we watched the live feed from theatre 3.  When it started, we actually worried we'd be watching the film via the live feed as well, but they then switched it on for our screen.

SXSW Dispatch: 'An Unreal Dream' at Alamo Village


Eric, Chris and Michael Morton circa 1985I took it somewhat easy on Wednesday and just went to one film: the 6:30 pm showing of An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story at Alamo Drafthouse Village. As I drove up at 5:40, the line for tickets was already out the door. There's definitely local interest in Morton's situation, as well as the resulting documentary.

Once I got in and was snacking on my chips and queso, I spotted Morton himself walking around and being introduced to folks in the audience. Producer Marcy Garriott spoke before the film and mentioned special guests in attendance for the Q&A afterwards; I surmised Morton was likely one of them.

The film itself largely consists of interviews recorded at the Williamson County Courthouse. Morton sits in a wooden chair below the judge's dais in an empty courtroom and talks about his relationships with his wife Chris and his son Eric, and his wrongful conviction for Chris's 1986 murder.  Vintage 1980s news clips are thrown in (oh hi, young Judy Maggio!) and Morton is shown leaving the courthouse after his conviction, defiantly saying, "I did not do this," to the reporters and cameras.

In An Unreal Dream, director Al Reinert includes interviews with Morton's trial lawyer, jurors from his trial, fellow inmates (from his 25-year period of incarceration in Texas prisons), and folks from the Innocence Project.  Throughout the film, Morton's voice is the strongest (which is fitting, given it's his story).

I expected the film to be something like an episode of PBS's Frontline, but it is less journalistic and more emotional. The story as told in the film never really sucked me in, despite how fascinating it really is. Still, I heard much sniffing from others in the audience. 

SXSW Review: Prince Avalanche


Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche

Seeing Bastrop State Park after the 2011 wildfires inspired director David Gordon Green to make a movie there, and he already had a title given to him in a dream: Prince Avalanche.  A friend recommended he see an Icelandic film called Either Way, and the concept for this film was found. Prince Avalanche was shot, under the radar, in 16 days at the devastated park.

Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch star as mismatched road workers in Central Texas in 1988, cleaning up after fire has beseiged the area. Rudd's Alvin is uptight and in a long-distance relationship with the sister of Lance (Hirsch). Lance is slightly feckless; Alvin has brought him to this job to help him grow, but they aren't really getting along. They share a tent and are limited to the company of one another, except for the few times they are visited by a friendly older truck driver (Lance LeGault in his final film role).

Their solitude is punctuated by a score from David Wingo and Explosions in the Sky and the hauntingly beautiful broken landscape surrounding them. Lance and Alvin complete repetitive tasks as we learn more about them: painting lines on the road, installing posts on the side of the road, and such.

SXSW Dispatch: John Sayles and 'Go For Sisters'


Go for Sisters red carpet at SXSW

One of the SXSW screenings I eagerly awaited was the new film from indie director John Sayles. Go for Sisters depicts two childhood friends who meet up again as adults: parole officer Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton, The Practice) and parolee/recovering addict Fontayne (Yolonda Ross, Treme). Bernice requests Fontayne's help in finding her ex-marine son Rodney, and former police detective Freddy Suárez (Edward James Olmos) soon joins their search.

Watching the movie, a few elements reminded me of Sayles' earlier feature Passion Fish (one of my favorite films); both films share the themes of redemption and relationships between women. But Go for Sisters is an original, artfully blending humor and drama as these three journey to Mexico from California. The performances here are what you expect from a Sayles film: powerful and understated. Especially impressive is Ross as Fontayne, who keeps denigrating herself as an unworthy person -- since she served time and was addicted to drugs -- while we see during the film that she is anything but.

SXSW Dispatch: 'I Am Divine' at Thai Passion


I am Divine posterSaturday night, my friend April and I tried Thai Passion downtown for dinner (I had it in mind after Bryan Poyser's interview) after catching the screening of Prince Avalanche that afternoon at the Paramount.

It wasn't that busy when we arrived, but a large group came in a little while later and sat near us. We tried figuring out which movie they were related to, and April pointed out that one guy at the table was wearing a John Waters shirt. We assumed they were celebrating before the premiere of I Am Divine later that night. 

As we were leaving, I asked the group at the table which movie they were with, and indeed, our assumption was correct. When director Jeffrey Schwarz saw my name, he mentioned Dark Shadows (very few people bring that TV show up when they meet me). The folks at the table encouraged us to attend the premiere that night, but it played against Before Midnight, which we were definitely going to attend.*

But we (and you) still have two more chances to see the documentary at SXSW. I Am Divine screens Wednesday, March 13, 9:30 pm at Stateside and Thursday, March 14, 11:15 am at Alamo Slaughter (screening info).

*And speaking of Before Midnight, we also spotted the composer of that film's score, Graham Reynolds, eating at the Thai restaurant.

The I Am Divine trailer is embedded below.

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