Long Stories Short

The Cinematexas International Short Film Festival

Todd Haynes
Todd Haynes

Inside Out: Special Guest Todd Haynes

Filmmaker Todd Haynes' most recent film, the Douglas Sirk-esque Far From Heaven, was nominated for four Academy Awards and some 75 other major awards from film and artistic organizations the world over. That's a remarkable achievement in anyone's book, but coming from one of the leading lights of the so-called New Queer Cinema, and one who began his career with a Barbie doll version of the life of Karen Carpenter, as Haynes did with 1987's Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, the popular and critical adulation is all the more notable.

Haynes, whose five feature films (Superstar, Poison, Safe, Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven) and two shorter works ("Assassins: A Film Concerning Rimbaud" and "Dottie Gets Spanked," both of which will be screening at Cinematexas) revolve around the themes of societal outsider and marginalized personalities, is, along with Todd Solondz and Richard Linklater, one of the most consistently intriguing filmmakers of what is shaping up as a certain renaissance in American independent (and nonindependent) filmmaking.

We spoke to Haynes on the eve of his arrival at Cinematexas about short films, vanishing financing, and the fallacy of the "independent" film.

Austin Chronicle: You're coming down to one of the only short-film and video festivals in the country, and I was wondering how important you feel it is for a beginning filmmaker to actively pursue the creation of shorts? It's not like there's a lot of screening outlets these days ...

Todd Haynes: I think it's the only way to start making films, period. There are some filmmakers who don't have any intention of entering into the feature world or the feature format. There was once this thing called "experimental films," which embraced films of all sizes and shapes, particularly when they opposed any semblance of commercial filmmaking in its various, feature-length products. It's because of the dominance of the feature market and the failure of all kinds of artistic institutions and the various forms of financing that they once could attract that's resulted in a dearth of experimental films and other kinds of film experience in our culture.

AC: That can't be helped by the current, conservative political climate in the country, can it?

TH: Well, no, certainly not the practicality of getting grants, but that's been a long undoing that this administration doesn't even get much credit for. In its destruction, it's something that started long before even Bush number one was on the scene. What does help, however, is the whole way that new technologies have been put back into the hands of the consumer and how, you know, digital filmmaking and consumer computers and all that can allow for all kinds of stuff to get done outside of any kind of commercial enterprise. And that's great, and I sort of feel as though, hopefully, we haven't even begun to see the effects of that and what can eventually be accomplished.

AC: So how do you view the state of independent cinema in the country today? Does the phrase even have any meaning anymore? Does it matter?

TH: I don't know. It's one of those phrases that has been so overused, but also complicated by the fact that film is never a pure enterprise, and anything that you're trying to do, that requires any money whatsoever, that is aiming to enter the market, at any level whatsoever, just can't siphon itself off from the business aspect of filmmaking, which is part of it at every level. Once the tiny little independent movie gets a distribution deal, it's out there at some level competing with the biggest Hollywood product whether it ever intended to or not. There is that reality that it is a market, and to get people to see your films, you have to confront that at some level and decide accordingly. For a while there, I resented the term independent and the sort of knee-jerk way it was applied to films whose money was directly connected to studios, even within their little arthouse divisions or whatever. But also just simply the trajectory of Miramax as a company and as a dominant force in the industry just completely unravels any idea of what independent filmmaking really was about. They function as close to the idea of an old studio monopoly as any major studio out there today and in fact intimidate the big studios with their aggressive campaigning for Oscars and so forth. So it's a term that is wrought with contradictions. It's funny when you actually see films that seem to have a more independent point of view coming out of the studios than are coming out of the so-called independent financing structures these days. And then you really realize that freedom of expression can happen in all kinds of accidental ways with different kinds of protections that can sometimes happen within a studio more easily than outside it.

Todd Haynes' "Assassins: A Film Concerning Rimbaud" screens on Saturday, Sept. 20, 8pm, at the Texas Union Theatre. His "Dottie Gets Spanked" will screen on Sunday, Sept. 21, 1pm, at the Texas Union Theatre.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Marc Savlov
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince

Aug. 7, 2022

Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone
Texas-made luchadores-meets-wire fu playful adventure

April 29, 2022

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle