Tim Basham, SXSW, 2005
As I write this report, from the next room I can hear my daughter watching "The Little Mermaid" as Ursula the sea witch sings "Poor Unfortunate Soul". Funny, but that’s exactly how I felt last night when I couldn’t get into the world premiere of "The Wendell Baker Story" at The SXSW Film Festival.
The joint venture from the Wilson Brothers (Owen, Luke and Andrew) attracted such a throng that the beautiful, old Paramount theatre filled up an hour before curtain time. I did get to see the Wilson boys briefly as they stepped up to the cameras before entering. But, I’ll just have to wait to see this eagerly-anticipated piece that was filmed here in Austin. (A poor, unfortunate soul am I.) I hope to catch up with the Wilsons today for a quick interview about their film and other movie-making subjects, so keep your eyes glued to your set, or computer, or cell phone or whatever.
All was not lost on SXSW’s opening night, however. We started off the evening at a party put on by the producers of "My Big Fat Independent Movie". Writer and producer Chris Gore was a gracious host (aptly employing his experience as host of numerous TV shows like "The Ultimate Film Fanatic" on the Independent Film Channel). I also had an opportunity to pre-screen "Light From The East".
If you watch a lot of movies (pretty sure bet if you’re reading this site) then you’ll want to catch "My Big Fat Independent Movie". From looking at trailers you immediately see the spoof on "Pulp Fiction". But their comical attacks on independent films go much farther. And that’s what makes it so much fun. Good films like "Run, Lola, Run", "Reservoir Dogs", "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and "Sexs, Lies And Videotape" are parodied in a cruel, but lovingly (or lovingly, but cruel), backhanded tribute.
Sam and Harvey (Neil Barton and Eric Hoffman) take Samuel L. Jackson’s and John Travolta’s performances from "Pulp Fiction" and squeeze out all the most annoying things we’ve come to love about that movie. As they journey to Las Vegas to do a "botched robbery" they encounter a bizzaro world of movie characters-some we recognize and some we hope to never know: girls making out for artistic reasons, rabbis carrying guns, greek wedding restaurants, and one very horny answering machine.
As in all movies of this genre, they push the limits on sex and defecation. But it just adds to the total absurdity of the whole film And if you don’t mind seeing some of your favorite movies dragged through the latrine, you’ll leave with a smile on your face.
In documentaries, much of their success depends on timing. Being a witness to the unexpected can turn an average film into a strong historical piece. Such is the case in "Light from the East" from American filmmaker Amy Grappell.
In 1991 Grappell and other actors traveled to Kiev in the Ukraine to perform a play by Les Kurbas whose theater company, during the 1920′s, defiantly ignored communist leader Joseph Stalin’s censorship orders and performed "radical productions of independent vision."
With old footage and photographs we learn how he was executed along with 1,115 other writers, philosophers and artists on October 9th, 1937. (By the end of that year, two million Ukrainians would be murdered.)
While rehearsing the play in Kiev, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbechev is kidnapped during a coup by military leaders. Over the next few days the theater troupe struggles with decisions on leaving the country or staying and performing. Most choose the latter, and with a new democracy’s birth as the backdrop, they travel throughout Russia performing a play whose creation came during the birth of Communism.
The film’s historical significance is what saves it from being just another film about international theater. We find ourselves looking into the faces of citizens who have only known one, very limiting system of government-and we see fear, joy, doubt and confidence as they journey into a world of uncertainty.
- TIM BASHAM