An Austinite’s short about smoking lights up the Sundance Film Festival
FOR THE PAST THREE YEARS, George Langworthy has worked at the Sundance Film Festival, providing six hours of labor daily in exchange for free movie passes, a place to sleep, and a small stipend. At the 1997 festival, however, the Austinite’s participation was slightly more direct: His own effort as a filmmaker, Breezeway, was 1 of 55 shorts chosen from 1,300 contenders to play the prestigious Park City, Utah, festival. Quite an accomplishment, though that and seven bucks will get you an overpriced triple latte—which is to say that Langworthy still worked as a glorified usher this year. Just because he made a movie doesn’t mean he can afford chic Park City.
A neurotic deconstruction of the comic horrors of nicotine addiction, Breezeway stars, among others, musician Don Walser and actor Joe Stevens. It was one of three Texas films at the festival; the others were Native American documentarian Paige Martinez’s Words of Our Ancients and Richard Linklater’s Suburbia. Linklater made his name by showing Slacker at Sundance in 1991; Langworthy hopes the festival will help kick off his career as well. “Breezeway was a gamble,” he says. “It cost $15,000 to make, which is very expensive, but the point was to make a really great short and then try to get somebody to give me money to make a feature.” This model for Sundance success is not without precedent, even in Texas: A nascent version of the independent hit Bottle Rocket played there in 1992.
Breezeway is Langworthy’s second turn behind the camera; PBS aired his first, Skeletons, a short he completed while earning a master’s degree from the Texas Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin (his undergraduate degree is from Rice University). In 1992 he turned down a job on Robert Altman’s Shortcuts so that he could focus on his own work—a choice of a sort that he had to make again last fall when he passed up work on a feature shooting in Austin to finish Breezeway after Sundance accepted it on the basis of an incomplete video edit. “I really liked the regional feel,” festival programmer John Cooper says of the film, which was shot entirely on location in Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood. “We’re always looking for something different, and this felt like it wasn’t in New York or California.”
The film business, however, is still in California, and while the likes of Linklater and Robert Rodriguez have earned the right to hang their shingles in Texas, Langworthy isn’t there yet. Sundance was simply the first step in what will be a lengthy schmooze. Though Sundance business is generally conducted at screenings, parties, and restaurants, Langworthy found that his volunteer gig provided the best perch he could ask for. “You have to be more aggressive with a short,” he says. “In the theater I’ve met more development people than at parties, because they come in and say, ‘I’m with Disney. We need to rope off ten seats,’ and I say, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s no problem,’ and then I say, ‘I have a short playing here. Remember my name. I want to show you a script.’”