SXSWorld May-June 2016


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4 0 S X S W o r l d | M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 6 | S X S W. C O M n Texas, they'll tell you that everything is bigger, from the state's physical size to its hats, egos and even women's hairstyles. And to a large degree, the royal "they" are absolutely right. The cultural core of Texas is fiercely independent, ambitious and self- made. In Austin — especially around mid-March when South by Southwest takes over downtown — it's the ideas that are bigger. This year's crop of SXSW Film Award win- ners was rewarded for striking at the ideas that matter most and speaking to the spirit of a place where every- thing, even the adulation, is bigger. In the four major awards categories, the SXSW Jury and Audience groups chose three films, all of which speak to the spirit of SXSW's host city. TOWER, a documentary that director Keith Maitland made after raising $50,000 on the popular crowdfunding site IndieGoGo, was the winner of both the Documentary Grand Jury Award and the Documentary Audience Award. Blending animation and live-action footage, Maitland brings back to life the harrowing events of August 1, 1966, when 25 year-old engineering student Charles Whitman ascended the University of Texas Tower in Austin with six guns and opened fire on the campus square below, killing 14 people and injuring another 31. Setting aside the analysis of the "why" behind our nation's first mass school shooting, Maitland uses narration from subjects and roto- scoped animation to create an immersive re-enactment of the scene on the ground. The director (who also made the music doc A Song for You: The Austin City Limits Story, which premiered at SXSW 2016) spent nearly a decade tracking down and interviewing survivors of the event, all of whom provide detailed and vivid accounts of a day that, in many cases, still haunts them. Maitland's film is emblematic of the Texas ideals of big ambition, fierce independence and perseverance. It addresses an issue that is timely and relevant, striking at the very spirit of social consciousness in Austin. And while it continues its search for distribution on the wider festival trail, it will also continue to engage audiences with its gripping story and innovative method. Austin denizen Greg Kwedar's Narrative Audience Award winner, Transpecos, addresses a different, but equally relevant social issue. In telling the story of a trio of U.S. Border Patrol agents working along the Texas-Mexico border, Transpecos provides a perspective on immigration that includes an exploration of the f lawed, complicated humans that patrol these complicated regions. Its unf linching and tense story is reminiscent of the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple, aided in large part by three performances from Clifton Collins Jr., Gabriel Luna and newcomer Johnny Simmons. Kwedar's effort, which displays both his steady hand as a director and his aptitude as a storyteller (he co-wrote the film alongside Clint Bentley), was rewarded by SXSW audiences for its reverence for the moral ambiguity that exists on a remote border highway. The dark and twisted tale is amplified by the work of Houston-born cin- ematographer Jeffrey Waldron, whose panoramic imagery creates a sensation of beautiful isolation. Transpecos not only walked away from SXSW with an Audience Award but was also picked up for dis- tribution by Samuel Goldw yn Films, with a fall theatrical release in the works. With immigration and school shootings at the center of the first two award winners, it would make sense if the Narrative Grand Jury Winner also dealt with weighty themes. However, like the diverse and anomalous population of Austin's many neighborhoods, writer- director-editor Adam Pinney's The Arbalest adheres to its own set of rules. A pastiche of styles from the 1960s and '70s, Pinney's film is the kind of quirky, adventurous fare that likely gave the SXSW Jury visions of a younger and less refined Wes Anderson. With its atten- tion to the details of the era and a playful narrative, The Arbalest is the kind of off-kilter indie that you might expect from the cin- ematographer of the 2014 viral video, "Too Many Cooks." Pinney's previous work in shorts, and as a cinematographer for Joe Swanberg's 24 Exposures, comes to mind as his feature debut zips by with electric energy. The Arbalest tells the story of an inventor named Foster Kalt during two crucial times in his life, set a decade apart. Actor Mike Brune's performance encapsulates the duality of these very different moments — one involving Kalt's early life as an ambitious inventor, and the other showing him to be a more reclusive, enigmatic figure who is contemplating his many regrets. As these things usually do, much of the drama revolves around the girl who got away. While it's still searching for distribution, this seems like the kind of movie that will eventually find a home. And winning a major film festival award certainly never hurts. To see audiences and film festival juries in such agreement is a rare thing, but that's what we have in the winners of the 2016 SXSW Film Festival. With three very diverse offerings, this year's awards slate represents exactly what it means to be in an Austin state of mind. T For the full list of 2016 SXSW Film Award winners, visit Austin State of Mind Unites Film Award Winners by Neil Miller I TOWER d ire c to r Keit h M a itla n d M I K E W I N D L E / G E T T Y I M A G E S

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