Join us as a cynical, hard-drinking, blue-haired film critic is inflicted upon an unsuspecting Texas town. A smaller kid brother to the much larger SXSW Music Festival, this year’s rowdy gathering is at the crossroads of something bigger. Featuring such guests as Quentin Tarantino, Bill Paxton, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith, and Mike Judge (Richard Linklater doesn’t count, he lives there), SXSW expressed its desire to become the next Sundance (NOT a good thing). Along for the ride was Merle Bertrand who provided reviews as well as deluxe lodging-thanks Merle. Here to prove Film Threat doesn’t hate everything (just a lot of things) are the reviews from the frontlines:
[ REAL STORIES OF THE DONUT MEN ] ^ Do you remember the opening to “The Big Picture”? There’s a competition between a group of film students where they show several wicked parodies of student art films. Guess what this film felt like?
In “Real Donut Men”, hacker and filmmaker Juan (Ignatio Alvarez) loses his car to the police who promptly beat him. In retaliation, he outfits a pair of anarchists (director Beeaje Quick and Randy Gatica) as policemen and films their antics throughout the city. Eventually, they become worse than real cops.
“Donut Men” was unavoidable in Austin, what with posters and stickers all over downtown to sightings of the director chumming with Tarantino. Robert Rodriguez’s producer and wife, Elizabeth Avellan, was one of the producers on this project.
The movie probably the most heavily promoted at SXSW, is shot in overexposed black and white like a Bergman film, but everyone but Juan acts with extreme caricature as if they were auditioning for an R-rated Three Stooges short. From the beginning, the anarchist cops act like skinhead thugs. Characters and subplots are introduced but never really go anywhere. Maybe it’s me, but “Donut Men” came off as just too darn hip for its own good.
[ BULLET ON A WIRE ] ^ Veteran Windy City filmmaker Jim Sikora, (“Walls In the City”, “Triptych”, “Small Gauge Shotgun”), returns with “Bullet On A Wire”, a raw, welcome breath of cinematic fresh air. When Raymond, a troubled ex-con, makes a prank phone call to a young woman’s family falsely informing them that she’s both HIV positive and pregnant, he unleashes a tragic chain of events which ultimately leads to murder.
Shot in seven days for just $5,000, “Bullet On A Wire” is typical no-frills Sikora filmmaking; understandably rough on the technical spit and polish and a bit on the lumbering side. Still the story, with its alienated characters interacting primarily via the telephone, is told in such a manner as to gradually pull the viewer into its urban trailer park setting. It’d be nice to see what this guy could do with a five or six-figure budget.
[ LETTER FROM WACO ] ^ Winner of the documentary feature competition. This “ya just gotta love it” look at Waco, (yes, that Waco!), Texas by native son Don Howard is a very near miss. The recurring anchor of the affectionately comic film is the “Wacon,” the intersection of a four way cross with each segment representing one of the town’s four major components; race, religion, death and football… not necessarily in that order.
The main problem with this film from a competition standpoint is that it’s not a documentary in the strictest sense of the word. Staged scenes and planted characters serve to drive the narrative forward, helped along by a breakneck editing pace and endearingly goofy graphics. Unfortunately, too, the film backs off this slapdash pace near the end, settling into a misty-eyed nostalgia trip with a bit of home grown philosophizing thrown in.
Still, up until that point, Letter from Waco manages to weave a surprisingly interesting and entertaining history of one of the oddest – Austin residents would say “scariest” – places in America.
[ SHOOTING LILY ] ^ This won the narrative feature award. Why, I have no idea. It just annoyed the hell out of me. I have no problem when a main character is evil, but when he is consistently annoying, I just want to throw things. “Shooting Lily” documents the breakdown of the marriage of David and Lily. Lily leaves David at their New Year’s Eve party. David, a chronic videographer who must record all events, is stunned. Lily informs him that if he wants to know what went wrong, look at the tapes. What follows is 85 minutes of behavior that would have made anyone want to kill him.
Is this entertaining? What’s so fun about watching yuppies be jerks? If I want to see that, I’ll go to work.

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