Vote for Kinky (the film)!

Witness Kinky’s excellently documented adventure at this year’s South by Southwest festival.

Every March in Austin, the South by Southwest festival rolls out another hundred-plus films and what seems to be a thousand bands from almost as many countries. This weekend highlights film and the interactive world. You can spot the out-of-town independent filmmakers, walking in the vicinity of the Convention Center and along Sixth Street, often dressed entirely in black, looking starved for attention, if not food.

My secret to successfully navigating SXSW’s slew of unfamiliar film titles is to go straight to the documentaries. They′re generally stronger films. Sure, Austin film got on the map with Rick Linklater′s Slacker. The fact that he and Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge, as their careers skyrocketed, have continued to live and make films here kept Austin relevant. In the past few years, though, a younger generation of Texans and Texas transplants have been making their marks in documentary. Margaret Brown′s lovely Townes Van Zandt tribute ( Be Here to Love Me ), Laura Dunn′s Sundance-premiered meditation on Barton Springs ( The Unforeseen ) and PJ Raval′s camera work on the Oscar-nominated Trouble the Water top that list. This year′s SXSW is highlighting even more fine work by a new generation of Austin documentarians.

What′s not to like when you′ve got subjects like the hunt to find the Winnebago Man, the viral video star known on the Internet as “the world's angriest man″ (Ben Steinbauer′s Winnebago Man ). Or a beautifully made self-portrait of an adopted single mom reconnecting with her own biological mother (Karen Skloss′s Sunshine). How about a year in the life of four students at the Texas School for the Blind (Keith Maitland′s The Eyes of Me ), or a visit to the Oklahoma State Prison′s annual rodeo (Bradley Beesley′s Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo ), or, finally, a family′s journey across Mongolia on horseback to find answers to their son′s autism, a film that premiered to acclaim at this year′s Sundance Festival (Michel Orion Scott′s Over the Hills and Far Away ). Trust me, these are wonderful films.

For readers of Texas Monthly and their fellow political junkies, though, the top of the ballot has to go to the world premiere of David Hartstein′s Along Came Kinky… Texas Jewboy for Governor . Okay, Kinky is definitely a more successful columnist than he was a gubernatorial candidate. But given the choices in 2006, can anyone blame Texans for their collective lack of excitement back then? The surprise in Hartstein′s film is that the story of the man in black, and especially his supporters, is funny, entertaining, full of passion (misplaced or otherwise), and even poignant at the end. In some ways, the film′s portrayal of the enthusiasm of voters looking for something new and hoping for a change even throws forward to 2008, when that desire propelled an African American, four years out of the Illinois State Senate, into the White House.

Maybe Rick versus Kay in 2010 will really turn out to be a compelling contest, but until then, for a dose of the political surreal, I'll be standing in line to relive Kinky′s excellently documented adventure.

Paul Stekler is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and professor at the University of Texas. He is currently working on a film about Texas politics.

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