The 7th Annual Deep Ellum Film Festival, which no longer happens anywhere near Deep Ellum, officially got under way on Sunday, when Brad Bird flew into Dallas for a quickie visit--to pick up the fest's newly minted Texas Avery Animation Award, so named for the maker of Bugs Bunny funnies. It was, certainly, an auspicious opener for the fest: The visionary behind The Iron Giant and The Incredibles sat in the auditorium of North Dallas High School, where Avery attended school and art-directed the yearbook in the late 1920s, and screened a clip reel that included his own crude childhood work...which led to a gig at Disney, a job on The Simpsons, his own work for Warner Bros. and an Oscar-winning movie for Pixar. Bird's participation in the event signaled a coming of age for a fest long touted in these pages as this city's best film fest: When a winner of an Academy Award flies in for the day to pick up something handed out at a DISD high school, well, let's just say the days of handing out awards to Griffin Dunne are probably long over.
The fest also throws great parties, and this year's opener promises to be a swell one: Ivan Neville, now living in Austin, and his band Dumpstafunk throw down at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field Airport at 9:30 p.m. Thursday night, after a screening of Neil Jordan's grimy fairy tale Breakfast on Pluto, which a colleague kiddingly but correctly refers to as "a trannie Forrest Gump." But what of the screenings, which are ostensibly the reason one actually attends film festivals? There are many good ones to choose from: Roger Donaldson's guilelessly charming The World's Fastest Indian, in which Anthony Hopkins plays a real-life New Zealander who dreams of breaking the land-speed record on his ancient motorcycle; Richard Shepard's charming, sorta thrilling The Matador, starring Greg Kinnear as a buttoned-up businessman who runs into Pierce Brosnan playing a delightfully washed-up version of Bond, James Bond; and The Dying Gaul, a movie about homophobic Hollywood circa 1995 starring--who else?--Peter Sarsgaard and Patricia Clarkson. There are also some smaller films of note, chiefly the made-in-Houston Automatic, in which infidelity, incest (well, kinda) and insensitivity inevitably lead to, duh, the promise of love; and Special Thanks to Roy London, an entertaining doc about the late acting instructor starring his most famous pupils, among then Geena Davis, Garry Shandling, Drew Carey and Sharon Stone among many, many, many others.
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But the DEFF has one of the year's best movies on its schedule--the stunningly touching New York Doll, about New York Dolls bassist Arthur "Killer" Kane--which, alas, opens at the Angelika Film Center the day after its November 22 fest screening. Regardless of when you see it, by all means see it: Director Greg Whitley took what is easily the most hackneyed tale in all of rock and roll--the reunion of an influential band down to its three surviving members, their coming together for One Last Special Concert before turning into trampled-over footnotes--and finds within that tale something so profound and poignant you need not know the lyrics to "Personality Crisis" to love the damned thing. Kane, 55 when the film was made, believed his rock life over: He was working for the Church of Latter-Day Saints as a librarian in its genealogy department when he heard Morrissey wanted the Dolls to play his Meltdown Festival in London; at last, Kane says, no longer would he be one of the forgotten people. Whitley follows Kane from L.A. to New York for rehearsals to London for the performance, capturing along the way Kane's reconciliation with David Johansen, which could make a grown punk cry.