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The best of UT's RTF department on display at Longhorn Showcase

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com
Ralph White plays the accordion in University of Texas graduate student Micah Barber's short film 'Falconer,' which was shot in an abandoned Texas dance hall east of Taylor.

The Radio-Television-Film Department at the University of Texas has long helped drive the image of Austin as a hotbed for independent filmmaking.

From Robert Rodriguez to Academy Award nominee Rachel Tsangari ("Attenberg"), there has been no shortage of great talent coming from UT over the past two decades.

The next generation of UT-bred talent will be on display this weekend as the RTF department hosts its second annual Longhorn Showcase. The free event at UT's McCullough Theatre will feature nine of the best student films from the school year.

"Every year, this celebration of student films features young filmmakers who go on to national and international prominence," said Paul Stekler, chair of the RTF department. "Our filmmakers have screened at Venice, Sundance, Toronto, Dubai and other major festivals where they have received critical acclaim. They got started in screenings right here in Austin. I encourage everyone to come out and see the filmmakers who'll find similar success in the future and continue to fuel the film industry in Texas."

One of the films featured this weekend will be master of fine arts student Micah Barber's "Falconer." The jarring and evocative tale of a small town that seems to exist in a post-apocalyptic vacuum takes place inside a decrepit bar where time seems to have ground to a halt.

Barber uses digital stills and live action that include frozen and kinetic actors to create a surreal pastiche of dread, boredom, connection and absolution.

"The look of the film came to me in a dream," Barber said. "I had a dream where a person was standing on a mountain looking up at me, and everything was frozen except his bright scarf blowing in the wind. When I woke up, I knew I had to use that power in a film."

Shot on 35 mm film in an abandoned Texas dance hall east of Taylor, the title of the film references the William Butler Yeats poem "The Second Coming" — "Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer."

The famous poem served as a jumping off point for the film's narrative and themes.

"I envisioned a small town where everyone was waiting for something to change. They're a little lost — the falcon cannot hear the falconer," Barber said. "It's about community, with the idea that humans are more than just physical beings. Often it takes special circumstances for us to really see each other, to really appreciate the connections we have. My movies often explore that space — things that bring us together, the emotions and realities surrounding death, and the times of life when one reflects on mortality."

Both Barber's "Falconer" and fellow student and Longhorn Showcase participant Huay-Bing Law's "Benny" were recently nominated for Student Academy Awards. The two hope to follow in the footsteps of UT alumnus Soham Mehta, whose "Fatarka" screened at the inaugural Longhorn Showcase before going on to win a Student Academy Award last year.

Mehta, who now lives and works in New York City, says the best part of the RTF program at UT was the sheer number of films that he made while a student.

"Every time you complete a film and see how it plays in front of an audience, you get a little better," Mehta said. "I came to UT never having made a film of my own, but by the time I left, I had completed several films and worked on countless more of my classmates' projects. That's given me the confidence to keep making films beyond the safety of school."

Barber, who says he now considers Austin home, is writing and developing several projects, including his first directorial feature.

"The University of Texas and Austin have been great to me. I chose Austin because I felt it would be the best place to develop a distinct independent style," the Chicago native said. "The selective program (which accepts only 12 grad students per year) really encourages unique voices."

Contact Matt Odam at 912-5986

Longhorn Showcase