I promise not to begin every Austin Cinematic Limits post with a discussion on Richard Linklater’s significance to Austin’s filmmaking community, but he is an integral piece of the puzzle when it comes to Austin’s long-standing relationship with the Sundance Film Festival. Other Austin filmmakers may have traveled with films to Sundance before him (though I am not sure who they are), but Linklater deserves the credit for initially spraying Austin’s mark on the snowy slopes of Sundance with his regional premiere of Slacker in 1991 — and Linklater did not end his relationship with Sundance there, as he holds the distinction of being the Austin director who has screened the most feature films at Sundance (Slacker , Before Sunrise , SubUrbia , Waking Life  and Tape ).
Ever since Linklater plowed that initial path in January 1991, Austin filmmakers have frequented the silver screens at Sundance year after year. In fact, no matter how you define an Austin filmmaker or Austin film production, I guarantee that Austin ranks extremely high on the list of cities that have sent the most films to Sundance. In turn, Sundance has done a lot for Austin’s reputation as the “Third Coast” of filmmaking in the United States; Sundance has also helped launch the careers of several now-famous Austin filmmakers including Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi), Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket [13 min short]), Catherine Hardwicke (thirteen), and the Duplass brothers (The Puffy Chair).
The Invasion Begins
It was not until more recently — let’s say 2008 — that festival-goers in Park City probably began to question whether there might be something supernatural in Central Texas’ water supply as Austin’s cinematic output was suddenly cranked up to 11. Sure, the premiere of The Puffy Chair (Sundance 2005) was Jay and Mark Duplass’ first break into the national consciousness, but the Duplass brothers were catapulted into the big leagues when Baghead was snatched up by Sony Pictures Classics during Sundance 2008. (Disclaimer: Jay and Mark Duplass were not technically living in Austin at the time, but they will always remain to be Austinites in the hearts and minds of Austinites.) And let’s not forget the international headlines generated by the Sundance 2008 premieres of Margaret Brown’s The Order of Myths and the PJ Raval-lensed Trouble the Water. Oh, and the Zellner brothers debuted their feature film, Goliath, there too. (I still hold firmly to the belief that the only reason Goliath was not a bigger hit was because it was handcuffed by copyright issues.)
Another remarkable year at Sundance for Austin filmmakers was 2010… That was the year Bryan Poyser wowed audiences with the world premiere of Lovers of Hate; all the while, the Duplass brothers proved with Cyrus that high profile actors and a significantly larger budget does not always mean directorial compromise. (Both films went on to earn nominations at the 2011 Independent Spirit Awards.) Two other noteworthy features — Ryan Piers Williams’ The Dry Land and Anthony Burns’ Skateland — enjoyed successful premieres at Sundance as well. And that’s not all… Austin filmmakers also delivered a couple of short films to Sundance 2010: the Zellner brothers’ Fiddlestixx and Amy Grappell’s Quadrangle. This seminal year also marked the Sundance premiere of a future Austinite, Clay Liford’s short film My Mom Smokes Weed.
Everyone thought Sundance 2010 would be the pinnacle of Austin’s presence in Park City; but, Sundance 2011 might have topped it, if for one premiere alone — Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter. Sony Pictures Classics had already purchased Take Shelter (sight unseen, no less) prior to its world premiere at Park City’s Eccles Center, but at least a year’s worth of glowing critical buzz was generated by the film’s Sundance screenings. (Take Shelter received five nominations at the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards.) Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg also enjoyed a tremendous U.S. premiere at Sundance 2011 and — along with Nichols’ Take Shelter — enjoyed countless year-end accolades as a result. (Disclaimer: Tsangari no longer uses Austin as her home address, but she did spend a lot of quality time here, co-founding Cinematexas, earning a MFA from the University of Texas at Austin and lecturing at UT.) Two short films from Austin also premiered at Sundance 2011: the Zellner brothers’ Sasquatch Birth Journal 2 and David Lowery’s Pioneer.
The Year 2012
That brings us to Sundance 2012… The Zellner Brothers are in Park City right now with their newest feature, Kid-Thing. (For those of you who are keeping score, Kid-Thing is the second feature of the Zellner brothers to premiere at Sundance — they have also premiered five short films there as well.) Kid-Thing is a drama about a young girl named Annie (Sydney Aguirre) who relies on shoplifting for survival; her life becomes increasingly complicated following a strange discovery in the woods near her home. Aguirre (who made her cinematic debut in the Zellner Brothers’ short film, The Virile Man) shares the screen with David Zellner, Nathan Zellner and Susan Tyrrell (Cry-Baby, Fat City).
Short films by two of Austin’s most highly regarded filmmakers will also be featured at Sundance 2012. Kyle Henry already has one Sundance premiere — Room (Sundance 2005) — under his belt. (Room went on to screen at Cannes 2005 in the Directors’ Fortnight section and was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards.) This time around, Henry (who is currently a professor at Northwestern University) will screen Fourplay: Tampa, the second of four subjectively related shorts that will eventually be released as a feature film. (Fourplay: Tampa had its world premiere at Cannes 2011 in the Directors’ Fortnight section). Fourplay: Tampa is about a late-twenties man, Louis (Jose Villarreal), and his hapless attempts at having sexual relations in a Tampa mall’s public restroom. When reality fails to quench his sexual desires, Louis’ wildly homoerotic imagination takes over and the restroom mutates into a surreal orgy of fictional characters and historical figures. Even in this fantasy world, Louis is left humiliated and unsatisfied…that is until his own personal savior arrives and gives him a heavenly blow job.
After perusing Kat Candler’s impressive resume (specifically her amazing 2006 feature, Jumping Off Bridges), it is very surprising that Hellion is her very first film to be accepted into Sundance. What promises to evolve into a mayhem-filled feature-length film, Hellion serves as a six-minute introduction to three young brothers (Deke Garner, Arthur Dale and Tommy Hohl). The three hellions have been left alone with an unqualified babysitter (Karinne Bersti) who has already been removed from the equation; all hell breaks loose, but soon the boys are forced to suffer the consequences of their father’s (Jonny Mars) mighty belt. Shot in Georgetown, Hellion was produced by Kelly Williams (former program director of the Austin Film Festival).
Watch: The trailer for Kat Candler’s Hellion:
Mark Duplass (who still lives in Los Angeles, though his brother Jay has returned to residing in Austin) stars in three Sundance 2012 premieres — Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed, Katie Aselton’s Black Rock and Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister.
Cinematic Things To Do in Austin This Week:
1/24 – Violet Crown Cinema – Heather Courtney’s Where Soldiers Come From won the 2012 Independent Spirit Truer Than Fiction Award, now the Texas Independent Film Network is hosting screenings of Courtney’s documentary around Texas, including this one in Austin at the Violet Crown Cinema. (More info)
1/24-1/25 – Paramount Theatre – The Paramount’s Winter Comedy Series continues with a Woody Allen double feature of Bananas and Love and Death. (More info)
1/26 – Salvage Vanguard Theater – Join Cinema41 in their new home, the Salvage Vanguard Theater, for a screening of Sam Green and Bill Siegel’s documentary The Weather Underground. (More info) (Also get your film nerd on at Cinema41’s Trivia41 at the Dive Bar on 1/24.)
1/27 – 1/29 – Alamo Ritz – The Late Show concludes its month-long focus on the great supporting roles of Harry Dean Stanton with three screenings of David Lynch’s Wild At Heart. (More info)