The Austin Chronicle

AFF Knows We Like to Watch

By Kimberley Jones, August 26, 2009, 4:36pm, Picture in Picture

Is it just us, or is the Austin Film Festival doing some kind of an elaborate dance of the seven veils? It seems every week there's some new tantalizing goody revealed about the upcoming fest. This week's tasty bit: AFF announced today ten titles from this year's lineup, including three intriguing-sounding documentaries about black comedy (Robert Townsend's Why We Laugh), screenwriting (Peter Hanson's Tales From the Script), and the 2008 national party conventions (Barry Levinson's Poliwood). But what we're most excited about is  Austinites' first chance – finally! – to see local filmmaker Bob Byington's super-buzzy Harmony and Me.

AFF won't announce the full festival lineup until mid-September – what a tease – but in the meantime, you can read the descriptions of all ten titles after the jump.

THE MESSENGER Writers: Oren Moverman, Alessandro Camon Director: Oren Moverman Cast: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone Regional Premiere Centerpiece Film The directorial debut of accomplished screenwriter Oren Moverman, whose credits include I’m Not There and Jesus’ Son, tells the story of two soldiers from different generations who are assigned to inform the ‘next of kin.’ One of them struggles with an ethical dilemma when he becomes involved with a widow of a fallen officer. Not just well written, but a showcase for two amazing performances by Foster and Harrelson.

CALVIN MARSHALL Writer/Director: Gary Lundgren Cast: Alex Frost, Diedrich Bader, Andrew Wilson, Steve Zahn, Jane Adams World Premiere Calvin Marshall's childhood dream of playing Major League Baseball is in serious jeopardy as he can't seem to make the Bayford Bisons Junior College team despite the support of the people around him. Antagonized by the head coach (played by Zahn), Calvin becomes determined to make it somehow. An impressive cast and humorous script marks fest alum Gary Lundgren’s feature debut.

HARMONY & ME Writer/Director: Robert Byington Cast: Justin Rice, Kevin Corrigan, Alex Karpovsky, Pat Healy, Kristen Tucker Regional Premiere The sharp-witted Byington returns with the Austin-shot story of Harmony, a prototype nightmare dumpee - the sort of heartbroken friend you take out for consolatory drinks two or three times before resorting to any excuse to avoid hearing, yet again, the play-by-play rehash of what went wrong with his relationship. Never self-indulgent, Byington creates a memorable modern comedy.

LA MISSION Writer/Director: Peter Bratt Cast: Benjamin Bratt, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Max Rosenak, Erika Alexander Regional Premiere Set in the seedy streets of the La Mission district of San Francisco, the film tells a story of redemption between a father and a son. Feared, yet respected, as the baddest Chicano on the block, Che (Benjamin Bratt), a reformed inmate and recovering alcoholic, puts his son above all else, but knows no other way other than resorting to violence and intimidation to get what he wants.

POLIWOOD Director: Barry Levinson Featuring: Ellen Burstyn, Anne Hathaway, Susan Sarandon, Spike Lee, Tim Daly, Josh Lucas, Alan Cumming, Matthew Modine Regional Premiere Academy Award Winning filmmaker Barry Levinson (AFF’s 2004 Distinguished Screenwriter Award Recipient) takes an in-depth look at the Democratic and Republican national conventions held during the 2008 U.S. Presidential election from the point of view of the Creative Coalition, a group of actors and filmmakers. Drawing from past elections, Levinson looks at the effects Hollywood and the media have had on our election process.

PUNCHING THE CLOWN Writers: Gregori Viens, Henry Phillips Director: Gregori Viens Cast: Henry Phillips, Mark Cohen, Guilford Adams, Chris Fairbanks, Derek Waters Regional Premiere Henry Phillips, a road-weary American comedian and troubadour, is down on his luck playing hell gigs in the desert. He moves to L.A. thinking he’s got nothing more to lose. It turns out he was mistaken: his reputation and his music are soon at stake, yet if he plays his cards right, it could all be grist for his darkly humorous songs. Director Gregori Viens brings back the feature version of his hilarious short film On the Air that played AFF in 2007.

THE SCENESTERS Writer/Director: Todd Berger Cast: Sherilyn Fenn, Blaise Miller, Suzanne May, Jeff Grace, John Landis, Kevin Brennan World Premiere When a serial killer starts picking off beautiful young hipsters on the east side of Los Angeles, a couple of crime scene videographers hatch a plan to catch him before the cops do. The Scenesters is an innovative and quirky murder mystery that both honors and deconstructs the conventions of the classic 'who-done-it?' film genre.

SIMMONS ON VINYL Writers: Mark Potts, Cole Selix Director: Mark Potts Cast: Brand Rackley, Lindsey Newell, Cole Selix, Mark Potts World Premiere Zeek is in love. With the help of his friends, he goes on search for a vinyl record that takes him on a wild chase all over town, running into mean high school punks, troubled bosses, kidnappings and even a very difficult dance off challenge – all in hopes that the record will nab the heart of his dream girl. Potts creates a micro-budget comedy about going great lengths to impress a girl.

TALES FROM THE SCRIPT Director: Peter Hanson Featuring: John August, Shane Black, John Carpenter, Frank Darabont, David Hayter, William Goldman, Guinevere Turner, Paul Schrader, Zak Penn Regional Premiere Possibly the most comprehensive documentary ever made about screenwriting. Dozens of Hollywood screenwriters share anecdotes and war stories about making a career in the competitive world of screenwriting. Hanson brings together a virtual who’s who of writers who reveal the untold stories behind some of the greatest screenplays ever written.

WHY WE LAUGH Director: Robert Townsend Featuring: Bill Cosby, Angela Bassett, Chris Rock, Damon Wayans, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Katt Williams, Marlon Wayans, Garrett Morris, Paul Mooney Regional Premiere Based on Darryl Littleton’s book Black Comedians on Black Comedy: How African-Americans Taught Us to Laugh, veteran filmmaker Townsend weaves archival clips and interviews with comedians and social critics to depict the evolution and rise of black comedy.

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