Michael Bergeron
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Austin Film Festival: Satellite Beach

Austin Film Festival: Satellite Beach
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As many films as I tried to catch at the recent Austin Film Festival (October 23 – 30) you always hear about the ones you missed. It was a couple of retrospective screenings and one short subject on my dance card that were among the highlights of the opening weekend.

Jenny Lumet, daughter of Sidney Lumet, introduced Network (1976), a film that never gets old, and followed the screening with a Q&A. Lumet talked about her memories of Network as well as other films from her father’s filmography. Memorable were her recollections of screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky and her father’s legacy.

Luke Wilson introduced a screening of The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), a film with powerhouse performances from then newcomers Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts. If you’ve never seen this dramedy about mob politics set in, appropriately, the Italian neighborhood of Greenwich Village you owe it to yourself to seek and find. It’s just a coincidence but both The Pope of Greenwich Village and Network were distributed by MGM.

Wilson first unwound a 30-minute short subject titled Satellite Beach, directed by himself and his brother Andrew. Previously Luke and Andrew Wilson had co-directed the feature The Wendell Backer Story. Satellite Beach combines real life events with a fictional story. What makes the film so fascinating was the fact that the filmmakers had to hustle in real time like a guerilla film team as the historical backstory of Satellite Beach progressed.

The space shuttle Endeavour was decommissioned and flown to LAX in 2012 where the craft was parked for three weeks while a street route was prepared to tow the shuttle to its new home at the California Space Center. The shuttle was transported at a snail’s pace from October 11 – 14; telephone poles had been removed and trees had been trimmed or removed.

Basically, Luke plays the engineer who devised the route. Wilson interacts with the people and news crews stationed along the route by day and night, themselves lined up on sidewalks like they’re at a parade. One repeating motif has Luke addressing foreign television correspondents in their respective languages: Japanese, Spanish and German. Luke always says the same thing – “Wait here.”

The small production team was constantly getting on camera participants to sign releases. Getting the mayor to sign was another matter and had to be done after the shoot. At one point cinematographer Bud Kremp literally put one portable digital camera in the middle of the street mounted in one of his shoes. The result is an impressive shot where the shuttle passes directly overhead.

As the journey progresses we begin to realize that Wilson is not actually an engineer but some loon with a clipboard and a white collar. Hopefully, Satellite Beach, already on the film festival circuit, will turn up as an extra on a DVD release. The whole journey was such a keeper.

— Michael Bergeron