Page Two

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Austin has an amazing film community, as impressive in ways as its legendary music community. One of the differences is the history: Looking back two decades or more, Austin had a great music scene. Yet as little as 10 years ago, Austin's film scene (apart from its screenwriting community) was hardly of note. What changed things? Was it Richard Linklater making Slacker and then, after it was a hit, deciding to stay here and keep the Austin Film Society going? The aforementioned screenwriting community, Bill Wittliff, Bud Shrake, and Warren Skaaren? Robert Rodriguez making El Mariachi for $7,000 and selling it to a major studio? All of these factors were important. One of the most crucial has been the Dobie Theatre as programmed and run by Scott Dinger.

It wasn't only that Dinger, tough as he was, was willing to take chances on breaking new films like Slacker. It wasn't just his creation of the Austin Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, support of the Austin Film Society, and early and crucial support of SXSW Film. The magic of the Dobie was all this, but it was more: It resided in the consistency of Dinger's arthouse and cutting-edge programming. The meaning was the sum total of what was shown, not just the local films or the maverick screenings, but the range of films programmed.

Nor was this a film theatre just for filmmakers, although it helped nurse a couple of generations of them. The Dobie was for the community. Cab drivers, college teachers, slackers, writers, students, suburban professionals, retail clerks, hamburger chefs, and artists came because the programming was unique. This was a place to see unique and challenging films.

I remember dozens of times sitting in the Dobie watching a new American independent, a foreign film, or catching a retrospective. Over the past dozen years I have spent so much time in the Dobie's different theatres watching movies. Now Scott is leaving. In December, we received the shocking news that Scott (who owned the theatre with his brother) was selling it to Landmark Cinemas. At the time he said he wasn't sure what he was going to do next but he was going to stay with the Dobie for a while. Now he is leaving.

I often hear comments about the Austin film scene, how it's become cliquish, how Scott doesn't show just anyone's film anymore (can you imagine how many hopefuls he gets offered, all citing the Slacker example?). How this scene has gotten to where it is has required some serious courage and work from a lot of people. Back when that generation of independent writers chose to live here and work in Hollywood, such arrangements were rare. When Scott showed the early AFS programming, the chances were just as good that the house would be empty as that there would be a big turnout.

These people were devoted to film, and to independence. Scott's theatres brought all these different film communities together. Without the Dobie, it would not have turned out the same. The Dobie was a home and Scott is a hero.

For this issue, Film section editor Marjorie Baumgarten asked some members of this extended community to comment on Scott's leaving. There was no way to ask everyone who should have been included; to be fair, at least another couple dozen were qualified to comment on Scott's many contributions. Most of the people we asked responded. If you want just some of the details for the statements I've made about Dinger above, read their comments.

One of the reasons this community is the way itis, and I mean all of Austin, not just film, is because of Scott Dinger. We honor him for his achievements and wish him all the best into the future.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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