Over the weekend, Austin was the center of the cinema universe. KERA’s Stephen Becker just got back from South by Southwest, and he sat down with me to talk about the highlights. You can click above to listen to our chat, which aired on KERA FM. Or read some excerpts below:
You caught up with a lot of documentaries this year.
Yep, and they really ran the gamut from serious to fun. Let’s talk about the serious first, a film called “They Live Here Now.” It’s about the residents of Casa Marianella, a transitional house for immigrants in Austin. Some are here legally, some aren’t. And they’re from everywhere – Mexico, Central America, Africa, the Middle. East. Jason Outenreath – a UT grad – directed the film, and you can tell he spent a lot of time at the house because he was able to make the residents comfortable enough to share their stories with him. Here’s what he said when I caught up with him Sunday before the world premiere:
“There’s the misconception that a lot of Americans have that people are just dying to come to this country, when the reality is a lot of people are coming out of just pure desperation. They would much rather be with their families in their home country where they were born and where they were raised. And I think a lot of people underestimate the level of desperation that it takes to drive someone from their home.”
The other doc I wanted to talk about is a film called “The World Before Your Feet,” which follows a guy named Matt Green as he attempts to walk every block, of every street, in New York City – all five boroughs. Green previously walked from New York to Oregon, so you’d think sticking to one city would be a piece of cake, right? Well did you know that when you add up all those New ork City streets, it’s about three TIMES as many miles as that cross country walk? When I talked with him on Sunday, he said the more he walked and discovered, it seemed like the LESS he knew:
“In a place like New York, where millions of people live with a variety of backgrounds … this unbelievable diversity of humanity is there. And to think you can know anything about that, after this walk, seems like kind of an arrogant thing.”
What about films with North Texas ties?
There were a handful, including another documentary – a film about how the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders became a sensation. It’s called “Daughters of the Sexual Revolution”
By far my favorite though was “Never Goin’ Back” – a film by Dallas director Augustine Frizzell. This is one of those films where the backstory is almost as interesting as the film itself.
She shot the whole film in 2014, was really unhappy with the results and cut it into a short film that actually made it into SXSW. But she really wanted to make the feature length version, so she found the right people to work with and took another crack at it and the extra effort was totally worth it. And part of the reason she was so driven is it’s really her story. “Never Goin’ Back” is about two teenage girls who are high school dropouts. They pick up just enough shifts at the town diner to support their party habits. And when – through a series of events – they find their unable to pay their rent, they have to get real crafty on how they’ll come up with the money. Here’s Augustine Frizzell talking to the crowd after the screening:
“It was based on my life, growing up in Garland, and obviously it was a difficult time in my life. And the more I looked back and thought about it, I could’ve ended up in a really bad place. We did drugs, we were stealing, we were up to no good. I could’ve turned up in jail or whatever the worst-case scenario is. And the more I looked back on that and introspectively deciphered ‘Why am I not like that?’ It kinda boiled down to this idea of this friendship I had at the time.”
That sounds kind of heavy.
It isn’t – it’s hysterical.
And the film’s attracted some major attention?
Yep, it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and since then it’s been picked up by A24, the same distributor that handled Lady Bird and Moonlight. This film isn’t the same kind of Oscar-bait as those are, but A24 knows a quality film when it sees one, and the fact that the folks there are putting it out I think speaks volumes about its potential. And the good news is, it’ll be out in theaters sometime late summer.