Whenever March 1st arrives, I can’t help but have the following thought: not only am I lucky to be alive, I am so-so very-very lucky-lucky to be me-me-me. For at no other time of year do my most cherished personal taste buds converge so mightily as they do in the weeks between mid-March and mid-April.
First up is something everyone can appreciate: the return of spring. All it takes is that first warm, bird chirpy morning to make my Seasonal Affective Disorder disappear in a blink, like it hadn’t just been dragging me down for the past several months (i.e., forever). It’s as if my nagging SAD, as well as the winter season itself, looked at each other late one night, shrugged, and hopped on a red-eye back to the North Pole or wherever they go to twiddle their thumbs until next winter, leaving me behind to bask in the magic realization that, all of a sudden, all that pent up wintry internal pressure is just gone. It never ceases to amaze me.
Second up is something fewer can appreciate: March Madness. While I’ve progressively begun to care less and less about professional sports, my affinity for college basketball, and especially this particular time of the season, is alive and thriving. Conference tournaments, leading into Selection Sunday, which in turn kicks off a giddy week of studying the brackets and fantasizing about the excitement to come… if you don’t get it, you never will. Thankchristfully for me, I do.
Third up is something even fewer get to experience: South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. For me, it’s all about the film festival, which champions the best in low-budget American independent cinema but is also well rounded in seemingly every other way (nonfiction, world cinema, genre films, etc.). By the second weekend, although movies are still being shown, the music festival has swallowed the city, creating an even more visceral opportunity to absorb some of the freshest new pop culture on the planet (and make the terminal ringing in my ears even louder). Combine this with the reality that in sports bars everywhere, March Madness is occupying every screen… all I can say to those of you have seen me in action the past several years and were convinced I was having a powder party up my nose, I wasn’t. I just find it hard to contain myself when experiencing the gold rush that is SXSW and its surrounding elements: spring weather, good music, great movies, and college freaking basketball!
And then there’s the Alamo Drafthouse, which is its own form of Heaven On Earth. Don’t even get me started on Tim League’s glorious institution. I can’t promise many things in life, but I can guarantee you that between March 12th and 19th, the following items will be saying WHAT’S UP, DADDY? to my stomach: multiple draft beers, several large tubs of buttered popcorn, a chicken strip basket, a chocolate milkshake, BBQ wings, and much more.
Then there’s St. Patrick’s Day. As my father is from Ireland (County Galway, represent), I should be happy that this overlaps with SXSW every year, but in reality, all this holiday does is gaudily constipate Austin’s already busy enough streets by tossing green clothing and raucous vomit into the mix. It’s like 6th St. becomes the obnoxious set of a low-rent House of Pain video.
The 2010 SXSW Film Festival promises to be a memorable one, as evidenced by a quick glance at the meaty schedule. I have already seen 28 of the feature films, and I am happy/surprised to say that I would recommend just about all of them (to varying degrees, of course). Shamefully, I appear to have only seen two of the shorts—Andrew Goldman and Andrew Blackwell’s Bikini Lighters and Bobby Miller’s TUB—but they are both excellent and worth your time. There are at least 20 more features that are very high on my list, and since I’m staying through Friday this year, I plan to see those 20 and hopefully several more. For now, let me try to wrap my brain around the films I have seen to help those of you out who are hoping to wrassle this program to the ground…
MY PERSONAL FAVORITES
Last Train Home
The Red Chapel
His & Hers
WORLD PREMIERES THAT I HAVE SEEN AND THOROUGHLY RECOMMEND
NY Export: Opus Jazz (Co-director/cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes quoted me describing this majestic beauty as “Elephant meets West Side Story” and I’m sticking to that. Mark my words, you won’t see a more beautiful film at SXSW this year.)
Tiny Furniture (Full disclosure: I have only seen an early cut of this film and expect it to be even better in its finished version. With it, the absurdly young Lena Dunham has made a gargantuan artistic leap forward. But don’t listen to me. Listen to the reviews as they start to roll in.)
11/4/08 (I am scrambling to get a full review of curator—NOT director—Jeff Deutchman’s provocative cinematic experiment written before I land in Austin, but in case that doesn’t happen, I wanted to make sure that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.)
OTHER FILMS THAT HAVE SCREENED ELSEWHERE AND ARE WORTH YOUR TIME IN SOME WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM
On the Other Side of Life
AN ALL-TIME GREAT WITH SOME ADDED FLAVOR
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, Denmark, 1928) — As much as I want to see this film on the big screen with a live musical accompaniment by In the Nursery, I don’t know if that’s fair to the other films in the festival. I think it would be incredibly hard to hop into a low-budget American indie after re-experiencing what is, without question, one of cinema’s most towering achievements.
AN INTERESTING COMPANION PIECE TO JOSH FOX’S GASLAND
Haynesville: A Nation’s Relentless Hunt For Energy (Gregory Kallenberg, USA, 2010) — Movies always come in twos, but in this case, Gregory Kallenberg is facing an uphill battle against Josh Fox’s throbbingly vital GasLand. That said, I actually think Haynesville makes for a valuable complement to that more incendiary film, if only to see just how complicated the developing natural gas situation in our country actually is. Removing people who light the water streaming out of their kitchen sinks on fire just by putting a match up to it! from the equation, Kallenberg’s film examines the situation from many sides, showing those who are benefiting from this modern day gold rush yet not in an exploitative way. I’ve been thinking about which film would be better to watch first, and right now I’m leaning towards Haynesville. One thing I will say, just because you’ve seen one of them doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see the other.
YOU HAVE BEEN FOREWARNED
Red, White & Blue (Simon Rumley, UK, 2010) — A month removed from Rotterdam and I’m even less sure how I feel about Simon Rumley’s punishing Red, White & Blue, which recalls Bruno Dumont’s Twentynine Palms in more ways than one. File this under “non-American director puts his own warped spin on what life is like in the good ol’ US of A.” One thing’s for sure. Though Red, White & Blue gets shockingly twisted, this isn’t mere torture porn. Rumley uses an elliptical editing style that keeps viewers off-balance throughout and makes his film feel artful even when everything else about it screams schlock genre. Rumley definitely drills his casting—at least with regards to his two main leads. Noah Taylor and Amanda Fuller don’t just look the part. They are the part. Though I am still scratching my head about Marc Senter, whose own performance is so campy that I can’t tell if this was intentional (good David Lynch) or unintentional (bad David Lynch). Even if you like it, Red, White & Blue will make you feel gross. And if you don’t, it’ll make you feel really gross.
NOT IN AUSTIN? THAT’S OKAY!
For those of you who aren’t attending SXSW but want to get a taste of what we’ll be watching, Cinetic FilmBuff and IFC Films have a very solid slate of VOD-ready titles ready for the taking. FilmBuff’s picks, which are available on iTunes and AmazonVOD, are two very different, though equally strong, examples of UK cinema: Justin Molotnikov’s comic thriller Crying With Laughter and David Bond’s provocative documentary Erasing David. I dug both of these films and think they’re perfect fits for this frisky approach to distribution. As they did last year, IFC Films is returning with their “Direct From SXSW” OnDemand series (available beginning 3/12). I am a very big fan of Bryan Poyser’s Lovers of Hate, so if you only pick one film to see, I urge it to be that. While I haven’t yet caught up with Shane Meadows’s Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee or Emmett Malloy’s The White Stripes: Under the Great White Northern Lights, I am interested in both (though I’m way more excited about the Meadows). As a bonus treat, two well received American indies from SXSW 2009, Jon Bryant’s The Overbrook Brothers and Daryl Wein’s Breaking Upwards, are also yours for the taking.
16 FILMS I AM EXCITED TO SEE
No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson
Enter the Void (I have been avoiding Gaspar Noe’s latest shocktacle for as long as I can but I’m now confident that seeing this at midnight at SXSW is the perfect way to stab my cherry into shredded pieces.)
Leaves of Grass
The Myth of the American Sleepover
Phillip the Fossil
The Canal Street Madam
Audrey the Trainwreck
The Weird World of Blowfly
Jimmy Tupper Vs. The Goatman of Bowie (While I have an affinity for urban legends, I’m more attracted to this movie because I lived in Bowie, Maryland, until I was eight years old!)
As you can see, we’ve all got a lot to chew on. So start chewing…
— Michael Tully