Debbie Cerda's blog

SXSW Spotlight: Agnes Varnum and Bryan Poyser, Austin Film Society

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Agnes Varnum and Bryan Poyser of Austin Film Society

South by Southwest Film Festival and Conference is a particularly busy time for the folks over at Austin Film Society (AFS). Their biggest annual event is the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards, which is being held on Thursday, March 11 at Austin Studios. SXSW Film provides the opportunity for AFS to showcase several of their filmmakers' short films at the Austin Media Arts Committee (AMAC) special screenings at the Hideout. Many AFS Texas Filmmakers Production Fund (TFPF) award winners will also be premiering their films at SXSW, including Austin filmmaker Miguel Alvarez (Mnemosyne Rising).

These SXSW special events couldn't happen without two critical AFS staff members, Agnes Varnum and Bryan Poyser. Agnes has been busy for weeks in preparation of the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards, and is one of the featured panelists for "How to Rawk SXSW Film." Attendees learn from professionals in the industry how to make meaningful connections with all the independent film and new media professionals in town for the event. Bryan coordinates the AMAC screenings for AFS at the Hideout, hosts a Texas Filmmakers Production Fund Workshop, and as one of my favorite panel moderators is part of the "The Kids are Alright: Jay and Mark Duplass Plus" panel. Even more exciting, Bryan's film Lovers of Hate -- well-received at last month's Sundance Film Festival -- is also screening at SXSW. I caught up to this dynamic duo by email for an interview, and here's what they had to say.

Videobloggers and Filmmaking at VideoCamp Austin

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VideoCamp Austin

Over 175 people attended the first VideoCamp Austin last Saturday, February 27, and the event was a rousing success. Co-organizers Talmadge Boyd and Weston Norton of Reel Social Media and Lights. Camera. Help. co-founder David Neff coordinated the event, which took place at The University of Texas at Austin's Jesse H. Jones Communication Center. Local aspiring filmmakers and videobloggers learned techniques and tricks of the trade from fellow attendees with years of experience. 

VideoCamp Austin followed the barcamp model of the "unconference," in which a large piece of paper was taped to the wall with a handwritten schedule on it. Sessions were written on stickies and then placed in open time slots. Folks who showed up early to sign up had an idea of what they wanted to talk about, such as Arts from the Streets filmmaker Layton Blaylock's presentation on making a documentary. However, spontaneity was the main focus, as Rachel Farris of PetRelocation.com learned. She didn't have a presentation prepped, but used PetRelocation's Pup in the Air videos to demonstrative the effectiveness of "Using Online Video in Your Business." Air Sex World Championship host Chris Trew of The New Movement taught an "Improv Comedy in a Video and Filmmaking" session where a few of the attendees were pulled into the demonstration.

Review: The Crazies

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The Crazies still photo

Based on the 1973 George Romero movie by the same name, the 2010 version of The Crazies, adapted by screenwriters Ray Wright and Scott Kosar, strips away the social and political aspects that were rampant in the original. Nowadays moviegoers don't need much convincing to believe that the military could seize a town and cover up bioweapons. Director Breck Eisner seems to pride himself on using as little exposition as possible to keep the plot cruising along. The result is a rollercoaster ride, as building tensions keep viewers on the edge of their seats and then out of them when the insanity and horror takes over.

The basic plot of The Crazies remains: Residents of the small Iowan town of Ogden Marsh are suddenly plagued by insanity and death after their water supply is contaminated. When the town drunk Rory Hamill (Mike Hickman) shows up to a high school baseball game with a rifle, he's shot dead by local sheriff David Dutton (Tim Olyphant) when he fails to respond and drop his weapon. It's assumed that Rory was heavily intoxicated -- only he's been on the wagon for two years and his blood alcohol content confirms it. While Sheriff Dutton along with Deputy Russell Clark (Joe Anderson) tries to find an explanation for Rory's strange behavior and also investigate reports of a plane crash in the local creek, his wife Dr. Judy Dutton (Radha Mitchell) attempts unsuccessfully to identify what's wrong with another resident. The man is almost catatonic, and later that night he sets fire to his house after locking his wife and son in a closet.

Enroll Now for Austin Filmmaking Camps

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Child with Play CameraLast year, Slackerwood featured a Guide to Austin Summer Film Camps that listed local day camps for kids interested in making movies. Although Tuesday's snowfall might make you think that summer's far away, it's never too soon to enroll in these highly sought-after programs.

Here are a couple of Austin summer film camps that have already opened registration for this year ... for kids a bit older than the budding filmmaker pictured at right.

Austin Film Festival Summer Film Camp 

Austin Film Festival's Young Filmmakers Program is proud to present the eighth annual Summer Film Camp. The camp offers students unparalleled access to in-depth, personal instruction on screenwriting, filmmaking and claymation from local industry professionals. This year, the camp's workshops and panels will take place at Austin High School.

SXSW 2010 Guide: Balancing Film and Interactive

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Observe and Report Cast Conversion" by Greg Brooks

Welcome to the first in Slackerwood's series of SXSW 2010 guides. Keep an eye out in the next couple of weeks for the Film Fest venue guide (now in its fourth year), a guide to restaurants near festival venues, tips for local film passholders and potential ticketholders, and a general survival guide.

Updated 2/25: See the "SXSW Panels" section for new info about access for Film and Interactive badgeholders.

Every year, South by Southwest (SXSW) Festivals and Conferences offers an overwhelming amount of amazing content from film to interactive to music. One challenge is that the Film and Interactive conferences take place at the same time, from Friday, March 12 through Tuesday, March 16. The film festival starts at the same time and continues through Saturday, March 20.

This guide will hopefully serve as a walkthrough of how to balance both Film and Interactive, whether you have a badge for either conference, or the Gold or Platinum badges that provide you access to both. 

Celebrate "Texas Independents' Day" with Local Filmmakers

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Sunshine

Texas Independence Day is March 2, and local PBS station KLRU will commemorate the day with "Texas Independents' Day," an event involving several local filmmakers whose work has reached a national audience. For the first time, three Austin-based projects have been selected for this season of the PBS Emmy-award winning series Independent Lens: The Eyes of Me (my review), Sunshine (pictured above) and The Horse Boy (my review). All three films premiered in the Lone Star States category at the 2009 South by Southwest Film Festival. PBS estimates that 2 million viewers will tune in to Independent Lens this year.

On Tuesday, March 2, UT professor/local documentary filmmaker Paul Stekler (Last Man Standing) will moderate a panel discussion at the Austin City Limits studio with directors Michel O. Scott (The Horse Boy), Karen Skloss (Sunshine) and Keith Maitland (The Eyes of Me). Following the discussion, KLRU will host a live screening of the Independent Lens broadcast of The Eyes of Me at 9 pm. Doors are at 7 pm, with the panel discussion at 8 pm before the screening. Space is limited, so be sure to RSVP here.

Review: The Wolfman

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The Wolfman

When I was a kid, every Saturday afternoon I loved watching classic horror films -- the Hammer Horror films of the late '50s and early '60s, including repertoire actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and Roger Corman and American International Pictures pulp flicks with Vincent Price. The predecessors that paved the way were the Universal Pictures horror films of the 1940s, most memorably The Wolf Man featuring Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr.  Dark and suspenseful, full of beasts and gypsies, the original Wolf Man identified many concepts about werewolves that extended beyond traditional folklore.

Directed by Joe Johnston (Jumanji, The Rocketeer), the 2010 version of The Wolfman embraces many of these concepts -- silver bullets, power of the full moon -- in what I'd hoped would be a true homage to the classic. The script written by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self contains threads of the 1941 screenplay, but with a few added twists for this modern large-scale version.

Review: Dear John

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Dear John

Dear John is a romantic drama directed by Oscar nominee Lasse Hallstrom (Cider House Rules, My Life as a Dog) and based on the bestseller by Nicholas Sparks, best known for The Notebook. Screenwriter Jamie Linden (We Are Marshall) collaborated with Hallstrom to adapt Sparks' story of a quiet young soldier who falls for an idealistic college girl.

The story begins during spring break in 2000, when Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) meets John Tyree (Channing Tatum) while staying at her parents' beach house. John is home on leave from Army duty with Special Ops to visit his coin-collecting obsessed father (Richard Jenkins). It's love at first sight for Savannah and John, who spend two weeks together before the lovers are parted as he returns to duty. They continue their romance through letters exchanged as she makes her way through college and he fulfills his tour of duty in Africa and the Middle East. Just as John prepares to return home 9/11 occurs, and he chooses to join his outfit in extending his enlistment. His choice of duty over love adversely impacts their relationship, and Savannah makes decisions that change the course of both their lives.

Review: Edge of Darkness

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Edge of Darkness

After a self-imposed seven-year hiatus, Mel Gibson returns to the screen as the lead in the thriller Edge of Darkness. The film's screenplay was written by William Monahan (Body of Lies, Kingdom of Heaven) and Andrew Bovell (Strictly Ballroom), but the real backbone of the plot comes from the BBC miniseries written by the late Troy Kennedy-Martin, who is best known for war classic Kelly's Heroes (1970) and The Italian Job (1969 and 2003 remake).

Boston homicide detective Thomas Craven (Gibson) should have seen enough violence and bloodshed to be desensitized after so many years on the force. When his 24-year-old daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) is gunned down on the front steps of his house, the impact is devastating -- not only because Craven has lost his only child, but apparently he was the intended target. However, while trying to identify who would have wanted him dead, he discovers that he knows very little about his daughter. Why was she violently ill before her death, and carrying a gun for protection? He begans to uncover evidence that his daughter was more than just a "glorified intern." As a nuclear research assistant for military contractor Northmoor, she'd stumbled onto something sensitive enough to national security to have her flagged as a potential terrorist.

DVD Review: Martial-Arts Double Feature with 'Wushu' and 'Fireball'

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WushuCould I possibly have picked two martial arts films further apart on the ratings scale than Wushu and Fireball? On one end of the spectrum is the first "family" martial-arts film I've ever seen that wasn't American in origin, and on the other end is pure martial-arts porn, in which whatever plot is present serves to string hard-core brutal action sequences together. Both films are now available on DVD from Lionsgate Films.

Jackie Chan Presents Wushu

As executive producer of Wushu, martial-arts legend Jackie Chan introduces a new generation of talented martial artists in such a way that this film will please fans young and old. Antony Szeto -- known for his animated fantasy film Dragonblade -- directed Wushu and also choreographed all the stunts.

Talented and seasoned actor Sammo Hung Kam-Bo (Kung Fu Hustle, The Medallion) supports the young cast as Li Hui, father to brothers Li Yi (Wenjie Wang) and Li Er (Fei Wang). Szeto discovered Wenjie Wang at Sonjiang Wushu College, which is where Wushu was later filmed.

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