Last year, the Current celebrated the fact that, for the first time in its 16-year history, three filmmakers with ties to San Antonio (Ya’Ke Smith, James T. Moore, and Miguel Alvarez) had their films shown in Los Angeles as part of the 2010 Houston Film Commission’s Texas Filmmakers Showcase (launched as Young Filmmakers Showcase in 1993 by Drew Mayer-Oakes, formerly with the Houston Commission and, ironically, now San Antonio Film Commissioner).
“We receive shorts from across the state that are viewed/scored by a panel, and the top-scoring shorts that can fit into the 90-minute block becomes the Showcase for the year,” Alfred Cervantes, deputy director of the Houston Film Commission, told the Current. “These are shorts that are so well made and engaging, that it’s what other budding Texas filmmakers should aspire to achieve. Once they watch the collection, they usually agree.”
Judging by the 2011 screener sent to the Current, Cervantes is mostly right.
The program starts strongly with 8, directed by Julie Gould and Daniel Laabs (Dallas). The eight-minute short — Gould’s debut as a writer, producer, and director — won South By Southwest’s 2011 Short Film Jury Awards, and it’s easy to understand why. It is a simple story about a mother and her daughter (portrayed by Gould and real-life daughter Logan, both loved by the camera) who spend a day together in remembrance of the girl’s dad on the anniversary of his death. Two minutes into the movie I was hooked, even though there was no dialogue, not much action, and no music meant to touch a nerve. (A big lesson for up-and-coming filmmakers: you don’t need music in every single scene.) When mother and daughter finally reach their destination, you don’t even see the cemetery that well. What the movie has in spades is the directors’ eye for detail, beautiful shots that show rather than tell, and minimal dialogue that sounds real in an unscripted kind of way.
The other hands-down heavyweights in the program are Bradley Jackson’s The Man Who Never Cried (Austin, 23:28 min.), Annie Silverstein’s Noc na Tanecku (Night at the Dance, 13 min., Austin), and David Lowery’s Pioneer (Dallas, 15:53 min.).
The Man Who Never Cried is an extremely well written and acted comedy with dramatic undertones about a man (a superb Keir O’Donnell) who has never cried once in his life, and who is determined to break the dry habit upon his father’s death, in a “now or never” kind of way. It is funny as it is moving, and it won the Doorpost Film Project’s $100,000 Grand Prize and the $10,000 Audience Choice Award.
Noc na Tanecku (Night at the Dance) is a charming documentary full of great shots about an ancient Czech dance hall in Seaton (population: 40). Pioneer captures our attention for almost 16 minutes while a father tells his son a bedtime story; it succeeds thanks to great cinematography and sound effects, solid acting by Will Oldham and, especially, little Myles Brooks, who displays an irresistible natural tenderness.
David and Nathan Zellner’s Sasquatch Birth Journal 2 (Austin, 4 min.) is perhaps the most disturbingly experimental, but I’m not going to give anything away. You’ve got to see it.
Of lesser note, LCD Soundsystem: “Home” (directed by Houston’s Rick Darge and Mark Armes) is well-executed but nothing more than an eight-minute music video with a story. And Fatakra, by Katy’s Soham Mehta, is a great idea filled with Mahabharata references but none of the magic found in India’s greatest epic. The great cinematography and potent bharatanatyam dance scenes can’t save the movie from weak writing, uninteresting characters, and forced plot points.
OK, so there are no local filmmakers here. Tough. Still, there is enough in this program for us to check out and, perhaps, discover why we’re not there. •