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Top Five Films from the Austin Film Festival

The 18th Annual Austin Film Festival ended last week, and Austin is still reveling in the films, conferences, parties and special appearances. AFF kicked-off on October 20th with films screening all over the city.  This year’s films ranged from marquee screenings to foreign documentaries.  I got to see a wonderful variety as well as hear a few of the filmmakers speak about their work.

I had the pleasure of seeing Sawdust City and You Hurt My Feelings at the Texas Spirit Theatre at the Bob Bullock Museum opening night.  Sawdust City’s David Nordstrom – writer, director and actor – plays Bob, a disgruntled hometown guy jealous of his brother’s free spirit.  Pete (Carl McLauglin), his younger brother, comes into town after years and the two search for their estranged father in the plethora of local bars.  In the meantime, they are able to talk and open up with much booze over the course of Thanksgiving evening. Nordstrom was in attendance for the screening and said he was inspired to write the film while back home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (where the film is shot).  As writer and director, Nordstrom perfectly captures the tacit understandings between brothers.

Steve Collins’ You Hurt My Feelings features John Merriman as Johnny, a man with much to learn about growing up, woman and relationships.  Johnny begins to look after Lily and Violet in order to prove to his ex-girlfriend Courtney (Courtney Davis) that he is ready for children.  Things become muddled for the two when Courtney’s new boyfriend Macon (Macon Blair) is introduced into the picture.

Johnny Depp at the Austin Film Festival, 2011

The Paramount’s screening of The Rum Diary drew by far the largest AFF crowd.  This comes as no surprise as the film’s producer and star, Johnny Depp, was in attendance.  The film is based on Hunter S. Thompson’s debut novel of the same name, and follows Kemp (Depp) a New York journalist who uproots himself and lands in the lush Puerto Rico. Depp and director Bruce Robinson appeared for a whimsical and heartfelt Q&A afterward.  Depp’s passion for this project was evident both on screen and off.

Jeff Who Lives at Home is written and directed by the intelligently humorous Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark.  Jeff (Jason Segel) is a thirty-something slacker, stoner who believes in signs from the universe.  He has arduous relationships with both his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon) and his older brother Pat (Ed Helms) because of his lack of accomplishment.  Eventually Jeff is able to prove himself while the Duplass brothers prove they can create not only a funny but a surprisingly touching film.

Another surprisingly emotional film, a documentary to be precise, was David Gelb’s Jiro Dreams of Sushi. The life of any three Michelin star chef must be dominated by food, and Jiro is no exception. But Jiro isn’t the typical award winner; he’s eight-five year’s old and the oldest chef to receive the honor.  Traditional Japanese culture dictates that the eldest son takes over his father’s business.  But Jiro refuses to retire, having worked emphatically to make the best piece of sushi that somehow continues to elude him after seventy-five years of work. Gelb captures not only beautiful food but also the intricacies behind the Japanese father-son relationship.

This year’s Austin Film Festival was an outstanding experience.  I look forward to next year’s festival which will take place October 18th – 25th. With incredible writers, directors and actors in attendance this year, I’m anxious to see what AFF has in store for 2012. In the meantime, check-out the trailer for Sawdust City.

*Photos by Pooneh Ghana

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