The film selection offers a number of upcoming big studio releases -- movies like the animated Antz; Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, and Bridget Fonda; and the directorial debut of screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (an Austin Heart of Film Festival regular and the adapter of The Bridges of Madison County), Living Out Loud featuring Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, and Queen Latifah; and this fall's high-concept dramedy, Pleasantville. Yet, much more numerous are the films from the mini-majors, or "specialty" distributors, and the films seeking distribution. This year the festival showcases a higher number (83) of films by first-timers than ever before.
Stars of all stripes are in town promoting their movies. Some people get their thrills from seeing such people as Tom Cruise, who was in town to support the new movie from his production company, Without Limits, the new bio-pic of the runner Steve Prefontaine. Others of us thrill to the idea of such things as attending the first public screening of Bernardo Bertolucci's Besieged, which had the great director and his screenwriter/wife Clare Peploe in attendance. (The movie's original title was Siege and is even listed that way in the program book, but then ran into a title conflict with the Lynda Obst-produced Siege -- written by Lawrence Wright -- which is due for release in November and is a bit under siege at the present from Arab anti-defamation groups.)
At least three films with Austin connections screened during the festival. Most prominent is Home Fries, the Drew Barrymore and Luke Wilson starrer that was filmed in Bastrop and Coupland a while back. Due for a fall release, the goofy script by The X-Files producer Vince Gilligan includes a knocked-up burger waitress, black helicopters, and all sorts of other wild goings-on. Another high-profile film in the festival is Rushmore, UT alums Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson's follow-up to their amazingly successful debut, Bottle Rocket. The Disney-released movie won't be out until 1999, but hopes are high for the quirky high-school portrait. Also launching here is Tequila Gang's first release, Un Embrujo (Under a Spell). Tequila Gang is a brand new sales and production company started up by new Austin resident Guillermo del Toro (Mimic, Cronos) and fellow Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron (A Little Princess), writer Laura Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate), and several other Mexican film industry professionals. Un Embrujo is the company's first release and the idea behind the indie company, which will have offices in Mexico City and London, is to further the distribution of Latin-themed movies beyond their home markets and to nurture young talent and provide outlets for more personal projects.
Being here for a week and seeing an average of four movies a day barely makes a dent in the full sampling of films. It's deliriously frustrating, exquisitely gluttonous. But the real thrill is knowing that the embarrassment of riches is due to continue upon returning to Austin, with the CinemaTexas Festival, devoted to the art of the short film, still underway through this weekend, and Austin Heart of Film Festival due to begin on October 1.