SXSW 2011: HE DIDN’T SLAY ONE DRAGON, MAN! MEGA-UPDATE FROM THE FESTIVAL

This entry is two days behind, so it’s going to be a lengthy one. I had planned on getting this online Sunday night, but since that evening involved a late night walk from the Alamo South Lamar to downtown, I was less than motivated. Then Monday happened, and as my last full day, I did it up. Tuesday? Travel day. In other words, excuses excuses excuses…

Since this is going to be lengthy, and I know many of you are less interested in my adventures than what I thought about movies, I figured I’d offer up some easy links to use for the reviews:

  1. 39-A: Een Reisverhaal Van Eindeloos (A Travel Tale of Interminable)
  2. 100 Bands in 100 Days
  3. Attack the Block
  4. The Blitzen Trapper Massacre
  5. Convento
  6. Dragonslayer
  7. Elevate
  8. Fubar: Balls to the Wall
  9. Heaven Hell
  10. Hit So Hard
  11. Inside America
  12. Kumaré
  13. Last Days Here
  14. Natural Selection
  15. PressPausePlay
  16. Silver Bullets
  17. Small, Beautifully Moving Parts
  18. Square Grouper: The Godfathers of Ganja
  19. Training Session
  20. Turkey Bowl
  21. Weekend

Sunday, March 13, 2011
Sunday morning started out with me rushing over to the Convention Center to drop in on Timothy Ferriss’ panel about his book The 4-Hour Body. Being a fat fuck, I own the book as yet another in a pile of “books to read, consider and then do nothing about,” but my wife also read it and is a fan. So I told her I’d check it out and report back to her. Which is what I did. At one point during the panel, people were passing around 5lbs of synthetic fat; this was done as a technique to point out how disgusting fat is, and if you’re overweight, to make you feel ill that your body is made up of so much greasy goo. Personally, while the block o’ fat was gross, I did enjoy the subversive nature of walking up to a stranger typing away on their laptop and handing them the chunk. Eventually the fat made its way to a guy who decided not to break the chain and, instead of sharing, set it down on a chair to sit by itself, watching the panel. It was in that moment that I and the fat felt a kinship that transcends common sense or decency.

After the panel, I made my to the Vimeo Theater downstairs to see Kumaré, Vikram Gandhi’s documentary about spirituality and the importance of being your own guru. In the film, Vikram starts out investigating gurus before deciding that the best way to study the influence of a guru is to become one, to which end he creates a fake religion and assumes a new identity as guru Kumaré, which is essentially Vikram with a long beard, robes, trident and using a spoken affectation reminiscent of Mike Myers’ performance in The Love Guru. As the film unfolds we watch Kumaré flourish as a guru, and while it feels a bit like we’re laughing at a bunch of gullible people at the beginning, it turns around when Vikram finds himself confronted with real problems and concerns from his students, and begins to shoulder real responsibility by picking the message of being your own guru, and true to yourself, a teaching he emphasizes by the end of the film when reveals his true identity.

It’s a fine line the film dances, because are you laughing at, with or not at all? What does being a guru really mean anyway? If Vikram pretends to be a guru, but what he teaches actually helps his students, doesn’t he become a guru to them? The pretense is the idea that he had some knowledge or superiority to his students, but isn’t anyone who teaches us anything, in a way, a guru? The film really makes you think, often makes you uncomfortable and, for me, reminded me to question everything.

The next screening I caught, also at the Vimeo, was the documentary Elevate. If you’re keeping track of these sorts of things, I was watching a lot of documentaries. In fact, by the time the awards rolled around Tuesday night, I had seen 5 out of the 8 competition docs. More on why that is significant to me shortly, but back to the screening. The documentary was preceded by a short film called Training Session that turned exercise like running, weight training and aerobics into complicated dance routines. Shot in black and white, the film reminded me of the music video for Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted Snake,” especially when, during the weight training sequence, all the dancers writhed in ecstasy and air-fucked the exercise equipment (which, if training was actually like that, I wouldn’t be overweight; I’d being fucking an elliptical machine).

Elevate told the story of a handful of high school students from Dakar, Senegal who are given the opportunity, due to their skills as basketball players, to attend high school in the United States. Once in the U.S., alongside their time on the court, the students are able to get an education and, if they work hard enough, have the opportunity to continue studies in college and, hopefully, eventually play in the NBA. As part of a program called SEEDS, created by Senegal’s own Amadou Gallo Fall (at the time of the film, he is a scout for the Dallas Mavericks), the idea is that, regardless of whether the students ever play in the NBA, they can at least get a top-notch education and then use that knowledge to return home and better the situation for their countrymen. Which, ultimately, is exactly what the students think about all the time, what they can do for their friends and family back home, even as they work their asses off on the basketball court and in the classroom.

Elevate really reminded me of a film I saw years ago at Sundance called God Grew Tired of Us. While that film carried a much more tragic story, the culture shock, and loyalty to home, was just as powerful. When you see so many feeling so grateful just to be in a country that I’ve been a citizen in for most of my life (I was born in South Africa), it puts the more petty day-to-day bullshit in America in perspective. I’ve got it easy; for the most part, that’s always been the case. Elevate is just a feel-good documentary that keeps you smiling and inspired, and while you can question, from time to time, the motivations of the coaches bringing the students over to the U.S. to play (especially when one gets injured), that cynicism is deflated by the students’ own happiness at being able to learn and help their own country, even if they have to play basketball to achieve that goal.

After Elevate, I once again lined up for the Vimeo, this time to watch Tristan Patterson’s documentary Dragonslayer, which is about Josh “Skreech” Sandoval, a professional skateboarder who, from what I could see, has three skateboarding moves: leg plant, fall off board and/or puke. Lather, rinse, repeat. When not skateboarding all over the world (how is he paying for some of these trips when he doesn’t appear to be winning many tournaments), he’s usually getting drunk and smoking pot… and not much else. As the film goes on, he gets in a relationship with a teenager named Leslie who also smokes a lot of pot (possibly more than Josh), and at times that seems to be all that their relationship is based on. Oh, and every once and a while Josh brings his baby from a previous relationship to skating events, making me want to reach for the cell to call child services.

Now, of all the movies I saw at SXSW this year, I truly did not like Dragonslayer. At all. For one, the camerawork in the film is horrendous. When not moving around constantly, it seems like someone is going crazy with the focus, like the focus puller just decided to rotate the lens every two seconds or so (for an example of this, watch the trailer from the 0:40-0:48 second mark; this footage is at night, and excusable, but that out-of-focus nonsense happens in all light scenarios throughout the entire movie and drove me nuts). On top of that, watching a guy skate pools, smoke pot and get drunk is not particularly interesting, edgy or worthy of an entire documentary. If I want to spend 80 minutes watching that, I have friends who engage in that activity and I can just hang with them. At least if I did that, they’d be in focus. As I tweeted about the film, a camcorder, with auto-focus on, taping in a dark room, is in focus more often than Dragonslayer. Am I exaggerating? Yeah, but not by much.

In the Q&A, the director said that after he met Josh he just knew he had to make a movie about him and… why? What is the message? That there are people out there that do very little, and aspire to even less? Pot is like a year or two away from being legal, and so commonplace, that focusing on it in a movie seems pedestrian at best, and pretentious at worst. The ONLY thing I liked about the film was that it was split into numbered sections so that I could at least count down to escape, but even that was a “fuck you” because they started at “10″ and ended at “0,” giving me one more section to suffer through.

Outside of the theater, I got into a few conversations with people who were just as adamant at how bad the film was, and even asking how it got programmed in the first place, to which I replied with something like, “In the end, it’s all subjective. Even though we hated it, someone is going to call it ‘genius’ and rave about it.” One of the questions in the Q&A even praised the film’s “visually stunning” style (which had me choking back the urge to scream, “Are you fucking blind!?!”), so I can’t say I was entirely blindsided when Dragonslayer won the Grand Jury prize for the documentary competition, but the win for Cinematography left me baffled.

Like I said above, I saw 5 out of the 8 competition docs (and if lucky, will see the other 3 sometime soon). Of those, I’d rank ANY ONE OF THEM over Dragonslayer. When people criticize indie film as being pretentious and such, they’re talking about films like this winning high profile awards. Really, Dragonslayer had better cinematography than Fightville, Kumaré or Better This World? It told a better story? As a friend said, from here on out, the doc competition jurors, Mark Olsen, Lisa Schwarzbaum and Sky Sitney (the fucking festival director of Silverdocs; mind = blown), are suspect. But anyway, subjective.

After the Dragonslayer, I had to end the day strong, so after hearing about how great Attack the Block was from folks who were at the premiere screening, I made my way to the Alamo S. Lamar to watch the film. The midnight film wound up starting late, and we were warned that the shuttle would be leaving by 2am, so if we wanted to make the shuttle, we better be outside. Of course, producers Jim Wilson and Edgar Wright, director Joe Cornish and everyone’s favorite critic Elvis Mitchell were on-hand for Q&A, so catching the shuttle in time was not an option (especially considering one of my friends had bolted out when the film ended to catch said shuttle prior to 2am, and the damn thing never showed anyway). Anyway, Noah Lee already reviewed the film, so you’re welcome to read his thoughts on it. I enjoyed the film a lot, but it wasn’t the transcendent experience I had been lead to believe thanks to the hyperbole coming out of the premiere screening. And I’m not saying that to be contrarian, but if you search around online, it was like there was a collective geekgasm about Attack the Block and… it got my geek hard, but it didn’t make me cum. Worth a watch, though, and a lot of fun. John Boyega absolutely owns the movie.

As I said, no shuttle was to be had as we exited the theater (we being myself and friends Edward Stencel, Jeph Scanlon and Carrie Beck), so we tried for a cab. Nothing, because 6th Street was in full effect and the cab services were not picking up (even their websites were down). We made the command decision to start walking the 2 miles to the Convention Center, with the hopes that we’d see and be able to flag down a cab along the way. Which we eventually did, about a mile and a half into the walk, but not before walking under a tree that, upon my looking up, appeared to have someone sitting in it and looking down at me. I don’t think I screamed, but I did react with alarm, informed my friends of the weird-ass figure in the tree, scaring them too, and eventually took a picture of it (scroll down to bottom of this epic post). Other than that, though, about as exciting as walking 1.5 miles at 2am in squeeky Converse All-Stars can be.

Monday, March 14, 2011
When Monday started I was still a little dazed from the late-night walk, but I hustled on over to the Convention Center and watched PressPausePlay, a documentary about technology and the proliferation of technology and what it means to the democratization of art through various mediums, particularly film and music. Very straightforward, it echoed a few conflicting ideas I’ve had, particularly the one where I believe that everyone should have the opportunity and means to make movies or music, but that I also think that not everyone is supposed to do so. There is still something to be said for talent, even if Malcolm Gladwell would have you believe it’s really all about practice. I did enjoy some of the comments by a music critic in the film that basically opened my eyes to the fact that all the things I bitch about concerning online writers and critics just spewing on each other in a mutual appreciation circle jerk is not confined only to film writing. This film, coupled with RIP: A Remix Manifesto, would make for a good double feature.

After watching PressPausePlay, I made my way to, surprise surprise, the Vimeo Theater for the screening of the documentary Last Days Here, which chronicles the recovery and comeback of heavy metal singer Bobby Liebling. As the film opens, Bobby is in his 50s, living in his parents’ basement, smoking crack and looking like Death itself. The tale of Bobby and his former band Pentagram is not particularly unique, rock star constantly self-destructing on the eve of success leading to obscurity, but the idea that Bobby, after all these years, is still alive and has friends willing to sacrifice for him at every step to get him back on stage, is inspiring. The film does get bleak and hopeless at times, and I’d be lying if I told you I thought it was all going to work out, but for once real life isn’t as cynical and cruel as one would expect. By the end of the film, the “rock star downward spiral” documentary sub-genre is dealt some surprising turns, and you walk away feeling that it’s never too late to turn your life around. I mean, if a guy in his 50s can put down the crack pipe, I can probably say “no” to a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, right?

I next made my way over to the Rollins Theater, which I had never been in before, to watch Joe Swanberg’s latest film, Silver Bullets. Now, I’m neither a Swanberg uber-fan or a Swanberg uber-hater (it seems you have to be in either camp to write about film, so I want to clarify my pre-viewing stance). I think Nights and Weekends is an incredible film, and I think less of a number of his other pictures. For me, he can go either way. With Silver Bullets, I think he went in a direction I didn’t expect, which is he made the movie about himself, and filmmaking, but in a way where his character winds up embodying every criticism that anyone has ever hurled his way, professional or personal. His filmmaker character is distant to his current girlfriend, played by Kate Lyn Sheil, who just so happens to be working on a werewolf film being made by another indie-director-made-good, Ti West. As she works more and more with Ti, Swanberg’s character sets his sights on her attractive best friend, which he then winds up getting all types of sexual with under the auspices of making a movie and connecting with another person. Throughout it all, he questions whether making the films makes the seeming infidelity okay, worth it or even if he likes or even wants to make films at all. He’s course, shallow, vindictive and everything that folks say he is when they’ve written negatively about him and his films in real-life. Hell, there’s a moment near the end of the film that plays like hateful film critic wish fulfillment.

Meanwhile, Ti West is charming and funny, and seemingly on a much better career trajectory without the daily bitterness. While he and Swanberg’s character both eventually wind up sharing a bit of moral ambiguity when it comes to close relations with their actors, while it comes off creepy and exploitative for Swanberg, it comes off cute and awkward for West.

There’s other weirdness in the film that seems to make little sense to me, such as why the film opens with two characters, one played by filmmaker Larry Fessenden, who barely factor in to the rest of the film. Plus, I’m having a hard time seeing the film separate from the real life and career of Joe Swanberg. For people who haven’t seen his films, or read the criticisms toward him, I wonder how the film plays. Does it work at all? Would I have the interpretation I have if I was pure in this knowledge myself? Regardless, this is the second film of Swanberg’s I’ve truly enjoyed, arguably his 8 1/2.

I wanted to end my SXSW movie-watching with something fun, so I headed to the Alamo South Lamar for Fubar: Balls to the Wall, the sequel to 2002′s Canadian classic Fubar. The film was preceded by a short film directed by actor Rainn Wilson, entitled The Blitzen Trapper Massacre. In the short, Rainn Wilson plays himself, a spurned fan of the band Blitzen Trapper, who decides to get his revenge on the band. And that’s it. Wilson plays off-center with the best of them, and here he’s just violent, crazy Rainn. Not bad, not good… just exactly what you think it is.

Before Fubar: Balls to the Wall got started, the director Michael Dowse and actor David Lawrence, in character as stoner, heavy metal Canadian Terry, took the stage to discuss the absence of co-star Paul Spence, who plays Dean in the film. Lawrence carted around a cardboard cut-out of the Dean character to stand in for the missing actor, as Spence had been stopped at U.S. Customs for having hash, or hash residue, in his pocket. Turns out the Fubar characters are so popular and well-known in Canada that folks often want to party with the actors when they’re in character, and Spence, who was in full get-up while traveling, never checked his pockets for potential contraband. So, no Dean.

Even though Fubar: Balls to the Wall is a sequel, you don’t need to have seen the original to enjoy the second. While some things play a bit funnier (including a recurring health issue for Dean), everything is explained and addressed so you’re never lost. SXSW showed the original the next day as a special screening anyway, so if you really felt lost, you could at least see it then. Personally, I found both films to have similar positives and negatives. Both are hilarious and start out strong, the joke starts to wear a little thin about three quarters of the way through and then there’s a moment or three of serious drama (well, as serious as Terry and Dean are capable of getting). In this film, Dean and Terry follow their friend Tron up to Fort McMurray to work as construction day laborers, spending their days being the worst workers Canada has ever seen and their nights getting drunk, stoned and hanging at the local Peelerz strip club, where Terry falls in love with a very large and abrasive waitress.

In describing the film to others, I’ve called it “brutally Canadian.” I’ve got a bunch of Canadian friends, and everything about this films feels so real, despite being so over-the-top insane. It’s what would happen if Spicoli fucked Bob and Doug Mackenzie, their offspring turned out to be Wayne and Garth, who then fucked each other, resulting in braindead-and-inbred offspring named Terry and Dean. And, for the record, the opening party sequence of this film is brilliant in its insanity. It sets the bar so high, it’s hard for the film to ever get back there. Still, who cares if it’s awesome, right? The only depressing thought I had was that one day Dean might find himself smoking crack in his parents’ basement, a la Bobby Liebling.

After the film, I closed the night out with some partying at the Fubar karaoke party at the Highball. I wasn’t there too long, mainly because I didn’t want to get stranded without the shuttle for the second night in a row, but I was there long enough to add on to the intoxication started at the Drafthouse, resulting in some blurry photos of karaoke and way too much video to use to blackmail various industry friends. In other words, great way to end the evening. And, yes, I did catch the shuttle.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
My last day in Austin wasn’t terribly exciting, as I mainly just headed over to the Trade Show to check out the different booths (and collect as much swag as I could get; which was a lot). Many cool booths were there, including HP’s MagCloud magazine print-on-demand company and a company out of Sweden that had created a cloud-based, sound composition program called Soundation (which had an incredible demo that impressed). After wandering the Trade Show floor for about an hour, I made my way back to the hotel to catch the shuttle.

‘Course, I fucked that up. The night before, I pre-booked and pre-paid for my shuttle ride to the airport. When a shuttle arrived at the hotel around the same time as the one I had booked, I assumed it was my shuttle and got on. Turned out, once we got to the airport, that it wasn’t the shuttle I booked, and I was going to have to pay, which means I took one ride, but wound up paying for two. Next time, I ask the driver before I get on the shuttle.

The flight home was uneventful, save for Panda Express in Houston and the gut rumbles it caused. I got to Philly at 11:35pm, and my wife was there to pick me up. Good times, good fest, tired me. Even though I’m home now, SXSW continues through this weekend and I’ve still got some more SXSW films to watch a write about. Expect them in a later entry, or possibly even in the fest wrap-up. For now, enjoy a collection of the rest of the films I’ve already seen…

But wait, there’s more…
Even though I’m no longer in Austin, TX, and I didn’t see everything in the theater that I would’ve liked to see in the theater… I did see quite a few more SXSW films than I’ve already talked about. In fact, even after this long-ass post, I’m still watching SXSW films and will be writing even more (and this doesn’t even take into account all the films Jessica Baxter and Noah Lee are still seeing in Austin). In other words, more coverage to come. For now, though, here’s my thoughts on the SXSW films I saw outside of the theater…

39-A: Een Reisverhaal Van Eindeloos (A Travel Tale of Interminable)
Evan Mather’s short film is one mindfuck of a travelogue. It tells the story of a 1981 family trip to Kennedy Space Center via mixed cinematic media, but that’s a loose way to describe the short. Very much an experimental journey, and narrated by what felt like almost incomprehensible gibberish (the SXSW description calls it “Dutch pidgin-speak”), Mather’s film is entertaining and intriguing… even if I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. Like, I think I did, but did I? Wha? No idea. Like every great experimental short I’ve seen, I don’t know what’s going on, but I LIKE it.

100 Bands in 100 Days
I feel like there should be an officially classified “Deadline-Specific, Artistic and Goal-Oriented”genre of film or book. What I mean is that I seem to hear about many blogs or books based on the idea of doing some goal for x number of days. For example, one was a blogger who watched all over AFI’s Top 100 Films, there was the whole Julie and Julia thing and Michael Adams wrote a great book about watching bad movies for a year in a quest to find the worst. In the case of the short film 100 Bands in 100 Days, it is exactly as it reads: Nick Sonderup went to 100 concerts over the course of 100 days, in an effort to reclaim a part of his life that he had been neglecting (going out to concerts and enjoying live music), and he wrote a blog about his endeavors as he went. He also filmed bits along the way, and combined them to tell the tale. Like the title, there is no dancing around the topic or metaphors or anything: it is exactly what it says it is. Impressive, and an example of the power of setting a goal for yourself and following through despite any and all obstacles. At under 15 minutes, the film presents the scenario, delivers the highlights and gets out of there. Matter-of-fact and to the point, which I truly appreciate.

Convento
Convento is a gorgeous documentary with fascinating and hard-to-forget imagery of dead animals turned into mechanical hybrids. The entire film feels like a steampunk art project come to (undead) life. Unfortunately, while it looks incredible and presents a unique art form, it also moves very, very slowly. Which, you know, if you’re not appreciating the visuals or the tone, you may not find much with which to connect. For me, I want a poster or painting of Convento‘s creations, but don’t necessarily want to watch the movie again.

Heaven Hell
David Calek’s documentary about a few BDSM practitioners manages to take the mystique out of the sexual proclivities of the subjects and instead had me fixated on the practicality of it all. For example, one subject gets sexual joy out of being treated, and ridden, like a horse. This leads to not only a hilarious scene of he and other like-minded friends competing in a costumed steeplechase (with rules, points and everything), but also a scene at a party where the subject can be seen overheating due to his leather horse outfit (complete with horse head helmet-mask). What I’m getting at here is that while I don’t necessarily see how any of the activities in the film are sexually appealing, that doesn’t mean I think they’re any stranger or odd than most idiosyncrasies people have, and Heaven Hell truly humanizes a group normally lumped under the titles of “perverted” or “deviant.” I did flinch at some of the needle play (and there’s some sequences involving people hanging from hooks), but really enjoyed how the film presented its subjects, and how that simple technique of non-judgmental presentation managed to allow me to actually relate to what was going on.

Hit So Hard
This documentary focuses on the life of drummer Patty Schemel, formerly of the band Hole, and her battles with drug abuse, life and the challenges of being in a popular rock band. While I enjoyed the film, it did feel like it took a couple detours here and there, mainly because Patty was a close friend of Kurt Cobain, and at times it felt less like a documentary about Patty and more an opportunity to talk about Kurt Cobain while showing candid home video footage (and I’ve noticed that this aspect of it has been one of the main promotional points). As a fan of Nirvana, I appreciated it, but as someone who was also truly interested in hearing Patty’s story, it felt too distracting. I understand, Cobain was a big part of her life and, therefore, if you talk about her life, you talk about his too but… it just felt like sometimes the film only talked about his. I felt like there were stretches of the film where Patty disappeared from her own story.

Inside America
I was about 10 minutes into this film before I realized that I needed to turn the subtitles on. For some reason I thought the filmmakers had made the bold choice of having the Spanish-speaking characters, who make up the majority of the film, just deliver their dialogue while I tried to figure it out based on body language and memory of my own Spanish studies in high school and college. Yes, sometimes I am less than intelligent, but at least I recognized my mistake, turned on the subtitles, and re-started the film from the beginning… and I’m very happy I did so. While I wouldn’t classify Inside America as a cheerful film, it doesn’t go into as bleak and disturbing a world as the one in which Kids lives in. The film plays a bit like a fly-on-wall documentary on a group of high school students in Brownsville, Texas, but so many indie films nowadays utilize the up-close, roving camera approach that, in the end, it feels less documentary than it does narrative indie. Which, of course, it is. Again, this isn’t a cheerful or happy film, but for once a film shows high school students acting like the world is going to end in consideration of events that, you know, could actually end their world (this isn’t a film full of angst about bad grades, though one character does flirt with being the over-the-top, misunderstood, rich chick stereotype). While I hate to think that anyone in this world could actually consider “no future” realistically, it feels like more than a few in this film are in for just that.

Natural Selection
While I saw this film prior to the 2011 SXSW Awards being announced, I was not surprised that it cleaned up as much as it did. As far as indie comedies go, this one, plot-wise, isn’t the most remarkable film on the block. That said, sometimes you don’t need to re-invent the wheel, just make the best wheel that you can, which is exactly what Natural Selection did, thanks to amazing performances by its two main leads Rachael Harris and Matt O’Leary. Harris plays an under-sexed, over-religious Christian housewife with a level of social awkwardness that borders on “too innocent to be real,” but never falls over the cliff into caricature or ham-fisted parody, and O’Leary is a creep that somehow redeems himself despite, you know, never really shaking that whole “creep” vibe. Again, if the performances were even remotely weak, this film could’ve been forgettable but, as it is, it’s the type of indie film gem that could quietly, and easily, crossover to mainstream audiences. A pleasant, unassuming must-see film.

Small, Beautifully Moving Parts
In my mind, the only thing potentially as challenging as actually being a parent is surviving the nine months leading up to the birth. Doubts about your own self-worth creep in, is the world safe enough for your kid, are you being selfish in bringing a child into the world when it could be dangerous or awful for them, can you really take care of another person… it can be maddening. Couple that with a poor example of family, such as a parent abandoning you or abuse and everything just gets worse. In the case of Small, Beautifully Moving Parts, Anna Margaret Hollyman plays an expectant mother who couldn’t be more aloof about her soon-to-be-born child. She’s so disinterested, it causes her to want to track down her estranged mother to find out whether ambivalence is okay, or an unpleasant sign of poor parenting to come. The film is cute and charming, while also bringing the audience along through the confusing and scary time that pregnancy can be. Not that the film is ponderous, sad or dark, far from it, but that doesn’t mean serious undercurrents and questions don’t exist. A nice film watching experience.

Square Grouper: The Godfathers of Ganja
I learned quite a bit about the history of weed smuggling in Florida thanks to this documentary. For one, I didn’t know that a religious group not only figured heavily in pot peddling, but was also so successful at it that they had their own mansion in an exclusive island community. The film takes a look at three unique sections of the history of Florida’s “square grouper” trade (blocks of marijuana found floating in the Everglades as part of either a drug drop or scuttled supply), from the religious group mentioned above to some unassuming, unexpected victims of bad publicity turned drug kingpins and ending with a community forced to make a living any way they can, even if it is illegal. The film is enlightening, but it also underscores the silliness of putting marijuana in the same category as cocaine or heroin. Most of the “kingpins” in this film are not violent criminals, but just laid-back folks who just so happened to find a way to make some good money, which is why the fishing term of “square grouper” is so apropos; they’re really no different, and go about their business in as matter-of-fact a way, as a fisherman. Entertaining, educational documentary about some little known history that will be all the more absurd when pot eventually becomes legal.

Turkey Bowl
Turkey Bowl is the most accurate depiction of pick-up sports between friends, in this case football, that I have ever seen on screen. From the private dynamics of the participants to the custom rules to the fear and anger that occurs whenever status quo is threatened, the film gets it all right. Disturbingly so. Watching friends play (and fight; sometimes it makes no sense why certain people keep getting together to piss each other off but, hey, that’s friendship), while competition levels rise and fall, caused so many pick-up game flashbacks for me that I don’t know if I watched the film so much as had a post-traumatic stress-style reaction to it. Simple, realistic and dead-on.

Weekend
This tale of two men falling for each other, and eventual fallout, over an intense weekend together manages to transcend the shortsighted classification of “niche film.” While it doesn’t turn into a modern musical, or even play in those conventions, it felt the most in tone, to me, like Once. Something small and powerfully simple about this film, while also playing around with emotions. I don’t know… it’s not typically sweet, but I personally felt a subtle sweetness in there. Ultimately the film flirts with tragic “love,” and the acting keeps you engaged throughout. Another 2011 SXSW Award Winner that is not a surprise to me.

Isn’t he done yet!?!
You still like pictures from SXSW? Because here’s a few more. And, yes, in light of my comments about focus and Dragonslayer, the blurriness of the below is that much more hilarious to me. I have an excuse though: it’s not stylistic, it’s a fucking iPhone 3GS in lowlight…




Posted on March 17, 2011 in Blogs by
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