The Dallas International Film Festival: A Step-by-Step Guide to Cinematic Bliss
You, the Dallas film lover, don't apologize for your passion. Even now, as spring's overly cheerful birds sing of weather reprieve, you smile and flash your laminate, effectively telling them to shove it. It's DIFF time, and that means 11 fake sick days of movies, galas and possible celebrity sightings.
Tracie Louck / Art by Dan Zettwoch
Get hungry for local flavor, because Texas-centric cinema's permeation of the 2013 festival circuit victory-laps here, serving up deep-fried goodness on the big screen. The Dallas International Film Festival, calendar-pinned just after its cinematic brethren, acts as a coming-home party for many -- like Yen Tan's Pit Stop, a film that will break your small-town heart, then softly dab up your tears with an embroidered hankie.
Austin film multihyphenate and alternative softball league left-center fielder Jonny Mars Plinkos through all possible job iterations. (Go ahead and make a drinking game out of his influences -- you'll get shitcanned.) He's balanced a starring role and producer title in Sean Gallagher's buzzy dramedy Good Night; you'll spot his mug again as a yearbook cast member of A Teacher, an obsessive power play written and directed by fellow 512-er, Hannah Fidell; and watch ancient seals be blown open as Mars emerges yet again as Ian, lead brooder for fictitious music group Crown of Horns in Kat Candler's short Black Metal.
Dan Zettwoch Click to embiggen
The Bible Belt unbuckles further thanks to Chasing Shakespeare, a locally shot update of Romeo & Juliet by Oak Cliff's Norry Niven, and with He's More Famous Than You, an acting/directing double-up by Plano Senior High alum Michael Urie. And finally, adding the sauce to our cinematic barbecue, the water to our arthouse bong, is now-Austin director Jeff Nichols' third feature film, Mud, because it stars our favorite bongo-playing, shirtless totem animal, Matthew McConagh... McConahe... McConaugh... Oh, screw it, Magic Mike.
The Observer takes its role as a DIFF sponsor seriously, so we've put together the only guide you need. Use Audra Schroeder's brilliant Top Picks to navigate through the 175 film offerings. Prep yourself for uncomfortable Q&As, panels and potentially awkward social interactions with our illustrated how-to's. And remember, if someone asks you an academically rooted film question that you can't answer, just point toward a nearby bush, crowd or window ledge and shout "Hey! I just saw Matthew McConaughey!" It's the whole reason he exists. -- Jamie Laughlin, culture editor
Lone Star State of Mind
Dan Zettwoch Click to embiggen
The Bounceback: Bryan Poyser got the Austin director bump with 2010's Lovers of Hate, the tale of two brothers at odds (Chris Doubek and Alex Karpovsky, who also star in DIFF selection Good Night). His latest film, The Bounceback, uses Austin as a backdrop and employs the yearly Air Sex Competition at the Alamo Drafthouse as a plot point. But it's really a breakup movie, propelled by Stan (Michael Stahl-David) and his ex, Cathy (Ashley Bell) as well as Sara Paxton and Zach Cregger in supporting roles stumbling through the streets of Austin, getting drunk and pondering their mistakes, which is very easy to do in Austin.
10 p.m. Saturday and 7:15 p.m. Sunday at the Angelika
Good Night: Austin director Sean Gallagher's dramedy takes the dinner party and reinvents it in this ensemble film. Leigh (Adriene Mishler) and Winston (Jonny Mars, who also produced the film) invite their closest friends over for her 29th birthday party, which serves a double purpose: She also reveals she has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Over the course of the evening, this revelation sends the partygoers, who include Alex Karpovsky, Todd Berger and Chris Doubek, through emotional and physical displays big and small. The cast's chemistry is palpable, which is no doubt a byproduct of them living together for a week before shooting.
4 p.m. Wednesday and 10 p.m. April 11 at the Angelika
He's Way More Famous Than You: You may recognize Plano Senior High alum Michael Urie from his time on Ugly Betty, but here he directs and plays himself in a mockumentary about actual celebrities trying to make themselves more famous via a fake "real" movie. Haley Feiffer also plays herself, a former star-on-the-rise whose career has stalled after starring in precious indie The Squid and the Whale, thus inspiring the desperate Feiffer to eclipse the fame of her actor ex-boyfriend. It's a very meta commentary on the celebrity food chain, and the plight of going from sort of famous to kinda-sorta famous. Ralph Macchio is also in it for some reason.
See also: Urie stars in fellow DIFF selection Petunia.
7 p.m. Tuesday and 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Magnolia
A Teacher: The relationship between Texas high school teacher Diana (Lindsay Burdge) and her 17-year-old student (Will Brittain) is the centerpiece of A Teacher, which started out not as tabloid revision, but a personal "what if?" scenario for Austin writer and director Hannah Fidell. A Teacher is subtle in its self-destructive climb, moving through hallways and backseats until flirtation slowly becomes obsession. Burdge is excellent as the introverted Diana, who gets a perverse thrill from a teenage boy commanding her to take off her clothes. As we follow her gaze, assisted by the expert camerawork of Andrew Droz Palermo, we see what happens when a woman in a position of power subverts the role.
RIYL: Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher, with less of the Austrian psychosexual angst.
10:30 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Magnolia
Chasing Shakespeare: The opening title sequence of Norry Niven's locally shot Chasing Shakespeare is almost as good as that of Lars Von Trier's Melancholia. Almost. It did, however, just win the 2013 SXSW audience award for Excellence in Title Design and introduces the Oak Cliff director's first feature film, a millennial update of Romeo & Juliet. (Alongside Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare seems more ripe for revision than ever.) Danny Glover, Graham Greene (The Green Mile, Dances With Wolves) and the ubiquitous Ashley Bell (also in Brian Poyser's The Bounceback) star in the film, part dramatic retelling, part spiritual metaphor.
Fun fact: Niven's crew transformed downtown's Majestic Theatre for one of its most powerful scenes.
7 p.m. April 11 and 7:15 p.m. April 12 at the Angelika