Sunday, March 12, 2006

SXSW: Lunch With A Stranger and Four Films



Yesterday's theme was money: Having a lot of it, having none of it and having it on credit.

I awoke in opulent luxury – the photo at left is of my toilet. I’m staying at the home of family friends, Doug and Karen, two very warm, generous people that happen to be loaded, at least by my frugal standards. The house I'm in has four bathrooms and a couple of TVs the size of my aparment. They had a $40,000 pool put in, for the dogs, Chance and Charlie. Every detail of the home's decor is done with delicate care and thought and nothing here comes from Target, I can assure you.

So, I drive into town, park the car and begin the search for food. So many choices but none seems to fit what I crave. Also, I'm in a hurry and have a panel to attend. A heavyset woman with sad eyes approaches me on the street and pleads for me to buy her lunch. She insists she does not want my money but just a sandwich and knows a cheap place to get one. I hesitated. As a San Franciscan I am thick-skinned to the various homeless pleas I hear every day but something about her intrigued me. “Please,” she implored, “I’m an ex-band wife.”

There but for the grace O’God . . .

The woman recommended a nearby place called Marisco’s, good food, and cheap prices. She seemed hesitant when we entered the restaurant – should she sit? Was I going to get her something to go? I grabbed us a table and we shared lunch.

Her name was Angel. A native Texan, she turns 35 today though she looks much older. She wasn’t always down on her luck, in fact, she grew up in a gated community called Woodside and describes her own youth as a “well-protected bubble.” In fact, she spent her girlhood training to become an Olympic ice skater and only listened to Christian music, unaware of crime, alcohol, politics or any other difficulties.

This all came crashing down at the age of 17 1/2 when everything was taken away. Though her mother worked for the FBI, she was behind in paying taxes and overnight, they had nothing. (Her father died when she was 3.) It was a slippery slope from there. Bad men, bad choices, bad habits led her to a world of nothing. She had five children (the latest one supposedly a month ago, which she immediately gave up for adoption) but doesn’t know where any of them are.

As we ate our rice and beans, she said, “I know you are spending money and all and I appreciate it,” she said, fiddling with her fork nervously, “but what I really appreciate is the company.”

Ironically, I had to leave to attend a screening of "Maxed Out" by James Scurlock (no website that I can find yet,) a "portrait of an America drowning in debt." It is hard to convey here how important this film is - the statistics and personal illustrations are simply overwhelming. He reveals the predatory strategies of the credit card biz and what extreme ends people go to, to pay for the American dream. Amazing facts revealed:

>Last year, more Americans declared bankruptcy than graduated from college, divorced or got cancer.
>The average American has 12 credit cards and a debt of roughly $10,000.
>Every US household owes $88,000 as their share of the national debt - an increase of $9,000 since the film went into production two years ago.

During the Q&A, I got up and announced that come Wednesday, I would finally be debt-free. The cast and the audience cheered. Afterwards, I went up to hug the woman in the film, Janne, whose 19-year-old son hung himself after getting in over his head with debt. She cried, it was intense. The film made me want to go live in a cabin I build myself and eat off the land. Anyone wanna come?

Other films I saw:

"Al Franken: God Spoke": Documentary goes with Al on his book tour and through the painful 2004 election. Includes a great fight with Anne Coulter and reveals Al in his most vulnerable and funny angles. A must-see for FrankenFans.

"Danny Roane: First-Time Director": Written, directed and starring Andy Dick as has-been sitcom actor who decides to jump behind the camera and document his descent into alcholism. Funny in spots but gets tiresome quickly. I enjoyed the Q&A more when I got to meet my heroine from MAD TV, Mo Collins! Compared to her, Andy is an annoying gnat.

"This Film Is Not Yet Rated": Right up there with "Maxed Out," this film MUST be seen by everyone that loves film. Kirby Dick (that's right back-to-back Dick directors) puts his balls on the line to investigate the secret members of the MPAA ratings board. Literally, he hires a private dick (sorry, last time) to delve into Jack Valenti's private party that doles out the Gs, the PG-13s, the Rs and the dreaded NC-17s. As Dick himself asks incredulous, "What is this, 'Star Chamber?'" A very chilling film.

Honestly, this film deserves more commentary but I'm already late for a long day of sitting on my butt and absorbing. I'll try add more links later but all these films can be found at www.sxsw.com.

A final tidbit: I forgot to mention that when I was racing to get to the screening of "A Prarie Home Companion" on Friday night, I jokingly asked the driver to drop me off on the red carpet. Sure enough, he screeched so close to the action that John C. Reilly, who was giving an interview, actually stepped back in alarm. When I got out, all the cameras swung around to see the celeb popping out. Instead, they got me, frumpy, wrinkled and carrying too many bags.

1 comment:

Tamburlaine said...

Wish I could be Austin too, H! Be sure to catch some music shows too while you're there.