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“Bully,” the headline-grabbing new documentary from Lee Hirsch, examines the lives of five small-town kids and their parents. Kelby, a lesbian, Alex, a mildly autistic boy, Ja’Meya, an African-American girl, and two boys named Tyler (one Ty, for short), who each tragically took their own lives after they just couldn’t take the taunting and physical abuse any more.
For a movie about such a complicated and important issue, “Bully” spends most of its time on the surface, following the kids and teachers as they hopelessly stumble their way through the school year. There are some shocking moments of on-screen violence, but even more incredible is one Sioux City, Iowa, administrator’s reaction to it. She actually tries to force a kid to face his tormentor with a handshake, and wags her finger at him for not making nice with the bully that tried to choke, stab, and punch him in the face. “Tell me how to fix this,” she sighs to the camera in desperation, “I don’t have any type of magic.”
By Deirdre Saravia
Practice makes perfect, and on my fifth visit to Austin’s South By Southwest music festival (SXSW), this was certainly the case.
The event is gigantic, with masses of people hurrying and scurrying, and all appearing to know where they’re going.
Driving into Austin from San Antonio flows smoothly until you see the Holiday Inn hotel on your left. From there on, cars inch along until finally you leave the highway. Traffic is moving, but part of the reason for that is that there’s nowhere to stop and park. So, last week I spotted a hotel parking lot, paid the fee and escaped the car. The Convention Center was right around the corner. No hunting around for a street parking slot this time around!
Registration for badge holders takes place in the Convention Center. Once again, I encountered a tsunami of people, but all was amazingly quiet and organized. Volunteers are strategically placed everywhere, and love to be questioned. They are there to make your visit is as good as it can be.
Despite long lines of registrants, we processed rapidly and were issued our rectangular press passes, complete with photo ID. These are hung around the neck and clearly identify you as a bona fide professional, musician, or someone with a lot of money. You need these badges to access many sites at SXSW, although there are many free and open to the public events going on simultaneously.
The weather in Austin can be an issue, last year was freezing and raining, and for bands hauling around masses of instruments, the weather was somewhat daunting. However, another year the temperatures soared into the triple digits and that was even worse. This year was warm and cloudy, no complaints.
If you’re unfamiliar with Austin, it is difficult to anticipate distances, and time especially if you’re on the wrong side of IH 35, so finding artists and places to interview can be tricky. Fortunately, the organizers of SXSW alleviate this conundrum, by allocating interview rooms close to the Convention Center. So this means that efficiency is the name of the game, and everyone’s happy.
The performers come to SXSW from around the globe, and for many of them, at their own personal expense.
For these modern day troubadours, it appears that ‘depending on the kindness of strangers’ for a bed is an absolute necessity. Indeed, a bed would be a luxury—many settle for floor space.
Despite the discomfort, these young--and they are mostly really young—musicians are happy, excited and open to the great adventure of SXSW.
I saw two pairs of artists from central Europe who bumped into each other in the Convention Center line. They became instant friends and were planning to spend the evening together. They were unrepresented by any agent or PR person, and I was so happy that they found each other.
For the third year in a row I interviewed Marianne Dissard, and I look forward to seeing her each year. Born in France, now living in Tucson, she writes very poignantly about some very personal subjects. Dissard is a dynamic and creative young woman who appears to be fearless. She travels around the world, often alone, and finds inspiration everywhere.
I guess the one thing that strikes me so intensely, is that these young people from enormously diverse cultures share such love of life and respect for each other. They are open to different points of view, not just open but embracing the difference between us.
The world will be just fine with our future generations as found at SXSW taking over the reins of power.
Finally a comment on the fashion scene--after all, SXSW now has a daily fashion show!
Last year, many young men were seen in pants so tight they appeared to have been sprayed on. This is not a good look for anyone, and most definitely, not for those with a few extra pounds.
This year the trend for females appeared to be non existent skirts, skirts so short accompanied by enormously high heels, the entire ensemble appeared painful to wear.
Micah Magee, originally from San Antonio, Texas, got started as a filmmaker relatively late in life, at age 19. “People nowadays start making films when they’re four with their phones,” she jokes.
One of her first projects as a UT-Austin student, shot on Hi8, was screened at South By Southwest years ago. Now based out of Germany, Magee is back at SXSW with “Heimkommen (Coming Home),” a story about two siblings dealing with grief and loss in very different ways.
Magee says she and her writing partner, Magdalena Grazewicz, “both had experiences of losing people... and not necessarily coping with it in a way that was appropriate.” They drew upon themselves for the character of Robert, who blames his younger sister for the death of his girlfriend, Jo.
“Filmmaking is a lot like writing, and it just happens to be how I write best,” Magee says. “Because you can use images, and feelings... in a direct way.”
To carry that across, Magee shot her short film “Heimkommen” in 35mm, rather than the digital format that is so popular among independent filmmakers these days. “I like the discipline of shooting on film,” she begins, adding that “because the film is about relationships between people, it was important for me to be able to have a long or short focus and be very specific about that.”
Magee plans to move back to San Antonio in 2012 and shoot her next film, a hybrid documentary and narrative, in the Alamo City.
“Heimkommen” screens on Monday, March 12 at 1:45pm (Alamo Drafthouse Lamar) and Wednesday, March 14 at 3:00 pm (Alamo Drafthouse Ritz) as part of the Narrative Shorts program at SXSW 2012.
You can hear my full interview with Micah Magee here: http://audio.tpr.org/sxsw12-micah.mp3
“I actually submitted two of my films,” he says. “I almost feel more proud of the other one [that didn’t get in], but showcasing this one definitely makes me feel happy.”
Villanueva says the film was largely improvised on the spot. Friends of his had written a mumbahton song that rhythmically repeats the word “hands.” Villanueva starting thinking about the word, and the way humans have opposable thumbs as opposed to, say…. a bear, or a wolf.
For the shoot, Villanueva brought along some fuzzy caps with animal designs, and the resulting comedic short is a man vs. beast story with an explosive finale.
“I kind of got the idea from lots of different interpretations of what it means to instantly connect with someone,” she says.
To add the sci-fi twist, Gaona says she was inspired by the movie “Minority Report.” She wanted to explore the idea of modernizing love, making it more mechanical and pre-destined.
Does Gaona believe in romanitic destiny herself? “I do believe that you can bond and make great relationships with multiple people,” she says. “But there’ll definitely be that one person that you make a better connection with above anyone else.”
“Burn Spark” screens on Saturday, March 10 and Sunday, March 17 as part of the Texas High School Shorts program at SXSW.
Hear Maqui Gaona and TPR's Nathan Cone in conversation here: http://audio.tpr.org/sxsw12-maqui.mp3
“The Lorax,” published 40 years ago, is the story of the Once-ler, who, in his haste to make a million, chops down all the Truffula trees that provided the material he needed to make his Thneeds, which seem to be a bit of a useless item that everyone needs. The Lorax Speaks for the Trees, and so he does in this movie adaptation, although he sounds a lot like Danny DeVito.
The movie opens not with the Once-ler or Lorax, but with a young teen, Ted, smitten with Audrey. So his desire to seek out the Once-ler is not driven by any need other than to impress the girl. The second act of the film is taken up by the Once-ler’s story. He was once an idealistic young man, and made a deal with the Lorax to leave the Truffula trees alone. But once the demand for Thneeds took off, you better believe that Once-ler didn’t think Twice-ler about clear-cutting the valley for material.
Right-wing pundits have are frothing at the mouth over “The Lorax,” claiming it’s brainwashing kids with an environmental message. I saw something else this time. If the Once-ler had been more careful about production by replanting and keeping some Truffula trees alive, he could have kept his Thneed business operational, instead of going bankrupt by wiping out the trees and leaving a smog-addled, sludge-filled wasteland behind. “The Lorax” is a parable against greed, not just an admonition to never cut down a tree.
But the real bad guy in the film “The Lorax” is the mayor of Thneedville, who also owns a business selling fresh air to the population (where did they get this idea, “Spaceballs?”). The mayor is mean, nasty, and cares not a whit for Truffula trees, seeds, or even the lives of love-struck teenagers.
“The Lorax” recycles (Ha! I made an environmental pun!) elements of “The Truman Show” and “WALL-E” into a needlessly busy movie. I did like the songs, by John Powell, and the 3D rendering is not overwrought. But it’s going to take a real visionary director to truly capture on screen the wonder and slightly dark edge that Seuss brings to the page.
No attempt is made to explain why Martha first left home in search of a new life; it’s hinted that her parents have died, and that she may have had problems with a boyfriend. But the nameless rural group that brings Martha into their fold does so with a tried and true technique. Young men and women of the cult shower new recruits with praise, build up expectations that the newbie is destined for greatness, and then pummel them with rape and physical abuse, then the threat of such, to keep them in line. What starts as an alternative lifestyle devolves into a worldview where intimacy and life is debased. The cult serves mainly to provide the male members with fresh young females to screw. Eventually, Marcy May begins to see the holes in cult leader Patrick’s philosophy, and she flees into the not-so-open arms of her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson).
Lucy and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy), take Martha in to stay with them in their spacious lake house. Having just liberated herself from a place where a handful of girls sleep half naked in a room while awaiting their turn to do dishes or service another member of the cult, Martha thinks nothing of stripping down starkers to go swimming, or walk in on Ted and Lucy as they're trying for a baby. She also berates her sister for their opulent lifestyle. Neither Lucy nor Ted know where Martha has been, and strangely, Martha's bizarre, obviously depressed and disturbed behavior annoys rather than concerns them.
This movie had my stomach in knots for most of its running time. It’s creepy, and disturbing in its depiction of how easy it is to take an impressionable youth and change them into a completely different person. It flashes back between the two halves of its narrative, disorienting the viewer. But I eventually got frustrated with Lucy and Ted, who seem so self-absorbed as to completely ignore the warning signs that there is something very, very wrong with Martha. In some ways, that makes the point that ol’ Patrick was making to little Marcy May when he told her again and again about how her family had let her down. That’s disturbing in itself.
Several scenes are underlit, and I had a hard time making out shapes and characters from time to time. And the film does not build upon itself enough to deserve the open-ended cut to black that closes the movie. But “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is certainly well-acted, especially by Elizabeth Olsen, who has to put herself through a ringer of emotions, all without devolving into parody. And John Hawkes, all sinewy and popping veins, is brilliant as cult leader Patrick. It’s a hard film to recommend, but for those that enjoy a glimpse of the darker side of human nature, there may be illumination here.
There is a certain type of horror movie fan that loves zombie movies. I recently saw the grand daddy of them all, “Night of the Living Dead,” so I was primed to see the new Ford brothers film “The Dead.” Zombies are a great metaphor for a number of the planet’s ills, like overpopulation, dependence on technology, or our own animal nature just waiting for a chance to wreak havoc.
“The Dead” has a different twist to the basic plot; the entire story takes place in Africa; Burkina Faso, West Africa, and Ghana to be exact. Using 35mm film, the texture and beauty of these desolate landscapes is a major character in the film. The script is minimal and we viewers are tossed in to a zombified landscape with no preparation. A plane loaded with American military personal and civilians takes off, but some on board are infected and in the struggle the plane crashes in the ocean. One man, Lt. Brian Murphy (Canadian actor Rob Freeman) makes it ashore. With his steely blue eyes and quiet determination this American looks the part of someone with the skills and brains to get through this hell on earth. Why Hell? As he crawls onto the beach the un-dead are staggering his way. These zombies have light grey eyes and like to feed on anything that is moving. With one narrow escape after another Murphy gets a light truck running and meets up with soldier Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Osei).
The two unlikely partners are trying to get to their families and that basic urge is what powers them through a bleak world with thin West Africans shambling on with dead eyes and an unceasing hunger for living flesh. This isn’t your average zombie flick; there is no humor that has become a part of the genre, at least in America. There is nothing to remind one of civilization, nothing but trees, brush and rock. Little conversation and a continent of enemies makes for a long 105 minutes, there is bloody zombie violence and some grisly close ups. Not for the faint of heart.
Host Organization: Friends of Landa Library
Date: Saturday, August 6
Time: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Venue: Landa Library
233 Bushnell, San Antonio, TX
Proceeds will benefit the Landa Library.
For more information: (210) 732-8369
Family Fun Day at the National Museum of the Pacific War
Host Organization: National Museum of the Pacific War
Date: Saturday, August 6
Time: 10:30 a.m.
Venue: National Museum of the Pacific War
340 East Main Street, Fredericksburg, TX
The event will feature activities planned for children to work on with their parents and all activities will incorporate a brief lesson. There will also be a scavenger hunt, bingo, and gardening. Pre-registration is suggested to ensure enough materials are on-hand for everyone to have their own items to take home.
For more information and to register: pacificwarmuseum.org or (830) 997-8600 extension 207
Host Organization: Schreiner University
Date: Saturday, August 6
Time: 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Venue: Hastings Books, Music & Video
Local author Robert Norris will be signing copies of his acclaimed new novel “The Barrett Solution”
For more information: schreiner.edu
High Hair & Jalapeños!—A Rip Snortin’ Texas Musical Comedy Review
Host Organization: High Hair & Jalapeños
Date: Saturday, August 6
Time: 8 p.m.
Venue: Cameo Theatre
1123 E. Commerce Street, San Antonio, TX 78205
The show is a zany musical revue that captures the tall tales and the high hair of infamous and famous Texans. Nothing is sacred in this satirically funny, fast-paced romp through Texas trivia and folklore with a special focus on San Antonio. The show runs through September 11.
For more information: (210) 212-5454 or highhairandjalapenos.com
For a complete listing of community events, visit the TPR Community Events Calendar at