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AFF wrap

Submitted by MBergeron on October 24, 2012 – 11:35 amNo Comment
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Drive time into Austin seems to breeze by in an instant when the destination is one of the capital city’s great film or music fests. The destination last weekend was the Austin Film Festival celebrating its 19th annual edition.

The AFF concentrates on writers, writing for film and television along with an array of what I call festival films, or the kinds of films a person only gets to experience within the confines of said festival. This year that concept was demonstrated by the experimental film Francophrenia, which if you include the film along with the bizarre Q&A where James Franco deconstructed the concept of acting came off as some kind of brilliant performance art piece. Francophrenia unwinds like a surreal dream with a bent towards the unusual rather than the normal. Franco co-directed the film on the set of General Hospital on the day his character gets killed off. As usual the seminars and films I attended only covers the tip of the iceberg.

The opening night film Not Fade Away was a dramedy set against the growth of rock and roll in the ‘60s, with the particular emphasis focused on an aspiring New Jersey rock band. Not Fade Away has many highlights including some awesome chiaroscuro lighting, superb production values, a finely tuned list of songs from the era, but most of all the dialog and direction of David Chase. Chase’s credits range from ‘70s show The Rockford Files to what many consider one of the top cable shows ever, The Sopranos. As long as Chase’s been around Not Fade Away is only his first feature credit as director. As such Chase noted in a panel discussion that “I got plenty of notes” from studio Paramount. Chase noted that after the second season of The Sopranos he never got notes because nobody was doing it better. “Every time a group like the Stones or Beatles released an album it was a quantum leap in music, this was happening on a yearly basis,” noted Chase at the film’s Q&A about the thematic spine of NFA, which comes out in December. Other high profile films that played AFF include Silver Linings Playbook, Flight and a film from distributor TWC that has been on the festival route but (surprisingly considering its audience appeal) not scheduled to open this year, The Sapphires. Chris O’Dowd headlines along with a group of soul singing Aboriginal women, all based on the true story of a music group that toured as an entertainment package during the Vietnam War.

Documentaries seen include Vampira and Me, Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself, and The Missing Piece. The latter recounts in amazing forensic detail the theft of the Mona Lisa, its perpetrator and the final outcome of his crime. Myths are smashed in this very low budget but highly informative doc. In 1911 police turned over every rock when this art masterpiece was snatched and even considered then known artists as suspects including Picasso. The Missing Piece is the kind of film that makes you feel like an expert about the subject after having seen it. Vampira and Me unveils the Hollywood scene of 1954 when Maila Nurmi became the prototype Goth and created a late night horror movie television host. If you don’t know Nurmi’s story then you need to get on the bandwagon. Perhaps she’s best known for an appearance in Plan 9 From Outer Space, a 1959 film that didn’t even achieve cult status until the 1970s. Director R.H. Greene found every frame of extant footage of Nurmi from the ‘50s including her appearances on national television like The George Gobel Show. Greene knows the architecture of primitive television as well as all the cool short films of the ’50 as demonstrated by Vampira and Me’s constant stream of kitsch imagery that includes clips from Design for Dreaming (1956).

In the upper lobby of the Driskill Hotel Luna Bars and water flowed freely while inside the meeting rooms show runners and writers related their experience at various discussion panels. It’s not hard to believe that the most creative writing is for television when you have writers for shows like South Park and Bones stating that as fact. X-Files creator Chris Carter hosted a screening of an Emmy winning ep of X Files (Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose) where all the victims are psychics and later that night introduced the 1979 Sherlock Holmes film Murder By Decree (Christopher Plummer and James Mason), which probed the relation between Jack the Ripper and the English throne. Bridesmaids director Paul Feig introduced a screening of Milos Foreman’s 1965 debut Loves of a Blonde, a film he rightly claims would never be greenlit at a studio today. Earlier that day Feig held a seminar where he talked about everything from being an actor on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and using his money from that gig to make films, to showing the trailer from his upcoming woman-buddy-cop movie The Heat, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. “I was in movie jail after I directed Unaccompanied Minors (2006) but then I directed Bridesmaids and I was out,” Feig told the crowd.

The AFF closing night film on Thursday, October 25 is the Billy Bob Thornton helmed and written Jayne Mansfield’s Car.

- Michael Bergeron

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