The Austin Chronicle

A Room Full of Nothing Is a Farewell Note to Austin's Art Scene

Breaking up in the apocalypse at the Austin Film Festival

By Jenny Nulf, October 25, 2019, Screens

Duncan Coe and Elena Weinberg spent most of their lives in Austin ("30 and 33 years, respectively," said Coe). Recently the married dynamic directing duo moved to Los Angeles to pursue their craft, but before they did, they created the film A Room Full of Nothing, which they describe as a breakup letter to Austin.

Coe explained, "[We] both come from the theatre scene, and then the indie film scene, so we've seen the evolution of the community theatre scene. There's a space crisis. Theatres are being shut down constantly, and we were first-hand witnesses to this destruction, this breakdown of this artistic culture."

That frustration is filtered through A Room Full of Nothing. Barry (played by Coe) and Phyllis (local actress Ivy Meehan) are two Austinites who one day wake up only to discover they are the final two people on the planet. Weinberg stated, "This film serves in a way as a 'Be careful what you wish for' scenario."

"I think Barry and Phyllis have their no-good-very-bad days," she added. "They get their bad reviews, and they're just like, 'Screw this town! We're doing this art for free and nobody appreciates it. We want this to go away.' As artists, I think we've all certainly had those moments where we feel like nobody understands, we're the ones that are right, and want to get out of [town]. That's the breakup from the artistic community that feels like it doesn't appreciate you sometimes, even when you're wrong."

"The burning misery of being an indie artist is sort of the thought experiment that fuels the movie," Coe added.

In A Room Full of Nothing, Phyllis wishes to the moon to live the rest of her days on Earth in solitude with Barry. "That comes from my own obsession with outer space," Coe said. "My personality very much lends itself to the void of space. ... I've always been drawn to it. There's a larger narrative in the film about the sun and the moon and the dichotomy of the two, the yin and yang in that, which was reflected in Barry and Phyllis' relationship."

He added, "The idea there is that there's always something greater than yourself out there, and we might become a little self- obsessed and inward focused, but you can't beat Mother Nature."

The metaphor is drawn on Phyllis' skin, in the form of a tattoo of the sun rising and setting – which Meehan called "a little Easter egg. [It asked] who was in charge and more powerful. There were talks in pre-production if Phyllis was the sun and Barry was the moon. When Barry tells [one of] his stories in the film, it questions whether the sun overpowered the moon because of brute strength or just because it shined brighter."

The question of whether or not Phyllis' wish is selfish is the driving force of the film. Austin locals are infamous for their disgruntled opinions on the change outsiders bring to the city, and A Room Full of Nothing forces locals to hold a mirror up to their prejudices. "It goes back to encountering those people that you think are shitty, and thinking you're the one who is right. But are you really?" Weinberg posed. "That kind of manifests in Barry and Phyllis' relationship, because they think everything will be okay if everyone else goes away because they're the ones who are good. In the end, are they?"

Coe concurred. "Everybody's got some shit going on that we don't know about."

A Room Full of Nothing

Sat., Oct. 26, 4:15pm, Galaxy Highland
Wed., Oct. 30, 1:45pm, Hideout Theatre

A Room Full of Nothing Trailer from TurtleDoveFilms on Vimeo.

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