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Posted: 12:00 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013

Austin’s film scene in 2012


Austin’s film scene in 2012 photo
Tim Burton and stars Winona Ryder, left, Martin Landau and Charlie Tahan attend the world premiere of Burton’s “Frankenweenie” at Fantastic Fest.
Austin’s film scene in 2012 photo
Matthew McConaughey had a major year, starring in four movies, including “Killer Joe.”
Austin’s film scene in 2012 photo
Ralph Barrera
Richard Linklater’s “Bernie” was a critical and financial success. Here he attends a benefit screening for the movie at the Paramount Theater in 2011.

By Matthew Odam

American-Statesman Staff

Austin filmmakers, distributors, theaters, nonprofit organizations and festivals had a busy 2012. We take a look at some of the year’s biggest stories.


Local filmmakers once again traveled to Park City, Utah, for the Sundance Film Festival. Brothers David and Nathan Zellner, who took their “Kid-Thing” to the fest, were return attendees, and Kat Candler made her maiden voyage to Robert Redford’s festival with her short film “Hellion.”

Candler’s “Hellion” producer, Kelly Williams, and Austin filmmaker P.J. Raval were selected by the Sundance Institute to participate in producing labs in 2012. Williams went back to Utah to work on a feature version of “Hellion,” and Raval attended the lab for his upcoming documentary project on the lives of three LGBQT seniors.

In the Spirit

Jeff Nichols’ “Take Shelter” was nominated for best director and best picture at the Independent Spirit Awards, though the Austinite lost out to Michel Hazanavicius and his juggernaut, “The Artist.” Producer Sophia Lin represented the sole victory for “Take Shelter,” taking home the Independent Spirit’s Piaget Producer Award.

Heather Courtney won the Independent Spirit’s Truer Than Fiction Award for her documentary “Where Soldiers Come From,” a moving film that follows the stories of a group of high school friends from rural Michigan who enlist in the National Guard and get deployed to Iraq.

Oscar run

Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” which was filmed in Smithville and Central Texas, earned three Oscar nominations (best picture, director and cinematography) but went home empty-handed in February.

The Drafthouse Films-distributed Belgian noir thriller “Bullhead” was one of five nominees for best foreign language film. Former Austinite and San Antonio native Brunson Green received a best picture nomination for producing “The Help.”

The only U.S. film nominated for a live-action short Oscar in 2012 was produced by 1995 University of Texas Radio, Television and Film graduate Gigi Causey. “Time Freak” was written and directed by Causey’s husband, Andrew Bowler.

Call from the Hall

A svelte and tuxedoed Matthew McConaughey helped kick off proceedings at ACL Live at Moody Theater, the new home of the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards, in March and announced that he and his family had moved back to town. The event honored new inductees character actor extraordinaire Barry Corbin (“Northern Exposure,” “Lonesome Dove”), filmmaker Douglas McGrath (“Emma,” “Infamous”) and actor/musician Meatloaf. Austin Film Society creative director Richard Linklater introduced Angie Dickinson, on hand to represent honored film “Rio Bravo,” and filmmaker Robert Rodriguez bestowed the Patron Honorary Texan Award on his “Machete” star Danny Trejo.

South by Southwest welcomes one of its favorite ‘girls’

Lena Dunham, whose “Tiny Furniture” won the narrative feature award at SXSW in 2010, returned to the festival that helped launch her career to screen the first three episodes of her new TV show, “Girls.” The HBO series, co-produced by Judd Apatow, premiered in April, and Dunham became one of the most talked-about artists of the summer.

SXSW landed the Joss Whedon-penned “Cabin in the Woods,” a smart genre film that ended up on quite a few best-of lists, as its opening night film. SXSW screened 130 features, including 51 films from first-time directors. The narrative and documentary feature categories each screened eight films making their world premieres.

Your chance to play film programmer, a web platform that allows movie fans to crowd-source screenings at local theaters, launched in March.

Tugg users can choose from a variety of films, pick a theater and decide on a screening time. They then use email and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to promote the event. Get enough RSVPs by the deadline, and the event’s a go.

Tugg’s board of advisers includes Malick, as well as Ben Affleck and Linklater.

The site, according to Alamo CEO and founder Tim League, has the potential to change the movie business.

“As the creators were first showing me Tugg, I had the same sensation I had when I first started using Facebook,” League said. “This was a brilliant, well-executed concept.”

Alamo on the move

The Alamo Drafthouse opened its latest Austin location, Alamo Slaughter, in March with much ballyhoo, as Rodriguez helped League saber a bottle of champagne. The Drafthouse also unveiled plans for a 10-screen theater in North Austin at U.S. 183 and Lakeline Boulevard. The Austin locations are not their only additions. A Drafthouse opened in Kansas City, with others under construction in Houston (two); the New York City area (two); Washington, D.C.; Richardson; Denver and San Francisco. By the end of next year, if all goes according to plan, there should be 20 Alamo Drafthouses across the country.

Rodriguez empire expands

Austin filmmaker Rodriguez joined forces with Comcast Corp. to create El Rey, an English-language cable channel aimed at the Latino market.

“This is the right time to create something new that has cultural significance and can reach the U.S. Latino audience that is really booming,” Rodriguez said. El Rey is purported to be “an action-packed, general entertainment network in English for Latino and general audiences.” Rodriguez also filmed “Machete Kills” and “Sin City 2” in Austin during 2012.

Oh, brother

University of Texas grads Mark and Jay Duplass had a busy year. The brothers’ “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” and “The Do-Deca-Pentathalon” were released in theaters, and “Safety Not Guaranteed,” produced by the brothers and starring Mark, was a hit at Sundance and SXSW. Mark also appeared in “Your Sister’s Sister” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” Jay’s documentary “Kevin,” the story of Austin musician Kevin Gant, was released online. Things shouldn’t slow down in the new year, either, as Deadline reported that the brothers were hired to write “The Hangover” director Todd Phillips’ upcoming stony comedy, “Mule.”

In the south of France

Jeff Nichols premiered his latest, “Mud,” at the Cannes Film Festival. The 34-year-old, who grew up in Arkansas, was among the youngest directors ever to compete for the festival’s coveted Palme d’Or. The story of a man (Matthew McConaughey) on the run from the law and hopefully into the arms of his beloved (Reese Witherspoon) is scheduled to open in Austin in the spring.

The Year of McConaughey

Speaking of “Mud,” it was a banner year for McConaughey. The UT grad and Longhorn superfan also appeared in Lee Daniels’ Cannes entry “The Paperboy,” scared audiences with his portrayal of a sociopathic cop in “Killer Joe,” played a flamboyant prosecutor in Richard Linklater’s “Bernie” and titillated and amused audiences as a strip club proprietor in “Magic Mike.” This year he will star in “The Dallas Buyers Club” as Ron Woodroof, a Dallas man who created an illegal operation selling pharmaceuticals to AIDS patients. He will also co-star in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” with fellow Central Texan Kyle Chandler.

Passing of a unique talent

Austin and the movie world mourned the loss of cult actress and Oscar nominee Susan Tyrrell, who died in June. She was 67.

Though she appeared on such notable TV shows as “Baretta,” “Starsky and Hutch” and “Kojak,” Tyrrell’s career is mostly memorable for her roles in quirky films such as John Waters’ “Cry-Baby” (1990).

Tyrrell, who appeared in more than 75 movies and TV shows, received a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her role as alcoholic barfly Oma in John Huston’s 1971 boxing drama “Fat City.”

The actress moved to Austin in 2008 and most recently appeared as an eerie woman trapped in a hole in the woods in the Zellners’ “Kid-Thing.”

“It was such a joy to have been pals with the one and only Susu. One of my favorite actresses ever and just as much a presence in person as onscreen,” David Zellner said. “Her lust for life, her fixation with provocation and the subversive was so refreshing and fun.”

Austin Film Festival in your living room

The first season of the AFF-produced TV show “On Story” was picked up this spring by 70 PBS-affiliated stations in 41 markets, including Denver and New York City. The show features panel discussions and conversations with filmmakers and screenwriters from AFF, as well as a short film to conclude each episode.

“I guess it’s an endorsement, in a way, of the festival’s mission,” said festival co-founder and Executive Director Barbara Morgan. “It makes me feel that when people actually get to hear the writers speak, they respond like they do at the festival. We always knew the festival was great content, and now I feel like the general public, who may not be coming (to AFF) just because they don’t want to be filmmakers, is going to get to see it, and they will hopefully feel the same way.”

Season 2 began airing in Austin in late April as part of KLRU-Q’s Night at the Movies lineup. Flagship station KLRU aired the second season after the run on KLRU-Q.

AFF also named Erin Hallagan as its new conference director. The Virginia native and Temple University graduate replaced outgoing director Maya Perez, who entered the Michener Center for Writers at UT.

Linklater’s big year

Linklater’s “Bernie” had a huge opening weekend and ended up a big critical and financial success. The dark comedy about a mortician who kills a wealthy East Texas widow took in almost $10 million, the biggest total for a Linklater film since 2005’s “Bad News Bears.” The film also made several year-end lists and earned star Jack Black a Golden Globe nomination. The filmmaker also produced an original travel series, “Up to Speed,” on this summer. His “Before Midnight,” the third in a series of films starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, will make its world premiere at Sundance in January.

Happenings at the Austin Film Society

AFS announced Holly Herrick as its associate artistic director. Herrick came to AFS from the Hamptons International Film Festival, where she worked as programming deputy director. She has also worked at the Sarasota Film Festival and Newport International Film Festival and has a background in both writing and independent film production.

AFS also distributed a total of $89,500 in grant money through its Texas Filmmakers’ Production Fund. The nonprofit’s efforts to transform a decommissioned armory into a bustling entertainment complex got a boost in the form of a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The group said it will use the money to shape renovation plans for an abandoned hangar and building that were once home to the Texas Army National Guard. The two structures are adjacent to the existing Austin Studios lot at the former Mueller airport site in East Austin.

Keeping up with Malick

The Austin filmmaker who celebrated an Oscar nomination early in the year for his poignant “The Tree of Life” spent 2012 making more movies. His “To the Wonder,” which looks like a beautiful meditation on love and faith, played at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival. The movie starring Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck and Javier Bardem will hit theaters later this year.

Malick was also spotted at the Austin City Limits Festival, a Longhorn football game and Fun Fun Fun Fest shooting footage for his next film with actors Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Val Kilmer and Natalie Portman.

New face at the Texas Film Commission

Heather Page, who has worked in the local film and television industry as a camerawoman, was named the new director of the Texas Film Commission in September.

She replaced lawyer Evan Fitzmaurice, who previously announced his plans to step down from the post. Page will oversee incentives for film, television, advertising and video game productions.

Page has worked on such projects as “Revenge,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Armageddon” and “The Green Mile.” She is a former workforce training administrator for the Texas Film Commission. She’s also a board member of the Society of Camera Operators, chair of the International Cinematographers Guild Scholarship Fund and co-founder and director of Beyond the Lights Celebrity Golf Classic.

Fantastic Fest offering ‘Sinister’ a surprise hit

First-time screenwriter and contributor C. Robert Cargill co-wrote horror movie “Sinister,” which had a hugely successful opening weekend in October. “Sinister” took in $18.2 million in its opening weekend, almost keeping pace with “Taken 2” ($22.5 million) and “Argo” ($20.1 million). The movie went on to earn $50 million at the box office.

The movie, which stars Austin native Hawke, screened at Fantastic Fest, which kicked off in grand style with the world premiere of Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie.” The animated horror film was one of a record 14 world premieres at the festival. Burton and co-stars Winona Ryder and Martin Landau attended the premiere and even got in a little bowling at the Highball, which closed in November and will re-open in a new incarnation in 2013 sans bowling lanes.

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