SOMETHING TO MUMBLE ABOUT

Originally ran on FilmThreat.com on 03/11/08

Mumblecore. There, I said it and I’m going to do my best to not repeat the indie film catch phrase again… except I can’t really escape the buzzy, indie film catch phrase and will be forced to take part in what I don’t really think is a definable cinematic “movement” as much as it’s happenstance and a bunch of pals who kinda, sorta make similar movies.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term “mumblecore,” it refers to a fairly recent strain of super low-budget indie films that feature little to no script, very sparse cinematic lighting and are usually shot on digital video. The stories in the films are character driven and often focus on a singular event in the characters’ lives or a small series of events. That is except for when the films aren’t shot on DV, do use a script or use lighting and don’t have a particularly set time frame. In short, there’s not much consistency between the films, at least visually, and each filmmaker differs heavily in terms of what they bring forth cinematically. The “M” word is a term first dropped by Eric Masunaga, a sound designer who works with seminal m-core figure Andrew Bujalski, and the term was pounced on by the media. And lets be honest, it is pretty catchy, but the jury is still out on if this is a “trend” or a “movement” rather than simply cinema born from a DIY attitude.

Film Threat gave some of the first glowing reviews to Andrew Bujalski’s film “Funny Ha-Ha” and Joe Swanberg’s “Kissing on the Mouth,” both in 2005. In 2006, new films by Bujalski (“Mutual Appreciation”) and Swanberg (“LOL”) garnered their first excellent reviews here as did Mark and Jay Duplass’s “The Puffy Chair.” It was also right around this time that the South by Southwest Film festival (SXSW) became the go-to fest for this uprising of DIY talent.

In 2007, SXSW seemed to reach an apex in terms of the films by this group of filmmakers. Swanberg’s “Hannah Takes the Stairs” featured a cast that included Bujalski and Mark Duplass as well as talented actress Greta Gerwig (who made her debut in Swanberg’s “LOL” the year before at SXSW). Another co-star of “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” Ry Russo-Young, had her film “Orphans” at the 2007 fest and Aaron Katz’s excellent “Quiet City” was also on board and featured a cameo by Swanberg. Not only that, but Swanberg was also feted with the inaugural Eagle Pennell Award and he even did the SXSW trailers that played before each screening. SXSW Festival Producer and programmer Matt Dentler spearheaded all of this inclusiveness and aside from being a tireless supporter of indie film, he’s also an all around good guy.

As a fan of the work and of these filmmakers and as a person who thinks the SXSW Film Festival is the best film festival out there, it was kind of neat to see Swanberg and company really gain an audience in Austin over the years and solidify that with their ubiquitous presence at last years festival. After SXSW 2007, “Hannah Takes the Stairs” and “Quiet City” garnered a lot of buzz and many felt SXSW had done it’s job by catapulting some unique visions forward in the world of cinema. What would SXSW bring to the table this year?

As it turns out, seemingly even more films by the mumblecore crowd including Swanberg’s fourth feature (“Nights and Weekends”) in as many years. Due to this year’s program’s mumblecore interconnectivity, I shall attempt to map it out for you here. You may need a compass.

First off, improv acting ingénue Greta Gerwig has major roles in three SXSW 2008 films, “Baghead,” “Yeast” and “Nights and Weekends” (three films starring one actress must be a new festival record). Adding to the summer camp feeling of SXSW, Aaron Katz has a short film called “Lets Get Down to Brass Tacks” and Swanberg, in addition to his feature, also has a short playing in the festival entitled “Swedish Blueballs” which stars Kent Osborne who also starred in last year’s “Hannah Takes the Stairs.” That’s all well and good as festivals often bring back alumni to show off their new goods, but here’s where things seem a bit odd both in terms of blog coverage of the festival and what could easily be perceived as favoritism in the festival’s programming.

In addition to his feature films and shorts, Swanberg directs a couple of interesting web-series including “Young American Bodies” for Nerve.com and “Butterknife” for Spout.com. “Young American Bodies” features roles played by Frank V. Ross and Lynn Shelton who directed the films “Present Company” and “My Effortless Brilliance” (respectively) playing at this year’s fest. Swanberg’s other web-series “Butterknife,” a fun look at the day-to-day life of a private detective, features Ronald Bronstein (who directed last years SXSW film “Frownland”) and his wife Mary Bronstein, who has a film at this years festival called “Yeast.” Where it seems like conflicting interests is when you consider the fact that SXSW Festival Producer Matt Dentler not only programmed all these films but he is also the executive producer on “Butterknife,” episodes 1 and 2.

Rather than speculate what the deal is with all these inter-connected people getting their features into SXSW 2008, we decided to ask Matt Dentler what the scoop was.

Read Don’s interview with SXSW Festival Producer Matt Dentler in Part Two of Something to Mumble About>>>




Posted on December 16, 2008 in Features by
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