Hold your hats and get ready to DIFF. Dallas International Film Festival begins on April 12 but started its roundtable discussions this afternoon at Private Social with Sironia's Thomas Ward (screenwriter, actor) and Brendon Dickerson (director, writer).
"Career suicide" is the exact phrase used by Dickerson's Los Angeles friends when he informed them he was relocating to Waco. His wife's mother was ill. Dickerson, who had spent his career making music videos, waiting for the opportunity to direct full-length films, brushed the words aside and took the plunge. After he moved far away from the Hollywood machine, everything aligned. He reunited with friend, songwriter and actor Wes Cunningham and met playwright Thomas Ward. The three began examining what it means to be happy, even after you've been kicked around a little. Soon, Sironia was born. And after Curves Fitness founders Gary and Diane Heavin caught wind of their project, Sironia was funded. Soon the three men had everything they needed to create the full-length film, right there in Waco.
Sironia is art imitating life for its creators; a story of nourishment, self-discovery and ultimately, the power of complete surrender. Its main character, Thomas Fisher (Wes Cunningham), is sick of L.A. and its fickleness. His album will never be released. His wife (Texas actress Amy Acker) is pregnant. Thomas makes a bold decision: They should abandon California for Sironia, Texas, in search of a simpler life -- but a change of address doesn't change a soul, especially a restless one.
An endearing look at remote living, Sironia repeatedly breaks and mends your heart. It took the Audience Award at the Austin Film Festival and now it will screen at DIFF at the Angelika on April 17 (7 p.m.) and 19 (4 p.m.), so Dallas will get a chance to enjoy this home-spun project as well.
I asked Ward and Dickerson how they maintained the warm, affectionate feeling of minimal-population Texas when scenes like the "Mutton-busting" rodeo could so easily have staggered into punchline territory. Ward responded, "As someone who grew up in small-town Texas, I'm really sick of the punchlines." The men felt that by living in the community that they were commenting on, it allowed a system of checks and balances to take hold. After all, these are the people they've built their lives around, and after a day of filming, they'd be sitting next to them at dinner. "The sister-in-law character" (a pasta-casserole-making, big-haired belle played by Robyn Lively) "was actually based off of my sister-in-law," Dickerson said.
What's changed for the fellas since Sironia went wild? Everything. "Now I have friends from California wanting to move to Waco," Dickerson said with a laugh.