Even with South by Southwest (SXSW) only a week away (find our excellent coverage here: SXSW 2010), we’re already looking ahead to April 8th-16th and the Dallas International Film Festival. In its first year free from the title of the AFI Dallas Film Festival, Dallas IFF is pulling out some big guns as it announced today its first 12 titles, as well as a big award being given to one of animation’s most impressive directors, Pixar’s Pete Docter.

Docter will receive the 2010 Texas Avery Animation Award presented by Reel FX Entertainment, which honors lifetime achievement in animation filmmaking. Docter is the director and writer of the five-time Academy Award nominated film Up (Best Picture, Best Animated Feature, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing). Previously, Docter also garnered Academy Award nominations for his work on Wall-E (2008 – Best Original Screenplay), Mike’s New Car (2002 – Best Short Film – Animated), Monsters Inc. (2001 – Best Animated Feature), and Toy Story (1995 – Best Original Screenplay).

“As an animator, screenwriter, and director, Pete Docter has been integral to the success of some of the most memorable animated movies of all time,” said Reel FX Ent. CEO and Dallas Film Society board member Ed Jones. “The industry has watched his talent and career grow at PIXAR, and is not surprised by what he has achieved. Pete is deserving of this honor and we are thrilled that he will accept this year’s Texas Avery Animation Award.”

Among the first round of films announced are a few great Sundance holdovers, including Grand Jury Prize winner Winter’s Bone and a few films that will be playing at SXSW this month — Clay Liford’s Earthling and Don Hahn’s doc Waking Sleeping Beauty. Not a bad start for Dallas IFF.

A SURPRISE IN TEXAS (USA)

Director: Peter Rosen A SURPRISE IN TEXAS is a documentary focusing its camera lens on the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth Texas, where 29 young contestants come from all over the world to compete for the most prestigious prize in the music world. The film highlights the story of one of them, a 20 year old from Tokyo, Nobuyuki Tsujii, blind from birth.

THE DRY LAND (USA)

Director: Ryan Piers Williams Cast: America Ferrera, Jason Ritter, Wilmer Valderrama, Ethan Suplee, Melissa Leo THE DRY LAND follows a young U.S. soldier, James (Ryan O’Nan), as he returns home from duty in Iraq. Having not found the direction and purpose he sought from the service, James hurls himself back into his old life and finds it no longer fits. He tries to reconcile his experiences abroad with his life in rural Texas, but despite the support of his wife (America Ferrera), his mother (Melissa Leo), and friend (Jason Ritter) he is unable to settle in.  James turns to an Army buddy (Wilmer Vaderrama) for help and together they travel the country in search of redemption. Thinking that the war was behind him, James comes to realize that the fight for his life has only begun.

EARTHLING (USA)

Director: Clay Liford Cast: Rebecca Spence, Peter Greene, William Katt, Jennifer Sipes EARTHLING is a sci-fi drama following the events that occur after a mysterious atmospheric event aboard the international space station causes a small group of people to wake up and realize that their entire lives have been a lie. Now they have to make a choice. Live amongst men, or try to find a way back home.

GREENLIT (USA)

Directed by Miranda Bailey (Executive Producer on THE SQUID AND THE WHALE), GREENLIT follows the production of THE RIVER WHY as the filmmakers attempt to keep an environmentally friendly set thanks to the supervision of a “green” consultant. What starts off with great enthusiasm quickly devolves in this insightful and hilarious film about the difficulties of living up to good intentions.

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD (USA)

A documentary by Tamra Davis, JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD is about the artist and phenomenon who became notorious for his graffiti art under the moniker Samo in the late 1970s on the Lower East Side scene, sold his first painting to Deborah Harry for $200, and became best friends with Andy Warhol. Appreciated by both the art cognoscenti and the public, Basquiat was launched into international stardom. However, soon his cult status began to override the art that had made him famous in the first place.

KICK IN IRAN (GERMANY)

A documentary by Fatima Geza Abdollahyan, KICK IN IRAN profiles Sarah Khoshjamal, a 20-year-old Taekwondo superstar and the first female professional athlete from Iran to qualify for the Olympics. This skillful vérité portrait follows the unassuming Khoshjamal in the nine months leading up to the 2008 Beijing games. Living in an Islamic country, she is required to wear a hijab at all times and, unlike her fellow competitors around the world, cannot train with men; however, the power in her fighting resoundingly breaks down stereotypical barriers.

OBSELIDIA (USA)

Directed by Diane Bell, OBSELIDIA is a romantic drama about a man writing an encyclopedia of obsolete things. In his quest to capture people, technologies, and ideas that are disappearing, he meets a free spirited cinema projectionist. Together they go on a road trip to Death Valley to interview a scientist who is predicting the eminent end of the world, and on their strange journey, they discover perhaps love is not obsolete after all.

THE RIVER WHY (USA)

Director: Matthew Leutwyler Cast: Zach Gilford, Amber Heard, William Hurt, Kathleen Quinlan and William Devane THE RIVER WHY is a drama about a man known as “the Mozart of fly fishing” who leaves his big city home in rebellion from his family. In the process he comes in contact with an assortment of eccentric characters who help him in his journey to adulthood.

SKATELAND (USA)

Director: Anthony Burns Cast: Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Greene, Heath Freeman, SKATELAND is a coming-of-age film set in 1983 centering on ‘Ritchie’, a worker at Skateland, the roller rink and local hangout of a small town. With Skateland due to close, the party scene getting stale, and his romantic life as cloudy as his future, Ritchie struggles to make sense of it all. When tragedy strikes his friends and family, Ritchie must face the music—and make the biggest decision of his life.

WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY (USA)

Directed by Don Hahn, WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY takes a look at the “rebirth” of the fabled animation studios of Walt Disney in the mid-1980s. The studio had fallen on hard times with artists polarized between newcomers hungry to innovate and old timers not yet ready to relinquish control. The conditions produced a series of box office flops and many believed the best days of animation were over. The film shines a light on an influx of new leadership and talent helped Disney regain its magic with a staggering output of hits—LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ALADDIN, THE LION KING and more—over the next ten years.

WE ARE THE SEA (USA)

Director: Neil Truglio Cast: Jeff Childress, Allison Savoy, WE ARE THE SEA stars Jeff Childress and Allison Savoy in a drama about a young English teacher returning from the brink of tragedy to find his life exactly where he left it — in shambles. Turning cautiously to his friends, family, and even his students for guidance, he explores the possibilities for forging a future from a history of mistakes. The film features the music of Iron & Wine.

WINTER’S BONE (USA)

Director: Debra Granik Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser A drama set deep in the Ozark Mountains, Debra Granik’s WINTER’S BONE follows the daring struggle of a teenage girl, ‘Ree’, who must go in search of her crystal-meth-making father, after he skips bail and goes missing. Unless she is able to find him, she and her young siblings and disabled mother will face destitution. In a heroic quest, Ree traverses the county to confront her kin, break their silent collusion, and bring her father home.


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