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The South-by-Southwest Conference and Festival

Austin is unlike the rest of Texas. For one thing, one of its mottoes is: "Keep Austin Weird” which is something the rest of the conservative state would never embrace.

Another thing that make it unique for the state, is that it encourages drinking, and the fact that it’s the home of hundreds of bars (The Live Music Capital of the World) is right there on the city’s official stationary. Weird art and weird culture are what make the Texas capitol tick, and one of the ways this is celebrated is the South-by-Southwest Conference and Festival (SxSW), which is held every March.

The concept goes back to 1986, when somebody in the city government noticed that once one of the local bands got the least bit famous, they’d go off to Nashville or Los Angeles and often never come back, so it was decided to have an annual convention for country music and rock musicians. The event was an immediate hit, and the three days of music and debauchery have been become one of the key events of the year -- not just in Austin but worldwide.

Not content with just musicians, the SxSW people decided to add film on the agenda in 1994, and now the SxSW Film Festival is  the biggest film festival in the South. But then again, everything’s supposed to be big in Texas. Last year, they screened 250 films, including 54 world premieres.

In 2007, the SxSW Interactive conference -- which is mostly about videogames and such -- was added to this. Each section is autonomous, and one ticket doesn’t get you into everywhere, that is if you don’t have the bucks.

Platinum (everything) and Gold (two out of three) tickets are expensive, and if you only are participating in one section, you can get tickets for individual performances and films. Plus there is a trade show, which is open to all three groups.

When not going to films, playing video games or listening to bands, there are panels and parties, which, unlike everywhere else, are the core of the event, rather than a sideshow. This is especially true of the annual block party, where those with passes can get free food and drink, or at least that’s what I heard.

A number of the films being shown this year have already debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, including the Duplass Bros.' Cyrus and Floria Sigismondi’s The Runaways, both of which are quite good, but not great. As to the rest, I haven’t seen them and can’t really comment.

This is going to be my first SxSW, and never having been to Austin, I don’t really know what to expect.

What I do know, is that the Film and Interactive sections of the event take place from March 12th to the 20th this year (2010) and that most of the events for these are at the Convention Center (500 E Cesar Chavez St.). How to get to the movie theaters and whether or not there are press screenings is still a bit of a mystery.

The SxSW website isn’t all that informative on mass transit, and I don’t know when the bus system shuts down for the night. The interactive stuff is mostly during the day the films are mostly at night.

So if the bus system works at night, the whole thing might be as good as advertised.

South-by-Southwest Conference and Festival (SxSW)
March 12 - 20, 2010
The Austin Convention Center

500 E Cesar Chavez St.
Austin, TX

Documentary Fortnight at MoMA

Documentary Fortnight, MoMA‘s annual two-week showcase of recent nonfiction film and video takes place February 7 through March 3, 2010 in The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters at MoMA. The ninth annual festival includes 20 features and 23 mid-length and short documentaries that represent the wide range of creative categories that extend the idea of the documentary form.

The festival‘s thematic programs focus on community and collaborative film and media initiatives from around the world.

Opening the festival are two U.S. premieres:

Christoph Draeger‘s romantic The End of the Remake trilogy of films about the 1960s, including My Generation (2007), Blow Up, Stroll On (2007), and Hippie Movie (2008).

David Christensen‘s feature The Mirror, which follows the mayor of a tiny Italian village as he attempts to build a gigantic mirror on a nearby mountaintop to reflect sunlight into the town square during the dark winter months.

Other features include:

George GittoesMiscreants of Taliwood—the third in a trilogy of documentaries that have premiered in this festival over the past several years—in which the director enters the remote and forbidden Tribal Belt of the northwest frontier of Pakistan disguised as an actor in the low-budget Pashto Tali movie industry.

Carol Dysinger
‘s work-in-progress Camp Victory Afghanistan is a verite look at the U.S. National Guardsmen stationed in Herat, Afghanistan, and the Afghan officers assigned to them as mentees.

Cathryn Collins
‘s Vlast / Power reveals, through brilliantly detailed interviews, the hushed-up story of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia‘s wealthiest man, now imprisoned in Siberia.

The closing night avant-premiere film is Johan Grimonprez‘s stunning Double Take, a hybrid documentary/narrative feature that casts Alfred Hitchcock as a paranoid history professor, unwittingly caught up in the subterfuges of the Cold War era, blackmailing housewives in coffee commercials.

This year‘s shorts include:

Alla Kovgan and David Hinton‘s Nora, based on the true story of dancer Nora Chipaumire, who returned to her native Zimbabwe and brought her history to life through performance.

Closing night selections include:

Diane Nerwen‘s Open House, which documents the recent development spree in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and chronicles how the neighborhood has been affected by the housing market

Heidrun Holzfiend‘s Za Zelazna / Behind the Iron Gate) looks at a modern housing estate built in Warsaw, Poland, in the mid-1960s and how it functions for its residents today.

A spotlight on the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam‘s Jan Vrijman Fund, which supports filmmakers in developing countries, features:

Iranian filmmaker Massoud Bakhshi‘s Tehran Has No More Pomegranates!

Chilean-based filmmakers Bettina Perut and Ivan Osnovikoff‘s News

The Afghanistan/UK production of Addicted in Afghanistan by Jawed Taiman.

Three U.S.-based initiatives include:

Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky, which began in 1968 as an experiment in community-based filmmaking and economic growth, and supports films that celebrate Appalachian culture and an Indonesian video exchange project

New York City‘s Deep Dish Television, which produces and distributes grass-roots film and television

UnionDocs Collaborative, a program for nonfiction media research and group production, which showcases their most recent innovative projects. A program of films by four directors—Patty Chang, Liza Johnson, Sharon Lockhart, and Jeannie Simms—showcases how artists interact with their subjects in the creation of their films.

Many of the filmmakers will be present throughout the festival to introduce and discuss their films, which are almost all world, U.S., or New York premieres.

Documentary Fortnight, 2010 is organized by Sally Berger, Assistant Curator, with Maria Fosheim Lund, Director Liaison, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.

For more information, visit

Documentary Fortnight
February 7-March 3, 2010

The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street, New York City

New York Int’l Children’s Film Festival 2o10

The NY International Children’s Film Festival is a movable feast that usually takes place in March, but has been all over the calendar in the past. This year, the festival kicks off its 13th season February 26 - March 21, 2010, at six New York locations, with ground-breaking, exciting and thought-provoking new films and events for ages 3-18. and last for three weekends (taking the kiddies out of school is usually a bad idea). Still from The Secret of Kells

Founded by Eric Beckman and Emily Shapiro in 1997, the festival was originally a fundraiser for the Children’s Aid Society and had a program of 12 shorts that were borrowed from the larger Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, which had been running for several years. 

This was the height of the animation boom, and Beckman and Shapiro thought that kids should have a diet of more than MTV, Disney and Hanna-Barbera. So over the following years, the thing grew exponentially, then had a near-death experience where it became merely the “presenter” of a film series at the IFC Theater on West 3rd Street and Sixth Avenue, to a revival as a three-weekend compendium of the best films the rest of the world has to offer children.

Five years ago, for example, the festival had over 1800 submissions, and featured Danny Boyle’s  Millions and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Steamboy, neither of which received major theatrical release.  It was said that for the genre, this had become as important as Cannes, not bad for something that started in a glorified garage.

NYICFF is North America’s largest festival of film for kids and has had an audience of 25,000 children, teens, parents, filmmakers and industry professionals. The festival presents 100 new films of all lengths from around the world; there are gala opening and closing events, major feature film premieres, director Q&As, NYICFF’s award-winning short films programs, children’s film production workshops, a celebrity benefit event, a 50-year French animation retrospective, audience voting, and the NYICFF Awards Ceremony.

The NYICFF 2010 Jury includes Frances McDormand, Uma Thurman, John Turturro, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Modine, Gus Van Sant, Michel Ocelot, and James Schamus.

The festival is pretty much the only place to see some of the hit cartoon features that have been made outside the United States, and this year is no different.

GKids, the people running the thing have almost single-handedly managed to wangle this year’s centerpiece, Tomm Moore's The Secret of Kells an Oscar® nomination; the other features such as Dominique Monfery’s Eleanor’s Secret, Jiri Barta’s In The Attic, and Sunao Katabuchi's Mai Mai Miracle, have all received kudos back in their countries of origin but aren’t going to get much distribution here in the States.

Besides the 15 features being shown, there are also seven shorts programs,  the two galas and two workshops where kids get to find out how films are made.

The venues are:

Cantor Film Ctr
36 E 8th St.
west of Broadway

DGA Theater
110 W 57th St
between 5th and 6th Avenues

IFC Center
323 6th Ave.
off West 3rd Street


557 Broadway
just south of Prince

Symphony Space
2537 Broadway
at 95th Street

A full schedule and tickets to all events can be found at:

Boulder Int'l Film Festival Is High on the Fest Circuit

The Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF) is being held February 11-14, 2010 in scenic Boulder, Colorado, featuring award-winning films and filmmakers from all over the world. Screenings are at the Boulder Theater, Boulder Public Library, and First United Methodist Church ("The Church")

The Opening Night Red-Carpet Gala includes the screening of The Lightkeepers, directed by Daniel Adams and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Blythe Danner, Bruce Dern, Tom Wisdom and Mamie Gummer. The film is about the lightkeeper for a lighthouse on a deserted Cape Cod beach in 1912. A mysterious man takes the position of assistant lightkeeper, and the two men swear an oath to never get involved with women. However, they soon find themselves contending with two female summer visitors. Following the screening, Ms. Danner, the director, and producer Straw Weisman will be on hand for a Q&A.

BIFF’s Closing Night Awards Ceremony will feature a tribute to Emmy Award-winning actor Alec Baldwin, who will be honored with an Award of Excellence in Acting. Included is a film retrospective of his work, followed by a Q&A hosted by BIFF executive producer Ron Bostwick.

Film highlights from the festival include:

I Am Love
, directed by Luca Guadagnino, was a winner at the Venice Film Festival. Starring Tilda Swinton, this drama portrays the irresistible heat of forbidden passion within the constrained upper-class mores of an Italian family.

Last Train Home
, directed by Lixin Fan. The world’s largest human migration takes place each year in China as 130 million factory workers fight for space on overcrowded trains to return home for the Spring Festival. This beautiful film captures two years in the life of the Zhangs, who left the poverty of the countryside and their children behind with their extended family.

Mugabe and the White African
, directed by Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson, is the story of one of the few hundred white farmers left in Zimbabwe since President Robert Mugabe began his violent land seizure program in 2000. In 2008, Campbell took the unprecedented step of challenging Robert Mugabe before international court, charging him and his government with racial discrimination and violations of human rights.

Other BIFF films not to be missed:

Soundtrack for a Revolution
, directed by Bill Guttentag and Dan Struman, depicts the American civil rights movement through the music that fortified protestors as they struggled for equality, with music by The Roots, Wyclef Jean, Joss Stone, Richie Havens and Harry Belafonte.

A Film with Me In It
, directed by Ian Fitzgibbon, is a morbidly delightful account of a hapless out-of-work Dublin actor named Mark, who is struggling to make it through a day from hell. Together with his hilarious neighbor, Pierce, they hatch a desperate plan of treating their predicament like a film scenario and try to rewrite the day.

The Most Dangerous Man in America; Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, directed by Rick Goldsmith and Judith Ehrlich, depicts the high-level Pentagon official, former Marine and Vietnam War hawk who discovers top-secret reports detailing the lies the Pentagon had been telling the public about the war.

Wings of Silver: The Vi Cowden Story, directed by Mark and Christine Bonn. This remarkable documentary follows Vi Cowden’s journey from rural South Dakota, where she learned to fly biplanes, to her two years in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), for which she piloted 19 different types of fighter planes in the U.S. on enough trips to have circumnavigated the world 55 times. Healthy and lively, Vi last piloted a P-51 when she was 92.  In March the United States will award the Congressional Gold Medal to nearly 300 women, all over the age of 86, who flew fighter planes for the Army Air Corps in 1943-44. The directors will be present following the screening.

Waking Sleeping Beauty
, directed by Don Hahn, is a juicy, scathing, behind-the-scenes tell-all about the turmoil at Walt Disney Studios released by, well, Walt Disney Studios. After a string of flops in the 1980s, movie animation was considered dead. Yet the ‘90s saw a staggering output of Disney hits—Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. This incredibly well-crafted documentary from two-time Oscar nominee Don Hahn and then-animation-head Peter Schneider shows us a side of Disney we’ve never seen before, with feuds, ego battles, cost overruns, failed experiments—all the blood, sweat and carnage that went into the great Disney Renaissance. Magic, it seems, like sausage, is not always pretty to watch being made. This film is a must-see for all serious film heads who still believe in magic. The director will be present.

Mother, directed by Bong Joon-ho, is about a fiercely maternal single mother determined to protect her only child, a handsome but mentally challenged 27-year-old son, who was framed for a heinous murder. The small-town police and the town folk are already convinced of his guilt, while the mother ferociously goes on a hunt for the real killer herself. Bong Joon-ho, who wrote and directed the cult film The Host, has crafted a superb Hitchcockian murder mystery peppered with surprising twists coming thick and fast, which keep his audience guessing over who the real culprit is until the very end.

The Secret of Kells, directed by Tomm Moore, is an animated masterpiece that blends fantasy and Celtic mythology into a riot of color and detail. In this sweeping story about the Viking raids of Ireland, 12-year-old Brendan’s dangerous quest takes him, and the mysterious wolf-girl, Aisling, into the enchanted forest where mythical creatures hide. Director Moore scanned the stunningly beautiful illuminations of Ireland’s thousand-year-old Book of Kells into a computer program so that they would move. And then, using the same brilliant colors and flat medieval perspective, he produced a feature-length animated film that tells a hero-quest set in the time of the book.

Additionally, BIFF hosts:

The Digital Media Convergence Symposium (DiMe), a celebration of creativity, technology and those who innovate in these converging spheres. A panel of visionary leaders in the film, media and gaming industries will discuss commonalities and potential for collaboration, as well as the evolution and applications of new technology and distribution and how to engage in this profitable arena.

Call 2 Action, a program that offers concrete ways for filmgoers to translate the energy and passion that film evokes into action. Film has the unique and creative ability to educate, integrate and involve the entire community to teach us about our world.

For further information, visit

Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF)
February 11-14, 2010

Boulder Theater, Boulder Public Library, and
First United Methodist Church ("The Church")
Boulder, Colorado


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