Tim League, the owner of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain in Austin, has seen thousands of films. So when one keeps him up at night, like The Act of Killing, it is quite an endorsement (and likely behind the reason he is distributing it through his Drafthouse Films). The genre-busting documentary, co-directed by the Texas-born Joshua Oppenheimer with Werner Herzog and Errol Morris as executive producers, reenacts in surreal fashion the death squads in Indonesia in the sixties. “It likes to juxtapose these really humorous, crazy moments with a punch in the face, so it leaves you a little bit emotionally raw,” League said. “It’s a masterful manipulation of the audience.” The film, which 14 Pews will screen this week, has been nominated for best documentary, but even if the Academy Award goes elsewhere, The Act of Killing has already won in one sense: it is putting pressure on the Indonesian government to recognize this genocide. If the movie does receive an Oscar, the stage will be absent a co-director who, along with the many other Indonesians who worked on the film, masked his identity for fear of reprisal. “It’s kind of a spooky ending,” League said, “watching the credits roll, and it’s just, ‘Anonymous, Anonymous, Anonymous.’”
14 Pews, February 1–2 and 4–6, 14pews.org
Bowie Sound Painting
From the release of his album Space Oddity in 1969 to Low in 1977, David Bowie was a chameleon, inhabiting the characters Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke while jumping among psych pop, glam rock, funk, and soul in his rise to stardom. “The Bowie Project,” a hybrid performance melding dance, theater, and a live rock concert, will span this period, going backward in time from Low to make a statement about identity. “We’re trying to tell David Bowie’s story,” said Andrea Ariel, who choreographed the production, which features the Strike Anywhere performance ensemble and the Austin-based David Bowie cover band Super Creeps. “Where he came from, his fear of becoming insane, how does that connect with his past and his changing personas?” Through a method called sound painting, a sign language that draws from more than a thousand signs for communicating with the various performers to compose a piece in real time, Ariel and two other “conductors” will “sculpt” the show. This leaves a lot of room for improvisation, and no two shows will be exactly alike.
Stateside at the Paramount, January 31–February 2, arieldance.org
An I.F.O. Festival
For fun in Laredo, sometimes all anyone has to do is look at the sky. The area is known for its flying saucer sightings, explored during the annual Laredo U.F.O. Conference, but it is also known for its identifiable flying objects, as in the local and migratory avian life that will soar at the Laredo Birding Festival beginning next week. Birders can choose from a variety of daylong scenic trips designed for spotting scaled quails, gray hawks, and green parakeets, among others. Laredo is believed to be the only place in the country where four species of kingfisher can be found, and in 2010, the first North American sighting of a female Amazon kingfisher occurred there.
Various locations, February 5–8, laredobirdingfestival.com
Play the Odds
In his latest book, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell, best-selling author and staff writer at The New Yorker, yet again debunks conventional wisdom, proposing underdogs as favorites and vice versa. To illustrate his assertion, Gladwell uses successful people like Emil J. Freireich, who overcame an impoverished childhood to treat children with leukemia, and David Boies, who channeled dyslexia into becoming a prominent trial lawyer, and correlates their achievements with what were supposed to be their deficiencies. Gladwell will visit SMU on Monday to talk about the book.
Southern Methodist University, February 3, 7:30 p.m., dma.org
A Master Chef’s Work
You could be inspired to revive your New Year’s resolution to cook more by visiting the Leo Bar at the Asia Center on Thursday, when the blind Houston chef Christine Ha, who endured many obstacles, including Gordon Ramsay, to win season three of MasterChef, will serve up Asian-American comfort food and sign copies of her new book, Recipes From My Home Kitchen.
Asia Society Texas Center, February 6, 6 p.m., asiasociety.org/texas
The thirty-year retrospective exhibit “Metaphors of El Barrio” will showcase the work of the El Paso artist Gaspar Enríquez, whose documentation of the Chicano experience, including illustrations for the book Elegy on the Death of César Chávez and 24-foot-high images of “cholos” commissioned for the San Antonio Convention Center, has made the actor Cheech Marin an avid collector.
El Paso Museum of Art, January 31–May 11, elpasoartmuseum.org