Hey, Look Me Over!
AFF and the Blanton team up to bring underseen films to Austin
If you want to impress Austin Film Festival Film Program Director Kelly Williams, dangle a good-looking movie theatre at him. The underused Texas Spirit Theater at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum was at least in part the inspiration for AFF's ongoing Made in Texas film series, and now a new AFF series, the New Directions Summer Film Series, is setting up shop just down the street in the Blanton Museum of Art's newly completed auditorium in the Edgar A. Smith Building. The gleaming 299-seat theatre boasts state of the art A/V technology, not to mention no scuffed floors or gum jammed under the seats – that is, jokes Williams, until a rowdy crowd amasses for this month's Silent Light screening.
If the joke's lost on you, there's good reason. Despite appearing on numerous Top 10 lists last year, Carlos Reygadas' award-winning narrative feature about Mexican Mennonite farmers – called "solemn and profound" by Roger Ebert – never opened in Austin. That sort of snubbing happens more often than it should, to the great consternation of Austin cinephiles and critics alike – and it falls to organizations like the Austin Film Society and the Austin Film Festival to, as Williams puts it, "fill the void."
That could be the mission statement for the new series, which is co-curated by the Blanton's Kurt Heinzelman. Only two of the films showcased have ever played Austin before, and that has everything to do with their local ties: Gretchen, a darkly funny portrait of adolescent angst from former Austinite Steve Collins, premiered at South by Southwest 06, and current Austinite Jeff Nichols' minimalist heartbreaker Shotgun Stories won the Narrative Feature Jury Prize at the 2007 Austin Film Festival and eventually earned rapturous reviews from major papers all over the country ... and no doubt would've gotten one in the hometown paper, too, had Shotgun Stories ever opened for a theatrical run in Austin. (Nichols and Gretchen co-star John Merriman will be in attendance at their respective AFF screenings.)
In between those local bookends are three diverse independent films: two documentaries – Jim Finn's The Juche Idea, which Variety called "an outrageously funny study of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il's theories on moviemaking," and Welcome to Nollywood, Jamie Meltzer's portrait of the robust Nigerian film industry (second only to India's) – and of course, Reygadas' notorious riot-inciter, Silent Light. Best behavior, y'all.
General admission is $5; $3 for AFF members, Blanton Museum members, and UT faculty and students.
New Directions Summer Film Series
Thursday, June 18, 7pm: Gretchen
Sunday, June 21, 3pm: Gretchen
Sunday, June 28, 3pm: Silent Light
Sunday, July 12, 3pm: The Juche Idea
Thursday, July 16, 7pm: Welcome to Nollywood
Sunday, July 19, 3pm: Shotgun Stories