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Sundance Diaries: Austin filmmakers unveil their creations in Park City

As I mentioned in my Sundance preview piece, several filmmakers with Austin ties are in Park City to unveil their work to the world. During the course of the festival I made sure to stop in and check on any and all of those films I was able to catch. As it turns out, they were all quite good.

The first screening I was able to attend was the world premier of David Zellner's Kid-Thing. The film, which stars young newcomer Sydney Aguirre as Annie and David's brother, Nathan, as her father, played to a completely packed house at the 336 seat Prospector Square theater. In the film, Annie is a wild child neglected by her father, who seems to rarely notice her and with whom she lives alone.

Annie spends her days finding things to break, stealing from the convenience store and throwing things at cars exiting the freeway. She does what she wants at all times. Things change a bit for Annie when, one day, she hears a scream coming from the forest and discovers a hole inside which a woman (voiced by Austinite and cult legend Susan Tyrrell) is trapped. Annie is reluctant to help the woman and struggles with what appears to be a newly-budding moral compass.

Kid-Thing is like nothing the Zellners have ever made. Though not entirely devoid of humor (the comedy is extremely dark), the tone is more serious. If anything, it plays like a twisted fairytale, with Annie poised to be the ragged outcast who grows up to become a princess. The film is more challenging than that, though, and Annie's journey is not so predictable.

It's a compelling film, full of raw emotion without ever manipulating the audiences' emotions; the camera merely observes what's happening on screen. A strikingly beautiful score by Austin indietronica band The Octopus Project perfectly compliments the film.

 The Q&A was classic Zellner brothers, slightly awkward and completely hilarious. Dominated by a pair of pre-schoolers, many questions asked David to address specific narrative elements.

The Q&A was classic Zellner brothers, slightly awkward and completely hilarious. Dominated by a pair of pre-schoolers, many questions asked David to address specific narrative elements. Handling the situation well, calmly telling the children that their questions were great but eventually reminding them that other people should have a chance, David was reluctant to explain any plot points in detail.

It was a fitting and welcomed way to handle the Q&A, as the film's magic lies in its fly-on-the-wall, under-explained nature. It was truly one of the best movies and screening experiences of the festival. 

Also premiering was UT lecturer Kat Candler's short film Hellion, which was shot in Georgetown, TX. Petey is the youngest of three boys who raise hell while their father is away. When dad returns, though, the punishments begin. The six-minute short is wonderful and charming and actually crams quite a bit of astute observation about boys and their mischevious ways into its short runtime. I truly hope plans to expand the story into a feature come to fruition. The short was produced by former AFF director of programming Kelly Williams (who also produced Holiday Road which I saw at Slamdance).

Mark Duplass had his hand in several films at the fest. He wrote Black Rock, which is directed by and stars his wife Katie Aselton, along with Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell. In the film, the trio of women enjoying a reunion on a remote island are interrupted by violence which turns their girl's weekend away into a nightmare. The film is tense (if a bit formulaic), with wonderful performances by all three women.

In Your Sister's Sister (which actually premiered at TIFF), Duplass is Jack, a man having recently suffered a tragedy in his life who is invited by his friend Iris (Emily Blunt) to use her remote cabin to decompress and reflect — only to find her sister already there. Things are further complicated when Iris herself arrives. It's a wonderfully written, almost passively directed film that proves to be engrossing and emotionally rewarding.

Finally, Mark plays Kenneth, a man who places an ad for a time travel partner, in Safety Not Guaranteed, a film he also produced. Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is a magazine intern who is sent to befriend the eccentric and dead serious Kenneth and finds herself more in tune with Kenneth than anticipated. Safety Not Guaranteed is a delightful film that uses sci-fi as a springboard to examine very real human emotions.

It wouldn't be surprising to find one or more of these films on the SXSW 2012 slate when it is announced. Until then, rest assured knowing that Austin was well represented at Sundance 2012.

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