Local Indies

All the Lone Star in the 2013 Lone Star Film Festival


The Lone Star Film Festival kicks off tonight in Fort Worth, and it will live up to its name with a number of Austin and Texas selections, as well as some honored guests. The festival runs through Sunday, November 10.

The Austin Chronicle co-founder and SXSW director Louis Black, musician and actor Lyle Lovett and Fort Worth businessman Stephen Murrin, Jr. will be honored tomorrow for their role in film and the arts at the Fort Worth Club. In addition, the following movies all have Austin or Lone Star connections:

AFF Review: All Of Me


All Of Me

Director Alexandra Lescaze came to Austin and spent several years following a group of local women, most of whom met via a Yahoo message board for BBWs (or "big beautiful women"), for her second feature-length documentary film, All of Me. They started out as a tight-knit support group not just because they were all overweight, but because they were proud and happy about it.

As members of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, the majority of these ladies came together to celebrate and have social outings where they wouldn't be judged by the outside world. While the group initially seems to have a strong resistance to losing weight, the film focuses on the successes and struggles of a few of them to undergo weight-loss surgery and how it affects everybody around them. 

AFF Review: Sombras de Azul


Yasmani Guerrero and Seedne Bujaidar in Sombras de Azul

A long-form poem set to film and interspersed with dialogue, Sombras de Azul from Kelly Daniela Norris takes the viewer on a scenic trip to Cuba. Maribel, played by the director's cousin Seedne Bujaidar, arrives in the country after the sudden death of her older brother Carlos. In the touristy areas, silent museums and colorful back streets of Havana, she looks for hints of her brother at the same time she pays a sort of tribute to him.

During her short time in the country, Maribel meets friendly cafe owners, a Swedish tourist (Charlotta Mohlin, True Blood), and carpenter/failed thief Eusebio (Cuban actor Yasmani Guerrero). Each in their different way aid in her healing process.

Sombras de Azul moves in quiet meditation, with Maribel's reflections about her brother spoken over scenes of landscape, cityscape or beach. People in white congregate on the streets for an unnamed sacred event. Maribel sits silently in a graveyard under a tree, the audio of her narration softly spooling out a tall tale Carlos once told her about a snake. 

Housecore Horror Fest 2013: Scum, Zombies and Maniacs



The Housecore Horror Film Festival debuted in Austin this weekend. An offshoot of Housecore Records, the four-day long event was a combination of a series of concerts from many heavy-metal bands as well as a showcase of indie horror flicks that ranged from classic to little-seen, plus advance screenings.

"First year" was a term thrown around quite a few times over the weekend as a reminder that this was the festival's inaugural year, and understandably so. A few screenings were delayed, while others were postponed or canceled -- and occasionally zombies on the screen had to compete with goblins on the stage with only several feet of space separating the two.

Yet, despite unavoidable mishaps, for a festival in their "first year," Housecore presented one of the most eclectic and impressive lineup of horror titles, leading this scare fiend to wonder what kind of blood splatter future years will hold.

AFF Review: Dear Sidewalk


Dear Sidewalk poster Gardner (Joseph Mazzello, Jurassic Park) is a socially awkward, 25-year-old mail carrier in the indie romantic comedy Dear Sidewalk.  He keeps to a usual routine which includes a postal route walking through Austin neighborhoods, a daily chat with sarcastic retiree Trudy (Lana Dieterich) and weekly meetings with his small philatelic club. This stamp-collecting group is made up of his postal service co-workers (Davi Jay, Hugo Perez  and C. K. McFarland) who encourage him to get out more. Meanwhile, he sleeps in a boat in front of his best pal Calvin's (Josh Fadem, 30 Rock) house.

Then fortysomething divorcee Paige (Michelle Forbes, True Blood) moves into a house on his route and disrupts his daily pattern. She flirts with him and takes him to the Cathedral of Junk.  She throws his watch in Town Lake (or Lady Bird Lake, if you prefer). What does this mean for Gardner?

Mazzello at first appears uncertain of how he wants to portray Gardner, but grows into the role as Dear Sidewalk progresses (or maybe it just bothered me less as the film went on). The relationship between Gardner and brother-from-another-mother Calvin is sweet -- they are both odd birds -- and fits with the goofy vibe of the film.  Indeed, their friendship seemed more believable than the idea of Paige and Gardner getting together.

The character of Paige comes off as incomplete.  We're given some facts about her (she's recently divorced, used to be an artist and hates the blind dates her brother keeps setting her up on), but there is much left unknown about her and not as much depth to the role as I would like. 

Sure, the plot is a smidge disjointed, but the writing made me laugh out loud more than once. The supporting characters (diverse in age and ethnicity, yay) were standouts of the movie. Trudy is fearless and flirty.  Gardner's co-workers are quirky and full of advice for him. I can't neglect to mention Ashley Spillers, who injects some verve into Dear Sidewalk as a love interest for Calvin [see our interview with Ashley].

Dear Sidewalk is director Jake Oelman's first feature film, and shows Austin as a walkable city: Gardner doesn't own a car, and seems to take the path near Auditorium Shores daily. As the mail carrier traverses streets dense with trees, the film also features some colorful houses in town. The Austin in this movie has the feeling of a smaller suburban town -- with a great view of downtown easily available.

Polari 2013 Dispatch: A Quartet of Films


In the Name OfThe best of the films I saw last weekend at Polari 2013 was on Saturday afternoon. Polish writer-director Malgorzata Szumowska explores the feelings of a gay priest working in a school for troubled youths in the poignant film In the Name Of.

Trapped by the requirements of his faith with nobody to whom he can turn for a human connection, Adam (Andrzej Chyra, who bears a strong resemblance to Daniel Craig) longs only for the comfort of human embrace. A good man who always has a positive influence on his charges, Adam never does anything wrong, though almost completely unfounded accusations repeatedly result in his transfer to other parishes.

Szumowska peels back the stoic exterior to reveal the depths of longing and loneliness suffered by a man striving to set the highest example of godliness and the tragic unfairness that can result from unfounded suspicions. In the Name Of is a moving bittersweet story that treated a delicate subject fairly but with tenderness.

While most of the Polari screenings were downtown, Friday night brought a detour to the Marchesa to take in a screening co-sponsored by the Austin Film Society.

Animals is a Spanish film by director Marçal Forés about a troubled teen dealing with feelings for a new classmate with a dark secret. In a failure of mood over substance, the film is beautiful to look at, with an attractive cast acting against the mountains of northern Spain but following an aimless story with little payoff.

Forés oversells the teen angst in an attempt to establish a feeling akin to Donnie Darko and then fails to follow up on numerous hints of deeper backstory to which he has alluded. There is no clear motivation in Animals for just about anything any of the characters do including -- and especially -- a tasteless display of school violence.  

Unfortunately, on Saturday I caught the most boring movie I have ever seen. Shot in Austin, Pit Stop -- directed by Yen Tan, who co-wrote with Dallas filmmaker David Lowery -- stars Bill Heck, Marcus DeAnda and Amy Seimetz in two stories of heartbroken men who converge when they meet for a sex date arranged online. Nothing ever happens to indicate why these two might be right for each other. They don't appear to have much in common, and neither displays any appreciable personality.

Polari 2013 Dispatch: 'Uganda' and 'The Most Fun'


Most Fun with Pants On

Saturday was far too beautiful a day to spend in a movie theater. But watching the Polari screening of God Loves Uganda at the Stateside Theater on Saturday afternoon was worth sacrificing a couple of hours of stunning Austin weather.

God Loves Uganda is a terrific, must-see documentary that both enlightens and infuriates. It's relentlessly unpleasant viewing, but this gripping movie casts a much-needed spotlight on one of society's great outrages: American evangelical Christians' quest to spread homophobia in Uganda.

As the growing acceptance of gay marriage demonstrates, evangelicals have long been losing the culture wars in the United States. But decades before gay marriage was legal in any state, fundamentalist Christians already were seeking greener proselytizing pastures in the developing world. Uganda became a prime target for evangelism after Idi Amin's brutal regime ended in 1979, giving American missionaries an opportunity to build churches and schools and recruit new followers.

Ready, Set, Fund: Air Sex, Gay Retirees and Girlie Pop Culture


The Bounceback Still Photo

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

Two local movies that were well received at their SXSW 2013 premieres are now crowdfunding for distribution: The Bounceback and Before You Know It. Local filmmaker Bryan Poyser has a Kickstarter funding campaign through Sunday, November 17, for his romantic comedy (with air sex!) The Bounceback -- check out Don's review as well as Elizabeth's interview with Poyser.

PJ Raval -- director of photography for The Bounceback -- is also seeking funding for his feature-length documentary Before You Know It through October 30. This insightful and thought-provoking film reveals the discrimination, neglect and exclusion faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual senior citizens. Raval tells the story through several inspirational individuals who have found the strength to form communities where they and others can be comfortable and accepted.

Check out the pitch video for the Before You Know It campaign, which includes some of the film's subjects, after the jump.

Review: Machete Kills


Machete Kills

If I had to pick one bright new talent this year, it would be Carlos Estevez.

As the boozing, gun-worshipping, horndogging President Rathcock in Machete Kills, Estevez delivers a powerhouse performance destined to carry him -- a first-time actor whose face is oddly familiar -- to the heights of stardom.

Oh, wait -- IMDb says Carlos Estevez is, in fact, Charlie Sheen. No wonder I'd seen him before. But whatever his name, his performance is ... well, no. I led you astray, gentle Machete fans. To be honest, his performance isn't all that great. It's not awful, and at times it's entertaining and funny. But it's nothing special.

In other words, Estevez/Sheen's performance is like everything else in Machete Kills -- more meh than memorable.

In Robert Rodriguez's follow-up to Machete, President Rathcock recruits the titular ex-Federale (Danny Trejo) to slip into Mexico to take down crazed revolutionary arms dealer Mendez (Demian Bichir). With help from a fellow agent posing as Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard), Machete crosses the border and finds his quarry quickly -- but only after a rather violent encounter in a Mexican cathouse with wicked madam Desdemona (Sofía Vergara) and a bevy of heavily armed hookers.

AFF 2013: Spotlight on Austin and Texas Films


aff logoAustin Film Festival, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, features an eight-day program of panels and films specifically focused on screenwriters. Along with a handful of highly anticipated festival favorites bolstering the lineup (among them 12 Years a Slave and Inside Llewyn Davis), the film schedule contains dozens of features, documentaries and shorts chosen for their original points of view and creative storytelling techniques. Of course several of these have Austin or Texas ties -- they were either made by local filmmakers or were filmed in the state.

Here are a few potential gems found on this year's AFF Features lineup that happen to have strong Texas connections:

All of Me (Documentary Feature Competition) -- This documentary was filmed here in town and features a group of friends who met through Austin's Big Beautiful Women community. The dynamic of their social club begins to change when many of the women choose to undergo weight loss surgery, and what results is a poignant study of relationships, body image and societal norms. All of Me is directed by Alexandra Lescaze. 

Hellaware (Comedy Vanguard) -- Written and directed by University of Texas grad Michael Bilandic, Hellaware is a "biting satire of the art scene" and tells the story of a New York photographer who finds himself in a messy situation. The film stars a few familiar faces for indie fans: Keith Poulson (Harmony and Me, Somebody Up There Likes Me), Kate Lyn Sheil (Green, The Color Wheel, Somebody Up There Likes Me) and Sophia Takal (Gayby, V/H/S). 

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