More major productions without specific Austin roots are coming here because of Austin's reputation and because there is such a rich variety of different locations within a short distance. Besides the talent mentioned, Austin boasts some of the country's best film crews, with the city able to host three major productions without running out of A-level talent (a major attraction); also of note is that the local union branches -- the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and, even more remarkably, the Teamsters -- are famously professional and cooperative.
The importance of Austin Studios can't be underestimated. These former airplane hangars have hosted more than a dozen film productions in less than three years, become home to a variety of film-related service companies, and offered relatively stable employment to film-crew professionals. Equally important, the unique, pioneering, collaborative effort between the city and the Austin Film Society (aided by many professionals who donated time, energy, and resources) to make this project happen has been taken by the whole industry as a sign of this community's outstanding commitment to film.
(The first draft of this column included the names of many of the people, events, and institutions referenced above, but the list was too ridiculously long while still woefully incomplete.)
This issue's cover story concerns films that have earned recognition, usually on the film-festival circuit, but failed to find distribution. It is surprising how many films that once excited considerable buzz end up essentially disappearing, some never achieving even the most rudimentary distribution/exhibition. SXSW Film, under the impetus and inspiration of new head Matt Dentler, has teamed with the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown to present a series of these films. Melvin Goes to Dinner, Mr. Show's Bob Odenkirk's acclaimed directorial debut, kicks things off July 11-17. Next up is Eric Eason's Manito, July 25-31.
One of the great side benefits of having so many filmmakers around is the opportunity to see wonderful premieres. On July 13, Austin will host the world premiere of Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, the third and final installment of the Spy Kids series. Producer Elizabeth Avellán, director (and orchestrator of much of everything else creative) Robert Rodriguez, and many cast members will be at the Paramount premiere, which includes a street carnival in front of the theatre. Miramax has donated a very limited number of seats for the benefit of the Children's Advocacy Center and Austin Film Society. If you are interested in attending, contact the Film Society at 322-0145.
Political speech offers a deeply perverse, demented poetry. Meaning is made by the way words are put together and emphasized rather than by being explicitly spelled out. The idea is to say as little as possible while seeming to say so much more. Whatever criticisms you may have of President Bush, he is a master of this art, building superstructures on top of resonance rather than solid information. Today I heard him accusing critics, who point to the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, of "rewriting history" while offering that he is absolutely certain the war was justified -- just purely, personally positive. Bush skillfully rewrites history by accusing others of doing the same -- pure poetry.
Now, the stated justification for invading Iraq came out of the George Orwell playbook, almost without change. A series of reasons were offered or implied. In no particular order, they include:
Iraq represented an imminent threat to the United States, and Iraq represented an imminent threat to U.S. interests (by no means are they the same; one indicates a threat within our borders, the other an international one). Iraq was behind 9/11. Iraq was developing chemical and nuclear weapons. Iraq supported international terrorism. Iraq supported al Qaeda. Many al Qaeda terrorists were offered refuge in Iraq. These WMDs might well be used by terrorists either in the Middle East or even within the United States. Saddam Hussein was a monster and had to go. The United States had a moral responsibility to the Iraqi people to force regime change and institute a truly democratic government.
None of those are mutually exclusive, and many complement each other, but by placement, emphasis, and wording, they were separated out, offered over a period of time. They thus "rhymed" with each other, reinforcing without offering specific connections -- over time, the string suggested an unavoidable, malevolent resonance. Directly responsible for 9/11, Iraq's aggressive support of terrorism led to the unavoidable conclusion that Hussein was going to strike again and soon, against us at home and/or abroad, this time with weapons of unimaginable devastation.
Studied one by one, many of these issues can be dismissed, and most of the rest seem much less threatening. Was Iraq an imminent threat to the Middle East? If this was the case, why did its neighbors oppose the invasion? The Republican Guard, supposedly a terrifying military threat, proved as weak as war critics argued it would be after more than a decade of sanctions. There was no imminent threat.
The Bush administration began with the decision to invade, and offered a hodgepodge of rhyming, resonant reasons -- not an irrefutable argument -- to justify its fait accompli. Only the most limited set of circumstances -- Hussein, his family, and administration going into voluntary exile -- could have prevented our invasion. If weapons were acknowledged, we would have charged Hussein with a decade of lying; if discovered, lying again; and if not discovered (as happened), proof positive of their existence.
International issues offer the muddiest of waters. Despite the continuing instability in Iraq, almost no one would argue that having Hussein out of power is a bad thing. Bush's rationale and timetable for the invasion are a lot more problematic. Why did we move so quickly from concern, through (bogus) negotiation, to violent confrontation? Dismissing the inane argument that a decade's prelude of sanctions means it didn't, in fact, happen quickly, there is only one solid argument -- Iraq in some way, through its own actions or support of terrorists, represented an imminent threat. We didn't invade simply because Iraq had WMDs, but because we knew they were going to use them. The repetition, inference, and suggestive poetry of Bush's statements offered this as a rock-solid fact.
There are some unavoidable conclusions; all damn the Bush administration.
It doesn't matter if they find WMDs or not, and they will probably find something. Hussein didn't use them. He knew we were coming, and he didn't resort to these weapons. The argument can easily be made that we didn't know this, but the invasion was based on negatives. No weapons could be found, proving that they must exist. Their existence was proof Hussein was going to use them, and soon! Not only were these speculations, but there were significant arguments against them from our own intelligence and from international diplomatic communities.
The search for the weapons will probably result in their being found. This was never about their existence. It was about imminent threat. Except, it seems there really wasn't one.
The hysterically accelerated invasion timetable had more to do with the administration's attention span than with international realities. The lack of an Iraqi endgame, of substantial intelligence gathering, of developing Iraqi allies, and of a strategic economic, political, and social postwar plan all were consequences of this rush. Not only were the reasons for the invasion dubious, but the determination resulted in any subtlety, complexity, or contradiction being ignored, crippling necessary long-range planning.
Most important and almost completely ignored is that France, Germany, and Russia have been proven right. Based on their intelligence and diplomatic assessments, these countries cautioned their trusted ally, America, that it was being too rash, moving without sufficient information. It was not economic self-interest or cowardice that decided their positions, but a sophisticated caution and mature skepticism, both now completely vindicated. The cowardice charge particularly rankles, as France was on the ground in Serbia while we just dropped bombs, and has been engaged in Africa, a much less glamorous battlefield, while we're puttering about.
Instead of apologizing, this insular and self-assuredly arrogant administration is thinking of magnanimously forgiving them, though it is still determined to extract revenge. Revenge for what -- being loyal allies offering thoughtful advice?