The Austin Chronicle

Page Two: Telling Stories, Watching Movies

The real and the known, the unreal and then some

By Louis Black, December 9, 2016, Columns

Los Angeles, 2016

The Hollywood Reporter: "Oscars: 15 Titles Advance in Documentary Feature Category" – "The Academy has unveiled the 15 titles that have advanced in its feature documentary competition for this year's Oscars. The shortlist, culled down from 145 films that were submitted for consideration, includes … Keith Maitland's Tower, which uses animation to recount the 1966 mass shooting at the University of Texas in Austin."

New Jersey, 1950s

Two Stories: Cutting through my grandmother's bedroom in her home in Lakewood, N.J., I was on my way outside to play by myself. Glancing at the always-on television, the scene I saw proved so intriguing – folks getting on a plane, which soon crashed, set sometime in the 1930s – I kept watching. Stayed to finish the whole movie, mostly lying on top of her huge, white, fluffy, and enveloping four-poster bed.

The film was Frank Capra's 1937 Lost Horizon, based on James Hilton's novel, starring Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt, and Edward Everett Horton. They find Shangri-La, then they leave it. When Lost Horizon ended, I was in a place that I would never leave, though I certainly didn't know it at the time. Born, not again but finally, into the "I" of myself, who I should be and am, a life with films and film the guiding North Star. I was 9 years old.

Around the same time there is a vivid memory of being in the backseat of a car, my father driving and talking to his friend next to him. They were discussing another friend who owned two Castro Convertible stores, which I was finding very confusing.

Castro Convertible commercials, where a young girl demonstrated how easily the Castro sofa pulled out (converted) into a bed, were ever present on TV. Then living outside NYC, there were a number of channels, the three networks and a couple of independents, though none 24 hours and all in black and white.

What was putting me off was that certainty that there was no way that any real person (directly translated as anyone we actually knew, even distantly) could be involved with what was on television; that was of another far removed and much loftier dimension.

Saint Francisville, La., present

Walking around the woods next to the Airbnb we're staying at, I'm supposed to be writing but I'm walking around drifting and dreaming. Remembering staying at John Bird's apartment in New Orleans, where he kept the lights on all the time because it was cheaper than turning them on and off, across the street from Tipitina's. The night before we left, unable to afford to go inside until somewhat before dawn, I leaned against the front of the club listening to the Meters tearing it up inside.

Of a time, many years later near Jennings, La., visiting one of those old waterfront mansions surrounded by any number of huge old oak and cypress trees all dripping Spanish moss. Out back, Fred and I are watching a scene being shot on the end of a dock that stretches far out into the water. Our friends John Sayles and Maggie Renzi are filming Passion Fish. It is fascinating watching the shoot but after a while we'll leave, knowing that one of the reasons we are welcome on the set is that, as John puts it, we are very good at entertaining ourselves. In the evening we'll all sit around talking, but while they continue working, we cruise around Louisiana.

Now, I'm waiting for Sandy and Kelly to get back to pick me up to visit the set of another film, only this time I'm executive producing. Got in last night, settling in when the unexpected phone call came that Keith Maitland's Tower had been shortlisted for the 2017 Academy Award for Documentary Feature. Sandy and I are both executive producers of the film. Lest this seem too vainglorious, I must note that when reading over the list of the film's credits, it seems that the numbers of producers on it would represent a significant percentage of the population of this small Louisiana town.

Still, so strange how things have turned out, the unimaginable journey from Teaneck, N.J., to Austin, Texas, which didn't just lead to but is directly responsible for why we are out here in Louisiana just north of Baton Rouge.

In some way it all comes back to luck.

Austin was supposed to be just another stop in my travels, some kind of unfocused quest of self-discovery. Instead it proved to be my life, one where an almost shocking number of dreams have come to be realized.

In ways, after landing in Austin those searching travels ended. But the real journey, the one begun in my grandmother's bedroom in Lakewood, N.J., so long ago, much to my surprise, seems to be continuing, nowhere close to done. Or so I hope.

Walking near a creek in these woods, waiting to visit this film we're working on, savoring just for a bit the news about that other one, as usual I'm lost in daydreaming, probably my only real skill set.

There are things that I know – the things that matter – and though not many, I know them strong and real. First are family, community, co-workers, and friends, those who surround you and support you. Second is who you are and what you do, there as my friend Ron Lynch puts it, I'm "a shoveler," one who does what needs to be done. For many years, Nick and I unloaded bundles of Chronicles from the truck back from the printer each week, is the way I've always tried to explain that.

Still, there's more. More than folks and who you are and what you know. Never forget that because if you do, if you get too full of yourself and start thinking it's just you, well fate is always there ready to stick out a leg to trip you up bad, really bad.

Yes, luck has everything to do with it … well, luck and … for lack of a better word, blessings. Yeah, things not bound by understanding and often even beyond belief, luck and blessings.

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