We Ate A Lot of Brisket: Austin Film Festival Recap

Sunshine makes smile time.

Sunshine makes smile time.

When we were in the late stages of preproduction on The Videoblogs, Rebecca and I realized that we needed to get away. Any endeavor as large and as exhausting as the making of a film requires (in my opinion) that we (the endeavorers) pay a little added attention to self-care. I have learned that this involves not only sleep and a focus on general physical health but also making plans to relax (or it’s not going to happen).

This is necessary not only because it’s just true — but because no one wants to burn out or blow up at a crucial moment during whatever project it is that you’re working on. That sort of refutes the idea that it’s truly important to you. If it’s important, you have to respect the journey enough to know that the journey can’t continue or “end” if you don’t put your best self forward in the journeying.

So we completed some important late-stage tasks as best we could, and two weekends before our first shoot date we booked a last-minute overnight trip to Long Beach. We informed the rest of our team that we were going to be out of touch for two days and I even asked Rebecca to change my email password so I couldn’t work. She performed the task with glee.

It was an important reset. And when it was over we realized we were probably going to need another one after production. One evening, we discussed visiting Austin, since we had been wanting to visit for a while, and when I came home from work the next day there was a mailer from the 2014 Austin Film Festival waiting for us at home. We took that as a sign and booked some cheap airfare, a reasonably priced room on AirBnB, some film passes for the festival…and that was it. We finished shooting the film and just barely recovered in time (it takes a long time to recover from an indie shoot, especially if you have to get back to a day job when it’s over) to make the trip. We went with simple aims — to enjoy ourselves (in and around the city itself, as well as at the festival) and to milk our less-than-ample hill of “post-first-feature” cash to pay for coffee, bus passes and a meaty mess of delicious street truck grub.

Well, we just returned from our short stay in Austin for #AFF2014 — and I’m so glad we went. Here’s a recap of what we learned and experienced:

Sadly, the tiny train tracks did not lead to a tiny village full of tiny food trucks.

Sadly, the tiny train tracks did not lead to a tiny village full of tiny food trucks.

Austin is great. Coming from New York, we enjoyed being in a city and yet at the same time being able to quickly leave the busyness of downtown in order to swim, drink free beer (on Saturdays), linger outside at a coffee shop, etc. We can do this where we live in Brooklyn, but streets are obviously smaller and more densely packed. And it’s not 90 degrees and dry in October. I also liked that people weren’t scurrying everywhere all the time. Or complaining much. It felt good to move at a more human pace. People in Austin also wave and say “hello” and seem to mean it. It took me a while to get used to that.

Also, as Rebecca observed, it was nice to see so many generally fit people casually walking/biking/jogging/skating around in no particular hurry. Although we wondered how so many Austinites could remain fit with all the delicious food around. Speaking of which…

The food was as good as the girl is adorable.

“We ate a lot of brisket.” That’s a quote from Rebecca. We did indeed eat a lot of brisket. And a decent amount of pulled pork. And pulled chicken. And other forms of meat and sweets. The famed food trucks of Austin did not disappoint. My favorite spots we were able to hit up were Valentina’s (for tacos and BBQ sandwiches) and Lick, where I inhaled a cone of dark chocolate ice cream made with sea salt and olive oil and then strongly considered doing it again immediately. I wish we could have eaten more.

Woah. Thank you.

Team #VideoblogsFilm appreciated the opportunity to meet some of our supporters IN REAL LIFE.

Hugs, IRL. I made it a point ahead of time to try to make tentative meetup plans with a few special Twitter friends (and #VideoblogsFilm supporters!) who were also going to be at #AFF2014. In retrospect, I should have done this with even more people. Maybe next time. Happily, though, Team #VideoblogsFilm was able to finally meet Seed and Spark Super CEO Emily Best (along with S&S Community Manager Nicole Malek), as well as #VideoblogsFilm supporter (and writer) Jenni Prange Boran and #VideoblogsMonologue collaborator Asmara Bhattacharya. This felt special, given that our film is about moving from isolation to community — via reaching out through tech.

Something, Anything. This is a feature, Written and Directed by Paul Harrill, that we made a point to see at the festival. I was excited to discover that it was playing, since I used to frequent Paul’s website on DIY filmmaking years ago, and had also remembered seeing that the project had been selected for IFP’s Narrative Lab, which seems like a very cool program (and a necessary one). The synopsis of the film itself appealed to both of us:

When a tragedy shatters her plans for domestic bliss, a seemingly typical Southern newlywed gradually transforms into a spiritual seeker, quietly threatening the closest relationships around her.

The film didn’t disappoint. It was quietly observed, very well shot, and the performances were all great. More than that, I loved the quiet bravery of the story. It’s not a popular choice to make a small, quiet film about spirituality. Not in the face of a contemporary American cultural environment that more often eschews spirituality in favor of “easier fixes”. Without spoiling anything, it was also wonderful to see a film push against the equally incomplete notions that love can act as a replacement for belief in the self or that life direction is something that can or should be just “stepped into.” I don’t believe either of those things to be true — not now — and it was heartening to watch a story unfold that made me feel less alone in these terms.

I will be reminding everyone again in a few months, but Something, Anything will be opening theatrically in NYC in January. See it then, if you can, or find out how to watch it in whatever other ways it becomes available.

Animation is hugely admirable. Another highlight of our #AFF2014 experience was the Animated Shorts Program. I don’t have much more to say than that. Rebecca and I both were just blown away by how good, and how inventive, and how flawless the animated shorts were — and we tip our hats to the filmmakers and filmmaking teams who make the choice (if it is a choice) to go down that difficult path.

Something that bothered me, though, about the shorts that we saw…was that a lot of them originated from outside the US. That in itself doesn’t bother me, and I don’t mean to suggest that the berths weren’t deserved or that the filmmakers who were accepted to screen shouldn’t be commended (we enjoyed all the films) — but many of the projects seem to have been supported by the governments of their countries of origin. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about (it’s a small sample size, I know), but it made me wonder how much more difficult it must be to create complex animated work independently here in the US, where artists don’t seem to get the sort of institutional support that other countries offer. I’d be interested to hear what others think. Still — the animated shorts slate was full of admirable work that made me feel like a bit of a slacker.

Women in film are arriving. All the Twitter friends Team #VideoblogsFilm met at #AFF2014 were women. The protagonist of Something, Anything (the excellent Ashley Shelton) was a woman. Many of the Writer/Directors of the animated short we saw — women again.

I am well-aware of the problem of equal representation in our industry. But the sense I get, at least from what I have observed in my career to this point — is that change is coming — from the ground up. Maybe that’s not perfect and maybe we still have a long way to go but I don’t think this is an incorrect observation. And it’s good news.

And that’s it. It was great to get away for a few days to relax and recharge. And now, to follow-up on what Rebecca reports below…it’s time to get back to work.

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