Tuesday, March 14, 2006

SXSW: Help! I'm Drowning In Cinema

I’m writing this from behind the U.S. Postal Service desk at the Austin Convention Center. I’ve hijacked their booth since they are gone and people keep asking me for stamps. I told the last person, “I’m sorry but that program has been cut.” I’m also giving directions to foreigners which is terrific fun.

I knew I’d be overwhelmed at SXSW but geezus . . . I’m averaging four films a day which leaves very little time for writing, sleeping and/or eating – almost none for blogging. There are hundreds of films premiering at SXSW spread across nine days and seven theaters and I’ve only seen 15 plus two shorts. The best part of this festival is being part of a film’s first audience. Several screenings, I’ve been sitting directly in front of or behind the filmmakers and been able to watch and listen to their reactions seeing their work on the big screen. Fascinating stuff.

Also, every single film screening is followed by a lively Q&A session with the cast and crew of the film - I am getting very spoiled by this. Every single time, I feel compelled to ask a question - my curiosity cannot resist the temptation and runs rampant. Next time I go see a regular movie, I’ll be sitting there, staring at the usher, waiting for Scarlett Johansen to show up and obediently answer all my questions.

“Fired”: A film by struggling actress, Annabelle Gurwitch, who was fired from a New York play by her hero, Woody Allen; he told her she looked ‘retarded.’ While licking her wounds, she started gathering tales of people getting fired –factory workers, office workers, healthcare workers, tollbooth collectors and yes, some show biz folks. The film deftly humanizes what is otherwise, a very common humiliating ordeal. In the end, we all realize, they did us a big favor. And, as one woman explained, “Pain plus time equals comedy.”

“OilCrash”: Bottom line, we are running out of oil and it will change our society in ways we cannot even imagine. The future looks Amish, folks. The film is, by far, the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen on film. It not only made me want to sell my car, but check the air in my bike tires as well. Best/worst of all, the film is chock full of oil experts who tell the truth knowing it will put them out of business – oil tycoons in Texas, energy advisers to George W. Bush, big oil geologists. When those in the biz can’t deny it any longer, you know we’re screwed.

“SummerCamp!”: After screening “OilCrash” I sought out the emotional antidote and found it in this delightful documentary that follows a bunch of youngsters as they attend a three-week summer camp in Illinois. Whether or not you have memories of camp, you’ve been a kid and this charming film will take you back there with all the insecurities and all the joy. Though it reveals the inevitable homesickness and difficulties of trying to fit in, “SummerCamp!” is by far, the funniest thing I’ve seen here at SXSW. A sincere gem.

“The Life of Reilly”
: You may remember Charles Nelson Reilly as the funny guy on 70s game shows. No, he’s not dead but people always assume he is, which propelled him to do a stage performance of his life. Not only did the show receive rave reviews but he performed it over 400 times in five years. The film documents the final show and there is no way to overstate this: It is BRILLIANT. Though Reilly is one of the world’s busiest actors and widely revered as a dramatic instructor, few know this. Be prepared; Reilly will blow your mind with his talent.

Tomorrow, I will write up a three-minute report on SXSW, record it on my computer, make it into an MP3 and email it to my producer in San Francisco. It will broadcast on the air Wednesday evening and be available on the Internet the following Friday.

Man, I love technology.

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