SXSW: The makings of the TV series “Lucha Underground” and first live show in Austin

"Lucha Underground"
“Lucha Underground”

By Liliana Valenzuela

¡Ahora Sí!

 Date/time: Tuesday, March 15, panel at 2 p.m. at Four Seasons and evening show at Austin Music Hall, 8-11 p.m.

The panelists: 2 p.m. panel with Brandon Stroud, Pro Wrestling Editor, Dorian Roldán Executive Producer, Eric Van Wagenen, Executive Producer and Showrunner, Joseph Chaisson Executive Producer, Rey Mysterio Jr.

4:30 p.m. press conference with Eric Van Wagenen, Executive Producer and Showrunner, Ivelisse Velez, Wrestler, Vampiro, Commentator and Wrestler, Rey Mysterio Jr., Wrestler, Catrina, Wrestler, and Johnny Mundo, Wrestler.

Evening show at Austin Music Hall with those and other wrestlers.

261391_767737783356948_5217395180776485919_nThe gist: The creators and performers of “Lucha Underground,” a TV series that mashes the world of wrestling with that of telenovelas (Spanish soap operas) now in its second season, discussed some of the successes and challenges they have encountered during the filming of the first season. And in the evening, for the first time ever, the characters of this show took it outside their usual venue in Boyle Heights, L.A. on the road and presented it at the Austin Music Hall. Lucha Underground is an El Rey Network production, Austin Filmmaker Robert Rodríguez’s network. Rodríguez was not in attendance at the panel or press conference.

The takeaway: About 50 Lucha Underground fans waited since 12 p.m. noon outside the Austin Music Hall for the 8 p.m. show to get a glimpse of their Lucha Underground superheroes, wrestlers who fight, conspire and sometimes cry in this show.

The producers wanted to “create something a bit different from the wrestling world, something that would bring the Comic Con and the Sci-Fi crowds,” said Eric Van Wagenen, executive producer and showrunner. And added “one of the challenges is to get more eyeballs on the product.”

For the wrestlers, being in a TV series has meant having a bit more downtime, different from being on the road almost 360 days a year, said long-time wrestler that goes by Vampiro. “We can recover physically and the level of stress goes way down,” he said. Plus, “it builds anticipation for the audience,” from one season to the next.

They producers commented on how this is more of an indie project, with indie filmmaking values.

“The creators, the writers, everyone is one the same page, there’s no ego,” said Vampiro. He especially likes the camaraderie on the set, he said.

The show has some fantasy, supernatural elements embodied by Catrina, the lady dressed in black. “I’m allowed to do over-the-top things, play with her, test the waters, including the lick of death,” said the enigmatic Catrina.

The storyline in the telenovela-like format has allowed some of the actors to learn to “dial it down” when they’re on the set, said Johnny Mundo. “People go to hear music, see movies, TV, to feel something,” said Mundo, “at the heart of it is the emotion.”

For all the wrestlers it was exciting to be performing outside of “The Temple” for the first time, the location in Boyle Heights, L.A. where there are the “sweat, blood and tears of so many people…it has magic,” said Vampiro. This was a dry run for them, he said, so they might do more live events around the country from time to time.

Rey Mysterio, Jr., who comes from a Mexican wrestling dynasty, thought his wrestling days were over. He said he was looking forward to spending more time with his wife and family when the opportunity of this show came along. It’s all about “enjoying yourself and making the fans happy,” he said. “It’s been a good environment.”

The show naturally integrates the Mexican and the American culture of L.A. without too much effort, said Wagenen. “This show is a love letter to L.A. and the integration of Mexican culture,” he said.

Aside from El Rey Network, Lucha Underground is available on iTunes, where it went to the top 10 shows on its first week and is #1 in the sports category, said Wagenen. They’re also looking at international deals, he said.

And, judging from the enthusiasm of the mixed and raucous crowd ranging from Mexican-Americans dressed in the luchador garb to Anglo families with small children, Austin is ready for more Lucha live.

Hashtag: #luchaunderground

View more photos from the event at Austin360.


SXSW Film review: ‘Bodkin Ras’

Sohrab Bayat as Bodkin. Credit: Guy Offerman
Sohrab Bayat as Bodkin. Credit: Guy Offerman

“Bodkin Ras” is a clever, solemn film.

Bodkin (Sohrab Bayat) is a fugitive who literally runs into the small Scottish town of Forres,  in an attempt to integrate into Forres’ fabric, no matter how existentially isolated he and the town’s inhabitants have become.

Bodkin’s character is purported to be the only actor in the film. All the other people are the actual townspeople with their own emotional baggage that director and writer, Kaweh Modiri, artfully folds into the storyline.

“Bodkin Ras” begins to ask the question of, ‘what is home,’ and then careens into much more introspective and somewhat darker philosophical questions of responsibility and free will.

The film is hauntingly narrated in the past tense by Eddie, played by himself, a tormented alcoholic who becomes a sort of friend and father figure to Bodkin, providing him with work and much-needed mutual companionship. The social fabric of Forres circulates around its pubs and namely The Eagle, which is affectionately known as “The Chapel.” Alcoholism, loneliness, fear, love, isolation — Modiri layers all of these complex themes subtly together and allows them to speak for themselves through a pseudo-documentarian’s lens.

The structure and tone of “Bodkin Ras” makes for a unique experience, refreshingly leaving us with more questions than answers. It has elements of Albert Camus’ “The Stranger” and is scored beautifully by Mohsen Namjoo,  whose music punctuates the isolated mood of the film. You can catch “Bodkin Ras” again at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Alamo Ritz.

SXSW review: ‘The American Epic Sessions’

Nas performs in ‘The American Epic Sessions.’

I can’t think of a better way to bridge South by Southwest Film to SXSW Music than a morning screening of “The American Epic Sessions.”

The film is a love a letter to recorded sound, without which we’d have never left the silent film era, and an intimate visual portrait of the recording process.

The first electrical sound recording machines where the size of a wardrobe closet. They had a giant amplifier, intricate clockwork gears and a pulley-driven weight that dropped a needle that would carve the wax disc. It took the weight three minutes to complete its fall and end the recording, hence the standard recording time of many pop songs.

The machines were taken around to rural parts of the country where talent shows would be held and people could record their music and hear it played back. It represented the democratization of recorded music, according to the film’s director Bernard MacMahon, who presented the movie at the Paramount Theatre Wednesday morning.

None of the recording machines are still in existence, but engineer Nicholas Bergh spent about a decade recreating one. The documentary holds its own talent show, bringing in artists from across the country for 20 recording sessions. The artists are filmed in a copper light that, when blended with the shadows, makes them appear like characters on a U.S. penny, fitting for the historical nature of the movie that recaptures the birth of modern recorded communication in America.

The artists all approach the sessions, which demand precision in one take and represent the sound emoted in its purest form, with reverence and fascination. Guiding the endeavor along with T. Bone Burnett is, naturally, Jack White, modern music’s torch bearer of the American music tradition. White and members of one of his band kick off the film with a raucous aural throwback to Tennessee hollers with an uncredited song likely titled “Barefoot Blues.”

The movie, executive produced by White and another American classic, Robert Redford, navigates the music from the 20s and 30s, with an array of artists ranging in popularity from radio darlings like the Avett Brothers to lesser artists like roots musician Pokey LaFarge.

Nas delivers one of the film’s most stirring moments, reprising the Memphis Jug Band’s 1928 song “On the Road Again,” using White’s band for backing. Not only is striking to hear the rap legend backed by an acoustic band that harkens to sounds of a century ago, it is stirring to hear the raw lyrics of violence and hustling from almost 100 years ago sound so fitting coming from the lyric master Nas.

Those ideas “didn’t start with hip-hop, they started with America,” Nas said.

The film uses interstitials between performances – including Los Lobos playing a 19th century Mexican folk song, Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops) deliver a devastating take on the bluesy warble “One Hour Mama” and Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard honoring Bob Wills – to discuss the history of the machine and show the musicians marveling over its intricacies and its ability to transport both musician and audience decades into the past.

The film is a celebration of the honesty, vulnerability and immediacy of recording and the joy of making music. It also can’t help display White’s virtuosic musical talent, as he helps Elton John arrange a new song and guides Beck and a choir through a painstaking recording process and the nuances of the early recording process. White even comes to the rescue to help fix the machine at one point, proving that he really can do it all. Even sew.


‘Tower,’ ‘The Arabalest’ win big at SXSW Film jury awards


SXSW announced the 2016 Jury and Special Award-winners at the SXSW Film Awards at the Paramount Theatre Tuesday night. The awards were hosted by Mike Birbiglia, director of “Don’t Think Twice,” which debuted at SXSW March 13.

In the category of feature film grand jury awards, Adam Pinney’s “The Arbalest” won the Narrative Feature Competition, while Andre Royo took a Special Jury Recognition for best actor in “Hunter Gatherer” while Lily Rabe took best actress for “Miss Stevens.”

Austin director Keith Maitland’s “Tower” won the documentary feature competition, while Matthew Ornstein’s “Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America” took a Special Jury Recognition for Portrait Documentary. “Tower” also took the Louis Black “Lone Star” award. Special Jury Recognition for Cinematography went to Lee Daniel’s work on “The Seer.”

The SXSW Gamechanger Award went to Sophie Goodhart’s “My Blind Brother.”

Here is the full list:

Feature Film Grand Jury Awards 

Winner: The Arbalest
Adam Pinney
Special Jury Recognition for Best Actor: Hunter Gatherer
Actor: Andre Royo
Special Jury Recognition for Best Actress: Miss Stevens
Actress: Lily Rabe
Winner: TOWER
Director: Keith Maitland
Special Jury Recognition for Portrait Documentary: Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America 
Matt Ornstein

Special Jury Recognition for Cinematography: The Seer
Cinematographer: Lee Daniel

Short Film Grand Jury Awards
Presented by OneFifty, a content incubator from Time Warner Inc.
Winner: How Was Your Day?
Damien O’Donnell
Special Jury Recognition for ActingThunder Road
Actor: Jim Cummings 
Special Jury Recognition for Writing: Greener Grass
Writers: Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Luebbe 
Winner: These (Expletive) Tears
Dan Taberski
Special Jury Recognition: Dollhouse
Director: Terri Timely
Director: Simon Cartwright
Special Jury Recognition: Don’t tell Mom
Director: Sawako Kabuki
Winner: Glove
Alexa Lim Haas & Bernardo Britto

Special Jury Recognition: Pombo Loves You
Director: Steve Warne


Winner: Childish Gambino – “Sober”
Director: Hiro Murai

Winner: The Send-Off
Ivete Lucas & Patrick Bresnan
Special Jury Recognition: 1985
Actress: Yen Tan
Winner: Lady of Paint Creek
Director: Alexia Salingaros
Special Jury Recognition: The Archer Hadley Story
Directors: Ben Root & Alex Treviño
SXSW Film Design Awards 
Winner: Miss Me: The Artful Vandal
Designer: MissMe
Special Jury Recognition: Night Stalker
Designer: New Media Ltd
Special Jury Recognition: Eat My Shit
Designer: Octavio Terol
Winner: Sunstone
Director: Aimée Duchamp

SXSW Special Awards 
SXSW Gamechanger Award 
Winner: My Blind Brother
Director: Sophie Goodhart
Louis Black “Lone Star” Award 
Winner: TOWER
Director: Keith Maitland
Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship 
Presented to: Eileen Meyer
The jurors were:
Narrative Feature Competition: Lindsey Bahr, Richard Brody, Alonso Duralde
Documentary Feature Competition: David Edelstein, Jen Yamato, Stephanie Zacharek
Shorts Program: Frances Bodomo, Sarah Lash, Jason Sondhi
Documentary Shorts: Liz Cook, Kathleen Lingo, Amanda Salazar
Animated Shorts: Tom Brown, Geoff Marslett, Leah Shore
Midnight Shorts: Owen Egerton, Michael Lerman, PJ Raval
Music Videos: Toby Halbrooks, Doug Klinger, John T. Kunz
Texas Shorts: Kat Candler, Laura Kincaid, Travis Mathews
Texas High School Shorts: Marcy Garriott, Bob Ray, Bart Weiss
Louis Black “Lone Star”: 
John DeFore, Victor Diaz, Christy Lemire
Title Sequence Design: Henry Hobson, Dan Brown, Ron Pippin
Poster Design: Sean Carnegie, Danny Parker, Tim League 

SXSW review: ‘Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru’


Tony Robbins patrols the stage in front of more than 2,500 people at his “Date with Destiny” event in Boca Raton, Florida in 2014 and amidst his pumped-up provocations reminds the rapt audience, “I am not your guru.”

You’d have trouble convincing the faithful in the crowd. As Academy Award-nominated documentarian Joe Berlinger’s new movie, which takes its name from the aforementioned admonition, proves, if Robbins is not these people’s guru, he’s possibly something even more. Miracle worker? Amphetamized therapist? Self-help coach? Likely. And to the cynic, possibly a charlatan.

Robbins would likely tell you that he is simply a cold bucket of truth, a mirror, a call to action and an instruction manual for so many people who desperately want to reshape their lives.

At least once a year for the past 25 years, Robbins has hosted the event (about $5,000 a head in 2014), which he calls his favorite of the year. Berlinger, who attended one a couple of years before the making of the documentary, underwent a personal transformation, and Robbins granted the filmmaker of the 2012 SXSW award-winner “Under African Skies” unprecedented access to show what goes on behind the closed doors at the hotel in Florida.

The movie, which made its world premiere Monday at the Paramount Theatre, opens with Robbins practicing one of the interventions that comes to define the movie and the six-day seminar. He is staring deeply into the soul of a young German man who has admitted to battling thoughts of suicide. Using his unique brand of tough love, Robbins mixes humor, mild intimidation and genuine empathy to coax the young man from his fear. Next thing you know, the kid is being passed along the hands of the audience. One minute scared for his life, the next crowd surfing on a wave of love from those who had just recently been strangers.

Hard to believe? Yes. But over the next two hours, Beinger shows Robbins repeating the same intervention style of very public therapy over and over with patients. From a teenager cloaking parental issues under the guide of body-image issues to a couple looking for common ground on which to move forward with their stalled relationship.

The crowd gets worked up each day into a frenzy, like the spiritual version of a late-night show warm-up act, before Robbins takes the crowd to ecstatic heights and then starts drilling down on individual problems. Those unique problems release a wellspring of relatable emotion, and many in the crowd are reduced to tears as they listen to others’ stories. It looks like the scene from a televangelist broadcast, but the God in this scenario seems to be one who resides within everyone in the audience. And there are a lot more cuss words than you’ll find at church.

The cameras follow Robbins to his palatial oceanside estate each night and back to the hotel in the morning, as Berlinger attempts to strike at the core of Robbins’ motivation. We find out a bit about the massive
man who has counseled presidents and spoken to more than four million people. Most tellingly, his mother emotionally and physically abused him, but he eventually learned how to go from being a people pleaser to a dynamic force of strength. He mentions several times how he consciously crafted the person he became.

We don’t get to see all of the ways he did that or understand much about the motivating influences in his life, besides his mother and a high school debate teacher who arrived in a moment of grace for Robbins.

It is clear that he is a man who is disciplined with what he puts into his body and how he maintains his physical and spiritual sides, but we don’t learn much more about what propels him beyond his childhood trauma and his general obsession with helping others change their lives and achieve their potential.

His methods seem unorthodox, but there is little doubt in watching the faithful that they believe. And when Robbins looks into their eyes and tells them he loves them, and when he stares directly at Berlinger and tells him he is simply driven to help people reshape their lives, you have no choice but to believe him, even if you can’t piece together all of the exact why and how.

“Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru” screens again at noon Tuesday at Alamo Slaughter, 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Marchesa, and 1:15 p.m. Saturday at Stateside. The movie will appear on Netflix later this year.

SXSW Film review: ‘Hardcore Henry’

Hardcore Henry is an unflinchingly original, first-person action film where YOU are the main character, Henry.  Credit: STX Entertainment
Hardcore Henry is an unflinchingly original, first-person action film where YOU are the main character, Henry. Credit: STX Entertainment

“Hardcore Henry” is a front-row type of film. It should be seen and experienced in a theater.

However, no matter where you sit or how you see it, you will still be Henry, or at least under the illusion that you’re him.

“Hardcore Henry” is the first-of-its-kind, a film completely shot with a Go-Pro (dozens of Go-Pros actually) making it 100 percent POV. So, if you would like to be dropped from a freeway overpass, want to know what it feels like to shoot at someone from the back of an incredibly fast-moving motorcycle or fall from a helicopter all while eating popcorn and sipping a beer, this is the film for you.

First-time full-length feature director/writer Ilya Naishuller makes the man-child id of senseless violence a pseudo reality, a kind of first person gaming-esque hyper-violent fantasy. But never fear, the film is not all smash-em-up testosterone, adrenaline and bloodshed. Its viscera is comic-like camp.

Naishuller has a sense of humor through the fisticuffs and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Henry is a superhero, whose voice activation has yet to be turned on. We become superheroes for around 90 minutes, and that is appealing.

Henry was once a man, who is now a souped-up hyper athletic killing machine who can execute the most dexterous of Parkour moves and kick everyone’s butt creatively. You, or Henry, awaken, with absolutely no authentic memory, to your wife screwing your robotic leg back on in some type of laboratory when security is breached and the evil radioactive villain with gravitational radiation powers, Akan, comes to capture you and your wife.

The chase is on, and it truly does not stop until the credits roll. Good luck. Unfortunately, you will be unable to catch “Hardcore Henry” at any more showings, but the film is set for wide release April 7th.


SXSW review: ‘Don’t Think Twice’

(L-R) Mike Birbiglia, Tami Sagher, Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Chris Gethard, and Kate Micucci in Mike Birbiglia’s DON’T THINK TWICE. | Credit: Jon Pack

Improvisational comedy can make some people uncomfortable. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is — maybe it’s the playfulness and lack of shame on the part of the performers. Maybe people who don’t like it are just jealous of the performers’ fearlessness. What is clear once you spend time around a group of improvisers, however, is that the best groups have a sense of family, support and shared mission that you don’t often find among groups of adults.

That familial (if sometimes dysfunctional) dynamic of encouragement and sacrifice makes for a solid backdrop for writer-director Mike Birbiglia to explore what happens when individual ambitions and latent jealousy can poison a group.

“Don’t Think Twice,” which made its world premiere at South by Southwest at the Paramount Theatre starts with expository slides and voiceovers that explain the history of improvisation and the main tenants of the art. To wit: 1) Say ‘yes.’ 2) It’s all about the group. 3) Don’t think.

Birbiglia, whose 2012 directorial debut ‘Sleepwalk with Me,’ also explored with vulnerability the act of creating art, plays Miles, a 36 year-old approaching middle age with very few options. He created the Commune (a spot-on name for a NYC improve troupe) that has built a local following and graduated some talent to “Weekend Live,” an obvious stand-in for “Saturday Night Live,” eccentric and intimidating executive producer and all.

But despite forming the troupe and serving as the instructor at the Commune, Miles can’t seem to catch his break. He had an audition for “Weekend Live” years ago, but his anxieties got the best of him. Or so he says.

Miles makeshift family is rounded out by the nebbish, self-effacing Bill (Chris Gethard), the quirky and creative Allison (Kate Micucci), spoiled pot-head Lindsay, who still lives with her parents (Tami Sagher) and the talented, charismatic and achingly cute couple of Jack (Keegan Michael-Key) and Samantha (Gillian Jacobs).

The film’s quick edits capture the clever and snappy repartee shared by the group, most of whom live together in a college dorm-style apartment, and the roving camera realistically delivers the feel of being at an intimate improve show. But the light-heartedness of lives spent feeding their creative jones while working horrible day jobs has recently been overshadowed by the looming specter of the loss of their performance space.

Adding to the tension is the fact that Jack lands a gig with “Weekend Live,” a change in his status that splinters the group and strains Jack’s relationship with Samantha, a performer of equal if not greater talent who seems content to toil for her art outside of the limelight. The film is at its best when it digs into the growing rift between Jack and Samantha. Key brings ambition and boyish charm to a character torn between the life he’s been living and the brighter future that might light ahead, and you can’t take your eyes off Jacobs, as she wanders from charmingly goofy and sprightly, all big, shifting eyes and loose movements, to troubled and introspective. She has an ability to wear her internal feelings plainly on her face while still remaining some of a mystery.

Birbiglia brings a slow-building sadness to Miles, a man approaching middle age but still sleeping with unwitting students, but there is just enough self-awareness to keep the character from straying into obnoxious self-pity. Not all of the characters have the same depth as its three central figures, and the movie attempts to accomplish a lot in its short 90-minute running time. The character’s backstories get fleshed out in short order during the film’s climax, and while that scene may feel a bit contrived, it wholly captures the spirit of the movie and the underlying questions it poses: What happens when the group isn’t the most important thing? Can you simultaneously have everyone else’s back while looking out for yourself? When is it ok to go your own way?

SXSW Film review: ‘Slash’

Austin-based filmmaker Clay Liford’s latest feature film had its world premiere at SXSW this afternoon to a packed crowd that included many cast and crew members. A broader adaptation of his own 2012 short film, “Slash” stars Michael Johnston (MTV’s “Teen Wolf”) as Neil, an awkward 15-year-old who spends nearly all of his free time writing fan fiction.

In case you’re unfamiliar, the world of “fan fic” is comprised of stories that often present characters from popular movies, television shows and comic books in homosexual relationships and situations. It’s definitely not family friendly stuff and Neil is mortified when one of his personal notebooks gets passed around his school and mocked. The only person who defends him is Julia (played by Hannah Marks from MTV’s “Awkward”), herself a prolific writer and reader of fan fic. She cuts him for his “flowery prose,” but encourages him to continue writing. Before long, she’s introduced him to an adults-only website called “The Rabbit Hole” where people can post their own stories and let other members of the community comment on them.

Julia quickly becomes a bad influence on nerdy Neil, encouraging him to ditch school with her and introducing him to drugs. She does succeed in opening him up a little bit, although he’s barely comfortable with himself, let alone another person. Slowly, he lets his guard down and reluctantly agrees to post some of his stories online.

It’s refreshing to not only see a film that depicts teenagers questioning their sexuality but also doing so in such a non-judgemental way. Neil’s hobby is strange to everybody around him, but it’s something he approaches with zeal.

He goes through an experience that queer youth often do – he hides himself and his desires to most people around him, but then has a profound friendship that changes his life and makes him more determined to force an experience that may seemingly make the decision for him. Neil tries his luck with an older man named Denis (Michael Ian Black), who is the editor of “The Rabbit’s Hole,” by lying about his age so that he can attend a comic convention in Houston and read some of his work to an audience. When the truth comes out, his plans are thwarted, which only adds to his frustrations and confusion.

I only have a very surface-level understanding of the fan fiction world and while it does mostly play that up for laughs, it strikes me as a wholly original teen comedy buoyed by two very strong lead performances. Johnston and Marks have a remarkable chemistry on screen and it’s not hard to believe that these two outcasts would come together to save each other.

From a technical perspective, the movie looks fantastic, especially in the sci-fi scenes where Neil’s stories come to life. Mostly shot in the Austin area (the Galaxy Highland makes an appearance and Marchesa Hall doubles for a Houston convention location in some scenes), it also features some great local music from bands like Moving Panoramas, Bright Light Social Hour and a variety of artists from Monofonus Press.

Other screenings: 5:15 p.m. Monday, Marchesa Hall; 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, Alamo South Lamar

SXSW Film review: ‘Honky Tonk Heaven: The Story of the Broken Spoke’

“Honky Tonk Heaven: The Story of the Broken Spoke” documents one of the last and surely one of the most famous of the true Texas honky tonk/dancehalls.


“Honky Tonk Heaven: The Story of the Broken Spoke” documents one of the last and surely one of the most famous of the true Texas honky tonk/dancehalls.

At its core, the film is about dancing and the dance tradition of Texas, the Texas two step, the slow Texas waltz. As it is reitirated many times throughout, “keep em’ dancing.”

“Honky Tonk Heaven” is also an ode and a cowboy hats-off moment to James White (pictured above) and Anetta White (and their family), the founders, proprietors and couple behind the Spoke’s storied legacy. It is no accident that the honky tonk has endured for more than 50 years through massive encroachment in the development of the South Lamar corridor.

White built the Broken Spoke with his own two hands, and “every drunk in South Austin worked on it,” he says.

“Honky Tonk Heaven” is not nostalgic, even though it drips with the past. It is a story of tradition and carrying on those traditions, good ol’ Texas charm and dancing. The documentary is told primarily from the vantage of the Whites and the musicians who cut their teeth on its legendary stage — a venue that has remained relatively untouched for over half a century, a place where Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys played, Ernest Tubb made regular appearances and Willie Nelson gigged clean-shaven with close-cropped hair.

It’s a must-see for fans of country music and Austin lore. Better yet, go south on Lamar from the Alamo theater and look to your left for the rustic red building under the big oak tree to experience a little bit of it. Lonestar and the chicken fried steak come highly recommended.

You can catch “Honky Tonk Heven: The Story of the Broken Spoke” at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday at the Marchesa; at 4:45 p.m. Thursday at the Topfer, and at 6:450 p.m. March 18 at the Alamo South.


SXSW Film: ‘Transpecos’ is a breakout for Austin director


It’s always fun to come across a movie that doesn’t have a distributor and needs a boost because it’s really good and deserves it. This year at South by Southwest, that movie, at least for me, is “Transpecos.”

It’s directed by Greg Kwedar, who has been quietly living in Austin, working on various documentaries and other film projects since 2008.

“Transpecos,” his directorial debut, has its premiere Sunday night and really shouldn’t be missed. It’s one of the best movies of the festival, and I’ve seen quite a few.

It focuses on three Border Patrol agents — and what happens when a particularly hard-nosed agent decides that a car trying to cross the border seems suspicious.

From that moment on, the tension ramps up, with twists and turns that reminded me of another Texas-based movie, many years ago — the Coen brothers’  “Blood Simple.”

Kwedar and co-writer Clint Bentley went to the U.S. border with Mexico to do their basic research several years ago, talking with agents, hearing their stories, and trying to come up with a tale that would capture not only the loneliness and isolation but also the camaraderie and the dangers.

“They told us a lot of things that they wouldn’t tell their families,” Kwedar says of his talks with agents. And the result is a screenplay that neither portrays them as saints nor as demons. They’re complicated. They’re flawed. Or, in other words, they’re just like everyone else.

Kwedar gets standout performances from his three leads. Clifton Collins Jr. plays the hard-nosed, by-the-book agent Lou Hobbs. Collins, who’s in town for the premiere, will also be seen in the upcoming thriller “Triple 9,” with Woody Harrelson and Casey Affleck. (“Triple 9” is also screening at SXSW.)

Gabriel Luna plays the most level-headed, sensible dude, Lance Flores, who tries to make things right after everything goes very wrong.

And Johnny Simmons, in a star-making turn, plays Benjamin Davis, the young rookie on the team who appears to have a lot to learn.

Simmons, who was born in Alabama but grew up in Dallas, says he tried to figure out his character by living during the shoot in southern New Mexico in an old, un-air-conditioned Airstream. That meant he slept under the stars on some of the hotter nights, and finally realized, as he puts it, that “I was looking at the same stars that people in Mexico were watching” — that the border was a human construct.

As viewers will see, there’s also another star in the making for “Transpecos” — Houston-born cinematographer Jeffrey Waldron. His wide, panoramic shots of the barren desert invoke not only beauty but also isolation — much like that felt by the agents who work there.

As Kwedar puts it, “the endlessness of the horizon is also a trap for those who can’t escape it.”

Kwedar praises Waldron for his ability to shoot various scenes that reflect the 24 hours that play out on screen, mostly with natural light, starting with sunrise, then high noon, the sunset and the evening. In each environment, the cinematography is spot-on.

“Transpecos” premieres tonight at 9 at the Vimeo in the Austin Convention Center. It screens again at 11:30 a.m. Monday at the Alamo South and at 10:45 a.m. Thursday at the Alamo South.’

It’s in the narrative feature competition. I recommend you see it and vote for it.