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Help Austin film 'The Happy Poet' see the world

Jonny Mars (l) with writer/director Paul Gordon in <i>The Happy Poet</i>
Jonny Mars (l) with writer/director Paul Gordon in The Happy Poet

When Jonny Mars describes The Happy Poet as a movie about "the little guy trying to make it big," it's hard to resist running with the easy metaphor. Yes, it's an apt description of writer/director Paul Gordon's low-key, locally made comedy about an organic food purveyor struggling to make a difference in a hot-dog-stand kind of world – but it's also a bigger-picture distillation of any indie filmmaker's aspirations. And Mars is plunk down square in the middle of the Austin chapter of that indie film scene. In addition to co-producing and co-starring in The Happy Poet, he's pulling the same duties on Sean Gallagher's in-production Home while appearing in Jason Wehling's short "The GrownUps" (which just screened at Cannes) and finishing up his own documentary about Dallas Cowboys tailgaters and "the idea [that] corporatism is slowly destroying the middle class." Oh, yeah, and did we mention he has a day job? Because, so far, none of these projects – labors of love, all – have made that crucial crossover into pays-the-bills profitability.

"I'll paraphrase Mr. Stanley Kubrick here," says Mars, who spoke to me via phone with unflagging enthusiasm and almost comical politeness, a funny foil to his Poet character, the means-well-but-does-way-worse pot dealer Donnie. "The hardest thing isn't making the picture, it's getting people to watch it." Austin audiences will have a chance – their first since The Happy Poet's sold-out world premiere at this year's South by Southwest Film Festival – at a screening June 3 at the Marchesa Theatre meant to fundraise for the film's screening at New York's Rooftop Films Summer Series this summer as well as an international festival run. Cast and crew will be in attendance, which should prove especially illuminating considering Gordon wrote the major roles with the actors (including Chris Doubek and Liz Fisher) already in mind.

When I ask Mars if he recognizes himself in the character of Donnie, he laughs. "Oh, yeah. For sure. I mean the character's name is Donnie, for God's sake. There are definitely some things that come out of Donnie's mouth that ...." Mars makes a noise somewhere between a chuckle and a cackle. "I don't want to say they were ripped from the pages of Jonny Mars, but he definitely was inspired by some of our interactions."

The Happy Poet fundraiser screening, presented by Screen Door Film, the Austin Film Society, and the Marchesa Theatre, takes place Thursday, June 3, 7:30pm, at the Marchesa Theatre (6406 N. I-35). Advance tickets can be purchased at For more information, visit

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