2010 South By Southwest Film Festival

The South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas is consistently one of my favorite times of year. This year marked my fourth anniversary attending the festival and, with two films world-premiering (EARTHLING & AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK) and another screening (LOVERS OF HATE, which premiered at Sundance), I was certainly a busy bee! SXSW was jam packed with film industry folks, celebrities, distributors, press and publicity, festival programmers and movie lovers from all over the world. Unfortunately, as much as I love selling out screenings, people were turned away in droves―one issue, I believe, SXSW is remedying next year. As swamped as I was with my own films, I did have a limited opportunity to catch some other people’s films, along with sitting in on a few panels and attending as many parties and film-related events as I could.

The Houston area, in particular, was on the scene in Austin this year with its own party, featuring an appearance by former Houston mayor Bill White, celebrating Houston at SXSW. Several films at the festival were shot in the area and/or documented all things Houstonian; one of those films, FOR THE SAKE OF THE SONG: THE STORY OF ANDERSON FAIR, I actually caught a few days before SXSW, when I happened upon an invitation to a cast and crew screening. As the title suggests, the film documents legendary hippy folk music venue, Anderson Fair. With heartfelt testaments and rare footage from true troubadours like Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen, Townes Van Zandt and especially Lyle Lovett―who’s extensively interviewed―the film unfolds a story about an eccentric place where volunteers and performers were paid in spaghetti and the music was all that mattered.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Belgium, the town of MARWENCOL is busy drinking and dancing and fighting off Nazis. Made from 12” G.I. Joe figures and catfighting Barbie Dolls, the inhabitants of MARWENCOL, are mostly all named for real people who’ve interacted with their creator, Mark Hogancamp. Having suffered from brain damage and amnesia after a viscous assault, Hogancamp, in a bout of self-therapy, spends the vast majority of his time building his town, setting scenes, and coping with the horror he knows happened but can’t recall. Not only has Hogancamp built this town in his backyard, but he’s got thousands and thousands of amazing photographs and detailed stories to go with them. The intricate stories set him apart from other hobbyists and toy photographers, but what’s most interesting is that he’s doing all of this while investigating who he was in the past and discovering who he is now.

Other discoveries made at SXSW was painterly shot short doc, SELTZER WORKS, featuring the last bottler in Brooklyn discussing the finer points of bottling seltzer and why it’s a dying trade―women in the workforce, old folks retiring to Florida, one-liter bottles at supermarkets; super bizarre psychedelic trip, ENTER THE VOID, which takes several turns for the weird, culminating in the rebirth of the lead via his sister; and KICK ASS―probably one of the most intense, adrenaline-packed cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. But most appealing were the short festival bumpers―SXSW is notorious for having some of the best on the circuit―which preceded every screening. David Lowery (ST. NICK) was given the prestigious honor of creating four of the five this year. Each “handmade“ piece presents an idea that film, as we know is, is changing―the way films are made and the way films are presented. Most disturbing was a piece where a filmmaker’s head suddenly bursts into flames.

As far as my own films are concerned, we had a great turnout for all of them and most of the screenings were completely sold out. According to io9, EARTHLING is “destined for cult status” and Karina Longworth, film editor for the LA Weekly, writes, “Unjustly underbuzzed was AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK”―perhaps we should have hired a publicist after all! LOVERS OF HATE, which the New York Times called “viciously amusing,” was the feature of an NPR broadcast and became available on IFC On Demand concurrent with the festival. Each of the films has a long festival road ahead and LOVERS OF HATE will go theatrical later this year. Additionally, Lowery, my producing partner James M. Johnston, and I, met with our distributor for ST. NICK. We’re currently preparing deliverables in an effort to get the film out on DVD by the end of the year. A limited theatrical release is also in negotiations. Next up for me is the Dallas International Film Festival, taking place the second week of April; EARTHLING and LOVERS OF HATE will be screening and we’ll be announcing another project as well.

The year’s been great so far, dear readers; and I’m certain it will only get better. To prove this point, I’ll ask that you keep up with my endeavors, not only in The SCENE Magazine, but also on my website at www.adamdonaghey.com. And add me on Facebook; but when you do, mention The SCENE!

***Originally published in the April 2010 edition of The SCENE Magazine***

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SXSW Gets All Existential with AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK and EARTHLING

As a film producer, I’m constantly focusing on choosing the right productions to get involved with and for the right reasons. Interested in quality projects that are philosophically viable, it is no surprise that the following two films―both of which will premiere at the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival―explore the inherent existential obstacles all of us face at introspective times of self-reflection. In two very different ways.

AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK, written and directed by Frank V. Ross, is a comedy dealing with the existential plights of everyday working people from a practical, real-world basis. Written from the vantage point of a guy who’s caught in the middle of this lifestyle―Frank’s waited tables for ten years now―the film realistically depicts a purchaser, Ron Hogan, who’s stuck in the monotonous nine-to-five routine―and he’s ready to snap.

Coming to terms with one’s self while struggling to make ends meet is a desperate and oftentimes quiet, personal conflict. Dealing with this struggle in a purely psychological manner, Frank doesn’t take the easy way out and resort to the old working-guy-goes-postal routine. Instead, we find ourselves caught up in Ron’s workaday life and we find him coming to terms with the fact that he might be trapped in his own mundane existence. His rage rests inside his head, beating on the inner walls of his skull. But the ultimate travesty is not that Ron manifests this rage; it’s that he suppresses it. His only out may be to find another working stiff, Stacy, who shares his lonely sentiments.

Financing this film in its entirety on a dare, I quickly found that people just flock to help out Frank. He’s a no nonsense, likable guy who will do anything to get his movies made. And I was lucky enough to be approached with the project. Somehow he managed to get acclaimed jazz musician, John Medeski, to score the film. And the process was truly unique. They’d just sit around and watch the movie and John would play something and Frank would jump up and down and clap when he heard something he liked.

AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK stars Anthony Baker as Ron Hogan―he’s been in all five of Frank’s films. Playing opposite Anthony is Danny Rhodes, Ron’s roommate, Scott. Stacy is played by Alexi Wasser, who’s built quite a following from her “Boy Crazy” shorts series. The film features cameos from Rebecca Spence (GRACE IS GONE, PUBLIC ENEMIES), Jess Weixler (TEETH, ALEXANDER THE LAST), Joe Swanberg (HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS, ALEXANDER THE LAST), and Nick Offerman (SIN CITY, “PARKS AND RECREATION”).


Is there meaning in life or is the search for meaning fruitless and will therefore ultimately fail? Is this search merely motivated by the dreadful notion that life is absurd and nonsensical? Anxiety and despair have fueled philosophers with such questions for ages. Billed as a lo-fi sci-fi fable, EARTHLING, written and directed by Clay Liford, physically manifests these questions and focuses on alienation. What would happen if you woke up one day and found an intense disconnect with society and the world around you? Less interested in typical science fiction plot lines, EARTHLING is more of a portrait―a character study―of one person who finds that she’s literally living the life of a different person.

Judith is a high-school teacher in the midst of a personal crisis. She’s unable to conceive and it’s creating personal strife and a separation between herself and her husband. Meanwhile, a crew aboard an orbital space station discover a strange object―perhaps a living seed?―which, upon contact with one of the crew members, sends out an electrical pulse that results in a global brownout on Earth. Judith is immediately plagued with haunted dreams of this astronaut and is eventually found by a small group of other people having similar dreams. Refusing to rely solely on what these people are telling her, Judith takes matters into her own hands. While investigating who she is and where she might come from, Judith discovers that she indeed must make a choice: continue living in her false state of existence, or find a way back home. Those sharing her unique predicament have already made up their minds and they intend to force Judith to make the same choice.

Utilizing a minimal budget, I was amazed that we pulled off all the special effects―both practical and computer generated. Choosing what to show and what not to show were the secret to our success. The imagination works wonders when the artist chooses to tease the audience with subtle imagery, rather than explicitly bombard them. It’s interesting how primitive and natural the film appears at most moments; yet it’s juxtaposed with a fantastic, almost magical, storyline.

EARTHLING stars Rebecca Spence as the film’s protagonist, who I met on the set of AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK six months prior to principle photography on EARTHLING. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but for some reason I kept imagining her as Judith while reading the script. I brought this to the attention of Clay and he immediately saw her as the lead. Her husband is played by Chris Doubek, who I met on the set of LOVERS OF HATE. Up-and-comer, and Austin native, Amelia Turner, plays opposite Judith. Her odd, playful manner lightens the overwhelmingly serious nature of the film (that is, until she has an existential breakdown). Matt Socia plays the astronaut who encounters the seed pod and Jennifer Sipes plays his sister. Thanks to some of our other producers, we were able to land Peter Greene (PULP FICTION, THE MASK, THE USUAL SUSPECTS) and William Katt (“THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO,” HOUSE) in two crucial roles. Savanna Sears, who played the little girl in ST. NICK, even got in on the action, playing a creepy, pregnant little girl.

EARTHLING will beam up to a theatre near you (if you’re in Austin) at the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival at the following dates, times and venues:

More info at http://www.everythingcomesfromthewater.com

Don’t get in a train wreck on your way to AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK at the following dates, times and venues:

More info at http://www.audreythetrainwreck.com

Originally published in The SCENE Magazine – March 2010