Austin on the Q.T.

Tarantino and Linklater Host Filmfest

Why not?" parries Quentin Tarantino every time someone asks him what he's doing in Austin hosting a 10-day, 30-film marathon of movies from his personal collection of marginal (and largely forgotten) genre films and exploitation throwaways.

It's not that his appearances in Austin are without precedent; Tarantino has come to town at least twice before. In October 1994, he hosted the local premiere of Pulp Fiction as a benefit for the Austin Film Society, an organization co-founded and nurtured over the years by his pal and fellow film director Richard Linklater. Then, this past January, Tarantino returned for the premiere of Austin director Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn, a film that Tarantino scripted as well as acted in. That, too, was an AFS benefit screening whose proceeds created vital seed money for the newly established Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund (whose first annual recipients are, coincidentally, due to be announced next week).

The whole idea for the Austin festival originated with Tarantino as an outgrowth of his passion for film collecting. "People think I have some big agenda or something," he comments. "Well no. I started collecting movie prints in the last year. I got into it in a big way and [was] screening films at home, and renting a couple of screening rooms and showing some films and inviting some friends down. And the thing is, after you show them for a while, you come up with these ideas for double features and it's just not enough showing it to your three or four friends. It's, like, do a whole thing and have a whole audience full of people seeing some movies that they've probably never even seen before, ever. And also, I like a lot of wild, forgotten, genre films and different genres in general, so it's good to have a big night for those.

"So I just called up Rick [Linklater], and asked him, `Hey, what if I were to come down with a bunch of stuff?' And he said, `Hey, we'll totally be on it. This will be so much fun.' He knew from running the Film Society, there's nothing like some kid going to see some movie that he never ever would have seen, and he's seeing it in a theatre because, basically, you're saying, `Hey, watch it.' So there's no big deal about [my doing this]. It's just the fact that I like Austin, so it's cool to hang out here. I know some people here now, so I'm hanging out with friends. And the Dobie makes themselves available, so I don't have to find a theatre. And the Austin Film Society does all the work to put it on. It was just show up and pick the films. No fuss, no muss.

"I like the fact that the Film Society didn't really announce [the specifics] to the public exactly -- they announced the genres but not the movies and people still show up. They just come to see what's there. I love that, man. That's great. They're just showing up to see whatever."

Throughout the festival, each film has been enthusiastically introduced by Tarantino, who then sticks around to watch with the audience. Occasionally, during the course of the movie, he remembers things he forgot to mention in the intro and so simply blurts out addenda from the back of the auditorium. And he was there with everyone during the all-night horror film marathon that ended around 5:30 in the morning. What the hell? He's on vacation, even though it seems something of a busman's holiday.

Asked to explain his attraction to Austin, Tarantino replied, "People are really cool, there are cool places to go, there's a lot of good beer here, and everyone just makes me feel really at home. In fact, it was funny. Jerry [Johnson] of the Austin Film Society was saying, `You know, if you wanted, you could take this show on the road and go to other towns.' And it's like, `Yeah, but, I don't know anyone there.' Here it's different because I have the responsibility to show up at the movies, but other than that I don't have any responsibilities at all. I'm on vacation. I'm just kicking back -- stay up late and sleep late, get up and swim and just screw around, and just make sure I'm at the movie on time. Which is fun.

"And then the whole thing at the theatre... like, I don't sign autographs at the theatre -- for two reasons. Well, I just never sign in movie theatres anyway because movie theatres are like a church and I wouldn't sign an autograph in a church either. But it's also, `Hey man, we're all, like, hanging together. Let's not have this `I'm on this level....' No, no. Let's all just hang together and laugh and have a good time and come over and bullshit with me. Don't take my picture. Bullshit with me and talk about how you liked the movie or didn't like the movie. And it's gotten that way. About four movies into the all-night horror marathon, it was really kind of sweet. I was just there all night with everybody else: walking around, going to the bathroom, getting something to eat, coming back, going out and getting a cigarette, `Oh, hey, here's a beer,' `Thanks, man.' So that whole celebrity junk just kind of went away after a certain point. And it's gotten that way now because people are used to seeing me there. It ain't a big deal. And I'm not doing this big presentation thing. No, I'm just kicking back and enjoying the movies with them. The thing became a big deal, but we didn't treat it like a big deal. We're just making sure it goes off right. It's been casual. That's the whole thing. We've just been able to keep it completely casual instead of the big oom-pah-pah."

Also high on Tarantino's list of things to like about Austin is the strength of the regional filmmaking scene here. "What George Romero [Night of the Living Dead] was to Pittsburgh, Rick is to Austin. I've always loved the idea of American regional filmmakers. You had George Romero in Pittsburgh; for a while before he moved to Hollywood, you had Sam Raimi [Evil Dead] working out of Detroit. It's basically been Los Angeles and New York all the time but there are all these little pockets. What's neat about Texas and Austin right now is the fact that Rick did it and, just like George Romero, he stayed here and then, all of a sudden, other films started showing up. And before Rick, there was Eagle Pennell doing his thing. To me, it's like the equivalent of the late Seventies when there was that Australian explosion. Remember that? All of a sudden, boom, a film movement had grown there and no one knew it. I don't think it's ever really happened in America, a big explosion from a regional area. Eagle Pennell was before Rick, but Rick really kicked it off. Really, really kicked it off and then all these others will follow. When I came down here for Pulp, it was like, "Damn, man, you've got Rick here, Robert lives here. There's a legitimate film scene here."

The Tarantino Filmfest continues through Sunday at the Dobie Theatre. Series passes have already been sold for the double bills that begin every evening at 7:30pm, although single admission tickets ($10) will go on sale (space permitting) 10 minutes before showtime. However, seating for this weekend's Friday and Saturday midnight movies, and the Saturday and Sunday 2:30pm Kiddie Matinees is by single admission tickets only (no passes). The tickets cost $10 each and will be available at the Dobie box office the day of the show. Additionally, each adult who purchases a ticket for the Kiddie Matinees may bring in two children under 12 for free. (And, no, Tarantino isn't plotting to screen Pulp Fiction or anything of that ilk for the kids; Saturday's feature is a Japanese monster movie and Sunday's is a G-rated comedy from the Seventies. For more info about any of the screenings, (whose proceeds, again, benefit the Austin Film Society and the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund), call the AFS at 322-0145. Why not? n

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