Elizabeth Stoddard's blog

SXSW Review: These Birds Walk


Omar in These Birds Walk

Abdul Sattar Edhi, the Pakistani philanthropist, inspired filmmakers Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq to go to Pakistan to learn more about the man and his Edhi Foundation. When they got to the country, Edhi, who had originally welcomed them and promised full access, challenged Mullick and Tariq to instead look at the lives of people who work in or are supported by his organization. The Edhi Foundation has multiple programs, but among the many ways it serves is by providing ambulances in Pakistan.  There are also sorts of fostering-type facilities run by the nonprofit to house runaway boys. 

Thus, the two people the directors chose to follow in These Birds Walk are twentysomething ambulance driver Asad and young runaway Omar. Edhi shows up a few times, but is separate from the two stories we are told about Asad and Omar. This is striking, after Edhi pointedly remarks, "If you want to find me, you will find me among the people." Omar is housed with other boys in an EDHI facility in one of the most unstable areas of Karachi. Adult supervision seems lacking, as boys bout with each other. A kid even leads the other boys during prayer services.

SXSW 2013 Dispatch: A Packed House at 'Upstream Color'


Amy Seimetz and Shane Carruth in Upstream Color

My first film of SXSW 2013 was a 6:30 showing Friday night of Shane Carruth's movie Upstream Color at Stateside. It looked like only people with badges got in and the screening was packed. As the film was introduced, we were told Carruth's plane was delayed so he couldn't be there. Then the film got underway.

Shot at least partially in Dallas (I surmise from the DART trains that appear), this drama shows how Kris (Amy Seimetz) is taken in/abducted by a brainwashing con man and a year later falls for a man (Carruth) who may also have been a victim.  Also involved in the film are pigs, worms and some guy who likes making music by recording noises from found objects in nature.

Austin at SXSW 2013: Trieste Kelly Dunn 'Loves Her Gun'


Trieste Kelly Dunn in Loves Her Gun 

The latest film from Austin director Geoff Marslett, Loves Her Gun, has its world premiere at SXSW, screening tomorrow (Saturday) at 10:30 pm at Violet Crown (screening info). Actress Trieste Kelly Dunn stars as Allie, a troubled woman who heads to Austin after surviving an attack in NYC. 

Dunn herself is a native of Utah, attended North Carolina School for the Arts and is now a resident of Brooklyn.  Before the rush of the film festival starts, she talked with us via email about getting to play a female character who isn't reasonable, going tubing in Texas, and more.

Slackerwood: What was your casting experience like for Loves Her Gun? How did you hear about the film?

Trieste Kelly Dunn: Geoff sent me a Facebook message about it. It sounded really exciting. Then he sent me an outline and I got even more excited. Then he said he wanted to improvise the dialogue and I got terrified.

Austin at SXSW 2013: Sean Gallagher, 'Good Night'


Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher's full-length feature directing debut, Good Night, is premiering at SXSW on Monday, March 11 at the Rollins Theatre (screening info). This intimate drama depicts a dinner party in which the young hostess reveals some difficult news to her friends. The cast includes local actors Adriene Mishler, Jonny Mars, Chris Doubek and sometimes-Austinite Alex Karpovsky, as well as University of Texas alum Todd Berger.

Gallagher lives in Austin, and not only directed this film (which he shot here), but wrote and produced it as well. He's written and directed two shorts as well, Fuck and Out of Water. During his time at UT, he was the first recipient of the Samuel Fuller Award for Cinematic Intransigence.

He answered a few questions (via email) about his new film, improvisation and inspirations.

Slackerwood: What was the filmmaking process like for Good Night? How long were you working on it (conception to final edit)?

Sean Gallagher: There are two different types of pieces within Good Night -- there is a party, which is the bulk of it, and there are several, what I call, movements. The party was shot in two weeks in the middle of the summer. The movements were shot in short increments over the course of two years.

Austin at SXSW 2013: Heather Kafka Times Five


Heather Kafka in Slacker 2011

Austin-based actress Heather Kafka shows up in features Pit Stop, The Bounceback, Loves Her Gun, When Angels Sing, and short Black Metal which are all screening at SXSW next month. Let's just say that if you see a film with local ties during the festival, there's about a 75% chance that Kafka will be in it. You might have seen her previously in locally made movies like Lovers of Hate, Saturday Morning Massacre, Slacker 2011 (pictured above) ... and she's the woman trying to buy from the Carl's Jr. kiosk in Idiocracy.

Kafka took some time to talk to us (via email) about working in the friendly Austin film community and taking on roles that her grandma shouldn't see.

Slackerwood: You appear in a number of the films showing at SXSW this year. How did you become involved with these film projects?

Heather Kafka: Sometimes I'm lucky. When I came back home to Austin in 2007, it wasn't long before I was doing Lovers of Hate with Bryan Poyser. I simultaneously began that tempestuous relationship with Facebook and suddenly all these film people were sending friend requests. Then we were in the same room singing karaoke, at the same parties, meeting at SXSW or screenings. I met Bob Ray and Geoff Marslett, Bob Byington and the Zellners. Clay Liford moved from Dallas to Austin. I met Eric Steele, Frank Mosley, James Johnston; a whole Fort Worth contingent.

Austin at SXSW 2013: Bryan Poyser, 'The Bounceback'


Jessie Tilton, Zach Cregger and Michael Stahl-David in The Bounceback

Bryan Poyser isn't exactly a new face on the Austin film scene, but we realized that we hadn't yet interviewed him on this site (although he has been mentioned in a Holiday Favorites post)! Thankfully we were able to rectify this, as he answered my questions via email about his latest film, The Bounceback (pictured at top). This comedy follows two former couples as they fight (and make up?) amongst Austin's nightlife. The film will have its world premiere at SXSW on Saturday, March 9 at 2 pm (screening info).

Poyser's other film work includes Dear Pillow and Lovers of Hate. He's been nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards for these films. The writer/director formerly worked as Director of Artist Services at the Austin Film Society, and now serves on the AFS Board of Directors.

Slackerwood: How are you feeling about the upcoming premiere of The Bounceback (at the Paramount during SXSW)?

Bryan Poyser: I really can't wait. I know I'm gonna be gut-wrenchingly nervous right before the show, but I'm so happy that so many of our out-of-town cast members are going to be there for it. They're all really proud of the movie, as are the folks behind the camera, and so I think we're all just really excited to finally share it with an audience.

Lone Star Cinema: Before Sunset


Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunset

In Richard Linklater's movie Before Sunset (2004), we meet up again with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). Jesse stops in Paris to promote his book, This Time, a fictionalization of the experience he had with Celine in Vienna nine years prior. And who does he spot in Shakespeare & Co. but Celine herself? They decide to have coffee and chat before Jesse has to catch a flight in the evening. The film is something of a real-time depiction of how they spend the next couple of hours.

The naivete of the kids from Before Sunrise is nowhere to be seen here. Jesse and Celine are now in their thirties and have dealt with some blows from life. The rhythm of their conversation flows realistically -- at the start of their time together again somewhat hesitant and impersonal, slowly opening up to show their real selves to each other as the afternoon proceeds. The screenplay from the combined forces of Linklater, Delpy and Hawke is natural and honest. 

I felt like I understood Celine far more clearly in this outing. She gets to say such lines as "Memory's a wonderful thing if you don't have to deal with the past." At one point Celine and Jesse are being driven somewhere and Delpy's character spouts some angry, emotional truths to Jesse. I wanted to give her a high five or fist bump or whatever the cool kids do to signal agreement nowadays.

Stateside Independent Series Kicks Off with '56 Up'


56 Up poster

Last week a new program was announced at Stateside at Paramount Theatre (formerly known as the State).  "Stateside Independent" will screen a different independent film -- festival fare, documentaries, local premieres, etc. -- each Monday night.

In his blog entry on the Paramount website, programmer Stephen Jannise said, "I couldn't be more excited about providing a fresh new platform for independent filmmakers to showcase their work, and my greatest hope is that this series proves to be a valuable addition for the growing community of Austin film lovers."

The first movie will show on Monday, Feb. 18 and Tuesday, Feb. 19. Director Michael Apted's 56 Up is the 2012 update to the series he began in 1964 with Seven Up! Every seven years he checks in with the children he met while making that original 30-minute TV special.

The 1964 film included British kids from different class backgrounds. It's been 48 years since that special. How have the lives of those people -- now in late middle-age -- evolved? If you've been keeping up with the series (49 Up came out in 2005), you may have some idea of the trajectory their lives have taken, but there's likely to be some surprises here.

The following Monday, February 25, Stateside will host the Austin premiere of the Texas-shot indie film Far Marfa, co-hosting with the Texas Independent Film Network. Writer/director Cory Van Dyke is scheduled to attend. The movie received a Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund grant in 2011. Look for Debbie's preview next week.

You can read more about Stateside at Paramount's new program and critical reception of 56 Up on the Paramount's blog. Watch the 56 Up trailer below:

Review: Beautiful Creatures


Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert in Beautiful Creatures

I'm just going to come right out and say it: Beautiful Creatures is one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies I've seen in a long while. My friend who attended the screening with me called it "a laugh riot." There is some wit and bite in Richard LaGravenese's screenplay (based on the YA novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl), but the rest of the laughs are caused by other factors ... well, pretty much everything else involved with this film.

Beautiful Creatures opens with narration by Gatlin, South Carolina teen Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), who sounds like a refugee from the set of HBO's True Blood. Maybe Ehrenreich learned his accent from watching that show? (Giggle count: 1) He has haunting dreams and stumbles upon items during his pre-dawn jogs in the town graveyard. His mother died recently and his father never leaves his room (in fact, we never see or hear him!). His lone parental figure is family friend Amma (Viola Davis), the town librarian.

Austin at SXSW 2013: Chris Eska, 'The Retrieval'


Still from The Retrieval by Chris Eska

Filmmaker Chris Eska's new feature The Retrieval will be premiering at SXSW next month. The movie's first screening is set for 1:45 pm on Monday, March 11 at Alamo Ritz, with encores on Tuesday and Saturday. The Austin filmmaker's previous feature was August Evening in 2007, which won the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards.

According to the slim summary on the SXSW site, the plot of The Retrieval focuses on a boy sent north "on the outskirts of the Civil War" to search for a fugitive. Eska remained quiet about any further story details, but answered the following questions for us via email.

Slackerwood: What drew you to make The Retrieval?

Chris Eska: All my films originate from themes that are important in my life, and then I search for the setting and characters that will most highlight the emotions. My Japanese-language film [Doki-Doki] was about isolation in Los Angeles, my Spanish-language film [August Evening] was about changing families in Texas and Japan, etc. With this film, I initially considered setting the story on the Texas border or in southern India before realizing that this historical rural setting would best draw out the emotions.

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