Eight days of films, four days of panels – there is so much to do at the 21st annual Austin Film Festival that it becomes a challenge to break it down into manageable pieces. That's where we come in. Presented here are some of our initial, but by no means complete, selections. Our best advice, however, is to follow your own instincts. From what we can tell, you can hardly go wrong.
Many of these films will have filmmakers in attendance. Passes for the full eight days of screenings are $65; if available, single-admission tickets go on sale 20 minutes before showtime at the designated theatres. See www.austinfilmfestival.com for the complete schedule.
One strategy for planning your screening schedule is to play favorites. Show support for Texas filmmakers and movies shot in Austin and elsewhere in the Lone Star State. The options are abundant and sure to satisfy. As always, a good place to start is with the numerous shorts programs, which this year number 12. Short films are always the place to discover emerging talent, and that's something that's one of our area's ever-renewing resources.
Features with Texas roots include:
The Sideways Light. Writer/director Jennifer Harlow's film stars Lindsay Burdge (who also starred in last year's A Teacher, which was filmed in Austin). She plays a woman who returns home to care for her ailing mother in their ancestral home, where odd things are taking place.
The Homesman. This Western from native son Tommy Lee Jones was cowritten by Kieran Fitzgerald, a graduate of UT's Michener Center for Writers.
Flutter. In writer/director Eric Hueber's film, a single mother struggles to nurture her son in the face of poverty and the boy's worsening glaucoma, which leads her to begin cultivating her own hydroponic solution.
61 Bullets. David Modigliani (Crawford) and Louisiana Kreutz helm this documentary about the death of Huey P. Long, which, 75 years after the fact, questions the official story about the Louisiana governor's assassination by Dr. Carl Weiss. Screening with 61 Bullets is "Atomic City," David McMurry's half-hour documentary about the town of Arco, Idaho, the first city in the world lit electrically with atomic power.
Crazy Carl and His Man-Boobs: An Austin Love Story. The title of Mike Woolf's documentary profile may tell you all you need to know, but for those unfamiliar with this flower-spinner and perennial City Council candidate, Crazy Carl Hickerson was Austin's favorite eccentric before getting displaced by Leslie. Playing before Crazy Carl is the short film "Spoke," Henry Horenstein's chronicle of Austin's beloved country music hall, the Broken Spoke.
Morphine: Journey of Dreams. Former Electric Lounge owner Mark Shuman crosses over into filmmaking with this documentary about the cult band Morphine, which blazed in the Nineties from small clubs to packed international shows, until meeting an untimely end.
The History of Time Travel. Writer/director Ricky Kennedy delivers a story about a man whose quest to create a time machine for a secret government program fails, and his ambition is taken up by his son who successfully completes his father's work, and in the process, changes history forever.
Hardy. Nasasha Verma (who graduated from UT with double degrees at the age of 17) directs this documentary about a female boxer and single mother who fights to achieve success in the male-dominated sport.
21 Years: Richard Linklater. This film by Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood looks at the Austin-based filmmaker's career from a perspective of 21 years after Slacker and compiles a bunch of interviews with collaborators who know him best – Ethan Hawke, Matthew McConaughey, Julie Delpy, Jack Black, Keanu Reeves, Parker Posey, the Chronicle's Louis Black, and many more.
Deep Austin Film Festival roots ground the world premiere of Dawn Patrol. The script (then titled Stranded) had it origins in the 2008 screenplay competition, where it was picked up, and is now returning to the fest as a completed film. It's directed by Daniel Petrie Jr., and stars Scott Eastwood, Rita Wilson, and Jeff Fahey. The film's intriguing logline reads: "Dawn Patrol follows a surfer-turned-Marine held at gunpoint in a distant desert who tells his tragic story of revenge gone wrong to stall his execution."
Reinforcing its focus on television as well as movies, the festival presents a preview of this upcoming series starring Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton that his been laying down episodes in Austin during the past year. Hopes are high for this ABC Studios venture which is written, directed, and executive produced by the Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years a Slave).
Put your search for the next big thing on hold for a bit and catch one of the retrospective screenings selected by guest programmers, who will discuss the reasons for their choices in a post-screening Q&A. This 1984 Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke tour-de-farce is my personal pick. Other equally fascinating options include screenwriters Randall Wallace presenting Braveheart, Terry George with In the Name of the Father, Jenny Lumet showcasing her father Sidney's film Network, and Matthew Weiner presenting episodes of The Twilight Zone.
Several films geared for family viewing are scheduled, but Popovich stands out not only for the quality of the film but the uniqueness of its red carpet. This story about an ex-circus performer who must depend on his wiles and his animals' charms to save their act will have several of the film's furry stars pawing their way down the red carpet.
"Shipwrecked," another Family Film, is open to the public at large. The short film is an immersive, 4-D theatre experience that was produced by the Bullock Texas State History Museum to complement their new exhibit La Belle: The Ship That Changed History. It follows the perilous journey of the French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, who sailed west to establish a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi River in 1684.
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