For a city that has more than its fair share of festivals, Austin certainly jam-packs some of its biggest all within a few weeks from each other each fall. In the past few weeks alone, we’ve been to the Austin City Limits Festival, the Texas Book Festival and the Austin Film Festival (and somehow squeezed a day trip to the Texas Renaissance Festival in there too). We’re ready for a nap. But before that, let’s take a look back at this year’s edition of the Austin Film Festival.
Maybe it’s a little festival exhaustion talking here, but I thought that, overall, the lineup for AFF was a bit weaker than in years past. Typically when those eight days of screenings are over, I have a hard time whittling down my picks to five favorites, but this year, there were only two flicks I really fell for. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the fest though. Whether it was a loosely hunting-themed triple feature, docs delving into such disparate subjects as Shakespeare and Vampira, an exercise in exacerbating my already-strong fear of flying or a truly strange trip into James Franco’s mind, AFF was nothing short of engaging and interesting. And from a logistical standpoint, I loved that for their northern satellite venue they exchanged the Regal Arbor for the Alamo Village. Booze and food makes everything better, particularly when you’re in for a triple feature.
In some ways, the very best thing about attending a film festival is knowing it will be a grab bag – some things you’ll like, some things you won’t, and some things will become new favorites. The best ones of all are always the surprises, the ones where you know next to nothing going in. This year, one of those ended up being the film I loved best.
On paper, “The Sessions” sounds a little dubious: The true story of a 38-year-old man in an iron lung decides to lose his virginity. I was afraid I was in for something that was maudlin at best and pretentious at worst, but because it starred the great John Hawkes, I decided to give it a go. And I’m so glad I did because it was anything but maudlin and pretentious. Instead, it was one of the most charming and warm movies I’ve seen all year, which owes a great deal to the performances of the three leads — Hawkes, William H. Macy and Helen Hunt — and of course to the beautiful and poetic writings of the real Mark O’Brien. I cannot recommend this movie enough and hope it gets a theatrical release here in town so everyone can go see it.
For me, if “The Sessions” was the best of the fest, then the best of the rest was “Deadfall.” Starring Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde as siblings going their separate ways after a casino heist gone bad, “Deadfall” is deftly plotted and at turns suspenseful and amusing, a dichotomy that goes double for Bana’s character of Addison. In addition to Wilde and Bana (who I think is grossly underrated), the “Deadfall” ensemble includes Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson (perfectly cast as husband and wife), Charlie Hunnam, Kate Mara and Treat Williams, and it may just be my new favorite Thanksgiving movie.
Like the majority of film festivals, AFF is also a competition. The AFF jury selected the following films as winners:
Narrative Feature: Sparrows Dance, writer/director Noah Buschel
Documentary Feature: Informant, director Jamie Meltzer
Narrative Short: Asad, writer/director Bryan Buckley
Narrative Student Short: Hatch, writer/director Christoph Kuschnig, writer Karl Goldblat
Animated Short: Head Over Heels, writer/director Timothy Reckart
Documentary Short: See The Dirt, directors Chelsea Hernandez and Erik Mauck
Young Filmmakers Competition: Crumbs, director Nicco Vasquez, writer Keith Limon
In addition to the jury awards, the audiences get their say with the Esurance Audience Awards. The winners were as follows:
Marquee Feature Audience Award:
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Writer/Director: David O. Russell
Narrative Feature Audience Award:
Writers: Kevin Hamedani, Ramon Isao
Director: Kevin Hamedani
Documentary Feature Audience Award: (Tie)
Writer/Director: Joseph Levy
RISING FROM ASHES
Director: T.C. Johnstone
Comedy Vanguard Audience Award:
THE MUSLIMS ARE COMING!
Directors: Negin Farsad, Dean Obeidallah
Dark Matters Audience Award:
SATURDAY MORNING MASSACRE
Writers: Jory Balsimo, Aaron Leggett, Jason Wehling
Director: Spencer Parsons
Narrative Short Audience Award:
Writer/Director: Bryan Buckley
Narrative Student Short Audience Award:
THE TELEPORTED MAN
Writer/Director: Zach Endres
Animated Short Audience Award:
HEAD OVER HEELS
Writer/Director: Timothy Reckart
Documentary Short Audience Award:
GOOD KARMA $1
Directors: Jason Berger, Amy Laslett
If you missed this year’s festival, mark the dates for the 2013 AFF, which will run from Oct. 24 to Oct. 31.