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SXSW Presents – a new series on KLRU that features beginning, independent documentaries – is the latest development in the vibrant Austin film scene

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Currently, the Austin film scene is so impressive because it is so diverse and productive in its activity and range of interests. Austin does not produce simply one kind of film, one kind of filmmaking, or one kind of activity. There are narrative and documentary, animated and experimental, industrial and commercial filmmakers – and there are writers, directors, set designers, actors, cinematographers, animators, editors, producers, sound people, set decorators, and all other kinds of film crew. Austin is home to all kinds of support services, from caterers to Teamsters, prop suppliers to special-effects creators, equipment rental businesses to animal wranglers. Some are professionals, while others are hoping to be professional. There are those content to be just inspiring amateurs who have fun making films, as well as consciously anti-commercial mavericks determined to remain outside any system. There are festivals, organizations, and classes, groups for making movies, and groups for watching them.

Although Austin is home to film series all year round, right now we are really in the thick of the fall film-festival season. The Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival has just wrapped up, this year marking the swan song of Scott Dinger, not only its founder, but a longtime owner/booker of the Dobie Theatre – one of the whole film scene's undersung champions. Meanwhile, the Austin Film Festival and Cinematexas are on the horizon.

There really are so many factors and people that have contributed to getting Austin to where it is, there is no way to note and offer appreciation to all. Even starting guarantees you're going to leave out more than you include, so with only a nod to Dinger on his passing the baton, we move on without naming others.

There is always a lot of talk about how Austin is now outstanding, but we have to gear up to "take it to the next level." Most of the people saying that weren't involved in getting it to where we are; the ones involved were too busy working then and are too busy working now for such a massive cultural/societal heave-ho as "taking it to the next level." In my view, the local film scene seems to move incrementally and intelligently, driven by talent and by passion more than some extraordinary, prophetic vision of a fully realized filmmaking future. The growth and evolution of the scene is and has been driven by individuals and the community: by one person's burning need to make a film and by another person's ideas, by a group responding to their sense of support or access that's needed, or a business expanding to embrace and offer new technologies.

Toward this end, I'm very pleased to announce that, beginning with a presentation of the acclaimed work Okie Noodling on Friday, Sept. 10, at 10pm, SXSW Presents, a new documentary series, premieres on KLRU-TV. This hourlong show will present terrific documentaries, with this first season offering six programs over six weeks on Friday evenings, through Oct. 15.

There has long been a push to create new programming for KLRU-TV, with a major area of attention given to beginning independent documentaries and narratives that may have done well on the film festival circuit, in limited theatrical runs, or on television but are now nowhere to be seen. It's been frustrating for all involved, as fundraising, more pressing concerns, and logistics continually stymied progress in being able to offer these works. Finally, in the best Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland, "Come on, kids, let's put on a show" tradition (in which we also created The Austin Chronicle and South by Southwest), I enlisted those companies to just do it. So we've produced at least the first six shows ourselves to get them on the air (all shows are at 10pm):

Friday, Sept. 10 – Okie Noodling. Bradley Beesley's renowned documentary on an Oklahoma "noodling" tournament. "Noodling" is the sport of catching catfish by using only your bare hands. Genuinely affectionate rather than mocking, this film is truly funny in its presentation of a rural slice of life.

Friday, Sept. 17 – Los Trabajadores (The Workers). One of today's hot-button topics is immigrant labor, with a lot of people mouthing slogans based on little and made-up facts based on less. In Los Trabajadores (The Workers), documentary director Heather Courtney tries to cut through the rhetoric and propaganda to really examine the situation.

Friday, Sept. 24 – Louisiana Boys Raised on Politics. Louisiana is truly another country, maybe even somewhat not of this earth. There, politics are so Byzantine, they make the world on the other side of the looking glass seem logical. Louisiana Boys embraces the madness and delights in the contradictions as it bravely tries to make sense of the almost fantastical. Produced and directed by Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker, and Paul Stekler.

Friday, Oct. 1 – Dream Tower. Canadian documentary filmmaker Ron Mann is beloved in Austin, where Comic Book Confidential, Grass, and Go Further (about Woody Harrelson and his band of merry travelers) have been hits. Combining a deep love of culture with an aggressively humanist and decent politics, Mann documentaries are deceptive in their storytelling. This film depicts the delirious construction and deconstruction of Rochdale College, a high-rise collective that harbored some of the freest spirits in Canada.

Friday, Oct. 8 – Mobilus Media Sampler. Mobilus Media is the award-winning team of documentary filmmakers Ellen Spiro and Karen Bernstein, who will offer a sampling of their work, including Roam Sweet Home, PopACTION, and 9/11 shorts. Covering either Bernstein's or Spiro's careers, individually and then collaboratively, requires more space than just a few sentences, given their level of cinematic skill and range of interests. Check this out as a sampler of a really gifted team.

Friday, Oct. 15 – "Growin' a Beard" and "The 72oz Steak." Two short documentaries by Mike Woolf that really capture deep-dyed, true Texas culture: the annual Beard Growing Contest in Shamrock and the "You Eat the Whole 72oz Steak, It's Free" special at the Big Texan Steak Ranch on Route 66. If you miss the Stallion, dream of giant dancing horned toads, and think that cowboy boots are the only footwear, this will be like visiting home.

The idea behind this show is to highlight independent filmmakers, to support documentary film, and to aid KLRU-TV as it expands its original programming. SXSW Presents is hosted by SXSW Film Conference and Festival Producer Matt Dentler (also the show's co-producer and writer) and is executive produced by Roland Swenson, Nick Barbaro, and myself. Trust me, all the filmmakers retain the rights to their work. All we got to "produce" were the checks to cover the expenses involved in getting this on the air. Check it out; if there is enough response and interest, there will be a serious push to see this as an ongoing, full-time series, offering a range of independent film, not just documentaries or movies from Texas.

If you look at the Chronicle online, be sure to check out the "Postmarks" forum section (, where we invite you to instantly add comments and view others' responses. This is still in the early stages, but we're hoping to offer even easier access and a greater variety of voices here. There's no reason your voice shouldn't be one of them. A lot of people bitch and complain about what we write or what the letter-writers say but find it too time-consuming to frame a response. Here's the quick and easy way. end story

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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SXSW Presents, KLRU, Austin film, Austin filmmaking, Austin filmmakers, Okie Noodling, Bradley Beesley, Los Trabajadores, Heather Courtney, Louisiana Boys Raised on Politics, Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker, Paul Stekler, Dream Tower, Ron Mann, Comic Book Confidential, Grass, Go Further, Woody Harrelson, Mobilus Media

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