Dig Deeper: The Austin Underground Film Festival
The third annual Austin Underground Film Festival
This Friday at the new Salvage Vanguard Theater in East Austin, the Austin Underground Film Festival will celebrate its third anniversary. Founded by Andy Gately – who curates the festival along with fellow Florida State graduates and filmmakers Caitlin Leach and Jeremy Van Doren – AUFF has become the city's center for what is essentially a centerless universe. According to the festival's website, in the world of independent underground movies, filmmakers are celebrated for being as "radical, critical, disaffected, progressive, provocative, confrontational, controversial, subversive, seditious, irreverent, [and] illicit" as they can be, while commercial success and mainstream acceptance are seen as marks rather than badges.
Recently the Chronicle sat down with Gately to talk about some of the films playing at this year's festival.
"Everything Will Be Okay"/"I Am So Proud of You"
– Don Hertzfeldt
AUFF '08 opens with part one of animator and devoted ironist Hertzfeldt's hilarious, scabrous, yet somehow touching trilogy about a stick figure facing his own mortality. Part two closes the program three hours later.
Andy Gately: If there's a perfect filmmaker for this show, it might be Hertzfeldt, because he personifies everything that makes a filmmaker underground. His stuff is really smart and critical of a lot of elements of society, and he's definitely a cult hero. He's one of the biggest animators in the world, I would say. But he earned that distinction purely through talent and not by compromising any of his artistic integrity. He's done 20 or 25 films so far, but recently he's gotten so ambitious with his work; a lot of it was much more playful before, but in these movies, a stick figure goes through an existential crisis. You would never think someone could ring so much emotion out of stick figures, which is a testament to how gifted Hertzfeldt is as a storyteller.
– Run Wrake
This violent short about unchecked desire from British animator Wrake, who has worked with pop stars such as U2 and Gang of Four, flips images of childhood innocence on their heads.
AG: I was invited to the island of Malta this summer for a film festival. They had screenings at different castles and fortresses on the island, so you can imagine what kind of interesting artists it attracted. One of the people I met there recommended "Rabbit" to me. Wrake took a child's sticker book and turned it into this modern fairy tale. One of the most interesting things a filmmaker can do is create an odd tone, and Wrake's movie works like a piece of music; you're not sure where it's going, but you're transfixed because it's so gorgeous to look at. And you really have to think to figure out what the point of the movie is or if there is one. I don't want to presume what it's about, but there are definitely conclusions you can reach about the dangers of greed and self-delusion. It works like a modern Aesop's fable for children. And since the Austin Underground Film Festival is all-ages, if kids want to come, they can watch it and maybe learn something [laughs].
"Made in Japan"
– Ciro Altabás
Spaniard Altabás' film is a comedic testament to the creativity humans are able to call on when trying to avoid chastisement.
AG: I wouldn't be surprised to see this one at Sundance, actually. People expect crazy, violent, pornographic stuff when they come to AUFF, so to throw "Made in Japan" at them, a film that's really funny and lighthearted and free of controversy, is great. It's always good to play with the expectations of your audience. Altabás lives in Spain, I think, and he went to Japan to make a movie about retro video-gamers, and while he was there, he shot a lot of scenic footage of the country, like any tourist might. But, being a filmmaker, he then turned his home video into a story, which makes the accomplishment more impressive, because he took this random footage and strung it together to make a brand-new, original work. Normally that kind of footage wouldn't be turned into art; it's the stuff you would leave at home or on the cutting-room floor or just show to your friends. But seeing the opportunity in your surroundings and finding beauty everywhere is one of the things that make filmmakers artists.
– Yann Gonzalez
French filmmaker and former critic Gonazalez's look at fleeting youth set against a graffiti-covered wall.
AG: I really love this film – there's a lot going on beneath presumably benign conversation, subtext flying back and forth between the French actors as they try to play it cool about their intense emotional yearnings. Very French and very emotionally brutal and honest. Sometimes to me it feels like movies have actually become the "feelies" of Huxley's Brave New World, where the placated populace just goes to the theatre and has electrodes stimulate their emotional and erogenous zones; that's how many people seem to regard films as pure entertainment. Films like "Entracte" remind you of how daring and powerful even a short film today can be. There is more true feeling in this 10-minute film than in most blockbuster trilogies.
This is a good time for that kind of daring filmmaking. Because of the actions of the Bush administration, dissenting political opinions and a general sense of unease have pushed social commentary into the mainstream. And that's when things start bubbling up out of the American subconscious in the form of art. These kinds of underground films voice concerns that audiences have but may not have the courage to voice themselves.
"A Belly Full of Anger"
– Andre Perkowski
Both a loving, absurdist parody of 1970s kung fu films and a trailer for a feature being released by Perkowski next year.
AG: Perkowski [who also directed AUFF '08 films "The Cat Inside" and "Mulched Midnight Memories of Don Knotts"] shoots everything on this old leftover film stock from the Seventies and cuts it together himself. He actually sent us 173 films. One hundred seventy-three. Insanely prolific, to say the least. Most of them shot on film, too – which, as anyone who's tried it knows, is quite difficult and ridiculously time-consuming compared to digital video and nonlinear editing. I'm convinced the guy is some kind of wayward genius or a total masochist. He'll probably be in attendance at the festival, down from whatever cave he lives in.
The Austin Underground Film Festival takes place Friday, Dec. 19, at the Salvage Vanguard Theater. Doors open at 6pm, music-video preshow at 6:30pm, and show starts at 7pm. For more info, visit www.austinundergroundfilm.com.