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To what citywide scandal has our monopoly daily directed its powerful attention? It's a local scourge, a plague, a deep-rooted city problem: the South by Southwest Conference and Festivals. (Okay, well, we don't get it either.)

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Austin is a mess right now any way you cut it. We're growing too fast, and we're not growing at all. Traffic is a problem, sprawl is a problem, the faltering economy is a problem, the booming economy was a problem. The Legislature is in town, which is rarely good for Austin. But to what citywide scandal has our monopoly daily newspaper directed its powerful attention? No, not just killing the estate tax (and coincidentally saving the Atlanta-based owners of the paper, the Cox family, hundreds of millions of dollars over time). No, something even more important and more threatening to the health of our community -- a local scourge, a plague, a deep-rooted city problem: the South by Southwest Conference and Festivals. (Okay, well, we don't get it either.)

On Monday, May 7, I heard from several sources that Statesman Editor Rich Oppel filed a freedom of information request for copies of any communication (e-mail, correspondence, notes of discussion) between SXSW and the City Council, council aides, and city agencies over the past two years. This request, as translated by the city, asks 45 people to prepare all their communications with SXSW over this time. In some cases, this could mean a lot of material. In a declining economy, when the city is facing serious issues, the Statesman is asking council and staff to spend hundreds of hours preparing this information.

I am a founding director of SXSW. When I heard about this, I was dumbfounded. What had we done wrong? And what had we done wrong on such a massive scale that it required this kind of effort? I had no idea. I asked Chronicle publisher -- and SXSW founding director -- Nick Barbaro if he had any idea. No. I asked SXSW Managing Director Roland Swenson. No. I asked SXSW's Mike Shea, Jeff McCord, Hugh Forrest, Brent Grulke, Angela Lee. Was there anything we had done wrong, any special favor, any underhanded city request? No, no, no. A few theories were advanced, but then everybody would shake their head and say, "Nah, it can't be that." So what is it? What have we done?

Out of hand, we reject the proposition that the Statesman is suspicious that the city isn't giving enough support to SXSW. The kindest theory is that they think or have been told there is something rotten in the state of SXSW. There is the possibility that this is just a fishing expedition, but rarely are even we so unkind as to suggest that desperate a maneuver (which is not to rule it out).

I called up Oppel to ask him what he was looking for, but he wouldn't tell me. I'm a paranoid. I'm not claiming innocence here -- that is boring and unreliable. I just have no idea what they suspect us of; no one on our staff does.

We deal with the city all the time. We obtain permits, rent city property, comply with any regulations affecting our event. We rarely ask the council for favors the way many people do. I asked the mayor's office about the progress of construction in Waterloo Park two years ago because we scheduled shows there for three days. This year, our staff asked several council members about I-35 closings. But it must be serious for the Statesman to ask council and staff to invest so much time during these already hectic and dangerous times.

We absolutely defend the Statesman's right to file any FOI request they want; they certainly have every right to file this one. In fact, we'd love to help. We've already offered Oppel documentation that he might want. He declined. Better to waste the city's time?

Are we scared? Sure. The, privately owned Cox company, worth a couple of billion dollars or more, is looking into our affairs. And we're at a loss as to why. If anyone out there has an idea what we've done (and we're assuming here that it is) wrong, give us a call. We'd love to know.

The exclusion of women from certain areas of filmmaking was as deliberate as the segregation of our own fair town. At one point, there were women producers, writers, and directors. A few years later there were only women writers. In the Thirties, Dorothy Arzner was the only important female director working in Hollywood. In the Fifties, there was only Ida Lupino, and she was self-producing her films. There were a number of women working in experimental film, but women didn't re-emerge as directors in narrative film until the late Sixties/early Seventies.

Interestingly, women at first made their presence in two cinematic areas: the exploitation film (Barbara Peeters, Stephanie Rothman) and the New York independent/art film (Barbara Loden, Joan Micklin Silver, Shirley Clarke). The Austin Film Society will present "Dance, Girl, Dance: Women Directors of the Seventies and Eighties" (the title is from Arzner's greatest film). I love this period of film and helped put the list together, consulting with Chronicle Film Editor Marge Baumgarten. The final list was created by the Film Society's brilliant programmer, Salvatore Botti. The schedule follows:

May 15 Wanda (1970), Barbara Loden

May 22 Terminal Island (1973), Stephanie Rothman

May 29 Legacy (1975), Karen Arthur

Jun 5 Mikey and Nicky (1976), Elaine May

Jun 12 Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979), Joan Micklin Silver

Jun 19 Humanoids From the Deep (1980) Barbara Peeters

Jun 26 Born in Flames (1983), Lizzie Borden

July 3 Near Dark (1987), Kathryn Bigelow The fascinating question at the root of this series is: Does their gender make a difference? Is there a connection between seemingly disparate films -- some exploitation, some art, some mainstream Hollywood -- just because they were all directed by women? If there isn't, that is interesting and worth thinking about.

But are there connected thematic and narrative threads in this body of work? I would argue yes. Look at Rothman's idiosyncratically toned Terminal Island and Micklin Silver's two romantic comedies Between the Lines and Chilly Scenes of Winter and Borden's marriage of art film and exploitation in Born in Flames and Bigelow doing the same thing with a different emphasis in Near Dark (the former is political, the latter stylish). These are films that participate in generic conventions but are so much more out of our lives than some Hollywood/artistic other. There is a sense of a different mimetic.

This series charts the roots of women directors today. Of these films, only one -- Mikey and Nicky by Elaine May -- was produced by a major studio. Two are exploitation movies. The rest are truly independent. This is a great series of too rarely seen films, but if it makes an argument for a common sensibility or style, it is a revelation. The series begins this Tuesday, May 15, 7pm, with Barbara Loden's legendary and rarely seen Wanda. The series is free and continues every Tuesday at 7pm at the Alamo Drafthouse, 409 Colorado. See the Special Screenings section in the Film Listings for updates. end story

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rich oppel, the statesman, dance, girl, dance: women directors of the 70s and 80s

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