SXSW’08, part 3: Films roundup

March 13th, 2008 by Timo Vuorensola

Lonely Rider - Timo in TexasUnlike in most film festivals I’ve visited, in SXSW I’ve actually had time and opportunity to visit and see some of the films they are showing here. Around the center of Austin there are several film theaters with films for the festivals, and to get in you need to line up about 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the film to get in with the pass.

What I really love about the theaters is that they act as a very discreet restaurants at the same time. Between each row of seats there are aisels where the waitresses can walk around, and you can order food and drinks during the shows. That’s really a thing I would love to see in Finland, and propably would boost up people visiting film theaters as well, as you can really build an experience around watching films.

Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie

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The first film I went to see was called NOT YOUR TYPICAL BIGFOOT MOVIE, a documentary on two guys who really strongly believe they are tracking bigfoot in the forests nearby. It’s a heartwarmingly saddish story on these two elderly gentlemen who have a very special relationship between each others, and who really see what they want to see – bigfoot in every pixel of crap-quality pictures they’ve been taking from the woods. The synopsis says:

NOT YOUR TYPICAL BIGFOOT MOVIE provides a look at the trials and triumphs of life Appalachian foot hills. Through the experiences of Dallas and Wayne, two amateur bigfoot researchers in southern Ohio, we see how the power of dreams can bring two men together in friendship, and provide hope and meaning that transcend the harsh realities of life in a dying steel town.

The film is slow-paced, with slow guitar music in the background, and floats through the lives of Dallas and Wayne slowly. It’s funny in a sad way, and at one point you start feeling bad laughing at these two men chasing their dreams, really believing and wanting to believe into something in the woods, that doesn’t exist. I think I might say I liked the film, but I have to admit that after spending 20+ hours in an airplane and airports, I dozed off few times, and didn’t get to see the big picture very well to actually rate the movie in any way. I blame the super-comfortable soft seats in the theater… This is not a film to see when jetlagged, the slow pace really get you.

Dance Of The Dead

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The next day we went to see the midnight show at Alamo theater called DANCE OF THE DEAD. It was a pretty risky shot, since we had to stop partying and go out to a film theater to see a zombie movie I had never heard of, but it turned out to be a good decision. Dance of the Dead is a story about a zombie infection that turns loose during a high school prom. In the best possible American way, of course, the ones who save the day are nerds, and a cute girl, while the high school athleths and staff get killed and turned into zombies. So in many ways, Dance of the Dead is nothing new. What I loved about the film was that the director was really able to pump enough adrenalin to every part of the film – actors did a good job, cinematography was excellent and even the makeup and special effects worked. Obviously, Dance of the Dead is not a big-budget zombie movie, but it pretty much succeeds in keeping up with enough production value and good-enough cast and script to make it stand out among most of the zombie flicks out there.

Woodpecker

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WOODPECKER was a film that many people were talking a lot about in the festival, so I had my hopes up when entering the theater of seeing a really worthwhile film. Instead of trying to explain, I let the synopsis speak for itself:

Fanatical birdwatchers have descended upon a small town in the Arkansas bayou in hopes of finding the celebrated Ivory Billed Woodpecker. Declared extinct in the 1940’s, the bird has apparently been spotted by numerous experts. Enter amateur birder and poet Johnny Neander, who has convinced his taciturn sidekick that he will be the one to find the elusive woodpecker. The ensuing chaos divides the small town between believers and non-believers, rabid environmentalists and opportunistic entrepreneurs. Much like the bird itself, Woodpecker explores the intersection of fact and fiction, manipulating our notions of documentary and narrative techniques within a tragic comedy about hope, perception, and some very very strange birds.

From the first moments on this film reminded me of Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie. It was shot in a document format, and had some real documentary elements on it, the camerawork was very simple, handheld and not very high quality, and the two main actors, Johnny and Wan, were improvising most of the lines. The story started to unfold a bit slowly, and it took me a while to understand why I should be interested in Ivory Billed Woodpeckers that should have been extinct for several centuries, but pretty soon I started to understand about the characters in the film, and see this more like a tragic comedy of people chasing their dreams. There’s that subject again… Americans seem to love people chasing their dreams.

At one point, there film was so great I wished for it to never end, watching the main character Johnny slowly losing his grip to the reality as problems started to pile up and the bird was nowhere to be found, but then the film was Kummelized, the joke was over-streched, and some unbelieveable elements were introduced, newsflashes and fake environmentalists and that sort of things, that took off the edge from the story of slowly drowning into insanity and alcoholism. Without knowing what parts of the story have actually happened and what have been scripted in I can’t judge on how strong the script actually was when compared to real events, but eventually I felt the film to be a bit too long, but overall a very good experience, that’s gonna win a lot of awards in smaller festivals around the world.

Heavy Metal In Baghdad

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‘Till now, the last film I saw was called HEAVY METAL IN BAGHDAD, and so far it has been the greatest film I’ve seen here, and one of the best documentaries about war, and about heavy metal, I’ve seen ever. The story starts when a reporter for MTV went to Iraq to do a story on the only heavy metal band in Iraq, Acrassicauda (“Black Scorpio”). Later on, after USA invasion, they came back to see if the band is still alive, and filmed footage on their last show in Iraq, while car bombs were blasting around the city, AK-47 -fire banging endlessly and mortar explosions ringing al over. That is true heavy metal.

The documentary follows the guys of Acrassicauda and their struggle to survive in a total chaos, but it also describes very well on how the civil war in Iraq actually is. It’s rude to see the pictures of an middle-eastern city bathing in beautiful sunlight, cars passing by, people walking along, and in the background people talking about that if they stop here they will most definitively be killed.

For a person living in Iraq, Baghdad, the everyday life is really hard, since it’s totally impossible to know when a sniper kills you, a car bomb takes you out or your family out or whatever – but for a metalhead singing “americanized” music “for satan”, as local people think of that, it’s totally impossible. Wearing a Slipknot t-shirt can really get you killed. But the guys, one of them being a father of a young child, just keep on pushing. They’ve managed to organize 5 gigs in 6 years, and every time it has been a full house of Iraq metalheads pogoing around, but the death keeps on lurking outside.

One example of how just normal things can be hard in a country that’s in a total state of chaos is headbanging: it resembles the jewish praying in some ways (they keep on bowing their heads when praying), and people don’t dare to do that because if Iraq police would see that, they would put you in a prison for the rest of your life. Just for headbanging. And not to mention growing a long hair, that’s just totally out of the question.

As the director said in Q&A after the show, the bands in the west are getting it very easy. Yeah, it can be hard to organize a gig or two now and then, or find money to go to a studio, but it’s nothing compared to the fact that every day you go to your training joint, you have to carry openly a gun for not being killed.

You need to really check out the website of the film, there’s a lot of more information on Acrassicauda and a possibility to donate them to help them further, and be sure to check out their blog, it’s an interesting read. They managed to raise enough money through the Internet after Toronto film festival screening that they were able to travel to Syria, then Turkey, and they are right now in Istanbul, but are having a very hard time over there as well.

All in all, this film was a great piece of documentary, be sure to check it out when it’s available. Here’s the trailer:

Ok, that’s it for now. Today I’m heading again to the festival, although now the Film-part of SXSW is starting to be over, there are screenings still but no other programme, and everything is Music. I’m gonna go and see some bands, and spread the good word of Iron Sky!

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4 Responses to “SXSW’08, part 3: Films roundup”

  1. OlliS says:

    Re: concessions

    Might be talking out of my ass here but from what I gather that might also be a really good way of spoiling the theater-going experience. Imagine a bunch of rowdy teenager at a Will Ferrell movie and what they might do with that.

  2. Yeah, it really might be so, and I gather they’ve had their share of that experience too. As one part to prevent it they’ve spent a shitload of money to produce pretty damn hilarious ads that say: “shut your mouth or monsters will eat your head” or “turn off our phone or we’ll shove it up your arse” :) I’ve laughed my ass off watching them. I’ll try to look up for YouTube if they’ve posted some of them there.

  3. Damn you. Now I want to see a documentary about an Iraqi heavy metal band. That sounds way too much like fail and fagotry (the wanting to see such aweird sounding film, not iraqi heavy).

  4. ligagrl says:

    heavy metal baghdad…. go see it – if for no other reason than the latest chapter may have the guys going back to iraq soon. turkey is a hard place to be a refugee – esp if you don’t speak the language and can’t work (legally or otherwise). think about a paypal donation on the movie website to help the guys out.