Manifest Destiny

linklater doc premieres at sundance

Richard Linklater (l) and Louis Black

Louis Black, Chronicle Editor and co-founder of South by Southwest, and Karen Bernstein, the Emmy- and Grammy-award-winning documentarian whose subjects have ranged from prison inmates to kids with mental health issues to Lou Reed, are having a moment. On Jan. 26, their first project together as director and co-director respectively, had its world premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and the reception to Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny was positively raucous.

"I never thought about whether or not people would like the film; it just didn't cross my mind that we were going to make a film that would be meaningful to a lot of people," Black said. But it has been nearly a year since Boyhood, Linklater's magnum opus, competed for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and reviews in The Hollywood Reporter and The Guardian both speak to the film's near-perfect timing. On the surface, Dream Is Destiny is about Austin's most prominent filmmaker; yet the doc is also a rumination on his friendships amongst the tight-knit film community here, made all the more potent by his and Black's longstanding connection.

"Rick and I have been talking about films for 30 years," Black said. Naturally, their conversations – each of which includes philosophical adages and compelling personal stories – compose a narrative backbone. Meanwhile, these discussions bookend others with the filmmaker's most famous (Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black) and most trusted (Sandra Adair, Tommy Pallotta) collaborators.

Luckily, the filmmakers successfully avoid the simplistic "talking head" schtick that usually mars nonfiction thanks to expert work by Bernstein's longtime editor, Nevie Owens, and cinematographer David Layton. Layton's photography demonstrates a strong affinity for the medium close-up, easily bringing out the most commanding angles from Hollywood stars, local friends, and family members. Likewise, Owens makes fluid shifts between archival footage and exclusive interviews, with extra goodies from the set of Linklater's new project, Everybody Wants Some. Since editing is perhaps the most essential tool in nonfiction film, Bernstein recognizes Owens' impact on the doc: "We've worked on everything together, and I really mean it when I say that I cannot imagine starting a project without her."

That this particularly affecting film – generically, it is best classified as a stream-of-consciousness biography – will be released as part of the American Masters series following its Sundance berth is still sinking in for Bernstein, who championed the project for years before production began. She pointed out: "Dream Is Destiny was always a hard pitch because prior to Before Midnight, Richard Linklater still was not a household name except to those few people who really love film." She credits this to the fact that, despite decades of critically acclaimed work from Slacker to Bernie, the filmmaker never misbehaved in front of the press, never bad-mouthed a celebrity, and never paraded his family around – in short, he never did the things that might have made him the next Quentin Tarantino.

Yet even with the fame brought by the 18-month press tour for Boyhood, Bernstein said of Linklater, "He has never had an interest in being seen as anything other than genuinely nice. He's just not a bad-boy type." It is precisely Linklater's general hesitation to make a fuss in public that makes his verbosity and open geniality with Black all the more essential for film history.

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More Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny
Louis Black Takes Richard Linklater Doc to PBS
Louis Black Takes Richard Linklater Doc to PBS
dream is destiny airs on American Masters

Sean L. Malin, Sept. 1, 2017

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Louis Black, Karen Bernstein, Richard Linklater, Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny, Sundance Film Festival

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