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Before the Fall: 'SXSW Presents' kicks off a new season; plus, a few words on the Bush administration's suicidal tendencies

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In independent-film circles, one of the great concerns is what happens to the vast majority of films after they play the film-festival circuit. Relatively speaking, only a miniscule percentage are picked up for theatrical distribution, with a larger (though still relatively small) number having some kind of afterlife on cable, DVDs, or whatever.

Last year, working closely with KLRU, South by Southwest and the Chronicle produced six 60-minute episodes of the television series SXSW Presents, which features just such types of films: documentaries and short films that had been very well-received but had more or less become very difficult to see.

Meanwhile, KLRU has really focused on creating original programming and, basically in the first year of a very ambitious campaign, has done a knockout job. Under the leadership of Mary Beth Rogers, the groundwork for what is going on now was laid. It has been the truly amazing Bill Stotesbery, the new (well, relatively – he's held the position for 18 months or so) head of KLRU, who has brought it all home. Accomplishing what I wouldn't believe could be accomplished and with a pleasantness I couldn't even aspire to, Stotesbery is accomplishing what so many have talked about for so long.

Now, of course, this is self-promotion, as I am a partner in both SXSW and the Chronicle, as well as being a former board member of KLRU. Please believe me, however; this is not a moneymaker, but it makes sense in terms of the overall purpose of all three of these entities.

In addition, Matt Dentler, who hosts the shows, also really does all the work – so any credit accrued to me is illegitimate. Dentler, who runs SXSW Film, works for me in the abstract. In more concrete terms, I work for him; in just a few years, he has managed to reenergize SXSW Film, bringing it to a new prominence and importance, which means that in terms of serving the purposes of the filmmakers, it is working.

As the result of a generous anonymous donation, there is a new season of 12 90-minute installments of SXSW Presents. Two episodes of the show have already aired; the third will be broadcast this Friday, Sept. 30, at 10pm. Episodes will continue to run every Friday through Dec. 2 on KLRU-TV. Again, SXSW Film programmer (and occasional Chronicle contributor) Matt Dentler is host.

The remaining shows:

Sept. 30: Shorts Program (favorites from past festivals)

Oct. 7: David Zellner's Frontier

Oct. 14: Sarah Price's Caesar's Park

Oct. 21: High School Shorts Program

Oct. 28: Andrew Garrison's The Wilgus Stories

Nov. 4: Dan Brown's American Detective

Nov. 11: Emily Morse's See How They Run

Nov. 18: East Austin Stories Program

Nov. 25: Susan Kirr and Rusty Martin's "Bike Like U Mean It"

Dec. 2: Jenn Garrison's PrizeWhores

These 90-minute programs will showcase local, national, and international productions, both shorts and features. Unlike the first season, which featured only films, this time there will be interviews and more with some of the artists responsible for making the films being shown.

Sadly, paying taxes has come to be regarded by almost all citizens as an outrageous taking of our money by the government. In the most common right-wing take, the government takes the money from hard-working Americans to foolishly give away to others (read minorities, lazy people, and illegal immigrants). In the most common left-wing take, the government takes the money so it can waste it on the military and defense, squandering a fortune on useless and already outdated multi-billion-dollar projects.

Certainly I lean toward the latter – no one has yet explained how the Star Wars defense system makes much sense or science – though I lack a certain fanaticism. My understanding of the way a constitutional republic operates is that I don't get my way; rather, the government moves in some strange ballet of consensus, majority opinion, and minority concerns. I will always express my concerns, but I also always expect the government will be doing a lot I don't approve of.

Governments cost. Not only has the Bush administration run up record deficits, but, rather than even acknowledging them, they are simply assuming future generations will have to figure out how to pay them off. At least two Republican governors, elected on "no new tax" platforms, have tried to raise their states' taxes. Not because the devil appeared to them in the middle of the night to suck their souls, as Grover Norquist and The Wall Street Journal's editorial page would have it; rather, they realized there was not enough money coming into their states' governments to do what they had to do. Figure out how difficult a decision it must have been for them to come out in support of taxes. Then figure just how screwed their state budgets must be to lead them to that desperate conclusion.

In Texas, we are blessed with Rick Perry, who is terrific at politics but cares not a whit about either governing or government responsibility. You can be sure he won't be trying to raise taxes, because you can be even surer that he just doesn't care.

The issue is not that government should be shrunk and cost so much less, as the Republicans and Libertarians frame it. This is an unworkable fantasy.

Most of what the government spends money on are things demanded by the public. It's just that once they get those things, they take them for granted. The question is: How is the government going to pay for its expenses, and who is going to be providing that money?

The Bush administration has made it clear that as much of the current, dramatic budgetary shortfall as possible will be paid for by future generations. The rest will be charged to working Americans, taxes becoming much more keyed to income than to wealth.

There is no question that the lower and middle working classes are ridiculously overtaxed. The irony is that many of them supported these very policies. The black-comedic element is that Bush is planning on shifting still more of the tax burden from the very wealthiest to the vast majority of working Americans. This unfair burden makes them anti-tax rather than anti-who-is-currently-taxed.

I am not a bleeding heart. I am not even a hardcore liberal. I have no problem with work-for-welfare and think animal-rights extremists are indicative of the rotting, ideologically cancerous growths of a too-rich and too-comfortable society. I am not against wealth, and I am in favor of capitalism. I disagree with Michael Ventura's recent assessment of world economics ("Letters @ 3am," Sept. 16). I am in favor of neither a class war nor a society that vindictively limits wealth.

Helping the most fantastically rich members of our community, however, at the expense of the vast majority makes no sense to me whatsoever. Overtaxing working people while undertaxing inherited wealth makes no sense.

Most of all, gutting the social safety net, underpaying and undervaluing public servants, and taking a laissez-faire approach to the welfare of the entire society seems suicidal. This speculation was not brought on by recent hurricanes. Instead, it was an NPR report on KUT-FM about the current police chief of Nuevo Laredo (the previous chief lasted about eight hours before being assassinated). Among other problems facing the chief, including an ongoing vicious and bloody war among drug gangs, is that about half his force was recently fired because they were on the take from the very same drug gangs. Police officers are currently paid less than $600 a month, but can make many times that through corruption.

There is uncontrolled violence in Nuevo Laredo; throughout Mexico, not even the richest families are safe from kidnappings; throughout Central America, not even the richest of families are safe from violence, both premeditated and capricious.

Raising the salaries of the police to a level where they are good enough that most won't be tempted to take graft is nearly impossible. It's not that these cops are bad men. On one hand, they are grievously underpaid; on the other, the drug gangs make it clear that they can either accept a lot of money or they can be killed.

Regardless of the high-flying ideological rhetoric and completely fictional fantasizing about an Ayn Rand-envisioned society of rugged individualists, the end results of the current administration's policies are made all too apparent by some of our neighboring countries to the south. Mexico and the Central American countries run by oligarchies are an almost scientific experiment that makes what will be all too clear. If you have a very large, disenfranchised lower class that feels its opportunities are limited and does not participate in the ongoing advantages and discourses of its society, and a small, very wealthy upper class, there is one very logical consequence. Some segment of the lower class will decide that it lives outside the society anyway. The extent to which this ends up corrupting the whole society, moving it from law-abiding to lawless, depends on little more than how large this group is. This is not about having more cops and more prisons to control the "bad people." This is not about tougher laws and sterner sentences. That is like scraping off measles to cure the disease.

Integrating this group into a society in which it has never been integrated, or reintegrating after it has been purposefully disenfranchised, is astronomically more difficult, and unimaginably and prohibitively expensive.

Do you wonder why no one in Mexico is safe from kidnapping, about the relative lawlessness in certain cities, and the out-of-all-proportion power of drug cartels in certain countries? Have you thought about what it would be like to live in a country where you are not safe and where driving to the beach requires armed guards and bulletproof glass?

The end result of an economically fair and socially conscious and committed society is not communism. It isn't a generation of welfare frauds. It is a relatively saner and safer world for our children and their grandchildren and even, ironically, those of the very, very rich who seem so perturbed they've been asked to contribute to anyone's well-being, even that of their own families. end story

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SXSW Presents, SXSW, South by Southwest, KLRU, Austin Chronicle, Matt Dentler, Mary Beth Rogers, Bill Stotesbery, SXSW Film, David Zellner, Frontier, Sarah Price, Caesar's Park, Andrew Garrison, The Wilgus Stories, Dan Brown, American Detective, Emily Morse's, See How They Run, East Austin Stories

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