Local Indies

Sundance 2014 Dispatch: Familiar Texas Faces

Kelly Williams and Tim League

The 30th Sundance Film Festival is well underway, with plenty of familiar faces from Texas. My first day in Park City was relatively low-key, as I settled into my lodging and re-acquainted myself with the free public transportation and picked up the essentials -- credentials, groceries and booze. I opted out of opening-night parties to plan my activities for Day Two, knowing I would have a full day of interviews, premieres, receptions and screenings. My "sleep is the enemy" fest mantra has been replaced with the "it's a marathon, not a sprint" mentality.

Friday marked the premiere of the Austin feature film Hellion. I briefly saw producer Kelly Williams as he was entering the theater -- pictured at top with Alamo Drafthouse and Drafthouse Films founder Tim League. League and I spoke about what films we had seen so far and especially those we enjoyed -- quite a common interaction between festivalgoers here at Sundance.

Sundance 2014: Lone Star Films and Other Highlights

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Boyhood Still Photo

With 121 feature-length films representing 37 countries screening at the festival between January 16-26, it's been quite a treat putting together this year's "must-see" list at Sundance this year.

A lot of interest is building for Austin Film Society (AFS)-supported films at the fest, but the latest buzz is focused on filmmaker and AFS founder Richard Linklater. Special preview screenings of the anxiously anticipated movie Boyhood, written and directed by Linklater and featuring Ellar Coltrane (seen at top), will take place at this year's festival with a premiere on Sunday, January 19.

Boyhood follows 12 years in the journey of Mason (Coltrane) from childhood into adulthood. He is influenced and supported by his parents, portrayed by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, and his sister Samantha, portrayed by Lorelei Linklater. What makes Boyhood so unique and captivating is that this drama was filmed over several short periods from 2002 to 2013.

Lone Star Cinema: All She Can

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Corina Calderon in All She Can

Benavides, a small town in south Texas, is the setting for the 2011 slice-of-life drama All She Can. Immigrants attempt passage over from Mexico, drug searches occur regularly at the high school, and senior Luz (Corina Calderon, End of Watch) worries she may be stuck. She hopes her weightlifting prowess can net her a scholarship to The University of Texas at Austin ... but this film doesn't follow the formula of your typical sports movie. Heck, All She Can doesn't really follow any typical formula at all.

The plot of this narrative feature seems anything but far-fetched. For instance, since her family has no internet access, Luz has to use a computer at the town library to Skype with her older brother JM (Jesse Medeles), who is stationed in Afghanistan. The military seems the only career path open to many of her peers. She's accepted into UT Austin, but her mom can't afford to co-sign any school loans. Her family is barely getting by, and Luz feels utterly limited by her lack of options.

Many other factors give All She Can a realistic feel, from the wardrobe to the low-key acting by the cast.  Even the lighting adds a natural touch, with nighttime scenes washed in a soft yellow as if from a sodium light. The predominantly Latino cast delivers a compelling story with familiar elements for most Americans.

'Her' Tops AFCA 2013 Awards

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Before Midnight

The Austin Film Critics Association (AFCA) not only awarded honors today to 2013 films like Her, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, but also recognized several films with local and Texas ties.

Her, the latest film from Spike Jonze (which topped my own personal list of the year's best) won't be released in Austin until Jan. 10, but AFCA considered all films that had (or will have) a US release in 2013. Her also won Best Original Screenplay, by Jonze, and Best Score, by Arcade Fire. And AFCA created a special honorary award for Scarlett Johansson to recognize her voice work in the movie.

I've included the press release as well as the full list of awards and the group's Top Ten list below. A few notes about Austin and Lone Star connections:

  • Best Austin Film went to Before Midnight (Elizabeth's review), from local filmmaker Richard Linklater. This is Linklater's fourth Best Austin Film award from AFCA.
  • The Top Ten list includes Mud (Debbie's review) from Austin director Jeff Nichols at #7 and Before Midnight at #8.

Film on Tap: Repeal, Cinema Six and A Very Bad Santa

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Cinema SixFilm on Tap is a column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.

The 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition was marked earlier this month with special events at local bars and brewpubs. Local PBS station KLRU re-aired the 2011 Ken Burns three-part documentary Prohibition. Directed by Burns and Lynn Novick, this fascinating series documents the contributing factors of Victorian-age morality and events that led to the passage of the 18th Amendment that prohibited alcohol.

If you missed the rebroadcast of Prohibition, you can watch this well-crafted documentary on Netflix or iTunes. Prohibition is also available to rent at both locations of Vulcan Video.

Rogness Brewing Company offers a monthly film event at the brewery, and the featured film on Saturday, December 21 is indie comedy Cinema Six, which was filmed in Central Texas. Mark Potts wrote and directed this humorous film, and I'm sure some local cast (seen at top) and crew will be in attendance at this free event. The screening starts at 7 pm, and pints of Rogness Brewing craft beer will be available for purchase in the tasting room.

Ready, Set, Fund: 'Crowd Speak' for Successful Crowdfunding

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Still Photo from Foreign Puzzle

Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.

Of all the contributions that I've made over the last 4.5 years to Slackerwood, I find this monthly feature, which can be quite rewarding for filmmakers through the promotion of their funding campaigns, to also be personally rewarding. I enjoy following the progress of many of our featured film projects from creation to production to screening at prestigious film festivals including Sundance, SXSW and Austin Film Festival.

Over the last two years, this column has expanded beyond just film projects with the inclusion of television and web media as well as tools to help filmmakers. For example, one of this month's featured fundraising campaigns is for WriterDuet collaborative screenwriting software. WriterDuet is currently available for free online, but this fundraising campaign, which is funding through Thursday, December 19 on Kickstarter, will fund the creation of a desktop version.

We also receive a considerable amount of feedback each month from filmmakers regarding their fundraising efforts. This month's column thus features two new sections: Projects that we've featured in a past column, and tips from the industry to help with fundraising efforts.

First Sundance 2014 Announcement Includes 5 AFS-Supported Films

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Sundance Film Festival 2014Last week, the Sundance Film Festival announced 43 independent films selected for its 2014 fest, in the US Documentary and Narrative Competitions and NEXT section. Among the films selected, five projects have received assistance from Austin Film Society (AFS), including several AFS Grant recipients.

Local filmmaker Kat Candler and producer Kelly Williams received news that their feature Hellion -- based on the short by the same name -- was accepted into the U.S. Dramatic Competition for the fest, which takes place January 16-26 in Park City, Utah. Williams received a fellowship in 2012 to the Sundance Institute's Feature Film Creative Producing Lab for Hellion.

"I am very honored that the Sundance Institute sees the potential in Hellion to get behind it and has the faith in Kat and I to see it through," Williams said about the project in 2012 (source).

"When we got the call from Sundance it was so early, I had this weird pit in my stomach that they were calling to tell us we didn't get in. Y'know, let us down early. I almost didn't want to answer the phone," Candler told me last week via email. "So when Kim Yutani [Sundance programmer] said, 'Kat, we want to play Hellion at Sundance this year,' I just crouched in the empty hallway and couldn't stop saying 'Thank you' over and over again."

This is Candler's third consecutive year getting a movie into Sundance -- her short Black Metal premiered there in 2012, and the short film Hellion  screened in 2011.

"The misconception is that if you've gotten into Sundance once, you have a free pass for life. It's totally not the case. So every time I get that call after weeks of stomach-turning stress, I thank every one of my lucky stars. We were fortunate to have worked with insanely talented people, and the most amazing southeast Texas community who put their heart and souls into this film," Candler said.

Awards Watch: Texas Filmmakers Up for Independent Spirit Awards

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computer chess still

It was another busy year for Texas filmmakers, and it looks like their hard work will once again be recognized with awards. Last week the 29th annual Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations were announced, and Austin and Texas-connected productions including Mud, Upstream Color, Computer Chess and Before Midnight are in the running in a variety of categories.

Up for Best Director you'll find Austinite Jeff Nichols (who participated in a featured panel at Austin Film Festival last October), nominated for Mud, and Shane Carruth, director of the Dallas-filmed Upstream ColorMud (Holly Herrick's review) will also receive the Robert Altman award, which recognizes one film for its director, casting director and ensemble cast. Upstream Color (J.C.'s review) was nominated for Carruth and fellow Texan David Lowery's editing work, as well. 

Ready, Set, Fund: Producing for a Cause

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Reel Change Film FrenzyReady, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.

Local nonprofit festival Lights. Camera. Help. is changing it up a bit for the 2014 Reel Change Film Frenzy through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to support their ten filmmaking teams in sharing stories about local nonprofit organizations. Backers can become a producer of their very own cause-driven film by donating as little as $10. The goal is to raise $10,000 to be split between the teams to cover their costs.

At higher levels, backers are eligible to receive tickets to the Reel Change Film Frenzy screening at the Alamo Drafthouse, a cameo appearance in one of the films, or video coaching sessions by Lights. Camera. Help. educators. Even if the campaign does not reach its goal, the filmmakers have agreed to split evenly any funding received through January 4.

Stuntwoman Patty Dillon has taken on a new role in the film industry as a documentary filmmaker with There Will Be No Stay, the personally intimate story of the men faced with the unbearable act of taking another person's life on behalf of the criminal justice system. Austin-based Arcanum Pictures (Grow Up, Tony Phillips) producers Paul Gandersman and Peter Hall support this salient documentary, which was filmed across the nation from South Dakota to Texas and North Carolina.

The film, which provides a rare glimpse into a difficult profession, is currently funding through Wednesday, December 11 on Kickstarter, for funds to cover post-production including final film and sound editing as well as music licensing and film festival application fees.

Watch the thought-provoking preview of There Will Be No Stay after the jump.

AFF 2013: Vintage Austin Double Feature

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AFF 2013

Austin Film Festival may be well behind us, but I am still thinking about some older Texas films at the fest that I stumbled upon almost accidentally. As I was planning my schedule for the Sunday of the fest on Saturday night, I noticed some oddly named films at the Rollins with descriptions that included "Texas independent film." I ended up skipping My Man Godfrey (which I can watch any time) to see what this screening was about.

All I knew about Invasion of the Aluminum People (1980) and Speed of Light (1981) were that apparently Jonathan Demme liked them, since he was going to "present" them. I assumed "presenting" meant he would do a nice intro, then scoot, as is typical at many such events.

The theater was about halfway full and I was one of the younger audience members. Later I would learn that many people in the audience had worked on one of the two films, or provided music, or been in a band with someone involved with the film. Both films employed a lot of musicians as their cast and crew. Well, it was Austin in 1980, I kind of assumed most of the people living here were musicians (or claimed to be). Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater sat a couple of rows in front of me, and I took that as a good omen -- this must be worthwhile.

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