Austin Filmmaker Brings Her Rap Drama Back Home
Katherine Propper finds family in Lost Soulz at Sound Unseen Film + Music Festival
Katherine Propper understands what it is to be young today. Or, at least, she understands how to recount the stories and experiences of contemporary teens through the lens of an adult filmmaker. When I talked with the Austin filmmaker in 2022 about her last short, hybrid docudrama "Birds," she said, "I can't erase my point of view in the film, so it may feel like a twentysomething's perspective on youth – some of which is timeless."
Propper's debut feature, Lost Soulz, is in many ways an archetypical teen film, in a which a young musician, East Austin rapper Sol (Sauve Sidle), gets in the van with a seemingly worldly-wise older band and learns some tough life lessons on tour. Yet there is also something undoubtedly "of the moment" about the film, which screens as part of the Sound Unseen Film + Music Festival (Dec. 6-10). This Austin premiere wraps up a successful festival run that kicked off with an audience award at the Tribeca Film Festival in June, and just after news that it has been acquired by Kino Lorber for theatrical and home release in 2024.
Chatting about the film via choppy internet from Northern Spain (where Lost Soulz wrapped up its international run with screenings at the Festival Internacional de Cine de Gijón) seems apposite for Lost Soulz – or rather, the challenges that Propper faced in initially connecting with her cast.
She already knew Sidle, having met him in 2016 just after she moved to Austin from Los Angeles. He appeared as one of the Austin skate kids in her 2019 short "Street Flame," and then his rap career started to take off, even going on tour with Juice WRLD. However, even before his new fame, Propper knew she wanted to make "a bigger film" with him, "and I wanted to incorporate him being a rapper," Propper explained. She also knew they shared a connection from having both had unconventional home lives while in high school: When they first met, Sidle had moved away from his family in Houston to play football in Austin at Lake Travis High, and not only had Propper stayed with friends during her own junior year, but in 2018 her younger brother moved in with her so he could attend McCallum High, "and I was like his mom, basically." That shared experience became an underlying theme of Lost Soulz, which she described as being about "somebody trying to pursue a big goal or dream, and not having a conventional support system."
She'd originally met Sidle through a Craigslist ad, and the rest of Lost Soulz's rap collective came through equally unorthodox routes. Venezuelan rapper Micro TDH, who plays sweet-natured Froggy, was recommended by the film's backers. She found Houston rapper Tauran Ambroise via Instagram, while Alexander Brackney and Malachi Mabson were initially writing songs for the film and Propper convinced them to jump in front of the camera when other actors fell through. Yet even with people that Sidle recommended, the casting process could be challenging: Some, like Aaron Melloul (who plays the erratic Seven) were eager to be a part of the film. Others, less so. "I'm not sure if you've ever tried messaging this age group but they're not the easiest to get a hold of," Propper said. "A lot of them don't have conventional reps, so I'm messaging them on Instagram or texting them and hoping that they take it seriously. There were many people I messaged and reached out to, and the conversation fell flat or they ghosted me or stopped responding."
There's a juxtaposition in Propper's work. Her stories have a verité quality, often coming from working with nonactors. At the same time, her earliest works include short documentaries of Hollywood's great stylists, like Billy Wilder and Gone With the Wind cinematographer Ernest Haller. That fusion creates an effect that Propper called "naturalistic, but I hope also visually beautiful and aesthetically colorful."
It's reflected in Propper's gift for finding what is already beautiful and strange – like an empty Prada store in the middle of the desert. "I love shooting outside, because there's so much natural production value," she said. The location scouting process was mainly from taking the same road trip the characters do, from Austin to Marfa and then El Paso. That last stop was driven by filmmaking necessity: "It's very difficult to find housing in Marfa for large groups of people, and a lot of things are closed all the time, so it's not a great place to have a base camp. But the biggest city nearby is El Paso, and I had never visited it before. It reminded me of Southern California, because it had mountains and deserts and landscapes I was attracted to."
Once there, the community opened their arms to the production, "because I met so many people in the town who wanted to be really helpful in terms of suggesting locations and people to know in terms of making a film there." That's even how she found another actor, El Paso rapper Krystall Poppin, who she cast without an audition to play tour manager Nina. "I felt really lucky, because I didn't know she was going to be able to act, but I figured that because she'd been in music videos she knew how to be on camera, and I'd heard her voice and knew what she sounded like. That was just taking a bet on someone who I just thought looked really compelling."Lost Soulz Austin Premiere
Sat., Dec. 9, 7pm
AFS Cinema, 6259 Middle Fiskville. $15.
Lost Soulz Hip-Hop Showcase
Featurning stars of the film Sauve Sidle, Malachi Mabson, Krystall Poppin, Alex Brackney, and Tauran "Big40Thrax" Ambroise
Sat., Dec. 9, 9:30pm
High Noon, 2000 E. Cesar Chavez. Free.
Sound Unseen Film + Music Festival ATX 2023
The fourth year of the Austin expansion of the Minneapolis-born hybrid fest runs Dec. 6-10 at AFS Cinema, 6259 Middle Fiskville, beginning with the Texas premiere of Let the Canary Sing, the new documentary about the career of pop icon and rock & roll survivor Cyndi Lauper. The lineup includes We Are Fugazi From Washington D.C. (the not-a-documentary co-directed by Chronicle contributor Joe Gross), a 10th anniversary screening of The Punk Singer about riot grrrl mainstay Kathleen Hanna, and closing night selection Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection. Tickets and info at soundunseen.com/austin-festival.