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USA Film Festival: Baghdad Texas


by Stephen Becker 1 May 2009

Producing a movie and producing an album really aren’t that different, when you think about it. You’ve got to meld together ideas from a lot of people. You’ve got to manage your costs. And you’ve got to know when to quit tinkering and decide that you’ve done the best you can.

Booka Michel knows all about the processes. As a percussionist, he’s played with the likes of Hoyt Axton, Joe Ely, Townes Van Zandt and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. He’s also produced four feature films. His latest, Baghdad Texas, will play tonight at the USA Film festival – a day after he dropped by Dallas’ Element X Creative production studios to pick up the final copy.

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Producing a movie and producing an album really aren’t that different, when you think about it. You’ve got to meld together ideas from a lot of people. You’ve got to manage your costs. And you’ve got to know when to quit tinkering and decide that you’ve done the best you can.

Booka Michel knows all about the processes. As a percussionist, he’s played with the likes of Hoyt Axton, Joe Ely, Townes Van Zandt and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. He’s also produced four feature films. His latest, Baghdad Texas, will play tonight at the USA Film festival – a day after he dropped by Dallas’ Element X Creative production studios to pick up the final copy.

bookahat-200“It’s just like mixing music,” Michel says by phone from the Austin offices of his Loudhouse Productions. “At some point you just have to step back, get away from the board, put your hands up in the air and say, ‘I’m finished.’ At some point, you just have to say, ‘It’s good, leave it alone. Go away, go home, do something else!’ And that’s where I’m at right now.”

Baghdad Texas begins with a small jet making an emergency landing in rural South Texas. As three men make their way back from a night of partying in Mexico, their truck plows into the only survivor. Seth (Barry Tubb) dismisses the now doubly-injured man as “just another drunk Mexican,” but father and son Randall and Limon (Robert Prentiss and Ryan Boggus) drag the man into the truck bed to take him back to their exotic game ranch. Once there, he’s cared for by the ranch’s housekeeper, Carmen (Arlington’s Melinda Renna).

It’s there that questions begin to arise about the man’s identity. Could he be the missing Middle Eastern dictator who has recently fled his country? And if he is, what should they do with him?

The audience chews on these conundrums during the quickly-paced 90 minutes. To Fort Worth director David Hickey’s credit, it’s not a movie that gives up its secrets easily – a quality that initially attracted Michel to the project.

“So many times [movies] have to spell everything out for you. I remember some of the best movies, like Hitchcock, made the viewer think. It’s not all there – you’ve got to put the pieces together. And I like that, where it doesn’t just pander to the audience or dumb it down. They’re intelligent, let them figure some of this out.”

Baghdad Texas debuted at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in January. Since then, Michel has tweaked the film a bit – shortening a few scenes, playing with the color correction, adjusting the music.

When the updated version makes its Texas debut tonight, the audience will be filled with cast and crew members. Most of them won’t have to travel far to make the screening as the film was made almost entirely by in-state talent. It was shot on a ranch just outside Kerrville in 21 days, and Michel says it never crossed his mind to make a story based in his home state anywhere else.

“I’m a mom-and-pop shop guy. I don’t go to chains, I don’t go to the big-box stores. I like to keep my money in the local economy,” he says. “It just makes sense to shoot it on locale, if that’s the locale where it’s supposed to be. If it’s supposed to be in France, then go to France to shoot it!”

Baghdad is probably the most Texas-centric feature at this year’s festival. If you’re curious about how local, independent filmmaking differs from big-budget Hollywood fare, this is a good place to start.

Baghdad Texas screens Friday at 9 p.m. at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas.

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