SXSW winner ‘Transpecos’ gets distribution deal

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Here’s an uplifting tale for aspiring filmmakers out there. And it also illustrates why festivals like South by Southwest, Fantastic Fest and the Austin Film Festival are so important.

Austin resident Greg Kwedar got his debut feature, “Transpecos,” into the narrative feature competition this March at South by Southwest. It was unheralded, and few people in the Austin film crowd even knew who Kwedar was.

But securing a spot in the competition – and providing an early screener to critics – helped build buzz,, and the  thriller about the Border Patrol went on to win the audience award – which means festival attendees thought it to be the best of the bunch.

Kwedar and his team had no distributor for the film, however. And without a distributor, most movies just end up screening here and there, at places like the Austin Film Society and various festivals, without reaching a wide audience.

But that’s what festivals are for – raising the profile of small, independent films. And this week, Kwedar got the best news possible. Samuel Goldwyn Films is buying the rights to “Transpecos” and plans a theatrical release in the fall.

And in May, Screen Media Ventures will be attending the Cannes Film Festival, trying to sell distribution rights to international territories.

The deal was first reported by Deadline.com. And Peter Goldwyn of Samuel Goldwyn Films said, “Greg is a raw talent in independent cinema. ‘Transpecos’ is an accomplished first feature that we’re eager to deliver to audiences in theaters and in homes across the country.”

Details of the deal were not disclosed.

The thriller stars Johnny Simmons, Gabriel Luna and Clifton Collins Jr. Kwedar co-wrote the script with Clint Bentley.

 

 

Alamo Drafthouse Village closes for quick remodel

RBB Shopping Center 2Alamo Drafthouse Village has closed this week so crews can complete a quick renovation project.

When the theater, at 2700 W. Anderson Lane, reopens Friday night, it will have new seats and new carpeting, among other upgrades, the Austin-based chain said.

Alamo Drafthouse Village, post-remodel, will feature theaters that are set up similar to ones found at newer locations, with several small tables in each row, instead of one long table that runs the row’s entire length.

Movies playing when the theater reopens include “Zootopia,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “The Jungle Book,” “Keanu” and a memorial screening of Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

‘Going Clear’ wins Peabody

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The HBO documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” written by Austin’s Lawrence Wright and directed by Alex Gibney, has won a prestigious Peabody Award.

The awards, announced Tuesday by the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications, also honored the autism documentary “How to Dance in Ohio”; “Night Will Fall,” about the making of a Holocaust film; and “The Jinx,” a true crime documentary focusing on Robert Durst.

The documentary and education winners also included Netflix’s “What Happened, Miss Simone”;  ABC’s “Black-ish” and USA’s “Mr. Robot.” News, radio and web winners, which were previously announced, included “This American Life” and HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” A full list of winners is available at peabodyawards.com.

In awarding “Going Clear” a Peabody, the judges said that the film “about the history and hardball tactics of the Church of Scientology draws its persuasive power from letters and documents contradicting the fabrications of its late founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and from blistering testimonials by prominent ex-church officials and former members about abuse and corruption.”

The documentary is based on the 2013 book by Wright, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief.”

Alamo Drafthouse screening “Purple Rain” at all Austin locations tonight

The Drafthouse is screening Prince’s immortal “Purple Rain” tonight at all Austin locations.

Here is the link to buy tickets.

Here are the times:

Ritz: 10:40p

Lakeline 10:30p

Today, we are all this dude:

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Alamo’s Tim League versus a culture of “Netflixing and chill” (No, really, that is the phrase that was used.)

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is part of the Lamar Union development on south Lamar Blvd. Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (Stephen Spillman for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League was on CNBC today talking about the Drafthouse’s business model and what he sees as the Drafthouse’s role in a changing media landscape.

Here is the link.

A few things to note:

The host does indeed contrast the experience of going to the Drafthouse with staying home “and just Netflixing and chill.” Kudos to Tim for keeping a straight face. I sure couldn’t have because I am 12.

He remains a very big Bernie Sanders fan. This is the first time he’s felt fully engaged in politics in a long time.

He still doesn’t like texting in movies.

 

Doris Roberts and her Texas connection: William Goyen

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Many of the obituaries for actress Doris Roberts, who became a household name primarily because of her role on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” are missing a key point. For 20 years, she was married to Houston writer William Goyen, one of the most overlooked modernist writers of the 20th century.

They were a couple from 1963 until Goyen’s death in 1983, and Roberts often talked of her fondness for the author.

Roberts, who was 90,  died of natural causes, her family said. She was on the “Raymond” show from 1996 to 2005, winning four Emmys for her role. She also won an Emmy for “St. Elsewhere.”

Before moving to Los Angeles, Roberts was a struggling actress on Broadway and a member of the Actors Studio.

Roberts was born in St. Louis on Nov. 4, 1925, and grew up in New York. Before marrying Goyen, she was married to Michael Cannata from 1956 to 1962 and had one son, Michael Cannata Jr.

Goyen’s most critically acclaimed novel was “The House of Breath” in 1950. If you want to know more about Goyen’s relationship with Roberts, go here.

Alamo Drafthouse CEO responds to texting in theaters

Update, 4/15: AMC Theatres tweeted on Friday that the company would not be allowing texting at its locations after all.

Earlier: AMC Entertainment’s CEO Adam Aron, who has headed the company for about four months, said this week that he may allow texting in movie theaters as part of an effort to attract younger audiences.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is part of the Lamar Union development on south Lamar Blvd. Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (Stephen Spillman for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is part of the Lamar Union development on south Lamar Blvd. May 12, 2015. (Stephen Spillman for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

“When you tell a 22-year-old to turn off the phone, don’t ruin the movie, they hear please cut off your left arm above the elbow,” Aron said in an interview with Variety magazine.

But today, Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League issued a news release stating the he disagrees with Aron.

“Innovation in this direction could seriously hurt our industry,” League wrote.

See below to read League’s full statement.

First off, I’d like to say that I am very excited for Adam Aron to be taking the helm at AMC.  I am a fan of the Starwood Hotel and Resort brand and the customer experience that his former company consistently delivers.  Bringing that leadership focus to our industry will undoubtedly yield positive results and drive healthy, innovative competition.

That said, I disagree with his statements on texting in a movie theater. Innovation in this direction could seriously hurt our industry.

My first objection stems from cinema’s relationship with directors and producers, the content creators.  Auteurs focus for years to complete their films.  We as exhibitors rely completely on these creators for our content and have an unwritten obligation to present their films in the best possible way: on a big screen with big sound and a bright picture in a silent, dark room.   You can only be immersed in a story if you are focused on it.  If while watching a film you are intermittently checking your email, posting on social media, chatting with friends, etc., there is no way you are fully engaged in the story on screen.  I find that to be disrespectful to the creators, those who make the very existence of cinema possible.  

My second objection stems from the generalization of millennial behavior. 

“When you tell a 22-year-old to turn off the phone, don’t ruin the movie, they hear please cut off your left arm above the elbow. You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life.”   – Adam Aron, quoted in Variety

22-year-olds aren’t alone; heavy cell phone use is far more widespread.  Today, 68% of U.S. adults have a smartphone, a staggering increase from 35% just five years ago.   

I spend a great deal of my life on my phone, too.  I check news, social media and email obsessively.  If there is the slightest of lulls in my day, a 20 second pause in an elevator, for example, I impulsively break out my phone and check something.  I always carry an external battery because I can’t make it through the day on the standard power.  I am not alone. According to some reports, the average American checks their phone over 100 times a day. 

This isn’t just a millennial behavior, it is a global attention span epidemic.  

Regardless of your age, turning off your phone and focusing on a good movie is much-needed therapy.  This time of focus in a darkened room is core to the experience of cinema.  Only with this focus can you lose yourself completely in the story and really fall into the magic spell of the movies. 

Plenty has already been written about glowing screens and unchecked chatter driving people from the cinema experience, so I won’t belabor that point further.  And I’m fine with “second screen” experimentation with regards to alternative content, gaming, interactive screenings, etc.  

But when it comes to our core business, creating a special environment for our customers to experience new stories for the first time, there is absolutely no place for the distraction of a lit phone screen.  

At the Alamo Drafthouse we are actively engaged in trying to make sure cinema remains a compelling destination for young people, and I agree this should be a focus for the whole industry.  I just don’t believe that this line of experimentation is the right tactic. A firm policy against talking and texting in the cinema is about respect: for the filmmakers and fellow cinephiles of all ages. 

Outside of this issue, however, I look forward to being challenged and inspired by what innovations and enhancements Adam Aron brings to the cinema experience.

Austin’s Nichols, other U.S. directors crack Cannes 2016 lineup

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Although the modest Austin director Jeff Nichols would probably downplay such talk, it’s rather apparent that the taste-makers of European cinema consider him the new American auteur. His latest movie, “Loving,” was formally selected for the official competition for the Palme d’Or on Thursday at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which begins the second week of May.

Nichols’ “Midnight Special” was part of the official competition at this year’s Berlin Film Festival in February, and his 2012 movie, “Mud,” was selected for the Cannes official competition. What’s more, his 2011 movie, “Take Shelter,” won the top prize in the Cannes sidebar, Critics Week.

His latest, which focuses on the landmark civil rights case over an interracial marriage in Virginia in 1967, stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as the couple, with a supporting role for longtime Nichols collaborator Michael Shannon. In 1958, Richard and Mildred Loving were sentenced to prison for getting married, and the movie follows their case through the courts.

Nichols will be joined at the festival by many other high-profile English-language productions – a relative rarity for Cannes.

The biggest of those, by far, will be Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG,” which will screen outside of competition. It’s scheduled for wide release in the States in July, and the early screening in Cannes will surely launch a marketing campaign to make it one of this summer’s biggest box-office hits. Adapted from the Roald Dahl story about a Big Friendly Giant, It stars Rebecca Hall, Mark Rylance and Bill Hader.

Woody Allen’s “Café Society,” starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, will open the festival outside of competition.

U.S. director Jim Jarmusch will have two movies at the festival: the competition film “Paterson,” about a blue-collar bus driver, played by Adam Driver, and a special midnight screening of his new Iggy Pop documentary, “Gimme Danger.”

Denmark’s Nicolas Winding Refn will bring another Los Angeles-filmed tale, “The Neon Demon,” to the competition. It stars Elle Fanning in a horror tale about a young model who is preyed upon by jealous rivals.

Sean Penn will also be screening his latest, “The Last Face,” in competition. It stars Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem as aid workers who fall in love while working in Liberia.

British director Andrea Arnold will also have a competition film, and it’s the first time she has filmed I n the United States. It’s called “American Honey,” and stars Shia Labeouf, Sasha Lane and Riley Keough in a tale about people who are traveling salesmen for magazines.

Jodie Foster, meanwhile, will screen her latest, “Money Monster,” outside of competition. It stars George Clooney as a TV financial adviser who’s taken hostage by an angry viewer who lost money in the market (Jack O’Connell). Julia Roberts plays a TV producer involved in the situation.

Austin Film Festival regular Shane Black will be screening “Nice Guys” out of competition, as well. It stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in a buddy/crime comedy.

Other notable screenings include “Elle,” from Paul Verhoeven (“Basic Instinct”), starring Isabelle Hupert in a home invasion thriller; “I, Daniel Blake,” from British director Ken Loach, dealing with a carpenter and single mother who are on welfare; “It’s Only the End of the World,” from Canadian director Xavier Dolan, about a writer who goes home and announces he’s dying, starring Marion Cotillard, Lea Seydoux and Vincent Cassel; “The Handmaiden,” from South Korea’s Park Chan-wook; “Julieta,” from Spain’s Pedro Almodovar; “Personal Shopper,” from Olivier Assayas and starring Kristen Stewart; and “The Unknown Girl,” from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

In Un Certain Regard, U.S. director Matt Ross will screen “Captain Fantastic,” starring Viggo Mortensen as a father in the forests of the Pacific Northwest who has to move back to the city.