March 15th, 2006


SXSW: Autumn's Eyes

My first film of the day was the documentary "Autumn's Eyes", a powerful look at poverty in Jersey City. It followed a very cute and bright four-year old girl, Autumn, whose mother is in jail pending a hearing on assault and theft charges. Autumn's guardian is Mama Rose, the diabetic matriarch of a large extended family. The documentary follows the family through jail visits, court hearings, and the trials of family life when you don't have very much. While there are some funny moments, the film works best when it's showing how many troubles this group faces. The Q&A after the film was enlightening, especially for how the filmmakers described their working relationship with the family, with whom they've become very close. They often had to balance when they should keep the cameras rolling to document the drama in the family's life and when they should provide assistance themselves. It really made me feel fortunate for my own position in society and it broke my heart seeing how disadvantaged some people are.

SXSW: Maxed Out

"Maxed Out" was my second documentary of the day and it was a real delight. It started as a project to document how our consumer culture drives people to spend beyond their means, but it turned into an expose of the shady business practices, intense lobbying, and ethical lapses of the American banking system and they ways they take advantage of people with poor money management skills or bad luck. Looking at how credit cards are marketed and issued, it profiles a lot of different segments of the consumer credit business, and puts forward the thesis that our behavior hasn't really changed, but the the banking industry has pushed to give more and more credit to people who can't handle it and are at major risk of defaulting. Once someone gets behind, it gets harder and harder to catch up, and the recent changes in banking laws means that the methods we've traditionally provided to give people a second chance through bankruptcy now are much less available. The filmmakers did a great job with a complex topic, including some great interview footage with two guys who run a collection agency and family members who've had relative that got so depressed from their credit card debt that they committed suicide.

In the Q&A after the film, I asked them what policy changes would help. The director provided two thoughts: reform bankruptcy to again make it a viable choice for people who've gone underwater in debt, and change the credit scoring system to actually base ones credit score on your capability to pay back debts, which would keep people from overextending themselves into risky situations.

SXSW: Closing Party for Film Fest

Sleater-Kinney on stageSXSW's Film Fest had it's closing night party this evening out at a former produce warehouse on east 6th. The night are was crisp and while there were lots of people, it didn't feel too crowded. The highlight of the party for me was a long performance by Portland, Oregon rockers Sleater-Kinney, one of my favorite rock bands. They went on stage about 10:30 and played for almost two hours, playing mostly tracks from their two most recent albums "The Woods" and "One Beat". The stage area was small and intimate with room for about ten rows of fans, but there was a video camera broadcasting close-ups of the band onto a screen in the other half of the party area. The sound was VERY loud; while out on the deck, it was a bit too bass heavy, but up close to the band it sounded great. I got to get up close for their performance of "Step Aside", standing just behind the BlogHer panelist Liz Henry. I also spotted indie film guru John Pierson and his wife Janet in the crowd enjoying the show. Other highlights include "Get Up", "One Beat", "Jumpers", "Entertain", and "The One", and the encore set ended with Corrine belting out a great cover of Glen Danzig's "Mother" which blended into a raucous "Dig Me Out".

I'm hoping someone posts a good audience recording of the set. It was a far more intimate show that the Variety Playhouse set I saw last June, and much more fun than last year's chilly SXSW showcase. Hopefully, I'll get to see a few more outstanding musical acts before SXSW is over on Sunday.

SXSW: A Scanner Darkly

The TBA film on this year's schedule was a almost final version of Linklater's "A Scanner Darkly". The visuals of the film were all locked, but in Matt Dentler's introduction, he said they were still working on the final sound mix, and the end credits were also incomplete.

I love this film. The animation, shown in HD at the Paramount, popped off the screen and kept surprising me with its inventiveness. Robert Downy and Woody Harrelson shine in secondary roles, and Keanu works as the main character. I was also glad to see local access TV host Alex Jones shocked by a cattle prod :) It is a Linklater film, so it does get a bit talky but it was always interesting. I also really liked the score work by Austin's Graham Reynolds (aka The Golden Arm Trio), and I noticed that Foleyvision maestro Buzz Moran did a lot of the sound design for the film.

I'll certainly be up for a repeat viewing when it is released this summer.

SXSW: Awesome, I Fu$*in' Shot That

The Beastie Boys are in the house. Their new concert film is the best music film I've seen since The Talking Head's film "Stop Making Sense". The Boys gave 50 fans Hi8 cameras during their Madison Square Garden show in New York, and then edited that footage into a masterpiece. Each song has it's own theme, with the team seeming to find a use for every filter in Final Cut Pro. The Beastie Boys also had a funny Q&A where the audience repeatedly praised then and offered them weed.