Fun at the Festival

If you are one of the few folks following my blog religiously, you might wonder why I didn’t post on the first of the month, as usual. That’s because my wife and I just returned from the Austin Film Festival, where we watched 21 movies in eight days. Sadly, there were several others we wanted to see but couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts. I admit it; I’m a film junkie.

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.

Perhaps the best part of the Festival was listening to insiders from a film. At the end of most movies, 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 even some of the technical aspects of making the movie.

Films at the Festival fall into several categories. First, there are the shorts, usually made by young, aspiring filmmakers who use shorts to demonstrate their yet unrecognized talent. Then there are the independent films hoping to convince distributors to pay for the rights to the movie. And then there are those films with distributors who use the Festival to generate buzz before they release the film. And in each category, there are narrative films and documentaries. I usually prefer narrative films to documentaries, but the documentaries outshined the narratives at this year’s Festival.

Overall, I didn’t think this year’s Festival was as good as it has been in the past. Still, there were several films that I recommend as being well worth your time. Here’s a recap of the four movies I recommend you see:

Good Night Oppy[i] tells the inspirational story of Mars rovers, Opportunity, and Spirit. NASA sent the rovers to the red planet on a 90-day mission. But Opportunity roved Mars’ surface for 15 years sending back data confirming that, at one time. Mars had enough water to sustain life. But the documentary’s best part is the relationship between Oppy and its handlers. Who knew you could get teary-eyed over a machine? Here is the trailer:

You can watch Good Night Oppy in theaters now or wait and watch it on Amazon Prime starting November 23.

Who Invited Charlie?[ii] follows a New York family holed up in the Hamptons during the pandemic whose bubble is popped by oddball Charlie, who is much wiser than he appears. The film again proves the tired cliché that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Here is the trailer:

The best thing about The Lost King[iii] is that it is a true story. It tells how an amateur historian takes on all the experts to find the missing remains of King Richard III of England. Here is the trailer:

Sam & Kate[iv] had its world premiere at the Austin Film Festival. Dustin Hoffman plays Sam’s father, and Sissy Spacek plays Kate’s mother. The best thing about the film is that Jake Hoffman plays Sam, who happens to be Dustin Hoffman’s real-life son, and Schuyler Fisk plays Kate, Sissy Spacek’s real-life daughter. If you like romantic comedies, you will love Sam & Kate. Here’s the trailer:

Sam & Kate hits theaters on November 11.

Here are two other movies of note:

The Whale stars Brendan Fraser. His performance garnered him a six-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. I found the characters in The Whale hard to like, but watching Fraser’s performance in an unusual role for him might be worth the price of admission. The film opens in theaters on December 11.

My favorite movie of the Festival was American: An Odyssey to 1947. It is a documentary that tracks three interconnecting stories: the rise and fall in America of actor and director Orson Welles, a Japanese American who survived the atomic bomb at Hiroshima, and Isaac Woodward, an African American soldier beaten by police in South Carolina. The beating galvanized the civil rights movement. The film, independently made, is looking for a distributor. I hope it finds one, as everyone should see it.

There was no official theme at this year’s Festival, but as one attendee pointed out, most of the films dealt with the importance of relationships. Our relationships bring us our greatest happiness and sometimes our biggest frustrations. In closing, please remember these words of the late Paul Walker: “You know, all that really matters is that the people you love are happy and healthy. Everything else is just sprinkles on the sundae.”

See you at the movies!


[i] Good Night Oppy:

  • Production Companies: Amazon Studios, Amblin Entertainment, and Amblin Television
  • Director: Ryan White
  • Screenwriters: Ryan White and Helen Kearns
  • Starring: Angela Bassett (narrator)
  • Release Date: November 23, 2022

[ii] Who Invited Charlie?:

  • Production Companies: Perry Street Films and Blind Bulldog Films
  • Director: Xavier Manrique
  • Screenwriter: Nicholas Schutt
  • Starring: Jordana Brewster, Adam Pally, Rhys Coiro
  • Release Date: October 8, 2022

[iii] The Lost King:

  • Production Companies: BBC Films, Baby Cow Films, and Ingenious Media
  • Director: Stephen Frears
  • Screenwriters: Steve Coogan and Bill Pope
  • Starring: Sally Hawkins, Shonagh Price, and Helen Katamba
  • Release Date: October 7, 2022 (United Kingdom)

[iv] Sam & Kate:

  • Production Companies: Story in the Sky, Volition Media Partners, and Thomasville Pictures
  • Director: Darren Le Gallo
  • Screenwriter: Darren Le Gallo
  • Starring: Henry Thomas, Dustin Hoffman, and Sissy Spacek
  • Release Date:  October 28, 2022

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