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Sundance Festival has Texas Tinge

Annie Silverstein
Elise Gardner in "Spark," playing at Slamdance Film Festival.

The Sundance Film Festival gets under way today in Park City, Utah. The 10-day festival features more than 100 films by directors from around the world. Ten of those are Texas filmmakers, and Austin’s film community helped bring those films to the silver screen.

A group of local filmmakers and critics assembled in a screening room at Austin Studios last week. They were there to watch short films and clips from a full-length feature making its debut at Sundance. But it was a little hard keep track of just who did what.

“Kelly had asked me to be a part of it, he was a producer on this film as well, you’re all friends; I know Kat ...”

That’s Richard C. Jones, who stars in "Pit Stop", a film about the intertwined lives of two gay men in a small Texas town. But Richard was describing a working as an extra in another movie playing at Sundance, "Black Metal", a short film about the aftermath of a horrific crime linked to a band in the music genre.

Aside from sharing Jones as an extra, the two films share a lead actor and producer. To Jones, it’s a sign of the close-knit nature of Austin’s filmmaking community.

“There is an atmosphere of, like -- we all come together and help each other,” Jones said.

That atmosphere brought the Austin film community to a big year on the festival circuit. The 10 films from Texas filmmakers playing at Sundance this year include homegrown efforts like "Pit Stop" and "Black Metal," plus offerings from more established directors such as  Richard Linklater. His latest is the romance "Before Midnight." Linklater also serves as artistic director of the Austin Film Society, which is hosting a Texas party at Sundance this year.

“I’m particularly proud of the ones that have Austin Film Society connections, through our granting program, the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund,” Linklater said.

Since 1996, the film society’s production fund has donated $1.2 million in grants to filmmakers. Linklater says even small inflows of cash can make all the difference.

“I really believe in the granting process,” he said. “It certainly helped me early on. I got a grant for about $2,700 for 'Slacker' back in ’89.”

Also in Park City this week is Slamdance, an upstart that began in response to Sundance and has since grown into its own. That’s where the short film "Spark" will be playing, a bittersweet recounting of an afternoon two children spent together.

"Spark" director Annie Silverstein’s only been in Austin for three years, but she says she already feels at home.

“We read each other’s scripts, and offer each other advice at every stage of preproduction, production or post,” Silverstein said. “It feels so good, because I find filmmaking to be exhausting and tiring, and its so great to have people to commiserate with, go get a drink with, talk about it and then get each other moving again.”

Elise Gardner was 10 when she acted in "Spark." She say’s she’s upset she can’t make it to Utah, what with school and all, but is excited about the exposure the screening means.

“I’m really hoping that there’s some great things  on the horizon for me; I cant wait to really get my career kicked off,” said Elise, now 12.

The Sundance Film Festival runs through Jan. 27. Slamdance runs through Jan. 24.  

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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