Monday, March 31, 2008

Trust me, they say

One of the big topics this year has been truth. And trust. And coming to terms with how much people lie. I mean really lie, like all the time. I'm always surprised because it's so not in my nature. I'm straight ahead. As honest as I know how to be, as much of the time as I can be. I guess that's the kicker... how our needs to be honest vary... As do our abilities. How much do the really good liars know they're lying? Or is it a reflex, beyond their conscious mind? I read somewhere that it takes an exceptional mind to be a good liar, to keep track. Something about how honesty is really just an excuse for the more simpleminded.

How honest can I be, if I'm blind to my own blindspots? As we're all said to be? The sands shift.

I used to be more self-righteous about it all. I've always been honest. "Blunt" to a fault. Perhaps. I've had to learn how to tone it down. As I've evolved, I've learned to perhaps say a little less and keep some things to myself. I used to be able to say, honesty mattered. Now I find myself categorizing my friends into the "straight up" and "lies-a-lot" categories. And I'm don't seem to be de-friending those "lies-a-lot." I just listen to them a bit differently. I trust them differently. You learn to trust how they're not honest. But friends nevertheless. The sands shift.

And it's not like it's always easy to tell. Stories are often self-serving. Our perspective does guide and blind us.

I know what makes me unique or appealing is how direct I am. It's why any of you who read this blog, like it. I say things others don't necessarily say. People can count on that. But lately I've been wondering how much that exposes me to being used. I expose what I'm thinking. Therefore the manipulators have an easy handle. I can't forget that along with my honesty tag, a childhood constant refrain was, "You're so gullible."

Defiantly I would respond, "yes. yes I am. And what's wrong with that? Why choose to live assuming others are bullshitting me?" What an added burden to have to live with constant doubt? But lately I just don't know. There's a lot of haziness around. I squint. I listen. I try to feel the truth. I've no idea if I can. It's a bit of a conundrum.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Autism the Musical: Tonight on HBO

Last year, the best film I saw pre-screening for sxsw was by far, Autism: The Musical. It was tremendously entertaining, provoking the classic, "I laughed, I cried" response. It didn't end up premiering at sxsw, but now here's your chance to see it on HBO. I can't recommend it strongly enough. Watch it tonight!

View the trailer here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

LOL a moment ago, and again yesterday

Is it crazy self indulgent for me to be so amused by my son's blog that I need to re-post it here? You decide.

Suspended Suspense

Getting accepted into college was not nearly as exciting as I imagined it to be. There is no suspense, no drum roll as you open the letter, it is very disappointing. You get a big packet when you get in, and a little letter when you do not, which just seems like such an anticlimactic and flawed system. On top of that Lehigh wrapped congratulations around the outside which just made me care even less. If you were thinking about applying to college, do not, because it is nowhere near as exciting as the movies make it seem.

I do have another example of something that cracked me up so much yesterday that I broke out LOL in the car. I was listening to Terry Gross on KUT interview Meg Wolitzer on the eve of the publication of "The Ten-Year-Nap." (love the title). Wolitzer was recounting a crazy moment when after taking her 3 year old for swim lessons - as she was stark naked changing back into her clothes, he ran out of the locker room. At that time, at that gym, the towels were the size of , as she put it, kleenex. She had to quickly decide, cover the top or bottom. Which? She chose the top, and ran out into a lobby full of older people waiting around. Funny now. Mortifying then. But what made the story was that afterwards, she asked a group of her pals what they would have done. Which part would they have covered. Some said top, some said bottom. Finally someone answered, "my face."

Of course, the best possible answer.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

April 9th, Brilliant South Park episode "Tonsil Trouble" available to stream online

April 9, 2008 - mark it on your calendars. You have to catch Tonsil Trouble if you haven't already seen it. The episode is brilliant. Brilliant! These South Park guys are incredible. It's almost impossible to understand how they've been able to create such searing smart funny social commentary, week after week, year after year. But they have. And the world is richer for it. Tonsil Trouble is one of the alltime greats.

Brittany's New Look is pretty brilliant too. You can watch the full episode, here right now.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Margaret's Yard Sale

Margaret's moving so today she had a yard sale. After salsa I dropped by, seeing her place on the east side for the first time. Not far, but feels like countries away. Great neighborhood. A perfect Austin day. Sunny, not too hot. She's hanging on a black futon on the lawn while others, mostly couples, some with little babies and kids, pour through her soon to be ex-belongings.

I join her on the futon, enjoying the Austin social patterns. Enjoying seeing some different faces. Strangers and friends out on a beautiful Saturday...Strangers and friends picking through her stuff.

I pick up this Mexican lantern. Not because I need it. I think maybe I can find a place for it, I'm not actually sure. But I want it because it's Margarets. I both want something of hers before she skips town, and I want to help her out. I mean why not? Why not help her clear her lawn and pad her pocket? She prices it $5, which seems a little high, but again, why not? What's $5 between friends? (...hmm too, of course there were the free books she threw in.)

It's all about the energy exchange.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mike Hedge's sxsw montage via Dentler's blog

I like this a lot too, Mike Hedge's sxsw 2008 video/photo montage - found on Matt Dentler's blog via Scott Macaulay. He wrote, "I think it gives a nice mix and sense of what the experience can be like:" and I agree. Funny to see so many of the panels and parties that I didn't get to featured, but still, familiar and real. And I love the phone motif!

SXSW 2008 from mikehedge on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Austin Kleon's take on John and David Simon at UT

This is pretty crazy self referential but I couldn't resist. As I've posted before, I've become a huge fan of Austin Kleon's blogs since his hilarious cartoon of Tom Perrotta during the Texas Book Fest visit. I find his drawings, musings, recommendations, and references totally interesting. He creates new writing and images while appreciating the old. I like how he writes about the creative process and living a creative life. He is living a creative life! Catching up on his Tumblelog last night, I saw image after image that totally intrigued me. And I've been fascinated by his mind maps and visual notes. I like how tangibly he renders his impressions. I'm even interested in his music taste, and his enthusiasm for his relatively new marriage and hometown.

So he twittered on Facebook about wanting to see David Simon (The Wire) speak at UT. I reached out and invited him as part of John's guest list. It was great fun to finally meet in person. And then it was a total kick to sit next to him while he scribbled these notes. Pretty wild system. (I have to add too - that "Pulitzer Sniff" line by Simon was killer. It was almost an offhand comment from the stage yet it created a palpable buzz in the audience. Totally great line.)



david simon

Last night we went over to the Austin City Limits studio to see a Q&A with David Simon, former newspaper reporter and creator of the TV show The Wire. John Pierson was the moderator, and he did a really great job— he asked Simon intelligent questions and then sat and listened while Simon gave intelligent answers.

Discussed topics: the decline of the newspaper industry, journalism and Homer Bigart (“his method: ‘Hi, I’m an idiot and I can’t talk…please help me’”), dumbass editors looking for lame stories about “Dickensian” children (”Pulitzer Sniffing”), Iraq, No Child Left Behind, stealing from Greek Tragedy, the drug war, jury nullification, creative writing students (“my god, you guys are an industry”), books he hasn’t read (Brothers Karamazov), the creative use of profanity, The America That Got Left Behind, and of course, Baltimore (“my favorite character”), and The Wire.

As usual, I doodled and took a lot of notes:



david simon

david simon

Really cool night, and awesome to finally see the Austin City Limits studio. Thanks to Janet for inviting us!


Monday, March 17, 2008

starting to emerge from the 2008 sxsw blur

My head is swimming. Starting to emerge from the sxsw 2008 blur. It really is a blur. Or maybe it's more like a tide. All week I kept talking about getting grounded, just trying to get grounded. I don't even know where to start. It started first at True False the last weekend of February. I blogged about the Saturday, but not the Sunday when we fell deeply in love with Guy Maddin's, "My Winnipeg" and enjoyed Man on Wire. Just a wonderful experience overall. Top quality top to bottom.

Returned in time for the Texas primary where we lined up to vote at a local elementary school. Then I returned again a bit later to caucus. I stood in line for a couple of hours, passing the time chatting with Anita on the phone - bringing her up to date on the reality of Austin politics after her plaintive comments some days earlier. Roughly, "enough about your film festival, the rest of the world only cares about the election. What's it's actually like there? You're the only person I know in Texas." Which amused me no end. How very exotic Texas is to so many New Yorkers. We passed the time chatting on my new iphone, my ear growing warm in the process. I was standing outside on a mild March evening, loving Austin, listening to the others in line, "And why are you for Hilary? We're Obama all the way...," patiently waiting in line, patiently taking my place in this historical moment. Jarren texts, her caucus was done by 8pm. Eugene texts from NYC, "What's it like? CNN says there is a lot of tampering at the caucuses and not enough ballots, etc." I report back in real time, thinking about this historical precedent as well. Our lives in real time recorded on our phones. By 10:10 I'm starving and pack it in, clearly hours more to go, my curiosity partly satiated. How prepared my little caucus was. How interested and committed my neighbors.

Thursday is the Sponsor VIP pre-party for the Texas Film Hall of Fame. It's fun. A beautiful house. Many to talk to. A real delight meeting Debra Winger. We have some friends in common so it feels easy.

Friday shifts in sxsw mode with the Texas Film Hall of Fame kick-off. My intention is to hit the registration line early in the day but as always, it's 2:3o before I get to the convention center. The line is all the way around the corner. At home John was like, "Why do you need your badge now? We'll go in the morning when it'll take 5 minutes?" But no, that's not my preference. I want to be able to hit the opening night party later, and besides, I love soaking up the ambiance on the line. The interactive guy next to me starts chatting, which is perfectly pleasant. Then I run into Lizzie Donius and her adorable little baby, then Andrew Bujalski, then Joe Swanberg, and the incessant talking and hugging begins.

The challenge now is to get through the next several days connecting with desired old and new friends. It really is a challenge fitting it all in. The Texas Film Hall of Fame, produced by the Austin Film Society, is fun, beautifully done, and excitingly lucrative. The money earned there covers so much of value to so many the whole year round. Then it's on to the sxsw opening party at Buffalo Billiards. I pick up Emily Hubley at her hotel and we get a few hurried private minutes together. It's a wonderful party - easy to connect with filmmakers and industry types I'm happy to see. I end up catching up with my dear friend PH O'Brien, finally in Austin again with Of All The Things, and How's Your News? We stand together in a parking garage, the hour late, the moment precious for its calm and connection.

And then? Who knows without consulting the calendar. Friends. Filmmakers. Films. A kind of frenzied square dance. Amused at the number of hugs on-the-run that stand in for quality time. Then there is the actual quality time. Real time and real meals with some. Each little decision causing its own repercussions. I can only participate in a fraction of the activities though I'm out wall to wall. I'm pleased to meet the filmmakers whose work I've pre-screened and even championed the littlest bit. I'm particularly delighted to hang with Dennis Lambert, and his son Jody Lambert, the subject and director respectively of the wonderful doc, Of All The Things. And I'm truly rocked by The Wrecking Crew, a highly enjoyable doc about key LA studio musicians in the 60s and 70s.

I'm almost late to Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig's, Nights and Weekends, calling him on the run to save me a seat. I just make it in, knowing it's a must see. Knowing too, I'm sick of the hype. I'm prepared to be disappointed and instead find myself awestruck. It's an interesting thing about Joe's work. If you like it, you really like it. But it's not for everyone. My companions are like, "uh, it's ok I guess but I wish I knew something more about the characters." But that's what's actually interesting about it. What's interesting is how he gets to the essence of relating. He's able to get to a very particular slice of of human interaction, stripped of everything extraneous.

Late nights, not enough sleep, and now the music fest while the movies continue. I really try hard not to name drop on this blog but it's unbelievably cool to hang with Steve Buscemi here for John's master class on Monday post-sxsw, in a few day's early with his son's band Fiasco. We have a great time. We all particularly dig Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely and Shelby Lynne. Then David Simon arrives with his son in tow a day or two early to enjoy Austin before his College of Communication’s 2008 William Randolph Hearst Fellow lecture and Q&A with John, again in the ACL Studio. The days have blurred into a kind of embarrassment of riches, of talent. It's been great. And I've barely even scratched the surface in the telling.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

For the archives

Adding this as a placeholder as much as anything else. I haven't really put any personal photos on this blog but the inclusion in the Statesman column the other day amused me.

The whole public photo thing interesting. I was at True/False last weekend. Lots of people blogged about it posting photos. Lots include John. None include me. Do I care? Does it mean I wasn't there? That I didn't have a great time? I don't actually care, except that it reminds me how people shape their perceptions. In my life with John, I've almost always been just outside the frame. A comfortable place for me, but sometimes a confusing one.

AFS party at Lance Armstrong’s

This we can finally say: Lance Armstrong has good taste. His Mount Bonnell mansion at first impresses with its size, room spilling into room, indoor flowing into outdoor. Dark, heavy accents help define the spaces, never grand but always congenial for conversation and mixing. Armstrong’s admirable art collection, including large abstracts, are lovingly placed around the palace and fires roared in several fireplaces.

For the Austin Film Society’s pre-party for the Texas Film Hall of Fame, the chilled masses flocked to the largest of several living rooms. There was Morgan Fairchild, looking not a day over 30, in a vortex of fans, while Debra Winger held court in an alcove/landing on the stairs. In Armstrong’s trophy room, which includes all seven framed Tour de France winning jerseys and a curious conversation nook, there was Style Avatar Stephen Moser in all his splendor. Lots of folks from the film community, but also many from the Austin Ventures set.


Carol Adams, Debra Winger, Chris Adams (perfect Austin couple to guide Winger through the evening)


Robin Rather, Jean Rather, Dan Rather (anxious about following the late Ann Richards as emcee of the Hall of Fame ceremony)


Janet Pierson, Alexa Wesner, Blaine Wesner


Katy Walker, Robert Walker, heroes of Marfa Public Radio, among other causes (she’s also the daughter of recently deceased UT and Rice President Norman Hackerman)


Dede Church, Todd Church. He is helping Armstrong build his new store; she knows my sister Valerie Koehler and her Blue Willow Books in Houston

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

My very personal initial sxsw 2008 film picks pre-fest

Sxsw 2008 starts this Friday. I'm excited, and already daunted. It's always a pleasurefest where the challenge is to fit in all the films I want to see while catching up with film friends new and old from out of town. And I still haven't figured out how to fit in the interactive panels of interest!

I've already seen many films that I can strongly recommend. ( I'm on the pre-screening or doc selection committee, whatever it's called. I've seen some, not everything!) And there are many more that I'm looking forward to seeing. Which of course only includes the films that I've already heard about so far. I'm sure there are plenty of other gems that I'm not even aware of...yet.

This is just a quick initial and very personal list. Agnes did a much more thorough job on her site. I urge you to click through to the sxsw links here for more complete info.

Films I've already seen that I highly recommend:
(Keep in mind that my pre-screening was heavily skewed on the doc side. I'm wasn't in the loop for most of the narratives this year. I need someone else to recommend some to me.)

The Order of Myths. Director: Margaret Brown
I was sobbing by the end, as much with pride for my friend Margaret's artistry as from the rich work itself. Very beautiful. Very original. Real insight into the previously unseen world of class and race played out in Mobile, Alabama's Mardi Gras rituals.

Flying on One Engine. Director: Joshua Weinstein
A true surprise and delight about Dr. Dicksheet, an almost unbelievable subject. Really really funny, interesting, intimate, and full of substance. Filmed with tremendous talent and personality.

One Minute to Nine. Director: Tommy Davis
Harrowing. Heartbreaking. Raises really important questions and opens our eyes to subjects usually only deep behind closed doors.

Of All The Things. Director: Jody Lambert
Wonderfully moving story about a once successful singer/songwriter now of out of the business, touring the Phillipines where his solo work has become huge. Really charming.

The Wild Horse Redemption. Director: John Zaritsky
My shorthand for this is "cowboy porn" although that's not really fair. It just looks so damned amazing! Wild Horses, cowboys, convicts, great rehabilitation program, great insight, great suspense, cool film.

Throw Down Your Heart. Director: Sascha Paladino
Transcendent doc about Bela Fleck's journey to play with African musicians. Basically he brought his banjo to meet its "grandfather." Wonderful characters. Glorious music.

In A Dream. Director: Jeremiah Zagar
A son's film about his great artist father. How the work and life are inseparable. The thrilling work consists of blocks and blocks of buildings covered in mosaic. Truly fabulous.

Humboldt County. Director
Hugely satisfying narrative feature about a burnt out medical student who gets to change his life in the woods of the Pacific Northwest coast. Humor, warmth, depth. Great acting ensemble.

Crawford. Director: David Modigliano
Ruminative, moving piece on a place which happens to be Crawford, TX: George W. Bush's adopted home and what that meant, and still means.

The Aviatrix. Director: Toddy Burton
Tremendous short about a 20-something fighting her way out of her cancer. Original and very well realized.

Films I'm Really Looking Forward To:

The Toe Tactic. Director: Emily Hubley
Animator/Arist (and dear, delightful friend) Emily Hubley's live action/ animation hybrid. Soundtrack via Emily's sister's band, Yo La Tengo.

Body of War.
Director: Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue
UT prof Ellen Spiro's doc, shortlisted for the Oscars. Original music by Eddie Vedder.

Dear Zachary. Director: Kurt Kuenne
SXSW insiders were really buzzing about this one.

The Zellners are famous for their truly odd, original and hilarious sensibility. This is their first feature in years after many crowd pleasing shorts.

Shot in Bombay. Director: Liz Mermin
From the director of The Beauty Academy of Kabul and Office Tigers, a behind-the-scenes look at a particularly pungent Bollywood production with subplots rivaling a Bollywood film.

Secrecy. Director: Peter Galison & Robb Moss
An already acclaimed doc on this important issue.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
. Director: Alex Gibney
No explanation needed.

Mister Lonely. Director: Harmony Korine
Again, what else to say? Starring Werner Herzog, Diego Luna, Samantha Morton and Anita Pallenberg.

They Killed Sister Dorothy. Director: Daniel Junge
Someone just recommended this to me. Curious but don't know anything about it.

Full Battle Rattle. Director: Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss
Wild premise. How Iraquis in the U.S. help our war effort. Not what you're thinking.

Nights and Weekends. Director: Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig
Joe's evolution continues...

Baghead. Director: Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass
Post Puffy Chair. Post Sundance premiere. Shot here in Austin.

At the Death House Door. Director: Steve James and Peter Gilbert
The Hoop Dreams collaborators back together again after many years on this death row related doc about a death house chaplain.

The New Year Parade. Director: Tom Quinn
A vague recommendation that just stuck.

Intimidad.Director: David Redmond and Ashley Sabine
Very much enjoyed this duo's Camp Katrina last year. This one is about the real costs of poverty and border politics.

Frontrunners. Director: Caroline Suh
Charming High School student election close-up. The twist? The high school is Manhattan's most competitive public school. Ah, NYC kids.

The Ostrich Testimonies.
Director: Jonathan VanBallenberghe
The couple of minutes I saw of this really whet my appetite. It looked amazing.

Stop Loss. Director: Kimberly Pierce
Shot in Texas. Pierce's first feature since Boys Don't Cry.

Young at Heart
. Director:
About a singing chorus - always of personal interest to me. Apparently a total crowd pleaser.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Why I love True/False Film Fest

This is our third trip to True/False Film Fest. We love it here! It's like this incredible antidote to Sundance. Not that I even go to Sundance regularly. I haven't been since 2005. But True/False is clearly a different kind of animal. It takes place in Columbia, Missouri, the week before Austin's Texas Film Hall of Fame and SXSW, in a sweet little college town with a clearly dedicated home-made art scene. For me, it's just a really great way to see some fantastic documentaries. Since last night: Stranded, Joy Division, The Greening of Southie, Shake off the Devil, The Order of Myths, American Teen and Forbidden Lies. And a whole another day still to come. And just prior for our Swami (kind of mentoring/networking) duties: Sons of A Gun, Song Sung Blue, My Mother's Garden, and An Alternative to Slitting your Wrist. Not that all the films are great. But a surprising number of them are - and this is a perfect way to see them. The venues are full with excellent projection. The audiences are smart and keenly appreciative. Everything's in easy walking distance. The filmmakers are present and totally accessible. They're not off doing press or trying to make deals. They're actually here seeing others work and getting to know one another. It's collegial and supportive. Paul Sturz and David Wilson have created an uber quality event full of great touches including strong iconography, handy concessions at all the venues, their Gimme Truth game show, and even audience pleasing fest trailers. They put a tremendous amount of emphasis on making it a great experience for the filmmakers.

It's actually weird to write about this because I know it's not fair. Everyone can't come and participate, and if they could, it wouldn't be as enjoyable. So in a way I'm gloating about something that's a bit elitist for those outside the immediate midwest community. And does it really help the films that there's little industry and press? (Although there are some key industry supportive types, and a strong showing from the online blogging press.) But I'm having such a great time! For me it's a perfect immersion into some new work. It's small enought that I can really see a lot but not be too frustrated by what I'm not getting a chance to see. And also a great way to meet some new filmmakers, and delight in older friendships. Already knocked out by Stranded, The Greening of Southie, The Order of Myths, and Forbidden Lies! Really knocked out.