Texans Invade Sundance
If it wasn't a bone-chilling 19 degrees outside and a mountain of heavy coats hadn't piled up in one corner of the Wasatch Brew Pub on Main Street in this movie-mad Utah city, you might think you were in Austin, because so many filmmakers and friends from the Texas film capital had gathered in one place.
They had come to celebrate the six made-in-Austin films that are showing this week at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. And that's not counting Richard Linklater's latest film, Boyhood, which was a last-minute entry at this year's festival and shown Sunday night.
The dean of Austin directors, who at 53 still looks like a boyish newcomer, says the Sundance experience never gets old. "My first year was '91 [when Slacker premiered]," Linklater said.
True Blood hunk Joe Manganiello was a star attraction. His documentary, LaBare, which is set at the Dallas strip club, premiered at adjoining festival Slamdance.
"It's always fun. It's always got a great energy to it. Anywhere where people are excited about movies is a good place to be."
Sponsored by the Austin Film Society and the Austin Film Commission, the aptly named "Austin Party at Sundance" drew a large crowd packed so closely that it was practically impossible to move; the sound level was so deafening with all that movie talk that guests who stood only inches from one another were shouting to be heard. The party's popularity reaffirmed Sundance's view that Texas has one of the nation's premier film centers.
"It's a music town, but it's been a film town for a while now. It's exciting to see it grow and be doing so well," Linklater said. "The key is the city supports it. Not just in money, but in spirit. They gave us that land for the studio. Austin prides itself on the philosophy that art isn't just a charity, it's an economy. They get that.
"Not all cities get that. They think, 'Let's defund the arts. It's those weirdos.' Arts is a good business. It's good for everything around."
Jeffrey Radice, the director of No No: A Dockumentary, a highly anticipated film about the life of baseball great Dock Ellis that premieres Monday night, credited the collaborative effort that Austin inspires for his presence at Sundance.
"The Austin film community is amazingly supportive. It stems out of the Austin Film Society that Richard [Linklater] was one of the founding members of. It all comes out of there," he said.
"And it's a small enough town still. There are not an overwhelming number of filmmakers there," he said. "After you've been working long enough, you start to meet them. The great thing about Austin also is you can find professional, top-notch talent. You can find the same quality of people in Austin that you can find in LA and New York.
"There are fewer of them. They're more supportive. They're less cutthroat. They're more down-to-earth. That's Austin, right?"
In a back room, members of the No No: A Documentary team, including producer Mike Blizzard and co-producer Chris Cortez, were deep in conversation with Ellis' sister, Sandra Ellis Toney, and niece Yolanda Crawford, who had flown in from California for the premiere.
In the main room, True Blood hunk Joe Manganiello was a star attraction. His documentary, LaBare, which is set at the Dallas strip club, premiered at Slamdance, an adjoining festival that emphasizes quirky, independent films, Sunday night.
But receiving just as much attention were Ping Pong Summer writer/director Michael Tully, Hellion director Kat Candler and Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter director David Zellner. All three Austin-made films are premiering at Sundance.
Only at Sundance could a director get as much attention as a hot movie star who likes to take off his clothes.