Gemma Dempsey from the SXSW Film Fest

Written by

Austin rocks – and the music festival has only just begun!

I arrived @ midnight on Friday for my first SXSW Film festival experience and its been great – I’ve seen really good films, the vibe is relaxed and very sociable- allowing me to meet lots of the film making community , the local cinemas are terrific – especially the Alamo theatres & the Paramount where you can enjoy a beer and good food during the movie!! – and taxi drivers know where they are going! Sweet! Here is a brief run down of what i have seen so far…
Ain’t In It for My Health : A Film About Levon Helm – charming homage to the legendary artist , directed by Jacob Hatley – who met Levon when he was commissioned to direct a video for his CD ‘Dirt Farmer’ and ended up staying 2 years in his barn, filming the man up close and personal with all the positives and negatives such access allows. The camera acts as a friend at Levon’s table, and we see him deal with the challenges of throat cancer and the mixed emotions that simultaneous Grammy nominations for The Band and his first album in 25 years throw up, the joy of becoming a grandfather, enjoying music and recounting tales from the road with family and friends.

Lovers of Hate directed by Bryan Poyser – the first narrative film I have seen thus far, its a funny, sexy twisted menage a trois tale that takes place for the most part in a huge house in Park City Utah where Rudy, who is having a major life crisis (lack of work/ wife just kicked him out) goes to surprise his successful writer brother paul. only to find him witnessing a tryst of Paul with his estranged wife Diana. With its multi roomed location its reminiscent of a french farce but has greater depth and humanity at its core. Lead actors Chris Doubek is excellent – half of the film he is in hiding and his body language and face speak volumes – his co stars Alex Karpovsky and Heather Kafka balance this threesome to great effect. ‘Lovers of Hate is available on VOD now through June on IFC – I interviewed the director Bryan yesterday after I saw his film – you can see that on KCRW’s SXSW page or via Kyte.

American The Bill Hicks Story – I met the filmmakers for this – Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas at an ASCAP party on Sunday having seen posters for this documentary around town and saw the film yesterday and loved it. Being a Brit I was aware of Bill Hicks as he found greater popularity there than his homeland of the USA. Even if you are only vaguely aware of this comic genius, you should check this film out – its shot in an innovative way using animation to bring archival material to life with the voiceover and participation of Hicks’s close friends, fellow comics and family – the result is an intriguing view of the man who showed comedy could be a vehicle for political and cultural commentary – making many people laugh as well question the society we live in. Its also – as you would expect – very funny. Bill Hicks performed in Austin numerous times so it was great to see the movie here at SXSW (one of the first showings in North America) at the famed Paramount Theater – as well as have several members of Bill Hicks family in the audience.

Thunder Soul – great documentary by Mark Landsman about the reunion of the Houston’s Kashmere High School band to honour their great mentor, band leader, and composer, Conrad O Johnson. This strong, warm and passionate teacher brought the band into international fame, transforming them into excellent musicians and a superb funk band as well as imbuing them with a positive attitude that has stayed with them for all of their lives . LA based filmmaker Mark Landsman first heard of the story on NPR and went on to contact Conrad O Johnson, leading to a fascinating documentary about the history of the band , the political and musical landscape of the early 70’s in the US, and their recent reunion to show their respect for their great teacher. I also had the added thrill of seeing the reformed Kashmere Alumni School Band perform at the Austin Chronicle party at Zona Rosa after the documentary. You can see some of my footage from this show on Kyte.
This film and its fascinating subjects – Conrad O Johnson , his pupils and their evolution through music – is a true testament to the importance of the arts in education, the difference the dedication of one man can make to young adults, and the ultimate power of love.