The Movies Are Back!

My wife, Janene, and I just returned from the Austin Film Festival, where we watched 28 movies in eight days. Pictured above are our well-used film passes. Each pass cost us $50, so we paid an average price of $1.79 per film. That’s not a bad deal in this world of rising prices. Sadly, there were several other movies we wanted to see but couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts. I admit it; I’m a movie junkie.

Because of COVID-19, last year’s festival was virtual, and it just wasn’t the same. So, the theme of this year’s festival was “The Movies Are Back!” Before this year’s festival, we had seen only two films in a theater for the entire year. Despite having to wear masks into the venues, it felt good to be back with the crowds in the theaters. And there is nothing like watching a film with movie people. They cry unashamedly, laugh boisterously, and cheer loudly when someone rights a wrong. They applaud at the end of every movie and stay to watch the credits. It always amazes me at the number of folks it takes to make a movie. Of course, we know about the leading actors, supporting actors, and extras performing on screen, the directors directing them, and the producers paying for or arranging the film’s financing. But the list of technical people behind the scenes is almost endless. To name a few, there are screenwriters, casting directors, directors of photography, cinematographers, sound editors, sound mixers, boom operators, costume designers, music composers, musicians, art and set designers, hair and make-up artists, stunt people, grips (electricians and camera operators) best boys (assistants to the grips), gaffers (lighting), script managers, drivers, caterers, and many more. Oh, and don’t forget the lawyers! In the latest James Bond movie, No Time To Die, for example, there are over 1200 people listed as part of the crew. Granted, because of multiple locations and special effects, a James Bond movie requires a larger team than most, but you get the idea.

Movie people can be some of the nicest people around. We often think of those in the entertainment industry as pretentious, and I’m sure some of them are. But most of the ones at the festival were not. Instead, they were friendly, humble, and appreciative of others’ works.

Perhaps the best part of the festival was listening to insiders from each film. At the end of each movie, someone (often several people) connected to the film, such as the writer, director, producer, or star, held a question and answer session about the film. In these sessions, you learned what inspired the people to make the film, insights about the characters and plot, and technical aspects.

The Austin Film Festival divides its films into two groups: the marquis films (sneak previews of movies soon to be released) and the competition films. The competition films are further divided into narrative features, documentary features, and shorts. The feature films are independent movies hoping to create a buzz so major film distributors will purchase them. The shorts are often made by young filmmakers showcasing their talents, hoping major studios will consider them when selecting the director for their next big film. And the Austin Film Festival throws in a handful of classic movies from the past.

This year, the AFF should have renamed  it “The Austin International Film Festival.” There were films from Italy, France, Jordan, South Korea, Cambodia, Columbia, China, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Mexico, India, Peru, South Africa, Canada, Japan, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Spain, and, of course, the United States.

Of the 22 marquis films, I recommend only two. Spencer[i] is the story of the royal family’s Christmas from the viewpoint of Princess Diana. If you are a fan of Netflix’s The Crown, you will enjoy Spencer. Here is the trailer:

My other recommendation is C’mon C’mon,[ii] which portrays the developing relationship between an uncle and his nephew, who must care for the child while his mother cares for her husband dealing with bipolar disorder. The movie is light on plot, but the interaction between uncle and nephew is touching to watch and illustrates W.C. Fields’ adage of never working with animals or children because they steal the show. They did in this film. Here is the trailer:

In connection with the competition films, I have several recommendations. Sadly, unless a film distributor purchases these films, most people will never get a chance to see them. Hopefully, though, the movie distributors will enjoy them as much as I did.

The narrative film Jury Award winner was Disfluency. It is the story of a college student who returns home to try and make sense of her senior year. It is a tough film to watch, as it deals with PTSD and sexual assault, but it does so in a tasteful way.

The documentary Jury Award winner was Buried: 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche. As the title suggests, it is the story of an unprecedented avalanche that devastated a small mountain community. Unfortunately, some people found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the ski patrol members who, even thirty years later, wrestle with whether they could have (and should have) done things differently.

The other festival movies I highly recommend are Atonement, a tragic tale from India of love, compassion, and sacrifice, and Unsilenced, the true story of China’s Communist Party’s brutal crackdown on a group of innocent students who risk everything to expose the government’s deadly propaganda. As I watched Unsilenced, I wondered if I would have the courage to fight for the truth as these Chinese students did. But then I realized it is often almost impossible to separate the lies from the truth in America today.

We have grown to love the Austin Film Festival. Does anyone want to join us next year for eight fun days of watching movies?

[i] Spencer:

  • Production Companies: Komplizen Films, Fabula, and Shoebox Films
  • Director: Pablo Larrain
  • Screenwriter: Seven Knight
  • Starring: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, and Jack Nielen
  • Release date: November 5, 2021

[ii] C’mon C’mon:

  • Production Companies: A24 and Be Funny When You Can
  • Director: Mike Mills
  • Screenwriter: Mike Mills
  • Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffman, and Woody Norman
  • Release date: November 19, 2021

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