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Austin Film Festival 2008 October 23, 2008

Posted by William J. Meyer in Jack's Festivals & Screenings.
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Last week at this time I was in Texas.

Although Jack did not have an official presence at this year’s Austin Film Festival, nonetheless I am using this occasion to initiate a new blog category as it marks the first time someone other than myself or Jeff and Georgia (the producers) have seen the film. Plus, that first secret screening will positively affect the final version. So, “I figured, what the hell.”

Thursday, October 16

I went to the festival with Bradley Scott Sullivan, who worked a day on crew for Jack. While waiting outside in line for the festival’s opener, Oliver Stone’s W, we met David Modigliani. David was working the crowd, telling us about his documentary Crawford, the story of George W. Bush relocating to Crawford, Texas, after announcing his candidacy for the presidency. The film is really about the townsfolk and the resulting frictions and misrepresentations following Bush’s move. I recommend it; I particularly enjoyed the way editing creates the atmosphere of the town in the first few minutes. You can watch Crawford in its entirety on Hulu.

W was okay. Certainly the highlights were Phedon Papamichael’s crisp cinematography and the fine performances from Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush, and Josh Brolin as the titular W. Brolin never strayed into caricature or imitation, which was very welcome. The most I can say for the film is that it ends with ellipses, not an exclamation point. Afterwards James Cromwell, who played Bush senior, came out on stage for some Q&A. I had no idea Zefram Cochrane was so frakkin’ tall! He invited those in attendance to talk politics with him the next morning in some ballroom somewhere.

After W we checked out Max Payne. While in line at the Paramount we chilled with Carlos Medina, director of The Great Escape, a short which screened at the fest. Strangely, we talked about movies. Once we were seated, Beau Thorne, Austin native and Max Payne’s scribe, introduced the film. It was a snicker-filled screening, so I don’t think he had much fun.

Friday, October 17

Brad convinced me to check out The Stanton Family Grave Robbery, and I’m glad he did. Seven-time-threat Mark Potts was on hand to discuss this low-budget road comedy. The script was great; even an old curmudgeon like myself laughed out loud. I also liked the low-key performances. Big props to the filmmaking team for just gettin’ off their butts and making their first feature. Inspirational in that regard. I saw the film at the universally famous Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, which was a treat, what with their wacky pre-show entertainment and the distinct possibility of ordering food (sadly, I had just eaten).

At this time, Brad and I watched the current cut of The House That Jack Built. When he segues into features, Brad will be a director to watch. I trust his cinematic instincts. Hell, he agrees with me that real men only use cuts, so I can’t really ask for much more. He also understands the vulnerability a filmmaker endures while showing a rough cut. Overall his response was positive, and he pointed out a few areas to tighten as well as where to clarify plot points. I’ve always enjoyed the density of his sound mixes, and he suggested a few strategies in that regard. Unfortunately, he wasn’t crying at the end. So I failed on that front.

Next we checked out Danny Boyle’s new film, Slumdog Millionaire. I had no idea what to expect. It’s surely the feel-good hit of the year, and I do not say that cynically. Certainly the unexpected main-on-end title sequence was a real joy. I wish I could watch that bit right now. Truly ebullient! Danny was witty and engaging during the subsequent Q&A. Real down to earth bloke, by the cut of his jib. Slumdog was immediately followed by Danny’s first flick, Shallow Grave. I had never seen it, and was quite startled to find the ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, lurking in the murderous shadows. And, what, now he’s playing Destro?! Weird.

Saturday, October 18

Saturday was panel day. Huzzah! First we went to “Dialogue Finding Voice” with John August, John Lee Hancock, and Stephen Harrigan. Okay, I’ll admit I had no idea who these guys were. Looking over their IMDB profiles, I see I haven’t seen any of their work either. They had some good things to say, though. The next panel, “Writers Who Direct,” had a little more fire in its belly. Bryan Bertino, Eric Red, the aforementioned John Lee Hancock, and Shane Black were on hand to share trials and tribulations. I enjoyed listening to Bryan, writer and director of The Strangers. I recommend checking out the great audio interview with this first time writer-director over at Creative Screenwriting. Shane Black (writer-director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), on the other hand, had some choice opinions, including the need for directors to throw chairs around sets and yell at someone, anyone, at least once per day.

Thankfully such boorish behaviour was (unknowingly) directly contradicted by Danny Boyle in the next panel, the aptly titled “A Conversation with Danny Boyle,” when Danny debunked the auteur theory and spoke of positive collaborations with the writer among others on the filmmaking team. To paraphrase, no need to be an ego-driven jerk. Sitting ten feet away, I could really feel the energy coming off this man, especially as he engaged the audience with wit, anecdotes, humility, and insight. Boyle even shot down Brad’s suggestion that he redefined the zombie flick with 28 Days Later. Boyle went on to tell us that audiences in France, India, and the U.S. had “cinema in their blood,” unlike most of the rest of the planet, including his fellows back in England. He also spoke about Sunshine critics loathing the Pinbacker character, and how in the distant future aliens sifting through the detritus of Earth will discover Pixar and nothing else about our film history.

I went to another panel after that but I fell asleep leaning against the back wall.

We ended the day, and the fest more or less, with Shorts Program Number Two. I have to say, of all the shorts programs I’ve seen, whether it be at Sundance, the Wisconsin Film Festival, or Wildwood, this was the most well-rounded.

The highlights of the festival were definitely Danny Boyle and Brad’s review of the current cut of Jack. Some great filmmaking vitamins!

-William, Director

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