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Sun Sets on the Big 'Dance

Sundance ends with acquisitions and accolades for Austin filmmakers

By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 1, 2013

<i>Before Midnight</i>
Before Midnight

Had there been any doubt, the 2013 Sundance Film Festival – the festival of independent filmmaking, which wrapped this week – conclusively proved that Austin, Texas, is one of the country's foremost hotbeds of nonstudio filmmaking.

The sheer number of films at Sundance possessing Austin pedigrees was an inescapable fact to even the casual observer. At least half a dozen feature films in the festival's slate of 119 were shot in Austin, not to mention numerous short films – in addition to movies by Austin-based filmmakers that were shot elsewhere, films that benefited from Austin talent working in front of and behind the screen, and Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi, which was added to the Sundance Collection in honor of its 20th anniversary. If the Sundance showing wasn't ample enough to demonstrate to the world the prowess of this city's filmmakers, then this month's ranking of Austin as the No. 1 "City to Be a Moviemaker in 2013" in MovieMaker magazine's annual survey certainly sealed the deal. It's now official: Once the town that people flocked to because they wanted to be part of the diverse and bustling music scene, Austin is now the destination of choice for young people with dreams of becoming filmmakers.

Further driving this point home is the fact that out of the couple dozen movies I saw at this year's Sundance, my two favorites were both made by Austin filmmakers: Before Midnight by Richard Linklater and Mud by Jeff Nichols. And before lobbing charges of mindless boosterism my way, be sure to check out the surveys and summations of other attendees. You'll find these two films widely cited among others' favorites.

Mud, which premiered in May at the Cannes Film Festival, made its American debut at Sundance. The film stars Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan (one of the kids in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life). Mud was filmed in Arkansas, and it has some of the bearings of a Mark Twain boys' adventure on the Mississippi. The tone is remarkable, and Nichols (Take Shelter) announced at the screening that Mud has finally secured a release date of April 26. Before Midnight, which forms the third part of Linklater's trilogy with Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, was filmed in Greece and continues the love story between the characters of Jesse and Celine, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (they also co-wrote the screenplay with Linklater). The new film is even more thoughtful and naturalistic than the previous two entries in the trilogy, and it was purchased for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics in one of the bigger sales of the festival.

Recent Austin transplant David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) delivered one of his stronger efforts with Prince Avalanche, which stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch and was filmed in Bastrop, Texas. It's a gentle comedy set against the stark backdrop of the natural destruction caused by the area's wildfires, and it was picked up for distribution by Magnolia Pictures. Other accolades and acquisitions of note: Former Austin resident David Lowery's handsome-looking Ain't Them Bodies Saints was acquired by IFC and earned the festival's Cinematography Award. Lowery was also the co-screenwriter of Yen Tan's Austin-made Pit Stop, an unusually told story about the complications of gay relationships. And Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess, a thoroughly original meditation on the plight of human beings in the age of artificial intelligence, received the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize.


For more Sundance reportage, see austinchronicle.com/blogs/screens.

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