It didn’t take long for the uneasy truce between SXSW and the 30th Parallel Film Fest to erupt into a shooting war under soggy, dreary skies in Austin, Texas. Not even the persistent drizzle could extinguish the sparks that flew when SXSW organizers discovered promo fliers for 30P films at SXSW’s nerve center, the Austin Convention Center. Though SXSW Director Nancy Schafer claims their only response to this turf invasion was a SXSW festival coordinator politely asking one of these guerrilla filmmakers to leave, which he did without incident, the filmmaker himself tells a different story. Jose Quiroz, the writer/director of “Paper Napkins,” claims he was led from the Convention Center in handcuffs after a brief scuffle with a security guard. In spite of these distractions, SXSW continued to present an astonishingly diverse slate of films to large, appreciative crowds.
As for the 30P, venue, projection, and scheduling problems worsened, due primarily to the lack of a support staff. At one point, I counted more people working the SXSW merchandise table (5) than the 30P registration table (0). Screenings usually started at least a devastating 45 minutes late and many had at least one major technical snafu. Still, the rookie fest persevered. Its greatest achievement was probably just existing at all and proving that there’s room for an Austin version of Slamdance. With experience under their belts and a full year to prep, look for big improvements if and when the 30P returns for a sophomore run.
In the end, there were signs that the 30P was being taken seriously by the SXSW filmmakers, at least, as flyers promoting SXSW films began popping up at the 30P screening venues. Incidentally, we never saw any SXSW filmmakers led off in handcuffs. And now, the reviews…
[ THE NEW GODS ] ^ (dir. James Boyd) ^ * * * ^ (http://www.6161.com) ^ When I saw this film’s premise – a poet, his musician friend and a waitress who all hang out at a bar where two of them work and the rocker plays – I cringed. More artsy, Gen-X angst, I thought. Well, yeah, but it’s actually pretty good, or at least not too awful, artsy Gen-X angst. ^
The poet receives a generous offer from a San Francisco poetry foundation to move there and have his poems published while the musician, on the verge of signing an elusive record deal, thrives on the edge of the law. But when the bar owner, conveniently the brother of a sadistic cop who’s riding the rocker’s a*s, attempts to rape the waitress, the musician’s girlfriend, the musician kills him. Thus primed for tragedy, the three friends struggle to escape the sticky fly-trap stomping grounds of their youth, avoid the cop’s violent revenge and maintain their strained and forever altered bond of friendship.
Again, not bad, but James Boyd’s semi-autobiographical slacker epic isn’t particularly innovative or compelling, either.
[ BARBECUE… A LOVE STORY ] ^ (dir. Stacy Kirk) ^ * * 1/2 ^ I’ve heard love and romance compared to many things, but barbecue’s a new one on me. Yet, that’s the metaphor of choice in Stacy Kirk’s gritty rural Texas trailer park love story. ^
Lucky’s an amiable enough redneck with a real hankerin’ for good cookin’. Unfortunately for him, not only does his long-suffering wife equate home cooking with frozen dinners, she wants out of the trailer park and into a lifestyle Lucky’s job as the park maintenance man just won’t support. When the park manager’s sweet and sexy step-daughter moves in next door in a set-up straight out of a “Penthouse Forum” letter – ahem, not that I would know – there’s trouble brewin’ under the burnt orange Texas sky. This is especially true once Lucky gets a taste of his new neighbor’s fried chicken.
The main problem with this languid, meandering film is that about as much happens on screen as occurs on a scorching Lone Star afternoon, which is to say not too damned much. Watching this film is about as tedious as watching Baby Backs sizzle on the grill. While at least the pay-off from real barbecue is worth the wait, that’s more than I can say about this ultimately unsatisfying film.
[ BURY ME IN KERN COUNTY ] ^ (dir. Julien Nitzberg) ^ * * 1/2 ^ Here was a so-what film full of miserable cretins who deserved every bit of grief their actions caused them. Set for some useless reason in the mid-Eighties in yet another white trash Texas town, “Kern” begins with Sandra and her fiance getting busted for selling drugs. That the raid is broadcast on a COPS-like TV show, adds greatly to the humiliation of their respective families. I guess they didn’t have that fuzzy face-blotter thingee back in those days. ^
In any event, kicked out by her prospective mother-in-law, Sandra returns home to the hero’s welcome given her by her indescribably annoying sister, Amanda. That night, her fiance’s mom kills herself, leaving Sandra to scrape up the money for both her boyfriend’s bail and the funeral. She’s able to gather enough money to get her boyfriend out of jail, but the funeral plans get put on hold until she can raise some more scratch. That’s when Amanda cooks up a boneheaded scheme to rob a liquor store. Unfortunately for all concerned, her fiance beats her to the punch. Not aware of the robber’s identity, only of the fact that he’s making off with money she desperately needs, Sandra plugs him in the back, setting in motion a swirl of events that can only spiral downwards into an ever-deepening white trash cesspool.
With over-the-top acting and bad 80’s music, “Bury Me In Kern County” features a beyond redemption family that only Jerry Springer could love.
[ MEN CRY BULLETS ] ^ (dir. Tamara Hernandez) ^ * * ^ Here we go again. More flashbacks of a childhood trauma. In Tamara Hernandez’ flawed and ultimately unbelievable film, Billy’s memories of his father abusing his mother drive him to a career as a female impersonator. When Gloria, an abusive, domineering, sadistic writer ruins Billy’s debut, he’s compelled to seek her out. Within minutes, she rapes him. Yet this poster child for Freudian theories sticks around and lets himself be drawn into a dysfunctional and dangerous relationship. When Gloria’s cutesy and manipulative cousin comes to visit, Gloria’s jealousy, fueled by her obsession with Billy, causes the already bizarre relationship to mutate with potentially deadly consequences. ^
Aside from its unsympathetic characters in general, I also had a hard time swallowing a simpering drag queen as a leading man. But the kicker came when a supposedly dead character – I won’t give away who – swallows on camera. Twice. That’s just sloppy movie making.
Yep, unpleasant characters populating an unappealing world are enough to make me cry something, all right.