Wednesday, November 1, 2017

First Trip to Austin

I always enjoy heading to locales that are new to me - work sent me to the Austin Film Festival last weekend and I enjoyed myself, though I don't think I really experienced Austin.  But it was a good-kind-of-busy few days and I got to spend time with a dear friend from the old days, so thumbs up from me.  This will most likely be a really long post, sorry, because I don't think I'm going to want to break it up into two parts...

I am putting this in writing so that I don't ever forget:  I WILL NOT GO THE BARGAIN BASEMENT PRICE ROUTE AGAIN FOR BUSINESS TRAVEL.  I really mean it this time.  I have the very bad habit of just picking the lowest-priced airfare and the lowest-priced hotel, regardless of their convenience to me.  I shan't be doing that again.  The flights were just stupid annoying (I had to be at the airport on all legs at 4am and had three-hour layovers in between) and the hotel, while clean, didn't feel completely safe to me.  I hope I have finally learned my lesson.

The Dallas and Austin airports are quite nice and well-appointed with different food options, so that was good.  When I finally got to Austin, my very pleasant cabbie was telling me about places I should check out, which was nice, but then he asked me if I was married, which I never enjoy.  But all in all, it was fine.  When I arrived, I texted my dear friend and met him at the Driskill Hotel, a very lovely old hotel that was the film festival's headquarters.  I checked in, got my badge and swag bag, and went with my pal to a restaurant nearby that advertised itself as a margarita bar, which sealed the deal for me.  Had I known that other events would be there over the weekend, however, I may have picked a different place for my first meal.  The smoked chicken quesadilla was tasty, though, as was my Mexican Mule (ginger beer, tequila and lime).  I had a few of those over the weekend.

After our meal, we wandered over to the opening night cocktail party, which our badge level would get us into.  It was a little bit of a hike, during which a gal walking near us asked us if we were screenwriters.  We said no, and asked if she was.  She said no, she was a producer, and her documentary would be screening the next afternoon.  I asked what her doc was about and she said the Detroit Institute of Arts.  Hey!  My pal and I went to grad school in Detroit!  So we promised her we would check out her movie the next day.  It was a good thing we did, because there was so much going on in the festival schedule, it was nice to have something to anchor our day.  Anyway, once at the opening night cocktail party, we ran into another friend, which was cool.  We stood around and watched a fun band, we stood in line for a tasty free cocktail featuring a local bourbon, then we went up to the patio and stood around some more.  It was crazy crowded and lots of people were pitching themselves and their movies, which was fun at first, and a little bit exhausting.  It's easy to feel rejected when so many people walk away from you when they realize you're not ACTUALLY a producer, it just says that on your badge.

We wandered out of the party to head to the beautiful old Paramount Theater to see the opening night film, Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig.  I'd heard a lot about the movie, mostly raves, so I was excited to see it.  Getting in line to see the movie was a riot - we kept walking and walking to try to find the end of the line.  Every time we thought we found the end of the line, we were wrong.  We were just laughing all the way.  I think we were finally in line about three blocks away, but my ticket number was 334, so we got in easily, thank heavens.  I enjoyed the film, but I didn't think it was the best movie I've ever seen.  It was interesting to hear Greta Gerwig speak afterwards about how her movie features scenes she'd never seen before.  I thought that was interesting because a lot of the scenes felt familiar to me.  But that's ok.  The acting was stellar, the dialogue was enjoyably quirky and there were some drop dead funny moments in there (one in particular will probably make me laugh for the rest of my life when I remember it), plus some very touching moments.  And Laurie Metcalf was stop-the-presses brilliant.  So I'm glad I saw it, I just wonder what I missed since I didn't adore it, like so many others have.  Ah well.

Friday was a day of panel discussions, which were interesting, and movies, which were mixed.  My pal and I did go to the documentary about the Detroit Institute of Arts in the afternoon - we had to take a 20-minute car ride out to the movie theater, which was strange.  It seemed odd to have a festival venue so out of the way, but when we got there, there was already a line to get in!  I hope the producer we met the night before was pleased to see so many people at her movie.  It was called Beauty and Ruin, and it was about how the art in the Detroit Institute of Art became an issue during Detroit's bankruptcy issues in 2013.  As I mentioned before, I went to grad school in Detroit and enjoyed my three years living there.  I went to the DIA all the time, to look at the art and to see movies (they had a foreign film series that was fantastic), and had no idea about the provenance of the art or how it fit into Detroit history.  I thought the documentary was terrific (it was my favorite of all the films I saw at the festival) and I hope it gets a wide distribution so more people can see it.

We had to hurry back to the regular conference venue to get there in time to see a reading of one of the finalists for the Playwriting Award.  We made it just in time, thankfully, and settled in to enjoy the play.  After the reading, we went to a nearby restaurant for a quick dinner (I enjoyed my chicken sandwich and margarita), then we were off to a church for a screening of the film Wild Honey, starring Rusty Schwimmer.  I liked that this movie had as its focus a woman-of-a-certain-age-and-certain-size as a sexual being.  It almost felt a little aspirational to me.  Rusty Schwimmer plays a phone-sex operator who falls for one of her phone clients and she decides to find him to meet him in person.  Her optimism and courage was really terrifically portrayed.  The movie was funny in places, though a little dead in other places.  I liked it, though, for the most part, probably because I could really relate to the lead character.  I was sorry we didn't have time to stay afterwards and hear the Q&A with the director and cast, because we had to run out and get in line for ANOTHER movie at the Paramount.  Most of the weekend was spent standing in line for a movie.  I probably won't see another movie for the rest of the year.  Oh, and I was also disappointed because I'd heard so much about the food truck culture of Austin and the producers of Wild Honey had a food truck outside the venue after the Q&A, but my pal and I didn't have time to check it out.  Drat.

We got back in line at the Paramount to see Permanent, starring Patricia Arquette and Rainn Wilson.  It was described as an off-beat comedy about a 13-year-old girl and her bad experience with a perm.  I think it was trying way too hard to be off-beat and quirky, and ended up being all over the place and silly (not in a good way).  It felt like it portrayed southern people as stupid and mean, and nothing really felt earned.  I did laugh a couple of times and the young girl was an appealing lead, but most of the time, the movie just sort of laid there and I didn't really enjoy it, on the whole.

Saturday was my day of panel discussions - I was on two panels myself, which I think went well.  I met a lot of nice people and I think I presented some helpful information.  Later, I had a tasty watermelon and feta salad for lunch, then went to another reading of a play, this time by the gent who ended up winning the playwriting award.  Then after I did another panel, I had dinner with my pal and some other friends at that same margarita bar and enjoyed my cheese enchiladas, though I do wish I could've explored other cuisines.  After dinner, we went to get in line for yet another movie, this time it was Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  This is another movie I'd heard a lot about - I'm not normally on board with McDonagh's brand of humor, the violence in his plays is a real turnoff to me, though I did enjoy his film In Bruges.  I adore Frances McDormand, though, and she was simply spectacular in this movie.  Angry, hurt, funny, vengeful - she played it all.  She was fantastic.  As was Sam Rockwell, who I always enjoy, and Woody Harrelson, who I frequently do NOT enjoy.  This was a wild ride of a movie and I never knew what was going to happen next.  Thankfully, the violence didn't turn me off too much, though I did have to close my eyes a couple of times.  On the whole, I enjoyed seeing the film and hope Frances McDormand wins all the prizes this year.

My dear pal had to leave on Sunday, so I did the festival by myself, which was kind of boring.  I was so happy spending time with my pal, who I don't nearly see enough.  But I took myself out for a walk around the Capitol, then a tasty brunch, then went to a keynote conversation by Kenneth Lonergan.  He was terrific, very funny and informative, though I wish the interviewer (or the audience asking questions) had asked a little more about his playwriting.  I had my hand up to ask a few playwriting questions, but I never got called on.  Oh well, he was great to see regardless.  I saw a panel discussion moderated by another friend, which was great, then I did a little shopping around town.  I picked up a couple of souvenirs and holiday gifts, which was fun, and then met a bunch of people at the margarita bar for one last Mexican Mule.  Very tasty.  Then I got in line to see the last movie of my weekend, The Current War, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.  When I got inside the Paramount, though, there was an ad for a new Denzel Washington movie showing on the screen instead of the film festival logo.  Hm.  When the host came out to introduce the film, she said please enjoy this new Denzel Washington movie, and I was confused.  They apparently switched films!  I hadn't gotten that note, though I found out later that the producers of The Current War have decided to release it next year, so I guess it was fortunate that the film festival could find a replacement movie.  So I saw Roman J Israel, Esq instead.  Uh.  I didn't enjoy it.  At all.  I could get into why, but maybe it's still being edited, so I'll just say I didn't enjoy it and leave it at that.  Hopefully, it can be made better before its wide release.

So ended my time in Austin.  I wish I could've seen more of the city and tried more of its food, but I would like to go back, time.  The weather was colder than I expected it to be, so I couldn't wear all my cute warm-weather clothes I took.  Ah well.  For your enjoyment, I'll put some photos of the food I ate at the bottom of this post - hopefully, I'll be getting back into the blogging groove now that this trip, and a big work event that happened last week, is over!  Stay tuned!

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