Tonight at the Texas Theatre, the Dallas Video Festival kicks off its five-day run at the Texas and Angelika with screenings of Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialisme ("filled with sensuous pleasures," insists our J. Hoberman) and Slacker 2011, wherein 24 Austin-based filmmakers pay homage to Richard Linklater's 1991 day-in-the-life debut. An impressive start to an enduring fest often taken for granted in a city that prefers its film festivals on the flashier side -- star-studded, multiplex-approved. But, truth is Bart Weiss never planned on the DVF reaching its 24th year; he launched it as a one-off, a sort of extension of what he'd been doing at his old Video Bar -- celebrating a medium that was, in the days before YouTube and Vimeo, dismissed as home movies.
"I'll never forget: The first year when Scooter Smith did the introduction, he said, 'The first annual,'" Weiss recalls. "It never hit me we were going to do a second one. And then I went, 'Oh, we're supposed to do this again?' And every year my wife says, 'That's the last one, right?' And you'd think it gets easier. But, no, it gets harder. There's less money, and I want to do more, and I want to try to do things in different kinds of ways. And there's more noise out there -- a lot more film content -- so it's harder to be unique."
And, for Weiss, it's become harder to remain the lone maker of the video fest's schedule, which is why, for the first time, he's brought in a cadre of collaborators to assist with the selections -- among them other RTF profs, an art critic and the directors of doc fests, including Josha Butler, festival chair of Denton's Thin Line Film Fest.
"I'm 58 and needed to get some younger blood, so it's not just The Bart Show," he says with a laugh. "I kinda understand we need to go younger, but it still has my curiosities and interest." The result: one of the strongest lineups in years.
The lineup, as ever, is all over the place: It includes acclaimed films that received critical acclaim along the festival circuit (chief among them Heather Courtney's Where Soldiers Come From, which bowed at SXSW and was recently featured on NPR, and Vikram Gandhi's crowd-pleasing put-on Kumaré, the film about the guru-who-isn't that nabbed the top audience prize at SXSW this year) and those wonderful homegrowns you'll never see anywhere else, with Big Bucks Burnett's eight-track and Tiny Tim docs high on that list of must-see's. (And did I mention: Black Oak Arkansas's Jim "Dandy" Mangrum will be in attendance?) And: Returning for the first time since forever are Keith Alcorn's Nanna & Lil' Puss Puss, once as much a staple of the DVF as Weiss himself.
Used to be Weiss could nail down one or two themes prevalent in each fest; this year, perhaps because of those outside collaborators, that's not so easy.
"There are some human rights things: films about immigration, women being sold into prostitution, like The Price of Sex; and honor killings," he says. "I mean, we have In the Name of the Family, about 'honor killing,' and you'll see that one of those srtories in Dallas, and the father is still at large." He's referring to Yaser Abdel Said, the cab driver accused of killing daughters Sarah and Amin in January 2008.
"One of the things I am happy about this year is, we used to do this earlier on, which is show new ways video will affect people, from virtual reality to high definition before people were really familiar with those terms," he says. "This year we have video on the iPad. Brandon Oldenburg did this animated film called The Fantastic Flying Books Of Mr. Morris Lessmore, where he converted a children's book for the iPad. So we'll have this film for kids to experience, and then have a panel to talk about working on the iPad. Then I look at a movie like Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology. To me, films about media are always important. It starts with how our cell phones affect us on a technological level and then a very personal.
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"And then there's The Other F Word, which is about family and separating your personal and professional life and trying to find the peace in the middle. The fact it's about punk rockers only makes it that much more fascinating."
Among the bigger titles screening at the DVF you'll find Better This World, about Texas-born terrorists, which bowed on POV earlier this month; and Marathon Boy, about a 4-year-old runner in India, which will air on HBO. And Blood in the Mobile -- "an awesome movie," says Weiss, "about how mining for the materials in our cell phones is wreaking havoc in the Congo" -- will have a "special preview" at the DVF before its official bow at the Hamptons International Film Festival in October.
"And then there's the usual bizarreness, from Bucks to everything else. And all of them are this personal vision trying to explore something, as opposed to Hollywood films made by committee or compromise. There's not that here."
But everything else is.