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Seen (and Heard) at SXSW Film

Written by , published March 13, 2012

My SXSW Film journey started off slowly—I admit, rain plus crowds were enough to deter me from my usual energetic approach to mega-festivals. (Overheard in line on Sunday: “Glad the sun came out today. Was beginning to think this was South-By-South-Wet!”)  Also, I want to save my strength for SXSW Music this week.

Three of the five films I’ve seen so far have Texas ties: The Imposter, America’s Parking Lot, (also mentioned in my earlier post, SXSW Film—A Texas Preview) and The Taiwan Oyster. Here are my thoughts on the Texas-related films I’ve seen so far:

My first screening was the documentary-thriller The Imposter, at Alamo Drafthouse Lamar on Saturday. Based on the 1994 case of a missing San Antonio teen, Nicholas Barclay, who is presumed found in Spain three years later, the story is told through the young Frenchman, Frédéric Bourdin, who assumes the boy’s identity in order to escape imprisonment for similar false identity offenses. Bourdin also longs to experience the idyllic childhood deprived of him, having been abused and abandoned early in life. I’m not usually a fan of thrillers or Hard Copy-type shows, but I found the film intense and riveting, with occasional moments of levity. A San Antonio private investigator, Charlie Parker, is the first to expose Bourdin’s identity (with the help of Adobe Photoshop) and his candor and humor, despite the grim situation nearly steals the show.  I also discovered that I was sitting next to Parker and his wife during the screening, and had a nice chat with them. Parker and the director, Bart Layton answered questions after the film.

America’s Parking Lot, (photo at top) a documentary that’s part-drama, part-comedy focuses on two of the truest Cowboy fans and super-tailgators you could ever meet, Stan "Tiger" Schults and Cy Ditmore.  I’m a passing sports fan at best (and former Houstonian who occasionally roots for the Texans) but I came away feeling much empathy and a bit of sadness for what these guys lost when Texas Stadium imploded and Cowboys Stadium replaced it. Tiger and Cy were in attendance at the Canon Screening Room along with first-time director, Austin actor Jonny Mars. Before their Q&A, Tiger Schults led the audience in a boisterous Cowboys pep rally. Even this fair-weather Texan fan can get behind that!

The Taiwan Oyster may not sound like a movie with a Texas connection, but the director, Mark Jarrett is a 10-year Austin resident. Based on his expat years as a kindergarten teacher in Taichung (Austin's sister city) during and after the 1999 earthquake, this offbeat road trip movie follows two friends and a young Taiwanese-British woman they meet as they set out to find a proper burial home in the Taiwan countryside for a fellow American they barely knew. At times the film feels meandering, but the lush, green mountainous landscapes are breathtaking, and the culture-clash episodes are amusing, as is the juxtaposition of old-school American country and rockabilly as the film’s soundtrack.

I also saw a couple of non-Texas films: SELLEBRITY and See Girl Run.

SELLEBRITY is an eye-opening documentary, which covers the preposterous lengths paparazzi go to fuel our obsession with celebrities, and how that fuel is generated by the media and unwittingly, by fans. The film also documents the history of the public’s fascination for star gossip, beginning with Mary Pickford and the silent film era. Musician Sheryl Crow is one of several stars who appear in the film, and made a surprise appearance with the director (and noted celeb photographer) Kevin Mazur and his crew to answer questions after the premiere. Gilberto Petrucci, one of the original paparazzo who inspired Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, also appears in the film and was at the Q&A.

See Girl Run: Described as “what happens when a 30-something woman allows life's "what ifs" to overwhelm her appreciation for what life actually is,” and “… digging into her romantic past in hopes of invigorating her present,” I was expecting more of a chick-flick comedy. Instead, the film was more of a romantic indie drama about the relationship road not taken, as viewed not only from the lead character, Emmie, but her brother, parents, and grandmother as well. Robin Tunney (of The Mentalist) plays Emmie, and Adam Scott (of Parks and Recreation and just-released film Friends With Kids) plays the “one who got away.” Nate Meyer directed the film, and was set and shot in Maine and in Brooklyn.  I admired the film’s ending montage of waterfronts, boat docks, and small-town street scenes, which seemed to evoke an Edward Hopper-esque quality.

Before this SX Film coverage for TH, I have never seen more than one or two films during the film festival, and the last time I went was more than ten years ago. It’s been a fun and fascinating experience meeting all sorts of film-goers in line, elderly couples, teens accompanied by parents, women as well as men going solo, as well as the stereotypical groups of hipsters in black leather. I enjoyed lots of discussions and tips on which movies to see from my new film friends. Heard much buzz about KID-THING, Trash Dance (also see Lori Moffatt’s latest blog), Los Chidos, and Girl Walk // All Day.

But I’m not done yet. Check back for more SX Film insights and observations.

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