Meet our new Web site; local film news; and tackling denial, from the city budget to the Republican right.
Austin Film News: Robert Rodriguez's (and Elizabeth Avellán's) Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over has earned more than $110 million, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico is at $50 million and still going strong. Tim McCanlies' Secondhand Lions is at $24 million and looks to end up in the $40 million to $50 million range. Upcoming releases include Richard Linklater's The School of Rock (deserving of the so far almost consistent rave reviews -- take the kids, take the teenagers, go yourselves), Kill Bill Vol. 1 (we claim Tarantino as one of our own), and Marcus Nispel's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, filmed here. Last Saturday, the Austin Film Society hosted The School of Rock screening at the Paramount, with Jack Black in attendance. A few hours later, the Alamo Drafthouse and Ain't It Cool News presented a screening of TCM at the now-closed Travis State School for the Criminally Insane (benefiting AFS and the Center for Young Cinema). Chainsaw's cinematographer is Daniel Pearl, who made his film debut shooting the original, while AICN's Harry Knowles gives new meaning to the term "Deadhead" in the film.
Currently, there are two films shooting in town (one headquartered at the Austin Studios at Mueller, the other using several hangars there), with one more in preproduction, as well as two other productions possibly lining up. Meanwhile, Linklater, with cinematographer Lee Daniel, just finished shooting the Before Sunrise sequel in Paris.
I'm not even going to start on all the documentaries currently being shot, edited, and/or finished (Sundance's deadline is Friday), because I'll leave too many out. I did see a rough-cut of the beginning of Paul Stekler's new, great Texas politics film. All this without even beginning to discuss the UT Radio-Television-Film Department's Film Initiative.
Helping perpetuate this extraordinary film scene is the support of both the city (partnered with AFS in Austin Studios, which, after only three years, has hosted 15 productions) and the state. Although this column has been sparse, to put it mildly, in its praise for the governor, he is a terrific friend of Texas film.
The Austin Film Festival, the country's pre-eminent, as well as first event celebrating screenwriters, is a week away, and Cinematexas is just over. South by Southwest Film is accepting entries and registrations. Regal Cinemas is set to reopen the old Great Hills theatre as an arthouse. AFS's Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund just gave $65,000 in film and video grants, money raised from you film-loving folks. In memory of D. Montgomery, one of the undersung pioneers of this scene, there will be a Celebration of Experimental Short Films at the Alamo Lake Creek on Oct. 8.
At least one City Council member e-mailed me after I chastised them last week to insist they weren't pathetic and to point out the several courageous stands they had taken. It isn't that simple. Council should have been leading the way in budget-cutting, not fighting a rear-guard action to preserve expenditures. The problem is that so many don't think the budget problems are real or pertain to them. Many are willing to gamble that next year will be better, and they only need to take a stalling action.
The oft-stated fiction is that government has more than enough money to do what it needs to do, and the problems are: 1) fat, 2) mismanagement, 3) too many managers, and 4) paying managers too much.
1) If this mythical fat that prevents government from running more efficiently on even less money could only be identified, there would be no need for any taxes; revenue would just gush out. The problem is that one person's fat is another person's bone. 2) This term, thrown around too often, is a lazy code for underfunding government. Sure, there is a certain amount of mismanagement, but as a sweeping solution to budgetary problems, it is more arbitrary illusion than practical solution. 3) The city is a complex, huge corporation. If you have problems with the way things are now, just start cutting managers to see how bad it can get. 4) Almost everyone thinks they are underpaid and overworked; conversely, that most others are overpaid and underworked. Regularly readers cite city officials' pay, suggesting it be cut. In reality, the savings from pay cuts is negligible, and the civic talent pool already depends more on devotion than compensation; why make it so much more difficult? Compared to those in similar private-sector jobs, city officials are already underpaid.
We simply don't want to pay for the quality of government we want. Just look at public education. Teachers are underpaid and overworked, and the Legislature last session made their situation worse by attacking job security. It is a miracle that there are any good math and science teachers left in public education. People complain about the quality of public education (which is so much better than it is ever given credit for), then bitch about property taxes, yet sit by while their elected representatives continue their war on public education.
Early on at the Chronicle, Nick Barbaro and I discovered that most people have little to no sense when it comes to money. When we had no money, we spent none. People would come and ask to spend "only 10 dollars" here or "only 15" there, and we would say "no," pissing them off. No money is no money, and expenses, no matter how small, add up. People would ask for "small token raises." We would say "no," knowing that a raise is cumulative, it deducts money from operating, and on and on. Someone would suggest dedicating an income line to some expense. Again, no: Essentially, all income goes into a pool that all expenses come out of; at best, creative semantics briefly disguise growing debt.
Council, city staff, and citizens seem to be in denial about the current financial situation, though the mayor and city manager have a much firmer grasp. Rather than new expenses being promoted or funding being restored, more cuts need to be suggested, priorities established, and sacrifices made. Instead, we're seeing turf protected and difficult decisions delayed. The sense is that some are so married to their own agendas that they have no perspective, while others are hoping budget problems will soon blow over. Wake up! We are all in this together. What is good for the city is good for us all.
Again, all those folks who chided the runaway Dems for not showing up for work: What do you say now that it's clear the Republicans weren't working either, only now facing painful intraparty conflicts over the new map?
The right really understands that by continually repeating a point to their partisan faithful, they can sell even most ludicrous nonsense as truth. They've scored with the myth of the liberal bias in mainstream media (oddly enough, overwhelmingly owned by Republicans), the labeling of any disagreement on tax cuts for the wealthy as class war, and Iraq's 9/11 involvement, despite a complete lack of evidence and the president's specific disavowal.
The latest mantra is that, though Clinton was certainly chided, the Bush-bashing by liberals has no precedent. A Statesman letter-writer offered, "The shameless debasing of our president and our country is being carried out by former Presidents Clinton and Carter and the Democratic presidential primary hopefuls. ... Bashing the president has become the sport of liberals in America. Many ugly jokes were told about Clinton and his dalliances. But I cannot recall that the level of the venom was ever as high as it is against President Bush."
What the ... ??!! Sputter, sputter -- "Many ugly jokes ..."!! Clinton was not only viciously assailed every day on right-wing radio and called a murderer, liar, immoral coward, and traitor, but he was impeached! Did this writer miss that?
But, of course, it isn't just one letter-writer. This same kind of statement is now made again and again. The right pours forth its simple messages, day in and day out, on dozens of talk-radio shows, on Web sites, and through media spokespeople. Sure, there is some Bush-bashing and more disagreement with his administration's policies, but where is this "venom" being cohesively displayed? Ironically, rarely have the Democrats been so disharmonious and near-incoherent, mishandling media and mangling spin. No wonder the Republicans are so nonchalant about media manipulation, diplomatic arrogance, and blatant war profiteering. Their followers will buy anything they sell -- anything!