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Final Days of SXSW Film: Movies and Music

Written by , published March 21, 2012

On the last two days of SXSW, I saw two more films, and one that combined two of my favorite SX components—film and music. Both films also happened to have scenes shot not only in Texas, but in Austin, close to home.

In Someone Up There Likes Me, director Bob Byington gives us a cockeyed, comical glimpse into 35 years of the lives of three people, and their predicaments and entanglements as they navigate through life. The timeline is prefaced with animation sequences, which adds to the film’s stylized, whimsical feel. The main character, Max, played by Keith Poulson, never physically ages through the years even as everyone around him does. The wry, deadpan dialogue, combined with Max’s detached observations as life’s pleasures and pain pass him by give the film a cerebral and surreal quality. Nick Offerman (from Parks and Recreation and at least one other SXSW film, Casa de mi Padre) also stars as Max’s friend, Sal. The part gives Offerman a wider character range to explore than what I’ve seen in his other work.

An added bonus: I didn’t realize how much of Someone was filmed in Austin, which makes sense since Byington lives here. I had fun picking out signs for various Austin spots such as Royal Blue Grocery and Justine’s. Also, a scene was filmed in Smithville, across from the “Tree of Life” house, according to Byington at the Q&A after the film. And Austin musician Bob Schneider does a hilarious turn as an over-the-top wedding singer. The film does not yet have a release date. Byington also directed the indie fave Harmony & Me, which was shown at the Austin Film Festival in 2009.

Old Crow Medicine Show performs prior to Big Easy Express screening at LBJ Library lawn.

BIG EASY EXPRESS. Part concert, part road-trip film by Emmett Malloy, which follows three acclaimed indie-folk/roots-revival bands, Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show as they tour by vintage train to six destinations, replicating the journey of the old railroad-revival tour days, and enjoying the camaraderie. The tour begins west in Oakland, and concludes in New Orleans, making two Texas stops: Marfa and Austin. I’m not a fan of concert films, preferring the live experience.  However, the sweeping, scenic landscapes of Northern California, the desert Southwest, and the distinctive West Texas terrain are breathtaking. I also enjoyed the Marfa scenes of the water tower and the courthouse, as well as the astounding sight of 2,000 fans attending the show in a remote field (which, according to the tour website, is roughly equal to the town’s population). In addition, both screenings at the Paramount Theatre and at UT’s LBJ Library lawn included live performances by all three bands.

I went to the LBJ Library event, where thousands packed the lush lawn to hear a two-hour performance by Edward Sharpe and Mumford after the film. In the Austin segment of the film, members of Mumford & Sons visit the Austin High School Band, and both perform for and with each other in the high school band hall, as well as at an outdoor concert. The Austin High Band was also there for the after-film show and performed with Mumford & Sons for their finale. This was a personal thrill for me, and my daughter Lucy, who was with me, as she is an AHS Band alumna. From our view on the hill overlooking the nighttime crowd, the scattering of lights emanating from smart phones shooting video mementos reminded me of an earlier era, when audiences flicked their Bic lighters in appreciation.

Even as the SXSW Film Festival has grown from its Texas roots and become a global showcase, I can’t help but notice the large number of films this year that have origins in Texas or were produced here. Either Texas has become a significant part of the film world, or the film world has become a significant part of Texas.

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