In film, it's common to see breathless devotions to New York City, Los Angeles, and even London, but a new documentary is flipping the proverbial script and spotlighting Austin's many (and we mean many) contributions to film.
Also Starring Austin traces the city's rich history with film and the filmmakers who have worked here, beginning in the early 1900s with the San Antonio-born Tilley Brothers through to modern day Hollywood directors like Richard Linklater, using footage from more than 120 movies, TV shows, and commercials shot in the Capital City.
To tell this story, Austin-based filmmaker Mike Blizzard conducted dozens of interviews, ranging from local film industry pros and celebrities like Willie Nelson and Sonny Carl Davis, to other filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez and Linklater (a process Blizzard calls "especially nerve-wracking"). The result is a fascinating meditation on the history of the city itself, from a sleepy frontier town to a mecca of '70s counterculture to a booming modern metropolis.
Considering the subject matter, the documentary could easily be a nostalgic pining for what the city once was. Instead, it's a meditation on Austin's spirit — a place where people come to be themselves. "Austin continually renews itself in that discovery," says Blizzard. "People can come here, and they can be a little of themselves, they can find themselves and express themselves in ways that they couldn’t be [other places]. It’s easy for us to forget that."
Now, while nostalgia may not be a running theme in Blizzard's film, as a viewer, it's hard not marvel at the skyscraper-less skyline in Outlaw Blues, the dilapidated West Campus houses in Eggshells long ago replaced by cookie-cutter student apartments, the reimagined Texas School for the Deaf in The Faculty, or the Cathedral of Junk in Spy Kids 3-D. And Davis' stroll through downtown in Roadie will have viewers wishing they could press pause long enough to take it all. (Luckily, with a screener, you can.)
An Austinite since the 1990s, Blizzard originally came to town to study at the University of Texas at Austin before launching a career in grassroots organizing and leading mayoral campaigns. At 40, Blizzard decided he had enough of politics and began working as a filmmaker.
Perhaps because of his variety of experiences, "I don’t have rose-colored glasses," he says, but he does have a sweeping understanding of the important aspects of Austin culture — its place in history and politics, its progressive art scene, and, of course, its indelible ties to music, all of which he captures in Also Starring Austin.
"What you have here is in Austin is this creative community where the musicians and the filmmakers are one in the same and all work together," Louis Black says in the film while discussing the music video for The Clash's "Rock the Casbah" which, naturally, was filmed in Austin. Yet another interesting part of the doc discusses how Austin's early-1980s punk scene produced a number of low-budget art films which got the attention of none other than Jonathan Demme.
Beginning in the 1990s and early aughts, Austin's film community moved from sleeper hits like Texas Chain Saw Massacre to bona fide Hollywood blockbusters like Machete, led in part by Rodriguez and Linklater.
"It started to become a really viable here community when Rick wanted to keep making his movies here and I wanted to keep making my movies here, no matter what they were," explains Rodriguez in the documentary, who notably shot the Spy Kids franchise in Austin despite the story being set in South and Central America.
More than anything, Also Starring Austin is Blizzard's love letter to the city, no matter the era. Though he's humble, calling himself merely "a curator" of Austin-shot films, the documentary is both a sweeping history and deeply heartfelt. "I think it is gratifying to hear people say this made [them] fall in love with [the] city again," says Blizzard. "It gives people a window ... These movies have recorded pieces of Austin history that wouldn't exist otherwise."