Saddle Up For The 2015 Austin Film Festival
Austin, Texas is a haven for film-fest fanatics. Just one of several high-profile festivals in the city, October’s annual Austin Film Festival (AFF) has set itself apart by showcasing the art of screenwriting. AFF offers a space for analyzing and awarding great movie writing, which festival organizers say is a “historically under-represented” aspect of filmmaking.
This year, panels on the topic of writing include deep analyses of iconic scripts as well as how-to sessions for aspiring scribes. “Deconstructing Animal House” will look at Harold Ramis and John Landis’s irreverent frat-house classic, and “Script-to-Screen: Se7en” will answer how Andrew Kevin Walker’s dark detective story came to life under the guidance of director David Fincher. Writers will get tips on their craft in workshops like “Teenage Scriptland,” “Dystopian Worlds,” and “Chicks Who Write Boy Flicks.”
For most festival-goers, though, the star attraction is AFF’s slate of movies. Legend — not the Tom Cruise ‘80s cult fantasy, but a British gangster story starring Tom Hardy in two separate roles — kicks off the festival on Thursday night, October 29, with writer and director Brian Helgeland in attendance. Autumn Fall, a Norwegian romance about a young playwright and an older actor, also plays on Thursday. So will 3rd Street Blackout, a comedy set during Hurricane Sandy in which lovers and friends must communicate face-to-face without the aid of their drained devices.
On Friday, director Nancy Buirski will be on-hand for a screening of her documentary on director Sidney Lumet, helpfully titled By Sidney Lumet. The writer and director of El Jeremías, a Mexican coming-of-age film about an 8-year-old savant, will be present as well, and an Albert Maysles-affiliated documentary about people who ride Amtrak looks to be an emotional and memorable ride. Sympathy for the Devil: The True Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment is perhaps the most eye-catching title in the AFF lineup, and its expose of a Satanic cult rumored to be behind the Manson Family and the Bobby Kennedy assassination promises to be no less engaging. Oscar Isaac’s Mojave promises a bloody desert noir, and the world premiere of Jack’s Apocalypse should clarify exactly why the world is ending for Jack and nobody else.
A panel on Saturday titled “Die Hard vs. Lethal Weapon” seems straight out of Flickchart, but the day’s movie highlight might be Tear Me Apart from Cannibal Films, which sounds like a dark Hunger Games for a “post-apocalyptic England.” John Singleton will present a screening of his 1991 inner-city melodrama Boyz in the Hood that evening, while the U.S. premiere of AfterDeath comes advertised with the intriguing premise “Five young people wake up dead.”
Sunday afternoon belongs to a trio of sociopolitical works: Memoria is about a disaffected boy obsessed with war, No Más Bebés exposes the secret sterilization of Mexican women in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 70s, and Traficant is about the Democratic Ohio politician whose name became a near-synonym for scandal. For those who are skipping church on Sunday to attend the festival, Last Days in the Desert is a Christ story featuring Ewan McGregor that sounds indebted to the 1965 critical favorite Simon of the Desert. That evening writer/director Arturo Ruiz Serrano’s The Exile will try to live up to a strong legacy of Spanish Civil War films (see Pan’s Labyrinth and The Spirit of the Beehive) in its North American debut. Monsterman is another U.S. premiere, a documentary about Scandinavian heavy metal that seems well-tailored to the music-loving city of Austin.
That’s just a taste of the first week of AFF 2015. Films and panels will extend through Thursday, November 5, and here on the blog we will rank each day’s highs and lows in true Flickchart fashion.
On a personal note, there’s one thing that troubles me. I’ll be walking around Austin, home to the burnt-orange University of Texas, wearing a maroon Flickchart hoodie — the color of UT’s hated rival Texas A&M. Here’s hoping there isn’t a lot of overlap between film festival nuts and college football fanatics.