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.

 

 

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

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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.