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Richard Linklater's 'Apollo 10 1/2' is a coming-of-age animated film based on his own youth

Here’s a puzzle for you: How can a movie that was screened elsewhere a few days before South by Southwest still accurately be classified as a world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival?

Answer: It’s still officially a world premiere if that first screening was in space.

Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater was almost giddy when he confided to the crowd at Sunday’s Paramount Theatre premiere of “Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood” that the film was shown on the International Space Station last week. He and other members of the film’s crew had a chance to speak with astronauts on the station, as well.

Back here on earth, a not-quite-capacity crowd at the Paramount responded enthusiastically to the earthbound premiere of the movie, which is coming to Netflix in April. It’s Linklater’s third animated film, using some of the same rotoscope technique he pioneered with 2001’s “Waking Life” and 2006’s “A Scanner Darkly.”

More SXSW:Our interview with 'Apollo 10 1/2' filmmaker Richard Linklater

In making "Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood," Richard Linklater says he was trying to evoke a sense of time and place specific to a kind of free-range childhood that no longer exists.

The 90-minute film is ultimately less about the Apollo moon-landing mission (with a twist) of its title, and more about the “space age childhood” of its subtitle. “Apollo 10 1/2” follows in the canon of Linklater films that are largely inspired by his own life: He grew up in Houston and experienced the moon landing in much the same way as the movie’s young protagonist, Stan. (Jack Black narrates the film as grown-up Stan reminiscing about his childhood.)

“Apollo 10 1/2” is steeped so strongly in its time and place that you can imagine Linklater and his crew checking off items on a massive laundry-list of cultural touchstones from Houston in 1969. Just a few examples: kickball, hippies, pull tabs, board games, classic TV shows, DDT trucks, Baskin-Robbins, Little League Baseball and scooping spoonfuls of sugar onto breakfast cereal. If you grew up during or near that time period, almost all of this will resonate.

Space culture was dominant, as well, especially in Houston, where NASA had established its headquarters in the early 1960s. The 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey” played into that, too. Young Stan was so fascinated by the movie that he bored his pals by lecturing them about its details. Linklater admitted in remarks after the film that he was indeed the kid who did that to his peers, admitting that much of the film is “embarrassingly personal.”

Photos:Daniel Radcliffe and Sandra Bullock hit the SXSW red carpet to promote new movie

Much like the communal viewing of "Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood," the film will have its world premiere as South by Southwest Film Festival makes its in-person return to the theaters after two years online.

But that’s always been the secret sauce of Linklater’s most memorable work. From “Slacker” to “Dazed and Confused” to “Before Sunrise,” he’s followed the premise of “write what you know” and made extraordinary films from it.

Beyond the careful attention to pop-culture references, Linklater nails us with little details, insightfully reminding us of youthful joys that might have faded from our memories across the decades. Did you ever experience the sublimely content feeling of falling asleep in the car on the way home from a family outing? I had, but I’d forgotten about until “Apollo 10 1/2” reminded me.

Richard Linklater attends the "Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood" premiere during the SXSW Film Festival at the Paramount Theatre on March 13, 2022, in Austin, Texas.

Among those who attended Sunday’s screening were the children who portrayed Stan and his five siblings in the film, as well as some of Linklater’s own siblings — including, he noted, the sister “who actually worked at Baskin-Robbins.” He gave special props to those at NASA who helped with many aspects of the film.

“They are by far my favorite government agency,” he affirmed.