Debbie Cerda's blog

Review: The Concert


The Concert

As much as I enjoy The Birdcage, the Americanized version couldn't hold a candle to the original classic French farce La Cage Aux Folles, in which the setting of the gay club in St. Tropez lends so well to the atmosphere and mood. I was reminded of this while watching The Concert (Le concert), a dramedy set in Russia and Paris. Writer/director Radu Milhaileanu and his collaborator Alain-Michel Blanc originally envisioned creating The Concert in English with American actors to appeal to a mainstream audience. However, the filmmakers decided that English would render the movie more artificial, and decided to shoot in the original languages of Russian and French -- a choice I wholeheartedly support, especially after watching The Concert.

The Concert focuses on Andreï Filipov (Aleksey Guskov), the janitor at the Bolshoi. He enjoys listening to the famed Bolshoi Orchestra, but not because he's a low-class worker aspiring to greatness that he can never hope to achieve -- in fact, 30 years ago he was the celebrated conductor of the Bolshoi. At the height of his fame he was fired for refusing to expel Jewish musicians in his orchestra as directed by Brezhnev, and several of his friends were sent to and later died in Gulag labor camps. Filipov retreats into his despair and alcoholism, with the painful memories of a concert that was never finished.

SXSW Review: Narrative Shorts



This year at SXSW Film, I decided to spend less time in line and more at the satellite and smaller venues, and catching the Narrative and Midnight Shorts programs. Kudos to SXSW Film programmers Claudette Godfrey and Stephanie Noone who set up the short film lineup. Anyone who's read my AFF Selected Shorts or Fantastic Fest coverage knows I love the short film format, partly due to the small time investments for great rewards. I found myself on the edge of my theater seat in under 15 minutes for one film and brought to tears of joy by another in the next 15. Find out which films that I found were most engaging after the jump.

SXSW Review: Building Hope


Building Hope's Mahiga Rainwater Court

Typically I'm a staunch believer in the cinéma vérité style of documentary filmmaking, with little if any involvement on the filmmaker's part so I can feel immersed in the story. On the other hand, there's Austin filmmaker Turk Pipkin, who narrates and is seen in his documentary films including Nobelity, One Peace at a Time and now Building Hope. His latest film often focuses on The Nobelity Project, an Austin-based nonprofit led by the filmmaker and his wife Christy Pipkin. The Nobelity Project partnered with a remote low-income African community with great results for the local primary school, and so Pipkin promised to help build Mahiga Hope High, the first high school for the community, while connecting Kenyans with American supporters.

In Building Hope, viewers learn that in Kenya, primary school is free and mandatory but families have to pay their teenagers to attend high school. Making matters worse are the gaps in qualified teachers, high school tuition and poor conditions of the few existing high schools, including lack of clean water and sports facilities. Without a high school education, the children of Mahiga are left with few options in life. The Pipkins were determined to change this fact, by introducing the "1000 Voices for Hope" program with the goal of getting 1,000 donors to donate $100. Donors included Austin musicians Lyle Lovett, Emily & Martie of The Dixie Chicks and Willie Nelson, who stated, "That's a choir I want to sing in."

SXSW Review: Natural Selection


Matt O'Leary and Rachael Harris of Natural Selection

As cliched as it may sound, the "must-see" movie at SXSW 2011 is Natural Selection, a joyful bittersweet story filmed in Smithville, Texas. From the opening moment, writer/director Robbie Pickering pulls viewers in for a fun and passionate ride from the pinnacle of conservative Christianity to the lows of the wrong side of the law.

The film focuses on Linda White (Rachael Harris), a barren and lonely Christian housewife in her 40s, who leads a sheltered existence in suburban Texas. Stringent religious convictions forbid Linda and her husband Abe (John Diehl) from copulating without the intent of procreating, resulting in an asexual marriage that has left Linda frustrated, lonely and full of shame. To compensate, she lives her life for everyone but herself.

After Abe suffers a stroke, Linda discovers that he has been keeping a secret -- donating to a sperm bank for over 20 years. From his hospital bed he asks her to find his 23-year-old biological son Raymond who is living in Florida. Linda sets off on a quixotic journey to find Raymond (Matt O'Leary) and bring him back before her husband passes away. Along the way, she develops a relationship with the troubled Raymond as they share their intimate secrets, allowing her to come to terms with herself and thereby discovering her own path.

Austin at SXSW 2011: Alan Berg, 'Outside Industry: The Story of SXSW'


Outside Industry: The Story of SXSW

I attended my first SXSW Music festival in 1994 but began volunteering in 2000. I've been a web competition preliminary judge, crew chief for the trade shows and information booth, and a SXSW Interactive panels liaison. However, the most memorable time has been spent in the trenches of the SXSW Music Festival with Special Venues, handling line management and crowd control at film premieres and music showcases. Even now I am still awed by the sheer number of venues, bands, and attendees that seem to double every year.

Despite my involvement with SXSW, it wasn't until I watched Outside Industry: The Story of SXSW that I truly understood the birth and evolution of the largest music industry event in the world. This documentary from the Austin film, video, animation and documentary company Arts+Labor offers an intimate perspective on how four guys living on next to nothing -- Roland Swenson, Louis Black, Louis Jay Meyers and Nick Barbaro -- created a benchmark for alternative culture.

I met and spoke recently with Arts + Labor co-founder and president Alan Berg, who directed Outside Industry: The Story of SXSW. See what he had to say about the movie after the jump.

SXSW Photo Essay: John Corbett Parties with 'Natural Selection'


John Corbett, Jon Gries and Tara Novick

My experience this year at SXSW has been fairly relaxed as I decided to take time off from the red-carpet frenzy for a more unstructured approach. Being without a firm schedule was a little unnerving at first, but I've discovered that it's a great way to let SXSW serendipity lend a hand to great experiences.

One of those moments happened yesterday when I skipped the AFF Hair of the Dog Brunch to attend an early screening of Natural Selection at the newly renovated State Theatre. Despite the time change, a good crowd turned out for this narrative competition film. I was not disappointed, as I was thoroughly entertained and touched by the story and characters of Natural Selection -- check back this week for my review.

After the screening, I was invited to the premiere party for Natural Selection, which included a modest gathering of the cast and crew with family, friends and supporters. We were pleasantly surprised when actor/musician John Corbett (Sex and the City, Serendipity) showed up with a couple of his bandmates -- turns out that he and Natural Selection supporting actor Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite, Men in Black) -- seen above with Corbett and Tara Novick -- are longtime friends. Check out more photos after the jump:

Review: Red Riding Hood


Red Riding Hood - Photo by Kimberly French – copyright 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The latest Hollywood trend appears to be retelling classic fairy tales, most recently Beastly and now Red Riding Hood. Unfortunately the tale of a young girl and the false grandmother has suffered the same fate of that of "Beauty and the Beast" -- read Jenn's review of Beastly here -- on so many levels. I have no issues with modernization or re-imaging of classic stories, and look forward to Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and Snow White and the Huntsman both set for release in 2012. However, Red Riding Hood makes no attempt to substantiate the classic antithesis of the safety of the village versus the dangers of the forest, instead focusing on the danger amongst friends and families. With director Catherine Hardwicke of Twilight fame at the helm, the film is more intent on pulling in Twilighters that are jonesing for the next in the series, leaving more discerning audiences disappointed.

Set in a medieval village that is haunted by a werewolf, a young girl, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), falls for an orphaned woodcutter, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), much to her family's displeasure -- they have plans for her to marry wealthy blacksmith Henry (Max Irons). The star-crossed lovers have plans to run away together, but their plans are quickly abandoned when Valerie's is found dead from a werewolf attack. Father Auguste (Lukas Haas) calls on the expertise of wolf hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) to save the village from the brutal animal, but Solomon turns out to have his own brutal methods. He has no qualms at offering Valerie to appease the beast.

SXSW 2011 Guides: Balancing Film and Interactive


Steve Jobs and Mike Markkula of Apple

Being both a tech geek and film enthusiast, I'm determined to find a balance between satisfying both interests during SXSWeek as the SXSW Interactive Conference overlaps with the beginning of the Film Festival and Conference. Luckily SXSW features several opportunities to explore both film and interactive industry topics.

Last year Slackerwood featured the "SXSW 2010 Guide: Balancing Film and Interactive" to help SXSW attendees know what was up. Although a lot of the core advice is the same, there are several significant changes this year.

SXSW Interactive-Related Films

In the past, SXSW has allowed Interactive badgeholders to get into certain film festival screenings with their badges ... but not so in 2011. Those attendees interested in films related to Interactive (IA) content will either need to have a Gold and Platinum badge or buy a ticket at the screening (based on availability 15 minutes prior).

'The Man Who Never Cried' Wins Big


Slackerwood: Keir O'Donnell and Bradley Jackson on the set of 'The Man Who Never Cried'

While visiting the set of The Man Who Never Cried last fall, I was amused by the t-shirt worn by director Bradley Jackson (above on the right, with lead Keir O'Donnell, left). The phrase across his chest read "Please Lord, Let me Prove to You That Winning The Lottery Won't Spoil Me."

Jackson will have to do just that, with the recent announcement that the $100,000 grand prize for the Doorpost Film Project went to The Man Who Never Cried. The local film that received tips and script edits from the likes of Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater and other industry veterans. In addition to winning first place, the film took several other awards at last week's awards ceremony, including the Audience Choice Award. Find out what other honors the local independent film received are after the jump:

Review: The Eagle


The Eagle

With a screenplay adapted by Jeremy Brock from the 1954 novel "The Eagle of the Ninth" by author Rosemary Sutfcliff, The Eagle provides light entertainment for the sandals-and-swords film buffs. This pre-holy Roman Empire tale that was written for young readers has been brought to the big screen for a wider adult audience.

The Eagle centers around the young Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), a Roman soldier who attempts to restore his family name. His father had been stationed in the northern wilderness of Britain 20 years prior, and had led the the famous Ninth Legion, which disappeared behind Hadrian's Wall and was presumed dead. The symbolic golden eagle of the legion was lost, bringing shame to the Aquila family.

After receiving a promotion to Centurion, Aquila is sent to the northern reaches of Britain to head a fort. Aquila is critically injured while rescuing his men during an attack, for which he is honorably discharged from the army. Recovering at the home of his Uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland), he struggles with his injuries and frustration at not being able to restore his family's reputation -- being a soldier is all that he has ever desired and known. However, after rescuing the British slave Esca (Jamie Bell), the young Aquila takes up his goal: to cross Hadrian's Wall, confront the savage tribes of the Highlands and bring back the golden eagle.

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