Archive for the ‘Regional Film’ Category

SXSW: The Whole Shootin’ Match, indeed

Friday, March 16th, 2007

After a hellish 13 hour trip from Austin to Knoxville (don’t get me started about the airline industry) I’m in Knoxville scouting locations for a film. Before I get completely absorbed with that work, here are some final notes on my last day or so at SXSW.

Tuesday was my panel, Blogging about Film. Alison did a nice job moderating the conversation, and I really enjoyed sharing the microphone with Joel, Agnes, Mark, and Lance. All had very smart things to say, and we had different perspectives on the issues raised by Alison and the audience.

Many of the people in the audience — a crowd of about 75 — were bloggers themselves. At least some of them (Anthony Kaufman, Mike Tully, and AJ Schnack, to name just a few) could have just as easily been on the panel.

One of the more interesting discussions that arose concerned the question of whether bloggers are journalists or not. We also addressed some of the ethical issues that can arise when blogging about film, like whether you should review films by your friends.

After the panel, a few of the people mentioned above went to the Iron Works BBQ to continue talking film. I then caught 638 Ways to Kill Castro. I wasn’t planning on seeing it, but it was a good way to stay out of the torrential rain. Castro is a fairly typical leftist documentary (e.g., interviews and archival footage, romantic longing for the revolutionary spirit of the 60s, damning evidence of US government’s covert activities, etc.). It’s all very upsetting, but the film offers little in the way of suggestions about what the audience should do with its anger. Even more troubling is the fact that the film also asks very few questions about Casto’s own record on human rights. Of course, the question of whether such abuses make one worthy of assassination are never asked, in part, because the parties that want Castro dead don’t care about his human rights abuses — they simply want to exploit Cuba for their own ends. Still, in a film that takes as its subject the covert use of power and violence, it seems odd to neglect discussing Castro’s own abuses in this regard. Despite these misgivings, I was, in the moment, oddly entertained by the film — a combination of wry commentary and ironic archival footage give it a sense of humor (as well as a sense of the absurd), which is lacking in so many other earnest, liberal documentaries. My questions linger, though.

After the movie, I hung out with James Johnston and Amy McNutt. We talked politics, movies, and sugar substitutes over at a restaurant with some fine vegan deserts. Yum.

Finally, I made it over to Eagle Pennell’s The Whole Shootin’ Match. With all due respect to Frownland, Hannah Takes the Stairs, Quiet City, and the Zellner / Duplass shorts program, this was my favorite film of the festival. Shot in the late ’70s, the film has been credited with inspiring Robert Redford to start the Sundance Institute. The film follows two blue collar Texas guys that can’t seem to get their act together. One’s single and an inventor, of sorts; the other is a married man who has trouble staying faithful to his spunky wife. It’s more than just a very real, funny, sweet, and unsentimental masterpiece — it ranks alongside Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep as one of the most vivid pieces of celluloid Americana I’ve ever seen.

The Whole Shootin’ Match was a perfect last film to see, a reminder that the strong currents of do-it-yourself American independent filmmaking that were on display at SXSW flow from tributaries that go way back and have, for many of us, long since been lost or forgotten.

After I walked out of the theater, I ran back to the hotel in the rain, changed into dry clothes, and headed over to the closing night party, thanks to a ride from David Lowery.

I stayed for a while at the party, long enough to offer one more set of congratulations and compliments to the makers of all the films that I had liked, and long enough to talk face to face one more time with friends, many of whom I had met face to face for the first time in Austin.

The last conversation I had was with a very talented new friend in which we discussed collaborating on a project together. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can touch the promise and anticipation of making new work with people you respect. There are things that can’t be put into a swag bag, listed in a festival catalog, or even projected on a screen — and yet these intangibles of festival-going are why we attend in the first place.

As much as I was enjoying the party, it was time to call it a night. As if on cue, the rain had let up. So I walked back to my hotel in the dark with my mind buzzing, not with alcohol, but with something far better — ideas for a new film.

SXSW: Anthony Kaufman Gets It.

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

The article: “The SXSW All-Stars: A New Ultra-Indie Movement” Read it here.

SXSW

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

I’ll be speaking on the Blogging About Film panel at South by Southwest on Tuesday, March 13th at 11:30 am.

The other panelists are:

Agnes Varnum
Mark Rabinowitz
Lance Weiler
Joel Heller

Leading up this fine group of folks is Alison Willmore of the IFC Blog.

A Long Weekend of Short Filmmaking at William & Mary: Pt. 2

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Saturday morning at William & Mary began with Troy Davis giving Ashley and me a tour around the William & Mary’s Swem Library Media Center. The Director of the Media Center, Troy was my host for the weekend and one of the primary organizers of the Media Center’s Long Weekend of Short Filmmaking.

The Media Center is several things in one — an equipment training center, an equipment check-out center, a recording studio for music and podcasts. It’s anything and everything that students want and Troy makes himself, and his assistants, available to students to teach them anything from iMovie to Logic Pro.

Troy has been the Director of the Media Center for a year and a half, and it’s impressive what he’s accomplished. On a technical level, he’s helped secure some superb editing facilities (several Mac tower stations with Final Cut, Logic Pro, and the rest of the works, each in its own sound controlled environment). For a guy who describes himself as a “dabbler” when it comes to film, I was impressed with all the smart technology purchases he has been making, not to mention his ability to talk in depth about the subtle differences between various pieces of equipment they own.

Since there are, no doubt, places like this at universities across the country, the biggest accomplishment isn’t the equipment and stations he’s amassed — it’s the sense of community generates out from this media hub. A lot of that, no doubt, is due to Troy’s vision for the Media Center as a place that is accessible and inviting (as opposed to exclusive and intimidating). The Media Center, in fact, is littered with Troy’s self-desribed “propaganda” — humorous, well-designed posters — that invite students into the space and use the equipment.

After the tour, Troy and I recorded a podcast that covered making and teaching film. He had thought a lot about my work and had some great questions, which is really flattering. (The podcast will be posted at some point on Media Center site. I’ll link to it when it’s available.)

The podcast led into a “self-reliant filmmaking” workshop that I conducted with some of William & Mary’s film students and faculty.

I began by discussing the work I do on this blog, including my reasons for starting it, and how it’s transformed my own film practice. I then opened things up for discussion, which led to a wide-ranging conversation that covered everything from what video camera to purchase to some simple strategies for first-time documentarians. Ashley threw in some good advice during the conversation, to boot; I was happy she had joined me.

Our workshop group talked for nearly two hours, so Ashley and I had a quick break for lunch before I ran off to a screening of some of my own short films at the historic Kimball Theatre. The films looked good in this classy venue, I was happy with the turnout, and the questions the audience asked were, again, really good. (I even received some email from audience members after the screening thanking me for sharing my work.) There was a little reception in the theater lobby afterwards, and I enjoyed talking with some of the William & Mary faculty members that had come to the screening. That conversation led to a coffeehouse where Sharon Zuber, who teaches W&M’s production courses, and I compared notes about how to teach film production.

We closed out the day by stopping by the premiere of the Cans Film Festival (pun intended), a student-organized screening of films produced at a variety of Virginia universities. (There weren’t any entries from Virginia Tech — maybe next year?) Ashley and I weren’t able to stay for long — I was beat and we had a long drive back in the morning. We did manage to catch one zombie flick before we left.

Before we left on Sunday morning, Troy treated us to breakfast at one of Williamsburg’s many pancake houses. Ashley and I had seen a number of pancake houses on our drive in, and I suppose they reflect the fact that Williamsburg is a haven for retirees and a magnet for tourists (motto: “Where History Lives”). The three of us had one last movie-saturated conversation, and Troy told us about his next dream for the Media Center — restoring an unused auditorium in the William & Mary library and making into a screening facility/microcinema.

As we drove out of town, past a few more pancake houses, I thought about a place like Wiliamsburg. Even with the occasional major production (like Malick’s The New World) coming to town, it would still be surprising to see Williamsburg develop into the next Austin. Williamsburg’s a town of 12,000 people, and a lot of the people are transient (whether they’re tourists, college students, or retirees). That’s a tough place to build a film culture. Of course these things don’t only apply to Williamsburg. If this sounds like your town, too, well, so be it. It sounds like mine.

The thing is, something is happening in Williamsburg. Things like the Kimball Theatre, and the William & Mary Media Center are part of the puzzle. The “corner pieces” of that puzzle, though, are a dedicated group of people with vision, passion, and resourcefulness. That’s the real lifeblood of regional filmmaking and film culture. Some places don’t have this, or have enough of it. Luckily, for Williamsburg, it has Troy Davis, Sharon Zuber, Arthur Knight (coordinator of Film Studies at W&M), and a host of student filmmakers. Something tells me that their numbers will only continue to grow.

A Long Weekend of Short Filmmaking at William & Mary: Pt. 1

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

The College of William & Mary brought me to Williamsburg, Virginia this weekend to participate in a “long weekend of short filmmaking.” It’s been a busy, and rewarding, weekend.

Friday, after arriving to town, I was a judge at 24Speed, William & Mary’s variation on those twenty-four hour filmmaking contests that have grown in popularity throughout the country.

In this case, eight teams of six filmmakers each were provided the same line of dialogue (a line from one of last year’s videos: “I’m not taking you out, I’m taking you down”) and a 1920s yearbook from the college’s archives, which they had to use as a prop. After a drawing in which they received two film genres at random each team had to choose one genre in which to work. They then had 24 hours to produce a three-to-five minute video.

By the time of the screening the place was packed. Each of the eight videos had their charms and their share of cleverness. Of course, all of them had their rough spots, too — what video produced in 24 hours wouldn’t? It’s funny, though, how those “rough spots” (some out of sync dialogue, say, or let’s-roll-with-the-first-and-only-take-performances) become charming in and of themselves when you consider the context of how quickly these things were produced.

After watching all the videos, the two other judges and I had a healthy debate about the merits of the eight videos. Every video, to its credit, managed to produce at least a handful of laughs, jolts, or cringes.

Speaking only for myself, as a judge I was looking for videos that had adequate craft, for starters. Beyond that, though, I wasn’t necessarily looking for the best shot or best edited video. I was looking for videos that gave me a fresh take on the genre instead of merely rehashing it. That might sound like a tall order, but there were more than a couple that did this.

Ultimately, after forty-five minutes, the other two judges and I had settled on the prize winners. The winner was a mockumentary that used consistently smart deep-focus cinematography to execute its jokes with a lot of subtlety; an honorable mention was awarded to some ambitious students that came this close to nailing their chosen genre, the musical. That’s right, in 24 hours they wrote, scored, shot and edited a musical. It was rough around the edges, sure, but it definitely had me eager to see what these guys could accomplish in 48 hours, and that’s worth something.

***

That night, after the screening was over, I realized that I had experienced a change of heart about competitions like 24Speed. In the past, to be perfectly frank, I’ve had some reservations about the benefits of such competitions. I guess I feared that the 24 hour time constraint reinforced bad habits (mainly, thinking that making a film is something you can rush through) and emphasized competition over collaboration. I see, now, that I’ve been wrong.

First, the competitive nature (at least at this one) was entirely overshadowed by the fun everyone was having. That was great to see. Competition can push people to do better work, even (especially?) with art. You just can’t take it too seriously.

Secondly, and even more importantly, I see now that what these competitions can do is remind us that there are times when it’s better to make something as quickly as possible just to do it.

More than anything else, watching these videos (and meeting the students that produced them so quickly) I was reminded of the collaborations I have undertaken in the past with friends on videos for Termite TV. To an outsider, such projects might seem “insignificant,” but I always learned something by making them, even if the final product sometimes ended up being kinda rough.

This afternoon, browsing Termite TV’s website, I ran across a quote from Manny Farber‘s “White Elephant Art vs Termite Art” essay, which reads as a kind of found poem for what I saw at 24Speed:

a peculiar fact about termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art
is that it moves always forward,
eating its own boundaries, and
likely as not, leaves nothing in its path
but evidence of eager, industrious, unkempt activities

***

Part 2 of W&M’s Long Weekend of Short Filmmaking coming soon…

ADDENDUM:All of the entries for the contest are now online for viewing by the general public.