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Posted: 12:00 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013

Austin talent invades Park City for the Sundance Film Festival



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Austin talent invades Park City for the Sundance Film Festival photo
DESPINA SPYROU
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy star in Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight.”
Austin talent invades Park City for the Sundance Film Festival photo
JIM BRIDGES
Matthew McConaughey, right, stars in Jeff Nichols’ “Mud.”
Austin talent invades Park City for the Sundance Film Festival photo
SCOTT GARDNER
Emile Hirsch, left, and Paul Rudd star in David Gordon Green’s “Prince Avalanche.”
Austin talent invades Park City for the Sundance Film Festival photo
COMPUTER CHESS LLC
A scene from Andrew Bujalski’s “Computer Chess.”

By Matthew Odam

American-Statesman Staff

The scene at the Sundance Film Festival will have a decidedly Austin flavor over the next several days as more than a half-dozen local filmmakers screen their work in Park City, Utah.

The group includes major names with deep roots in the Austin scene as well as new faces looking for their first break-out hit.

Richard Linklater is no stranger to the festival founded by Robert Redford. His first feature, “Slacker,” played Sundance in 1991, and Linklater has returned several times since, with “Before Sunrise,” which opened the fest in 1995, “Suburbia” (1997), “Waking Life” and “Tape” in 2001 and, most recently, with the 2003 short “Live from Shiva’s Dance Floor.”

This year Linklater’s “Before Midnight” will make its world premiere at Sundance. The movie completes a trilogy starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who met as two travelers in Vienna in “Before Sunrise” and reunited in 2004’s “Before Sunset.” Linklater’s latest finds the pair crossing paths again, this time in Greece, for what is certain to be another captivating and discursive examination of life and love.

Relatively new Austinite David Gordon Green made a name for himself as an indie filmmaker to watch with 2000’s “George Washington” and the 2003 Sundance entry “All the Real Girls” before tackling more mainstream fare like “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness.” His Sundance entry this year, “Prince Avalanche,” a remake of Icelandic film “Á annan veg,” appears to return to Green’s earlier sensibilities. The comedy about two friends (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) spending the summer of 1988 working on a highway crew in a rural area was shot in Bastrop after the wildfires.

Green’s friend and fellow North Carolina School of the Arts graduate Jeff Nichols made his Sundance debut in 2011 with the incredible “Take Shelter,” and he returns this year with “Mud.” The movie stars Matthew McConaughey, who will also be in attendance at Sundance, as a convict on the run from the law and (hopefully) back into the arms of his beloved. The movie made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last year and should hit area theaters this spring.

While Linklater, Green and Nichols are seasoned veterans of the Sundance scene, Austinites Andrew Bujalski and Yen Tan will be screening at the festival for the first time. Their films will play in the NEXT category, which includes filmmakers who “stretch limited resources to create impactful art.”

Bujalski, who had some early success with “Mutual Appreciation” and “Beeswax,” both of which screened at South by Southwest, will make the world premiere of his 1980s-era “Computer Chess.” The narrative feature tracks a group of computer geeks who attempt to program a computer to beat humans at chess.

Yen, an accomplished movie poster artist who moved to Austin from Dallas a few years ago, produced Austinite Clay Liford’s 2010 Sundance short film “My Mom Smokes Weed,” but this will be his Sundance debut as a director. “Pit Stop,” Yen’s third feature, explores the lives of gay men in small-town America through the stories of two characters and their romantic failings and yearnings.

“Pit Stop” co-producer Kelly Williams, who recently attended the Sundance Producers Lab, will make his seventh trip to the festival and knows how important the Sundance exposure can be for emerging filmmakers.

“It certainly exposes Yen’s work to a larger audience that may have not seen his previous films,” Williams said. “Yen has a really unique and original vision as a filmmaker, and having a festival like Sundance program his work will create a lot of opportunities for him and the film down the road.”

Austinite Williams, programmer of the Lone Star Film Festival in Fort Worth, also produced director Kat Candler’s “Black Metal.” The short film, which makes its world premiere at Sundance, stars Austin actor Jonny Mars as a musician dealing with the guilt associated to a murder allegedly inspired by his lyrics.

Yen, Williams, Mars and Candler are all partners at Austin creative content firm Arts + Labor, and Arts + Labor CEO Kristin Johansen-Berg served as executive producer on “Black Metal.”

“Our goal at Arts+Labor from its inception has been to empower independent filmmakers to fully realize their creative vision,” said Alan Berg, Arts+Labor president and co-founder. “We’re tremendously proud of the success our partners have enjoyed in the past year and look forward to building on this in 2013.”

German filmmaker Bastian Günther splits his time between Berlin and Austin. His second feature, “Houston,” the story of an alcoholic businessman trying to manage his rapidly deteriorating life, will screen in the World Dramatic section.

Two Sundance attendees no longer live in Austin but still have ties to the city that helped nurture the early parts of their careers. David Lowery, who lives in Dallas, is receiving much advance buzz for his “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” which stars Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Nelson. Lowery’s feature directorial debut tells the story of outlaw lovers and has drawn comparisons to “Bonnie and Clyde.” Lowery also edited another film that appears in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, director Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color.”

Filmmaker Hannah Fidel lived in Austin before moving to Brooklyn. Her feature debut, “A Teacher,” centers on a suburban high school teacher whose bad decisions lead her down a path of self-destruction. “A Teacher” features Mars and Austinite Chris Doubek, who also both appear in “Computer Chess.”

Fidel is one of several filmmakers headed to Sundance who received support from the Austin Film Society. Yen, Bujalkski and Candler all received grants from the society, and Fidell went through its works-in-progress program.

Film society associate artistic director Holly Herrick says the stream of Austinites into Sundance this year is “proof that many of the country’s top emerging artists are coming out of Texas, and underscores for me the importance of the community that has supported them.”

Austin Film Society executive director Rebecca Campbell calls it a record year for local artists at Sundance, a fact that only adds to Austin’s moviemaking cred.

“I think that Austin’s stock as a haven for indie filmmakers has been continually, gently on the rise thanks to the filmmakers who choose to live and work here (in spite of the challenges presented by our less-than-competitive incentive program) and that this year’s Sundance crop is a quantum leap ahead,” Campbell said.

Not only does this year’s festival celebrate Austin’s current film scene and point toward its bright future, it also honors one of the seminal points of its past. Sundance will hold a 20th-anniversary screening of Robert Rodriguez’s “El Mariachi.” Added to the National Registry in 2011, “El Mariachi” bowed at Sundance in 1993 and helped inspire a new generation of filmmakers in Austin and beyond.


AUSTIN AT SUNDANCE

Visit the Austin Movie Blog at austin360.com/movieblog to follow the exploits of Austinites at Sundance.

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