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Peckinpah rides again at the Alamo Drafthouse.

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A man ... a cowboy stands framed by a doorway. He stands still, one hand rubbing the opposite elbow. The man is tall and big, standing there, framed by the doorway. He turns and walks away. On the other side of the doorway, the camera pulls back. He gets smaller; the doorway larger. The last shot of John Ford's 1956 American Western masterpiece, The Searchers, finds John Wayne cut off from the civilized world. Ironically, it is he -- the classic Western hero, by definition almost psychopathic -- who has helped make that civilization possible. Taming the wilderness is the work of wild people. Civilization, even at its crudest, defined by a lone cabin set among the corrals and barns of a Western ranch, is not his home.

Out of this shot came the cinema of Sam Peckinpah. Ford, along with such directors as Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher, began in the Fifties to think about the West's transition from wilderness to civilization. If those who helped tame the West were, for the most part, by nature dangerous outsiders, how did they fit into the communities they helped create? Peckinpah was obsessed with the contradictions between natural morality (a moral vision as solid as the streams, the mountains, the trees) and what happened when it was strained through civilization. By necessity, moral notions were reconfigured and moral realities shifted as we all figured out how to live with each other.

The Wild Bunch, Peckinpah's definitive masterpiece (and though I've used the word twice here, I've not used it lightly) can be seen as an exposition of that last shot from The Searchers. Who is the man, and what is the doorway? The Austin Film Society will celebrate the work of Sam Peckinpah with an eight-film series and a brilliant new monograph (an excerpt appears in the Screens section of this issue). Beginning this evening (Thursday, Oct. 21) at the Alamo with Ride the High Country, the Film Society, assisted by guest programmer Charlie Sotelo (The Show With No Name), will screen The Wild Bunch (Oct. 28), The Ballad of Cable Hogue (Nov. 4), Straw Dogs (Nov. 11), The Getaway (Nov. 18), Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Dec. 2), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Dec. 9), and Cross of Iron (Dec. 16). I was privileged to write the introduction for the monograph, which is a pretty amazing collection of some of the very best writers on Peckinpah. Over the course of the series, I will revisit the films of Sam Peckinpah again; I really can't imagine a film as whacked as Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia showing in Austin without my commenting on it. Tonight's film, Ride the High Country, is Peckinpah's thoroughbred racer, an ambitious Western that acknowledges the past while riding in to the future.



As an executive director of South by Southwest with hands-on responsibility for the film area, what follows is personal and professional as well as of community interest (in other words, there's some conflict of interest here):

Nancy Schafer, executive producer of the SXSW Film Conference and Festival since its inception six years ago, has resigned. Ready for new challenges, she told us during the summer she would retire after SXSW Film '00. Along the way, I think, she realized her heart wasn't in it. Since she had always given 100% and more of herself to the event, lacking energy was an unacceptable way to operate. She decided to move on.

When we first began to transform SXSW Film into a reality, we had someone else in mind to head it up. That person waltzed with us for a few weeks, accepted on a Friday, and then turned it down the following Monday. But she threw us Nancy. We talked for a while, though after a couple of minutes, my SXSW Film co-director, Nick Barbaro, and I just knew she would work. It was December. We had this idea for an event we hoped to do that March. Everything came together, and it worked. Over the years, as both conference and festival coordinator, Schafer nursed the event to national recognition and a certain prominence within the industry. But how many films can you look at (and Schafer has looked at thousands), and how many panels can you plan?

Over those years, Nancy was actively involved in many ways with the overall Austin film community. She worked on the Texas Documentary Tour and numerous Film Society events and benefits as well as taking time to work as an independent producer (Shameless, Olympia). The summer before this one she took off to work on John Sayles and Maggie Renzi's Limbo. When she got back, I think she realized that SXSW Film was no longer enough. She leaves us and leaves Austin, heading for New York City. It's been an incredible run, and a hell of a lot of fun. She goes with our best wishes and warmest thoughts.

Happily, Nancy recruited a terrific team, and we'll just be handing over much of the management of the event to them (Chronicle publisher Barbaro, SXSW managing director Roland Swenson, and I will be very involved in how things unfold). Film Festival coordinator Angela Lee will head up the team. She coordinates the competition and runs the festival. Over the years, Angela has fine-tuned her style -- with walkie talkie in one hand and cigarette in the other, she has whipped the complex festival into shape. Suzanne Mauze handles marketing, running the trade show and program bookings. She is invaluable as well because of her extensive contacts in the independent business and at film festivals. A legend in his trade, technical director Adam Joseph makes sure the trains run on time and the projectors all work, as well as coordinating print traffic. Fresh from his success as programmer of the Peckinpah series, Charlie Sotelo will coordinate programming for the festival, joined by Bryan Poyser, who just finished as director of the Cinematexas Film Festival. Building on Schafer's extraordinary legacy, these five will take SXSW Film forward. end story

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