Monday, October 18, 2010

Chainsaws, Slackers and Spy Kids: 30 Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas / by Alison Macon

Culturally, Austin seems to have it all. The Live Music Capital of the World filled to the brim with nightlife, it also boasts a top notch drama and performing arts community, a reputable visual arts sector, numerous literary competitions, annual international festivals, eclectic cuisine and an abundance of regional and independent news sources tapped into all things cultural. So it's no surprise to find that Austin's already thriving independent film scene has, over the last few decades, steadily emerged into a full-fledged motion picture industry. Now more than ever, and in no small part owing to the far-reaching popularity of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, the city has become (unofficially) the "third coast" movie capital of the United States.
When Tobe Hooper's low-budget horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre burst through to the mainstream in the 1970's, it was only the beginning as the city's progressive film atmosphere began to attract wannabe filmmakers from all over, soon gaining ground as one of the treasured enclave's of independent film. It didn't hurt that the University of Texas Radio-TV-Film program was already one of the best in the country, only to grow in size and become more diversified in the following years. By the 1990's, Austin achieved legitimate notoriety as an unique landmark independent filmmaking trail. Breakthrough directors Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge proved that local and sub-regionally produced films such as Slacker, Dazed and Confused, El Mariachi and Office Space could make noise at the national level at the same time that homegrown talented actors like Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger made splashes in Hollywood.  
Lifelong resident and tenured UT film professor Macon chronicles the rise of the Austin's film community through its early days in the 1970's on to its Generation X-charged atmosphere in the late 1980's and early 90's and finally relates how the city has become a major venue for twenty-first century Hollywood blockbusters like Spy Kids. While Austin continues to perpetuate its open-ended, democratic approach to the movie business, Macon hints that their may be a downside to the city's ever-expanding status as a movie and entertainment mecca, namely that rising production costs could mean limited opportunities for local filmmakers as the city opens its arms to industry financiers with bigger pockets. More on the Austin movie scene can be observed at websites like the Austin Film Society's well-informed take on all the cinematic goings-on around the city. (791.4309764 MACOR)

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