Farther south by southwest

One is a methodical, middle-aged prankster who infiltrates the mainstream media with rambling letters to the editor. Another is a self-doubting film critic recently moved to New York. The final three are high-school kids hopeful their fresh perspectives will outlive the duration of their short films. And all of them will represent Alamo City’s film scene at the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, from March 13-21. Here is a look at the four films — an experimental short, a narrative short, and two high-school shorts — screening at SXSW with ties to Say-Town:

Dear Texas Highways

Writer and self-taught artist Hal Lawrence finds it fascinating to think about how editors and other newsroom personnel react when they open and read one of the “crank letters” he has sent out to media outlets across the country.

To his faux letters — which he writes in character about various topics — Lawrence, who lives in Mexico City but is originally from San Antonio, received only one response.

“We forwarded your letter to our executives for their consideration” replied the Discovery Channel after they received a detailed letter from Lawrence pretending to be an oblivious prisoner asking if the network ever considered broadcasting shark documentaries.

“I type these letters in an elegant font and print them out on this very nice parchment paper and mail them out to see what kind of response I get,” Lawrence said. “I’m sure they’re posted on bulletin boards all over the place.”

His series of letters led him to collaborate with San Francisco-based photographer Shaun Roberts on an unusual project. The 11-minute short film, Dear Texas Highways, which is described as “film noir with a Texas twist,” is a vignette made up entirely of still photographs shot in San Antonio and along the I-10 corridor, which Lawrence narrates from a script adapted from a letter-to-the-editor he sent to Texas Highways magazine. Along with his co-directing, writing, and producing credits, Lawrence stars as the haggard and desolate subject captured by the camera.

“This film is a total anomaly, actually,” Lawrence said. “We’re just a couple of guys with no fear of failure who sat down to make an artifact. I don’t even quite understand `the film` myself. It can either really touch someone’s soul or touch their last nerve.”

The Better Half

Filmmaker and critic Rebecca Rodriguez gasps when asked if she thinks she could sit down and write a review of her own short narrative, The Better Half.

“That would be terrible!” said Rodriguez, who moved from San Antonio to Austin to Brooklyn, New York, to critique films and edit online content for Nylon Magazine. “I’m very hard on myself so I wouldn’t want to have to do that.”

Through her position at Nylon, Rodriguez had access to cameras and other film equipment and decided to see if her creative writing degree from UT-Austin could work for her during the screenwriting process. The Better Half, tells the story of Gordon, an odd and unsympathetic character emotionally attached to a pair of mannequin legs he keeps in his apartment.

“I like to write objects into my stories, but here I wanted to see if I could build a story around an object,” Rodriguez said. “When I brought `the mannequin legs` into the house, my roommates freaked out. It’s a basic concept that has turned into something that has taken over my life.”


Save the Arts

When Nicole Prian settled back in San Antonio after attempting to start an acting career in L.A., she was accepted into the cinema program at North East School of the Arts. A recent class assignment led her to produce “Save the Arts,” a Public Service Announcement that defines “art” through a photo montage.

“I knew a bunch of students were probably going to do a lot of the typical messages like, ‘don’t drink and drive’ or ‘don’t smoke weed,’ and I wanted to do something that was impactful,” Prian said. “I wanted to show people that art really means a lot to kids.”

Since arts programs are usually the first to be cut when school funds are low, Prian hopes her 60-second PSA is inspiring enough to get people to think about a world without music, film, or visual arts.

“If you’re interested in biology and want to be a brain doctor, that’s great,” Prian said. “But some of us love to dance and want to be on Broadway. That’s just as important.”


Fresh Fruit

St. Mary’s Hall seniors Edward Kelley and Brenden Cicoria also created the animated short film Fresh Fruit `see “High School, Reanimated,” August 6-12`, in which an apple and a pear discuss what it means to be alive, for a school project. The film has since won Best Animation at the Josiah Youth Media Festival and was selected to screen at the Princeton Student Film and Video Festival and the Animation Block Party in Brooklyn.

After graduating, Kelley plans to attend Princeton, where he has been recruited by the fencing team. He will minor in film. Cicoria will enroll in the Rhode Island School of Design and study animation. Before going their separate ways, however, the two will finish another stop-motion animated film, an untitled class project about a mad scientist. •

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