The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/screens/2007-10-05/546724/

Dreams, Journeys, Disasters, and Joy

Previewing the 14th annual Austin Film Festival

October 5, 2007, Screens

Austin Film Festival

Oct. 11-18 (conference Oct. 11-14)


VENUES

Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek (13729 Research)

Arbor Cinema (9828 Great Hills Trail)

Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum IMAX Theatre (1880 Congress)

Dobie Theatre (2025 Guadalupe)

Hideout Theatre (617 Congress)

Paramount Theatre (713 Congress)

Stephen F. Austin Hotel Theatre (701 Congress)


ADMISSION*

And more information (including panels, shorts programs, and full schedules): www.austinfilmfestival.com

*Notable is a $95 Saturday Badge that grants access to all festival screenings during the weeklong event as well as Saturday conference panel programming; also available is a $35 Film Pass, good for all screenings of more than 175 films.

AMERICA UNCHAINED

D: Andy Devonshire

"Documentary comedian" Dave Gorman's cross-country travelogue chronicles with scruffy charm a search for mom-and-pop America from behind the wheel of a 1974 Torino wagon. En route, Gorman will eat at no chain restaurants and sleep in no corporate motels, and his gas must come from independent service stations. It's a frightfully clever concept executed with cheek – Gorman loves the low angles of his wood-paneled road schooner, and he milks the Englishman-abroad angle – but the film works best when it discovers the places it purports to celebrate: a Main Street soda shop in Independence, Ore.; a B&B in the shape of a giant beagle whose owner laments the "homogenization" of America; a motel whose clerk invites Gorman over for Thanksgiving dinner. Sometimes Gorman pushes his agenda a bit baldly when simple curiosity would better serve his mission, but he concedes graciously when rescued by kindly employees of a Sinclair station. – Marrit Ingman


Sunday, Oct. 14, 2pm, Stephen F. Austin; Thursday, Oct. 18, 6pm, Dobie

Bloody Aria

D: Shin-yeon Won; with Byeong-jun Lee, Dal-su Oh, Hyeong-tak Shim, Kyeong-ho Jeong

Which personality type is more trustworthy, a violent thug or a potential rapist? That and other moral questions about humanity's sicker side are areas that Korean writer/director Won explores in this unique take on criminal minds competing for survival. In it, a music professor (Lee) takes an ex-student (Ye-ryeon Cha) to a dead-end riverbank and attempts to have his way with her. After she breaks free and heads off into the wilderness, a gang of lower-class youths finds the professor and the girl and reunites them as the gang leader pulls the strings of their sanity. The scenery's solitary confinement only adds to the tension of the already intense situation and forces the characters to resort to primitive instincts. Bloody Aria's bigger picture is its look at the Korean gang culture and the methods that leaders use to rise to the top of the grand pecking order. – Carson Barker


Thursday, Oct. 11, 9:15pm, and Monday, Oct. 15, 8pm, Dobie

Chasing the Dream

D: Angelo Mei

Imagine a Texas without football, where the fair-haired high school studs tromp off to early-morning drills and eat sand while coach has them do endless push-ups. Imagine the perfect wave. Thus goes this compelling story of the Huntington Beach High School surf squad, a bunch of young board jockeys dreaming of going pro. In the meantime, their hard-nosed coach ships them off to the promised land of dudedom: Australia, where the waves are bigger, the babes bronzer, and the competition fierce. Mei focuses on eight teens for whom surfing is (mostly) deadly serious. Inevitably, the dream sputters and dies for some, and others ride it all the way to shore. This sports doc follows the tried-and-true formula in place since Hoop Dreams set the template: overly involved parents, sweet kids, and the tragic story of the old guy who once had it all but succumbed to the lure of drugs and booze. A gnarly tale told well. – Joe O'Connell


Saturday, Oct. 13, 5pm, Dobie; Monday, Oct. 15, 7:15pm, Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek

Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade

D: Lincoln Ruchti

Ottumwa, Iowa, had its 15 minutes of fame on Nov. 9, 1982, when it hosted 16 of the world's best arcade players for the Video Game Olympics. Life magazine shot a photo of these players immortalizing their achievement and capturing the peak of arcade culture. Ruchti finds himself in the difficult position of screening his movie soon after the release of King of Kong, which covers similar territory; both Walter Day, the cataloger of high scores, and Billy Mitchell, the maker of high scores and mullet hanger-on, feature heavily in both films. This documentary is half Dogtown and Z-Boys and half Trekkies, succeeding most when it strives for the former as a historical record of a burgeoning culture. Ripe with nostalgia, the early-Eighties footage transitions to interviews with the heavy-hitters of the arcade 15 years after their 15 minutes. – James Renovitch


Saturday, Oct. 13, 8:15pm, Stephen F. Austin; Tuesday, Oct. 16, 7:30pm, Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek

Dirt Road to Psychedelia: Austin Texas during the 1960s

D: Scott Conn

Janis Joplin the folk singer? Conn gives you photos and vocals to prove it as he traces the musical arc of the 1960s in Austin. Forget the oft-repeated Armadillo World Headquarters legend; this is what came before. The decade begins with the country/folk movement and builds to the psychedelic sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, Conqueroo, and Shiva's Headband. The drug-infused scene's new headquarters was the Vulcan Gas Company, a freak fest just blocks from the Capitol on Congress, where old-school blues musicians like Muddy Waters mixed with a younger generation in full revolt. The film takes an interesting twist by including interviews with an Austin policeman from the era bent on eradicating drugs from the scene. Conn's film is a love letter to a time period that seems quaint and innocent in retrospect. Longtime Austinites and curious newcomers alike will find this story, with its wonderfully grainy Super-8 footage, a righteous treat. – Joe O'Connell


Saturday, Oct. 13, 7:30pm, Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek; Wednesday, Oct. 17, 9:45pm, Dobie

Four Sheets to the Wind

D: Sterlin Harjo; with Cody Lightning, Jeri Arredondo, Tamara Podemski, Laura Bailey

Silences are the ties that bind together this Seminole family of Holdenville, Okla., in first-time filmmaker Harjo's sharply observed movie. A daughter (Podemski, who won an acting award at Sundance for her work here) leaves home for the big-city lights of Tulsa, but all that glistens for her are booze and sex. A son (Lightning) fulfills a promise to his dead father but also satisfies the needs of the community when his father's wishes come in to conflict with the group's. A man filled with stories speaks little, and a wife knows she must move on. Harjo's film is quiet but richly crafted. The Oklahoma atmosphere seeps through the screen as the characters gently slide into our hearts. Four Sheets to the Wind will billow through your memory. – Marjorie Baumgarten


Saturday, Oct. 13, 2:45pm, Dobie; Wednesday, Oct. 17, 7pm, Bullock IMAX

Gearing Up: The Fire Within

D: Sheetal Agarwal

In America, young boys dream of playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or shortstop for the New York Yankees, but in India, cricket is top dog: Kids aspire to play for the national team. Agarwal's subtitled documentary follows 14-year-old Ugrasen as he leaves his modest hometown for the big city of Mumbai to pursue his dream of being a professional cricket player. While the loneliness of leaving his friends and family 1,500 miles away is always present and the new routine of commuting two hours every day to school in the big city is daunting, Ugrasen remains focused on his goal. Gearing Up offers no help for viewers grasping to further their understanding of the game but does offer plenty of insight into the life of a young man growing up in present-day India. – Mark Fagan


Friday, Oct. 12, 5:30pm, Stephen F. Austin; Thursday, Oct. 18, 7pm, Hideout

Good Riddance

D: T.R. Young

In the classic American style, Madalyn Murray O'Hair was a patriot and a scoundrel and a heel who was probably right for all the wrong reasons when she helped take prayer in public schools before the Supreme Court and subsequently found her life's true calling as a braying bête noire to the burgeoning religious right. At the height of her influence in the Sixties and Seventies, she lived up to her self-described status as "the most hated woman in America," but following her disappearance in 1995, even her Baptist minister son, William, would be rounding up to call her "the Hulk Hogan of atheism." A self-consciously hissable villain of culture wars past primarily focused on milking and bilking others advocating freedom from religion, she probably rated closer to atheism's Nikolai Volkoff by the end, and the investigation that eventually uncovered her kidnapping and murder (along with son John Garth and granddaughter Rebecca) was seriously hampered by the collective shrug across political and religious lines that simply wished her "good riddance." Young's true-crime documentary takes that sentiment for its title to chronicle the fascinating story of O'Hair's sad and grisly demise at the hands of a career criminal who knew that he wouldn't have to commit the perfect crime if he simply chose the perfect victim. – Spencer Parsons


Sunday, Oct. 14, 4:30pm, Stephen F. Austin; Thursday, Oct. 18, 7pm, Arbor

GOOD TIME MAX

D: James Franco; with Franco, Matt Bell

"Chaos is hard to embrace," one shadowy drug guru tells genius-on-the-skids Max (Franco). "It's scary to think there's no one out there looking out for us." Max, one half of the Mensa-ready Verbinski brothers, knows that and has spent his life perfecting the art of being a screwup, and when his latest coke deal ends with a gun at his head, he bums a ride with his straight-arrow brother, Adam (Bell), a newly minted hospital resident. Alas, brotherly love does not shield either man from the chaos theorem that is Max's increasingly disastrous attempts to get clean in the City of Angels. Franco's a far cry from Spider-ville here, and the only green goblin in sight is the simmering, unexamined jealousy Max feels toward Adam's more stable life trajectory. Smartly edited and shot through with an elegiac score, Franco's directorial debut is, like the blood-kin duo at its heart, a rough gem. – Marc Savlov


Sunday, Oct. 14, 5pm, Dobie

Hijos de la Guerra (Children of the War)

D: Alexandre Fuchs

Fuchs' sobering debut addresses the world's largest, most violent street gang, the Mara Salvatrucha, or the MS-13, which was formed in the late Eighties, toward the end of El Salvador's civil war, by teenage refugees of the war who migrated to Los Angeles and were met by violence and discrimination by L.A.'s Hispanic community. Thus, they organized, with fresh blood on their hands and in their hearts. At more than 100,000 members, and forever expanding, this gang has represented a significant problem for Central America and the U.S., spawning illegal attempts by the El Salvadoran government to exterminate the MS-13. In a bold attempt to push the focus of a problem back to its root, for most of the documentary Fuchs settles the camera and microphone in front of the gang's members, allowing these murderers, these fathers and husbands, to explain the situation, a chance so rarely given to members of organized crime. – Sofia Resnick


Thursday, Oct. 11, 7:30pm, Hideout; Tuesday, Oct. 16, 6pm, Dobie

JUDY TOLL: THE FUNNIEST WOMAN YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF

D: Gary Toll

She was a natural show-off, a "sweet little blond Jewish angel" who could carry off uncomfortably intimate comedy: about her obsessions with men, about drugs and sex and problems with food, about an itch for stardom so maddening it sent her into the arms of Scientology. She was selling Chipwiches at the La Brea Tar Pits when Ivan Reitman called to buy the rights to her Groundlings play (it became 1988's Casual Sex?), but Judy Toll never became a household name, even when she took on Andrew Dice Clay with a gender-bending parody of his act and guest-wrote for Sex and the City. Judy was not "sitcom pretty," and she never quite broke through before dying of melanoma at age 44. Behind the camera, Toll's brother Gary wisely avoids sentimentalizing her illness, and his perspective on her foibles – her hypochondria, her desperation to get married – is clear-eyed but loving. – Marrit Ingman


Saturday, Oct. 13, 12:30pm, Stephen F. Austin; Sunday, Oct. 14, 4:30pm, Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek

Made in China

D: John Helde

A personal and pensive examination of what we call "home." In this case, filmmaker John Helde delves into his father's childhood – not such an unusual approach, except for the fact that his father, along with a large coterie of others in his generation, grew up in pre-World War II China while their parents worked for Christian-based organizations like the YMCA. Through interviews with his at-first-reticent father, archival photos, tracking down his father's peers, and finally making a trip to China himself, Helde takes a refreshing approach to the subject of home, homeland, the powerful imprint of childhood, and the peculiar wonder of discovering your parents were once children, too. At the same time, he illuminates a nearly forgotten history experienced by a rapidly passing generation, one brought into relief thanks to Helde's highly engaging obsession. – Belinda Acosta


Saturday, Oct. 13, 5:15pm, and Tuesday, Oct. 16, 9pm, Hideout

Neal Cassady

D: Noah Buschel; with Tate Donovan, Glenn Fitzgerald, Chris Bauer, Amy Ryan

The much-mythologized Neal Cassady – the Adonis of Denver, muse to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, the superman who motored Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters' bus ever Further – lost his own sense of identity once it became evident he was the model for On the Road's Dean Moriarty. Donovan (who has forged an interesting career of late that veers from high-profile television roles to star-effacing parts in small movies) hits it out of the park as the drug-fueled id personified and failed writer and family man. Writer/director Buschel creates a thoughtful and evocative sense of Cassady's conundrum while also giving fair due to all the interests of the sparring estates by creating a well-rounded, though imagined, portrait. Bauer as Kesey puts it succinctly when he says at one point, "You've got to ask yourself this: Do I want to be a lightning rod or a seismograph?" – Marjorie Baumgarten


Thursday, Oct. 11, 7:30pm, Stephen F. Austin; Monday, Oct. 15, 9pm, Arbor

Owl and the Sparrow

D: Stephane Gauger; with Cat Ly, Pham Thi Han, Le The Lu

A tender love story about three lonely souls who find one another above the din of modern-day Saigon. At the center is Thuy (Han), a 10-year-old orphan who lives outside the city with her overbearing uncle. When he calls her "useless," she does what any strong-willed little girl does; she packs her pink Barbie backpack and sets off on her own. This little girl's resoluteness is enough to melt your heart, but it's the series of encounters with kind strangers that make this film almost magical. In this case, it's not just the magic of romantic love but the love of found family and the mind-blowing realization of how precious and rare that true love of all kinds really is. In other hands, Owl and the Sparrow would be a cheap tearjerker. But with Gauger's lovely script and amazing cast, the film floats in its own wondrous ether. – Belinda Acosta


Thursday, Oct. 11, 7pm, Arbor

The Riddle

D: Brendan Foley; with Derek Jacobi, Vanessa Redgrave, Vinnie Jones, P.H. Moriaty

A burned-out sports journalist, a quirky vagrant, a series of murders, and a Charles Dickens novel all weave together in this psychological thriller from writer/director Foley. Mike Sullivan (Jones) wants to break into hard news, but his newspaper superiors and police inspector Willis (Moriaty) are suspiciously blocking his efforts, especially after Sullivan starts barking up a murder case. After fate throws an original manuscript of Dickens' The Riddle in Sullivan's lap, corpses with flimsy causes of death and secretive officials' true intentions start to coincide with the age-old story. Best known for his immortal mob character, "Bullet Tooth" Willie, from the British fave Snatch, Jones' bulldoggish mug and thick accent give a chiseled edge to the Murder, She Wrote-style plotline. Through flashbacks and narrations from Dickens (Jacobi), Foley polishes off a literate London murder story. – Carson Barker


Sunday, Oct. 14, 9:20pm, Bullock IMAX; Tuesday, Oct. 16, 7pm, Arbor

Superheroes

D: Alan Brown; with Dash Mihok, Spencer Treat Clark

Jaded by his unexpected stay in Iraq, Ben Patchett returns home a different man to a different life, living with his parents after his wife left him, and treating his post-traumatic stress disorder with medication both day and night. "I came home, and all that was left was a coffeemaker," he recalls. In Superheroes, Nick Jones, a recent college graduate and aspiring documentary filmmaker, meets Ben though his volunteer work filming group-meetings in a clinic for veterans suffering PTSD. Intrigued by Ben's story, Nick asks him to be the subject of a documentary, and the two leave for the country to film, becoming friends in the process. Superheroes was made from an interpretive angle, low on dialogue and relying on flashbacks and quiet bonding moments between young Nick and the war veteran. In long scenes, Brown maintains a theme of nature and unity as Ben immerses himself in both to confront his illness. – Kristine Tofte


Friday, Oct. 12, 7:30pm, Hideout; Wednesday, Oct. 17, 8pm, Dobie.

Team Everest: A Himalayan Journey

D: Andy Cockrum

There's some evidence to suggest that when a person loses one of their five senses, the others increase in awareness to compensate. So how does the body adapt when a person loses a leg or becomes paralyzed from the neck down? For the subjects of Austin producer/director Cockrum's Team Everest, the natural reaction is to increase spiritual strength, courage, determination, and sheer willpower. Cockrum shows how people who can't even make it down a flight of stairs without assistance can journey to the top of Mount Everest during a 21-day trek 17,500 feet up one of the world's most dangerous peaks. Superb cinematography at breathtaking altitudes captures not only the soul and strength of these handicapped individuals but that of the Nepalese culture and the Himalayas themselves. – Carson Barker


Friday, Oct. 12, 8:45pm, and Sunday, Oct. 14, 2:30pm, Arbor

Two Tickets to Paradise

D: D.B. Sweeney; with Sweeney, Ed Harris, John C. McGinley, Moira Kelly, Paul Hipp

Rumor has it that Sweeney lured Vanna White to make a cameo in his feature directorial debut with a bag of sliders. Helped out by a friend who works for Sony, the star of The Cutting Edge and Memphis Belle visited the set of Wheel of Fortune after a run to White Castle, on a tip that she's a fan of their hamburgers. It's the kind of oddball gambit that Sweeney's characters use throughout this comic road movie, in which three old friends (McGinley, Hipp, and Sweeney) reunite to annoy one another, heal old wounds, and dodge hungry alligators on a beer-fueled trek to attend a bowl game between UT's Longhorns and Marshall University ... incidentally setting fire to Vanna's birthplace along the way. – Spencer Parsons


Sunday, Oct. 14, 7:15pm, Dobie; Wednesday, Oct. 17, 9:30pm, Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek

Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist

D: Andrew D. Cooke

The life and works of the late Will Eisner – creator of The Spirit and A Contract With God, U.S. Army instructional illustrator, originator of the term "graphic novel," ceaseless professor of the medium – are given a respectful and many-personed accounting in this doc from Montilla Pictures. Cooke traces the artist's career from start to finish, providing numerous stills of Eisner panels and pages, historical footage of a younger Eisner working in his studio and of NYC back in the day, home movies, and a wealth of commentary by current stars of the comics industry: Michael Chabon, Art Spiegelman, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Trina Robbins, Joe Kubert, and others. The film's disparate sections are tied together by dynamic visual elements (as befits such a subject) and a jazzy score by Big Al & the Bop City Band. – Wayne Alan Brenner


Friday, Oct. 12, 5pm, Dobie; Sunday, Oct. 14, 2:15pm, Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek

The Zombie Diaries

D: Kevin Gates, Michael Bartlett; with Anna Blades, Craig Stovin, Imogen Church, James Fisher, Jonnie Hurn

Gates and Bartlett's debut plays and preys on the notion that the deadliest human plague is humans themselves – that, and our fear of the unknown. A fictional documentary that's half 28 Days Later and half Blair Witch Project, it bounces between the viewpoints of survivor groups while trying to encompass every angle of a worldwide viral infection from the initial outbreak to the Revelation days. Relying heavily on the primal fear aspect, The Zombie Diaries' driving production question is this: Why spend a big budget trying to scare someone with your imagination when their own is twice as effective? Especially when the audience comprises political and disease phobiacs. – Carson Barker


Friday, Oct. 12, 10pm, Dobie; Tuesday, Oct. 16, 9:30pm, Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek

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