Editor's Note: The mission of TheaterJones is to cover the performing arts in North Texas, but over the years we have dipped our toes into the waters of film. We've always reviewed feature films and documentaries related to performing arts, such as feature films of plays by Shakespeare and other writers, musicals, documentaries about choreographers and other arts-makers, filmed performances from National Theatre Live and Metropolitan Opera, and even performing arts-themed feature films, some of them Oscar winners. (Black Swan, anyone?) We've also started covering some local film festivals, including the Dallas VideoFest, Oak Cliff Film Festival and, most recently, the third South Asian Film Festival.
So it seemed like a good time to introduce a film column as we're expanding our roster of columns penned by local creatives. Luckily, we scored none other than the king of the local film world, Bart Weiss, founder of Video Association of Dallas and Dallas VideoFest and a film professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.
In Film Notes, which will run on the first Monday of the month, Bart will discuss film festivals and events, trends, industry issues, the politics of filmmaking, the intersection with live performance, and other film topics. You won't see red carpet reports or reviews of mainstream movies or even most indie films that swing through DFW. There are plenty of other places to find all that. Now, on with the show.
Dallas — Greetings readers, welcome to my first Film Notes column here at TheaterJones. Most people know me as the guy from Dallas VideoFest or my teaching at UT-Arlington or for programming Frame of Mind on KERA TV. For a deeper dive, one of the best profiles on me ever was on this site two years ago.
As with the disciplines of live performance covered on this site, I deeply believe in the power of film as a way to make this planet better and give us empathy for people and issues that we will never otherwise confront. I watch and love films from all genres but tend to watch more documentaries. I believe that there is great filmmaking going on and great places to see it but not enough good writing about film (not that I am saying that this is good writing). To put my talents where my mouth is I have started a new film about film critic Andre Sarris, so people can know what good writing can do for film culture.
If you want a weekly sense of what I am thinking you can subscribe to VideoFest news at www.videofest.org.
We’ll get to spring film festivals in a bit, but before that I need to talk about the passing of a filmmaking legend in the region.
Andy Anderson was mostly known for writing, directing and producing two feature films, Positive ID and Detention (which was later renamed for Learning Curve for home video). These films are both edgy, witty, dark and hugely entertaining, which pretty much describes Andy. When thinking about Andy I remembered that he had worked in advertising before making these. I don’t know much about his work then but I can say that there is something about the polished look of his films that separated it from the edgy Austin indie look. His films had production value, there was art direction, cinematic craftsmanship, and tight writing. His films lived in a world in between Hollywood and indie, and sadly it never embraced him as much as it should have. Andy had a mature vision, not a youngish Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes.
But Andy made more than those two features. His edgy shorts Point of View and Ritual explore the deep dark places in our soul and leave the audience with no easy answer to what they saw. And then there was Drive by Shooting, an installation about how violence can re-define location.
Andy’s work straddled the film and art worlds. Thus, it was not surprise that he taught filmmaking not in a communications department but in an art department (where I teach right now; and in the interest of full disclosure, Andy hired me). As a teacher, he was tough and many students were frightened of him, but he pushed them to do things they had no idea they could do. Andy inspired so many students to become filmmakers and follow their own vision.
Many years ago, I produced a short video about Andy for Deep in the Arts on KERA TV (see below). I had four minutes to sum up his work, which was a difficult task. I also did not want to shoot him next to a camera or typewriter and he suggested we shoot it in an unusual place. Enjoy the world that was Andy and the legacy of work and of inspired students he left behind.
Film Festival Season
It’s spring, which means film festival season in this part of Texas. Spring break means SXSW, the annual film, music and interactive festival that transforms Austin into a massive waiting line waiting to be inspired. I have been going to the SX experience since before there was a film component and marveled in its growth and its programming. If you are going to wait, isn’t it much better to wait in Austin than in Park City at the Dance of Sun (really the dance of freezing).
As I drove down to Austin I had a tough choice—do I see Song to Song, Terrence Malick’s visual feast of the music world, which was shot in Austin and would most likely have every cool person in Austin in attendance; or go see the four-hour Long Strange Trip documentary about the Grateful Dead? When I found out the line was going to be two hours I headed to the deadland, knowing that Song to Song would open in Dallas, which it has. This really great Dead doc had a magnificent sound mix, and great archival footage of the journey that was the legendary American band. This will come out on Amazon, and you should see it with a good sound system.
I saw lots of short films for my festival and my TV show on KERA, which I hope to bring to you really soon. I saw many other great films and sat in on some panels. Panels can be all over the place—I remember one in which somebody got up and said that film history started with Oliver Stone(?!?!)—and the first panel I saw had film editors talk about how they work with directors, which was really great. One of them was Sandra Adair, who had her directorial debut at SX with The Secret Life of Lance Letscher (which also played on Saturday at the Dallas International Film Festival). Sandra is mostly known for editing Richard Linklater’s films.
I went to a few panels on virtual reality (the ones on augmented reality were so packed I could not get in). It seems like the hype cycle for VR/AR is at its peak of inflated expectations. We showed VR back in 1988 when it was a headpiece and gloves and mostly done by NASA. (Did you know that much of gaming technology came from NASA and Atari?) The VR panel, which was basically how to make VR not suck, was useful. I am both excited by the possibilities of presence and empathy that VR can bring and the sense that it will be just another dead technology soon. One of my students, Christian Vasquez (who is showing the great Divided Together Again at DIFF) got a small grant to do a VR piece that will show at the South Dallas Cultural Center. Christian brought the camera to class and we had fun making a few VR pieces, such as this and this (watch these on your phone with Google cardboard; note these were just playing with the camera). Christian is thinking about absence and what that brings to the experience—absence in that you cannot experience everything (like going to a festival).
Speaking of Dallas International Film Festival, it opened last weekend and continues through Sunday, April 9, with screenings and events at the Angelika Film Center Dallas, the Magnolia Theatre and locations in the Dallas Arts District.
This year they are doing a tribute to 1967, a good but not awesome year for cinema (the DIFF screenings included the stage-to-film musicals Camelot and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.) While thinking of 1967 films remember this was the height of the hippie summer of love time. These films were signaling things to come, especially the ultra-violent ending of Bonnie and Clyde on opening night. While re-watching the film, it was fascinating to see how they still had cheesy effects, like rear-projecting when actors are in a moving car, instead of shooting in an actual moving car. At the same time, its locations and vistas were extraordinary. Aside from the famous shooting at the end, there are other scenes that point to a new direction in cinema. When the gang is hanging out with Bonnie’s family the sound is muted, with no music, and it gives a haunting feeling that this is the last time they will see each other. There are so many other moments that point to the new wave of cinema that is right around the corner.
There is a wealth of great films at DIFF. A few others to look out for: First, Christian Vasquez will bestow his Divided Together Again at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8. I really love the short Audible Static by the great Sai Selvarajan, which showed over the weekend. This is his best film yet; I am a fan. The area high school and college showcases are always great to see. Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape sounds interesting as do City of Ghosts, The Function of Music (fans of Radiolab need to show up for this ), The Honor Farm, which got some buzz at SXSW, and The Lost City of Z. Menashe should be good (I hope), I have heard good things about Mr. Roosevelt. I have heard good things about Spettacolo. Someone at SXSW had great things to say about Dealt.
They are doing a 50th anniversary screening of David Holzmans’ Diary with L.M. Kit Carson. I knew about this film long before I met Kit when I moved to Dallas. Back in the day I made a film called The Joycelyn Schrager Story (a film about a filmmaker), and when it played the festival circuit it was often compared to David Holtzman’s Diary, which I took as a compliment.
Other films are Berlin Syndrome, which I have not seen but seems good; Frantz, a beautiful and well-directed black-and-white film; and Forever Pure, which is about an Israeli soccer team. It is not about athletics, however, but about racism. Very right wing groups were rabid supporters of this team until it added a Bosnian player. It's a story about racism in Israel, but transcends to speak of racism anywhere.
After DIFF we have a week off, then comes the new EarthxFilm festival in conjunction with Earth Day TX in Fair Park. This seems well funded with a nice VR component. On the same weekend is Denton's Thin Line Fest, a festival started as a tribute to films that explored the line between documentary and fiction. It is the first documentary fest in the region. In the last few years they have added music and photography and a really nice twist, making the films free. I have been impressed with the films they have shown over the years. Following that we have the USA Film Festival, April 26-30.
At the end of April, the Video Association of Dallas will bring you the second Dallas Medianale, a nice mix of experimental video, film installation and performance at the Texas Theatre, the Dallas Contemporary and the new MAC.
And after that we have the 24-Hour Video Race. And before you know it, it will be summer and Oak Cliff Fest will be upon us.
Festival on. Go out and see some films.
» Bart Weiss is an award-winning independent film and video producer, director, editor, and educator who has lived in Dallas since 1981. Mr. Weiss has taught film and video production at Texas A&M’s Visualization Lab, Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Austin and Arlington, Dallas Community College District and West Virginia State College. He currently serves as President of the Board of Directors of the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, serves on the Board of Directors of the University Film and Video Association, is a past Vice President of the Texas Association of Film and Tape Professionals, founder and past president of the West Virginia Filmmakers’ Guild, and co-founder of VideoFest and the Video Association of Dallas. He has been a video columnist for The Dallas Morning News, The Dallas Times Herald, United Features Syndicate and KERA 90.1 FM Radio in Dallas. Mr. Weiss received an MFA in Film Directing from Columbia University in 1978 and a B.A. from Temple University in 1975. Bart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
» Film Notes with Bart Weiss will run the first Monday of the month.