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Here in filmtown, 'Slacker' is on DVD (finally) and 'Louisiana Boys' is on 'SXSW Presents.' Meanwhile, despite the lack of a Hussein connection, the Iraq war is a triumph for the 9 / 11 terrorists and their co-conspirators.

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Any significant cultural evolution almost always represents many unidentified, underappreciated, and/or barely noticed strands coming together to form a torrent. Still, there may be a defining moment to mark this coalescence, which in itself is not the sole point of origin but does mark a significant shift in momentum. In 1989, Richard Linklater, Lee Daniel, D. Montgomery, Anne Walker-McBay, and Clark Walker led the Austin Film Society gang in the filming of a feature. In 1990, Slacker was finished, began to play the festival circuit, and opened for a very successful three-month run at the Dobie Theatre here in Austin. In 1991, Orion Classics opened Slacker nationally. While it didn't set any significant box office records, it did inspire a generation of filmmakers to go out and make their films. The archetypal example is Kevin Smith, who went to New York City on his 21st birthday to see Slacker and returned to New Jersey determined to make his own movie.

Linklater, the leader of the AFS gang and the driving force behind Slacker, deserves all the credit he's been given, but it should be noted that the production was an extraordinary group effort. Media narrow-focused on it as a Richard Linklater film, though I more than understand how this happened, as I was complicit in it, being forced by length restrictions to concentrate almost solely on Linklater for a piece I did on the production of Dazed and Confused for Texas Monthly.

Which only served to make Linklater's decision to stay in Austin after Slacker's success, when he could have easily moved to Los Angeles, that much more momentous. And not just to stay in Austin, but to continue to lead AFS and even continually expand its mission to promote film appreciation and filmmaking. Certainly the groundwork for film production had been laid in this community by such creative talents as Eagle Pennell, Tobe Hooper, David Schmoeller, William Wittliff, Edwin "Bud" Shrake, Terrence Malick, Warren Skaaren, Robert Burns, Cary White, Phil Schriber, Lou Perryman, Kim Henkel, Doris Hargrave, Ted Nicolau, Richard and Laura Kooris, Rod Whitaker, Lin Sutherland, Sonny Carl Davis, Doug Holloway, Paul Schmidt, Daniel Pearl, and Wayne Bell, among so many others. There had also been an impressive number of important local productions, such as Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Whole Shootin' Match, Fast Money, Eggshells, The Spider Will Kill You, and "The Good Word," to name but a few. Still, Austin's current film scene clearly begins with Linklater's decision to stay.

Always at least as much talked about as seen, Slacker has a history both charmed and cursed. Orion Classics, which released Slacker, went Chapter 11 shortly after the video's release. So although there are videos still floating around, and it regularly shows on cable, there have been no subsequent releases of Slacker on video or DVD. Criterion Collection has just rectified this with a new DVD release, superbly packaged as a two-disc set that includes Linklater's first Super 8mm feature, It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, and features a very rich assortment of extras.

On Friday, Sept. 24, at 5pm, Linklater will be signing copies at Waterloo Records. Here's your chance not only to own one of the most important and influential American independent films, as well as a seminal Austin classic, but also to honor Linklater, to whom this community and American film all owe so much.

Paul Stekler's moving to Austin to teach filmmaking at UT, make films, and mentor a generation of documentary filmmakers is another crucial moment in Austin film history. Héctor Galán and his team have not only been Austin-based documentary filmmakers for more than two decades, but the films produced have been so important: culturally and politically pioneering in their celebration and study of previously neglected topics, many of them specifically focused on the Hispanic community's untold stories. As a filmmaker, teacher, curator (Stekler initiated the Texas Documentary Tour series and has long advised SXSW, as well as anyone else who asks him), producer, and mentor Stekler has not only produced his own incredible films (George Wallace: Settin' the Woods on Fire, Last Man Standing) but galvanized the documentary filmmaking community as well.

This Friday, Sept. 24, at 10pm, Louisiana Boys: Raised on Politics, one of Stekler's earlier documentaries, will be shown as part of KLRU's SXSW Presents series, hosted and produced by SXSW Film's Matt Dentler (I'm also one of the program's producers).

This will be the third of six programs featuring documentaries shown on Friday evenings, concluding Oct. 15.

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. In Louisiana Boys, Stekler, working with Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker, embraces the madness and delights in the contradictions as he bravely tries to make sense of the almost fantastical. Politically fascinating and culturally entertaining, this is not only an important documentary but terrific fun to watch.

The film geyser keeps gushing as Cinematexas, the much-celebrated short-film festival, begins offering its usual knockout lineup of programs. All while Burnt Orange Productions has started shooting its first film and the Austin-shot Dear Pillow has been held over yet again at the Alamo.

Ultimately, support of or opposition to the war in Iraq is based on how it is perceived: Whether you regard it as a legitimate response to 9/11 and an important front in the war on terror or as an unprovoked act of American nationalist arrogance, designed more to satisfy our damaged esteem, that will further destabilize the Middle East as well as inspire rather than discourage future generations of terrorists. At some point, I want to really detail these two positions, trying to accurately capture the former, even though I disagree with it.

The short version of the argument in favor argues that toppling the rule of a murderous, psychotic tyrant and liberating the Iraqi people is only the beginning of the invasion's impact: Establishing a moderate Middle Eastern democracy will help stabilize international politics, and, most importantly, the invasion makes clear to the world the military extremes to which the USA is willing to go in order to capture and kill terrorists, destroy their organizations, and punish nations harboring and encouraging them.

The core argument of those of us who see little connection between 9/11 and Iraq is that, rather than stopping terrorism, this invasion will be the poster child for recruiting fundamentalist Islamic terrorists around the world well into the future. This war – which has cost thousands of lives, caused tens of thousands of injuries, and cost tens of billions of dollars – furthers the cause of international terrorism rather than confronting, undermining, or diminishing it.

The overriding question remains, "What has happened since 9/11 that would do anything less than completely satisfy the 19 fanatics who commandeered those planes, destroying and damaging so many lives?" In light of that question, consider what would be different if, rather than the bits of marginal evidence that Vice-President Cheney has fantasized into an indictment, evidence of a concrete connection between Saddam Hussein's government and al Qaeda, documenting that the despot had funded and aided those terrorists, were discovered. As we know, politics makes for strange bedfellows, and the enemies of my enemies can well become my allies (even if also my enemies). Accepting that al Qaeda opposes all secular Muslim governments and that they especially hated Hussein's regime, as he was a Muslim oppressing and destroying other Muslims, even if Hussein had funded, armed, and trained the 9/11 terrorists, what would they not have liked about our invasion of Iraq and toppling of his government? They would have not only directly benefited from Hussein but then seen his government destroyed, just as they wanted and in a way that would mobilize the international Muslim community. Since terrorists are completely focused fanatics, any loss of support wouldn't even be a factor. Now, accepting that Hussein's government didn't support them, the invasion remains an unadulterated, triumphant success for the 9/11 culprits and their co-conspirators.

The recent wave of hurricanes hitting Florida, as well as the ongoing disappointments of the Iraq adventure, suggests a more cosmic consideration. Historically, in China rulers operated under the "mandate of heaven" (or the "Decree of Heaven"). This is an inherently political theory that presumes those in power are supposed to be in power (that they are approved by the heavens) because they are in power. They operate under this mandate unless there is overwhelming, obvious evidence that they have lost it: massive agricultural failures, famine, plague, weather disasters, physical catastrophes such as earthquakes, and/or the fortunes of war. Such activities, especially in profusion, are an indication that the heavens have turned on the current regime and are awaiting a new ruling power (obviously, this is all oversimplified, lacking nuance, detail, and historic distinctions).

The Proceedings of the Friesian School, Fourth Series Web site ( on Confucius notes his thinking: "The right to rule: This becomes the most important meaning of the 'Mandate of Heaven.' Knowing the moral order of the universe and actually observing it make one a worthy ruler. Otherwise one has no business, and no right, being in power. Such an idea is quite different from mediaeval European ideas about government, where the king (Pope, emperor, or whatever) often derived authority directly from God and was answerable only to God. There was therefore no right to rebellion in Western thought until the Protestant Reformation (which questioned the authority of Catholic rulers). ...

"The judgment of history: This combines the 'right to rule' with 'fate,' for the Chinese view was that losing the Mandate of Heaven as the right to rule would shortly be followed by the actual loss of power. ...

"Confucius himself had a simple moral and political teaching: to love others; to honor one's parents; to do what is right instead of what is of advantage; to practice 'reciprocity,' i.e. 'don't do to others what you would not want yourself'; to rule by moral example (dé) instead of by force and violence; and so forth. Confucius thought that a ruler who had to resort to force had already failed as a ruler – 'Your job is to govern, not to kill' (Analects XII:19)."

Okay, as one who fears that we will suffer the consequences of the Bush administration for generations yet to come and regards the Iraqi invasion as a military disaster, I feel the heavens have spoken and the fundamentalist Bush should respect the message. But even if you feel this is going too far, you have to accept that, at the very least, the heavenly powers have made their feelings about Florida Gov. Jeb Bush so clear as to be obvious even to the most hardened of atheists. end story

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'SXSW Presents'
'SXSW Presents'
Animated Shorts Program

Feb. 16, 2007

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Austin film, Richard Linklater, Slacker, Lee Daniel, D. Montgomery, Ann Walker, Clark Walker, Austin Film Society, AFS, Dobie Theatre, Orion Classics, Kevin Smith, Clerks, Dazed and Confused, Texas Monthly, Eagle Pennell, Tobe Hooper, David Schmoeller, William Wittliff, Edwin Shrake

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