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Close your eyes in Portland, and it sounds a lot like Austin.

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Early afternoon in Portland, Oregon, and it's nearly perfect. Outside is delightful, the weather not only in the 70s but also boasting an autumn crispness. I go wandering, down to the river, and then along it. Some years ago, the city tore up a freeway that ran alongside the river and replaced it with a park. What a lovely concept. The SXSW staff is up here working on the fifth annual North by Northwest Music Conference and Festival co-sponsored by our friends at Willamette Week, Portland's alternative weekly. It's going well. There is a real excitement in the air both at the host hotel and the clubs. Our staff seems to be having a good time, working hard but enjoying the process. The news from Austin is good, my family doing well. So I go for this walk, just drifting through the city and the afternoon.

I'm thinking about the previous evening, driving around with Trace, our Portland driver and a local legend of many sorts. Portland is one of the most carefully planned and successfully executed of American cities. It faces many of the same growth issues we do. Growth, even though where it is allowed is strictly regulated, is having an enormous impact -- there is development both within and outside of the city, the cost of living is going up, and traffic is getting worse. Driving, Trace bemoaned the way his city was changing. Listening, I closed my eyes, thinking I could be back home, as he went on about growth and change: "Traffic is worse, everything is being developed, the empty lot by Satyricon is now a building. I love this city and it's still great, but I don't know, it's changing from what brought me here. But still ... what a city!"

We cruised the streets, checking out clubs, enjoying the cool of the night. Portland seems fine, but I've only known it for last half decade, and, if nothing else, what's going on in Austin has braced me for growth. I wonder what it's like cruising the streets of Austin now, in the sometimes cool of the evening, checking out the clubs, if you haven't lived here the last 20 or so years.

The other night, we were out having dinner at Fresh Planet with friends. Dick Blackburn (co-writer of Eating Raoul and instigator of many cool projects) talked about how everyone from out of town at the Austin Record Convention was shocked about the traffic. How it had dramatically changed, but, of course, Austin was still great. I thought of Portland.

end story

Wednesday night, Oct. 6, the Austin Heart of Film Conference and Film Festival kicked off with a tribute to Willie Nelson, the true Texas-Zen master, with a double bill of Songwriter and Barbarosa at the Paramount with Nelson, Bud Shrake, and William Wittliff in attendance. It would be hard to find a more appropriate double bill to kick off this nationally recognized event. Barbarosa (1982) was written by Wittliff, directed by Fred Schepisi, and co-stars Gary Busey. Songwriter (1984) was written by Shrake and directed by Alan Rudolph (it was begun by another director, I think -- Richard Pearce, who also directed Wittliff's script Country) and co-stars Kris Kristofferson, Melinda Dillon, Rip Torn, Lesley Ann Warren, and Mickey Raphael. Both of these are fine films with strong cinematography (Schepisi's film is especially atmospheric) and excellent acting.

Unhappy with the studio ending for Barbarosa, Wittliff put together his own version of his desert fable. Nelson plays a legendary outlaw, with a carefree attitude, a terrific sense of zest, and a moral center.

Shrake hung out with Willie at his secret hideaway, a room at the motel just south of the river by I-35, where they conceived Songwriter, a cinematic country & western song that is still among the best movies about what the music business is really like. Nelson and Kristofferson play two modern troubadours who can't avoid trouble, fun, or music. The richness of each of these films comes from the denseness and maturity of their screenplays.

Wittliff and Shrake are also two legends who have left a remarkable amount of great work in their wake. Each is multitalented: Shrake is a sportswriter, novelist, biographer, scriptwriter, golfer, and raconteur; Wittliff is a photographer, curator, publisher, producer, director, and scriptwriter. Both have always done things on their own terms. They are the true godfathers of the Austin film scene in particular and the cultural scene in general. Their scripts are quality works that have driven some very good movies.

Over the next week or so the Heart of Film Festival will offers panels, workshops, and films featuring some of the finest television and screen writers in the industry and attracting talent and registrants from all over the country. See the film schedule in this issue. Honoring Wittliff and Shrake acknowledges both their and the event's importance. end story

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