aff09-diary1

Today is my first official day as on-the-ground geek press. I’ve never covered a film festival before, and now I’m part of FSR’s eyes and ears at this prestigious, exciting fest. I’m nervous.

Getting There

I woke up extremely late. Embarrassingly late. I had all of these plans to get my badge, hobknob for hours in the beautiful, 19th century Driskill Hotel. I had visions of invites to secret special parties and panels that no one else gets to see. But, instead, I’m towel-drying my hair and sticking my toes out my window to see if I need a jacket. Let’s roll.

Thanks to my editor, I read Slackerwood’s Guide to the Austin Film Festival. It would be massively helpful, I think. If I could read. I also found some random girl named Shawna’s rules for surviving AFF. I like her #4. She’s got spunk.

After screening student short films at Reject HQ, I am finally ready to retrieve my badge and begin my official coverage of AFF. Here goes nothin’.

Being There

Shit. Traffic. I’ve already missed my chance to see Serious Moonlight. I had big plans to charm the pants off of Cheryl Hines. Ten minutes and two miles later, and I realize that I’m not even going to make the psychedelic music doc Cowtown Ballroom…Sweet Jesus. But when I arrive at the Driskill, I immediately forget all of these problems. I have stepped into the glory days of the Old West. There’s beautiful architecture, Tiffany lighting, ballrooms. This place is beautiful. They do not offer hourly rates.

Geek Press

As I check in, I am treated like the semi-famous geek that I am. They took my picture! (Sure, it was because I’d slacked off and not submitted one prior to the festival so they had to print my badge on the fly, but whatever. Semantics.) I get my Producer’s Badge, which guarantees me admission to any movie, and gains me access to all the VIP parties. Also I get an AFF bag of swag. I am only interested in the Tootsie Roll.

Pleased with the smooth check-in process and kind folks working the place, I start to wander around. Some no-account creeper corners me about The Scenesters. He tells me it’s a noir tale. I think he’s talking about Precious, and am highly confused. FSR’s Executive Editor Neil Miller saves me from a sure demise. I am out of Tootsie Rolls.

Iron Cactus

Leaving the Driskill, we walk up and down Austin’s famous aisle of sin-n-fun, 6th Street, and decide to have dinner and drinks at Iron Cactus. It was a beautiful night, so we went upstairs to enjoy the atmosphere at the semi-outdoors bar. We’re discussing directorial near-misses. The margaritas flow like wine.

We are seated for dinner and serendipitously joined by Slackerwood‘s own Jenn Brown. She tells us that she saw Tom Skerritt at the Driskill’s Bar. I laugh on the outside, but on the inside, I immediately want to go home and marathon Picket Fences. I am nervous. More margaritas.

Two floors below us on 6th Street, a chorus of crazy religious nuts holds up large banners, playing hymns on a trumpet and yelling Bible verses about the dangers of drinking, being gay, and generally having fun. We toast them. Later, while discussing feminism in films (read: we were all disappointed with Amelia) and beyond, we hear “Pour Some Sugar On Me” from the bar across the way. I decide that this is a really great night.

The Paramount

We head to the Paramount Theater for my first visit and screening there. Tonight, we are seeing Youth In Revolt. The Paramount Theater is another old-style beauty. She may have creaky orchestra seats, but a lovely facade and grand entrance hall just about makes my night. I hear a tale about the famous “Houdini Hole” in the ceiling (Houdini performed at the Paramount during the days of vaudeville). Simultaneously, I’m crafting seven or eight Houdini Hole jokes in my head. Finally, I sit down to see a film. I am punch-drunk with excitement, and regular drunk too. For good measure. AFF Film director Kelly Williams kicks off the fest, with a rousing introduction that I now can’t remember.

Youth In Revolt

youthinrevolt-smYouth In Revolt proves to be funnier than I expected. The audience completely ate it up. Coming in at only 84 minutes, it’s a charming tale about first love and adolescent rebellion. Michael Cera plays Nick Twisp, which is the most Michael-Cera’s-stock-character sounding name I’ve ever heard. Twisp, at all of 16, has a bothersome lack of a life and falls in love with an interesting girl, Sheeni, while staying at a trailer park.

Armed with cute direction and a rock-solid screenplay, Twisp is put into hilarious and embarrassing situations that his alter ego, Francois (also played hilariously by Michael Cera), is charged with fixing. There’s sex, drugs, and arson — and a bevy of great supporting cast: Justin Long, Steve Buscemi, Zach Galifianakis, Jean Smart, Fred Willard, Ray Liotta, and Mary Kay Place. I can’t find a thing I didn’t like about this absurd film. This movie is what Fantastic Fest’s Gentlemen Broncos should have been. Several sight gags, smart dialogues, and gut laughs later, and I am officially digging the light-hearted tone of AFF.

ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction

zmd-smFellow Geek Press members and I dart out of the theater before the masses, and I am dizzy with excitement. Or maybe it’s a combination of tequila and a sugar high. I don’t know, but we book it to the Alamo Drafthouse Theater on 6th Street, called The Ritz, for our second and final film of the day, Zombies of Mass Destruction. Two things I will say about ZMD: 1) it’s terrible, and 2) do not text, tweet, and have conversations at movies – even bad movies.

ZMD‘s concept is one I was totally behind: zombies run amok in a small, conservative town. For a B-movie, I expected to enjoy it and have a few laughs. Even a shared bottle of Prosecco couldn’t make this film good. We tried. There are a few jump scares, and lots of blood. One or two times I did giggle, but as soon as we got our check, we were out of there. We brushed past the filmmakers on the way out. I kept my eyes down.

Worst crowd ever, and leftist musings that (even speaking as a Democrat) are flat-out stupid, oddly placed, and highly unnecessary. The fact that this movie was made during an economic recession proves to me that America’s priorities are extremely out of line. But I don’t care about that. There’s work to be done.

There and Back Again

We’re down 6th Street one more time — this time at a late-night private party where I get more free drinks, meet documentary filmmaker Hillary Pierce, and am flat-out tired. We see guys with dreadlocks and filmmakers galore, but I can’t recognize anyone, and I’m convinced that this is a terrible time to act like press. Time to call it a night.

Heading home via the designated driver, we see idiot coeds, girls in bikinis, girls in less than that, and two guys making out in the back of a police car. They don’t call it Austin Film Fest for nothin’. I marvel at the beautiful skyline as we drive across the river, and into the night.


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