Around the State

March 2007By Comments


AFI Dallas International Film Festival


SO THAT BIG-BUDGET DALLAS movie may not actually be filmed anywhere near Dallas. But frankly, who cares? The city can now claim a new image booster: the inaugural AFI Dallas International Film Festival. With a goal to screen 150 features and shorts over eleven days at some of the city’s most beloved art houses—the Angelika Film Centre, the Landmark Magnolia Theatre—it’s tongue-waggingly ambitious for a rookie industry gathering. South by Southwest, move aside.

Now, if it’s good, a festival of this size and moxie can change the annual travel plans of cinephiles worldwide. And this one just may have the pedigree to pull it off. Founded by Michael Cain (he of the now-defunct Deep Ellum Film Festival) and advertising mogul Liener Temerlin (he with ties to AFI, that is, the American Film Institute), AFI Dallas certainly has unparalleled funds and friends in high places. Todd Wagner, Ray Nasher, Jack Valenti, and Ross Perot Jr. are honorary board members, and Target will be doling out $25,000 to those filmmakers who submit the best narrative film and documentary (Mark Cuban’s HDNet will also be awarding a cash prize to the director with the best high-definition entry).

As for the more glamorous kind of star power, there’ll be that too, with screen legend Lauren Bacall and director Sydney Pollack in attendance. Gregory Peck’s family will be on hand to accept a tribute to the late actor following a forty-fifth-anniversary screening of To Kill a Mockingbird, and a viewing of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 silent film The Ten Commandments will show with live accompaniment by the Dallas Symphony. With glitzy parties and red-carpet schmoozing, it’s all very classic Hollywood. But not in an exclusive way, mind you: In fact, organizers are pushing a deliberately non-elitist Leave No Viewer Behind agenda. From low-to-no-budget indies and starlet-driven pictures to avant-garde art flicks and Shrek-like family offerings, there’s something here for everybody.

So will Robert Redford be fueling up his private jet to come see what all the fuss is about? Well, not yet. Industry insiders sizing up the festival newcomer have been cautious in their opinions, if not downright cynical. AFI Dallas’s greatest strength—all-inclusive, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink programming—may also turn out to be its greatest weakness. Then there’s the respect factor: If it’s unfocused, poorly curated, and not picky enough, the silver-screen cognoscenti will never take it seriously. The most passionate criticism, however, is that it will cannibalize the city’s other fests, in particular the USA Film Festival, which follows in April. Insert “soulless” and “corporate” slurs here.

Still, it’ll be a debut to watch. When was the last time so many filmmakers descended upon Dallas, of all places? Given the Capitol’s recent push for film incentives and Texas’s obsession with being a moviemaking hotbed, we’ll certainly be paying attention: Will this become just another run-of-the-mill city festival? Or will we be mentioning Dallas right up there with Sundance and Cannes? The last time we were this curious we were puzzling over who shot J.R. Mar 22-Apr 1. Various locations, 214-720-0555,

Up, Up, and Away

Austin, Portland

A kite can be many things: a relaxing diversion, a scientific tool, or a work of art. But mostly it’s a sign that winter has finally given way to spring. Never mind that in most parts of Texas it’s warm enough to go kite-flying year-round; the wind’s the thing, and often it’s not sufficiently blustery (5- to 12-mile-an-hour breezes are ideal) until March. Besides, crafting your own delicate paper diamond—or perhaps an asymmetric sail of indestructible ripstop nylon—and learning to keep it aloft are essential endeavors on life’s to-do list. In Austin, enthusiasts will be out en masse for the annual Zilker Park Kite Festival. Ever since it started, in 1928, hundreds have been trekking to the grassy field to test out their fliers (you can make your own at the free workshop) and compete for prizes (accolades go to the most unusual, smallest, and largest homemade entries as well as the ones that fly the steadiest and at the highest angle). With professional kite teams performing acrobatic tricks in the air, an epidemic of neck cricks will surely break out, but keep your eyes peeled for kite-propelled buggies and skateboards as they zip along the ground. If you prefer a state fair-like atmosphere, you can sate your kite appetite at Portland’s four-day Windfest, which also boasts such non-wind-related activities as a carnival, a parade, and a fireworks display. But back to the kites: You can man your own or watch the pros compete in the Kite Surfing Wind Jam out in the Gulf, which awards prizes for the fastest run, coolest stunt, and best wipeout. The humble kite has certainly come a long way. Zilker Park Kite Festival: Mar 4 (rain day Mar 11). 2100 Barton Springs, Austin; 512-448-5483; Windfest: Mar 29-Apr 1. Portland Community Center, 2000 Billy G. Webb Dr, Portland; 877-643-2475;

The Beat Is On


That which is forbidden often brings about great art. For the Amazones Women Master Drummers and Dance Company of Guinea, that which was once culturally taboo—the playing of the djembe, a goatskin-covered drum traditionally handled only by men—is now their triumph. Nearly a decade ago, Amazones director Mamoudou Conde boldly created a “sister” troupe for his djembefolas, or master drummers. His impetus? Merely to “change the world,” as he told an interviewer last year. Today the female percussionists, some of whom risked rejection by their families, tour the globe and are treated like superstars back home. They’ll be performing this month as part of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters’ Weekend Festival of Black Dance, which will also showcase the local Cure Ballet Theatre and the Stella Maris Jamaican Dance Company. Luckily for young girls in Guinea, and for audiences worldwide, these brave musicians have bucked tradition and dared to fill the air with the djembe’s ancestral rhythms. Mar 16 & 17. Naomi Bruton Main Stage, 650 S. Griffin; 214-743-2400;

Courtroom Drama


If you want to see a Broadway show before it reaches its expiration date—and with a first-string cast, to boot—there’s often little recourse other than to book a flight to the Big Apple. Luckily for those with aviophobia (and those simply averse to running up their credit card bill), there’s been a recent rash of superlative traveling shows. And there’s not a Cats or a Phantom of the Opera among them. One example of these sober dramas—“straight plays” in industry lingo—is “Twelve Angry Men,” which stops this month in Dallas (it played in Houston in February). If you’ve seen the 1957 Sidney Lumet movie of the same name then you know the plot is hardly lighthearted. A dozen white male jurors sit in a jury room deliberating whether a young man should be convicted of killing his father. The lone doubter—juror number eight, played here by Richard Thomas (a.k.a. John-Boy Walton)—forces the group, led by George Wendt (Norm from Cheers) as the foreman, to deliberate the facts of the case. As arguments spring up, so too do the men’s prejudices and preconceptions. With no intermission, no costume changes, and a single setting, Twelve Angry Men is a complex drama delivered simply. Through Mar 4. Majestic Theatre, 1925 Elm; 214-880-0137;

High Notes

Galveston, Fort Worth

If March comes in like a lion, so too does baritone Samuel Ramey, one of the most recorded bass singers in history, whose signature role is Faust’s Mephistopheles. Joining him onstage at Galveston’s Grand 1894 Opera House will be mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade as the lamb to Ramey’s king of the jungle, though there’s certainly nothing meek about her stage presence. “Flicka,” as she’s known to friends and fans, will make audiences swoon with her unmatched bel canto style and her command of the French repertoire. Here the duo will show their versatility as they present traditional operatic compositions as well as Broadway scores, the highlights of which will be Ramey’s rendition of Mitch Leigh’s “Impossible Dream,” von Stade’s interpretation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns,” and their whimsical duet of Aaron Copland’s “I Bought Me a Cat.” Just three days later, soprano extraordinaire Renée Fleming will lend her famous voice to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s grand gala concert, held at the Bass Performance Hall. The annual black-tie event—essentially a see-and-be-seen party for the FWSO’s generous benefactors, though it is open to all—always imbues Cowtown with a shot of glamour. After indulging in the duets of Ramey and von Stade and getting swept away by Fleming’s arias, the rest of the month will seem quite lackluster by comparison. Mar 3: 2020 Postoffice, Galveston; 800-821-1894; Mar 6: 4th & Calhoun, Fort Worth; 817-665-6000;

Reeling ’Em In

Del Rio

If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. But if you advise him to move to Lake Amistad, he’ll be indebted to you for a lifetime. This West Texas lake—which forms at the confluence of the Pecos, Devils, and Rio Grande rivers—lures pro anglers with its abundance of largemouth bass. Enticed by the success of last year’s inaugural Citgo Bassmaster Elite Series, the sport’s top names are not only returning to this month’s Battle on the Border, which kicks off the series’ season, but are also buying up land in Del Rio. (Ladies, you might be interested to know that former Bachelor star and Elite Series angler Byron Velvick has put down stakes.) Last year’s winner, Ishama Monroe, pulled in a nearly record-breaking four-day total of 104 pounds and 8 ounces, and the average bass caught weighed just over 3.75 pounds. Pros are predicting that even bigger bass will be caught in this month’s competition. The curious public can head over to the daily weigh-ins, which begin at three o’clock, to see for themselves the big ones that didn’t get away. Mar 8-11. Diablo East Marina: From Del Rio take U.S. 90W for 12 miles to Amistad National Recreation Area; 877-227-7827;

Play Station


The South by Southwest Interactive Festival—which broke off from the SXSW Film and Multimedia Conference in 1995 to become its own entity—has a long list of digital-era celebs lined up for panels, presentations, and speeches this month. Non-geeks will at least recognize Dan Rather, who is scheduled to give a keynote speech about emerging technology and its effect on the news, no doubt inspired by his new show on Mark Cuban’s HDNet cable channel. Also appearing is industry legend Will Wright, the creator of the best-selling video game the Sims, who is likely to mention his next endeavor, the highly anticipated Spore. Also whipping those gamers into a frenzy will be the second installment of ScreenBurn, a smaller festival-within-a-festival focused on the gaming industry. On March 10 and 11 the first floor of the Austin Convention Center will be transformed into a giant game room, called the ScreenBurn Arcade, featuring tournaments that are free and open to the public. And who knows—you might have to fight Dan Rather for the Wii game controller. Mar 9-13.Various locations, 512-467-7979,

Funny Girls

Crockett, Richardson

The premise is familiar: A team of red-state comedians, each occupying his own particular niche on the redneck spectrum, plays to sold-out crowds across the country. With distinct but equally uproarious acts, they taketurns two-stepping with the audience before convening for a no-holds-barred group session. It sounds like the usual suspects—those mischievous men of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour—but it’s not. Move over, Jeff Foxworthy. Go back to the bar, Ron White. It’s the Southern Fried Chicks’ turn in the hick-humor spotlight. Leanne Morgan, Karen Mills, and headliner Etta May aren’t household names—yet—but with strong tour sales and stronger personalities, they could end up giving the good ol’ boys a run for their straight-to-DVD money. Their shtick—every comedian has one, you know; Bill Engvall’s “Here’s your sign” bit springs to mind—is that they each represent a different kind of Southern woman: Morgan is a suburban soccer mom with Scarlett O’Hara tendencies and three young’uns. Mills, a former mortgage broker who loves sushi, therapy, and Oprah, represents the “new,” presumably enlightened South. And May, well, she could be Larry the Cable Guy’s trailer-trash granny, or as she describes herself, “Minnie Pearl with a migraine.” But don’t let their personas fool you: These women are professional comics with industry cred (May was named Stand-Up Comic of the Year at the prestigious American Comedy Awards) and well-honed routines that go beyond man bashing and PMS jokes. And rumor has it that J. P. Williams, the producer of that other successful comedy tour, has approached the Chicks about a television option. Stay tuned. Mar 10: Crockett Civic Center, 1100 Edmiston Dr, Crockett; 936-544-4276; Mar 13-18: Eisemann Center for Performing Arts, 2351 Performance Dr, Richardson; 972-744-4650;

Herd Mentality


About three thousand people turn out every year for the annual Elgoatarod, loosely inspired by the Alaskan Iditarod but with goats instead of dogs and kids piloting carts instead of burly mushers guiding sleds. Founder Jim Runge’s rundown of the weekend’s festivities is so hilarious that we’ll let him do the honors: “There are about a dozen goats in the Elgoatarod, and there’s a race every hour. We’ve got several different carts—one’s like a spaceship, one’s like a chariot, one’s like a covered wagon—that the kids ride in. Sometimes the goats lay down on the job, so it’s hard to name a winner, but I just give all the kids a prize. There’s also a goat look-alike contest, a best-dressed-goat contest, and a goat pill-flipping contest [think cow-patty tossing]. Sometimes there’s a goat-milking contest if we have a goat that’s got some milk. Last year we started an April Fool’s Day parade, and there was a twelve-year-old girl dressed up like Dolly Parton who had a spray-painted goat; she called her entry the Goat of Many Colors That My Mama Sprayed for Me. But our most popular event is the goat-kissing contest. The judging is subjective; the winner is the person who puts on the best show.” Mar 31 & Apr 1. Schleicher County Courthouse, U.S. 190 & 277; 325-853-3678

Outside the Box


When is a piece of cardboard more than just a piece of cardboard? When it has been handled by a master artist, or so proves “Robert Rauschenberg: Cardboards and Related Pieces,” now on view at the Menil Collection. The Port Arthur native has always favored humble objects, elevating everything from bedding and tires to stuffed roosters into masterpieces. But whereas his just-bursting-onto-the-scene Combine Series of the late fifties was highly stylized (see Monogram, with its Angora goat wearing a rubber tire like a belt), his later art comes across as an attempt to show he could reel himself in. Discarded cardboard, it seems, was suitably plebeian, and Rauschenberg finished his first such pieces—little more than flattened boxes with some rope here or string there—in the early seventies. As the decade progressed, so did his original concept, though he continued to eschew embellishment, letting the surface adulterations (staples, tears, dirt smudges, odd bits of tape) act as historical markers. But as a walk-through of this exhibit makes evident, there is more than one way to hang a box on the wall; take, for instance, Rauschenberg’s Cardbirds Series, which employs silk screen on cardboard for a faux-cardboard effect (who said art has to make sense?) or his Egyptian Series, which incorporates sand, paint, and graphite. It’s bound to hit the viewer that he’s spending considerable contemplation on nothing more than cardboard boxes artfully arranged. But perhaps this realization, this blurring of the highly regarded and the throwaway, was Rauschenberg’s intention all along. Through May 13. 1515 Sul Ross, 713-525-9400,

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