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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: South by Southwest

SXSW 2012: A porn shoot and a senior citizen in 'Starlet'

March 14, 2012 |  6:00 am


Dree Hemingway and Stella Maeve in "Starlet"

"Starlet," which premiered this week at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, is a drama of self-discovery and self-acceptance fueled by two discoveries: Dree Hemingway, daughter of Mariel Hemingway, who gives a performance of flaky charm and tender sensitivity in her first leading role, and 85-year-old Besedka Johnson, who in her first-ever acting role is tough but lovable as a woman who didn't expect to make any more friends in life.

Hemingway plays Jane, a 21-year-old struggling to get by on the fringes of the San Fernando Valley. When she buys something at a yard sale held by Sadie (Johnson), the two quarrel over whether it's a Thermos or a vase. When Jane gets the object home, she discovers a substantial amount of cash inside it. Unsure of what to do, she insinuates herself into Sadie's life, helping her with errands and the like. As the two reveal more of themselves to each other, their relationship deepens.

The film was directed and co-written by Sean Baker, and, like his previous films, "Prince of Broadway" and "Take Out," there is an air of the ethnographic film about "Starlet." But rather than explore the immigrant experience as he did before, this time Baker is looking at the lives of two women who might not normally be given the space to take center stage.

"I think with 'Starlet," with 'Prince,' and even 'Take Out,' they were worlds that I was interested in and wanted to explore," he said. "I was right on the fringe of those worlds."

While working on his short-lived MTV comedy show "Warren the Ape," Baker would cast porn stars in small roles, he got to know a few of them through the production. He was taken by how lonely, bored and nomadic they seemed, living decidedly unglamorous lives. He thought one of these women in her off hours would make for a compelling film. When he combined this idea with a story he had about some money found at a yard sale, the treatment for "Starlet" was born.

For the 24-year-old Hemingway, who has had success as a fashion and photography model -- "I consider myself an actress and a model. I'm like a walking cliche," she said jokingly -- she wasn't concerned with whether people might assume the off-beat naturalism of her performance was just her being herself.

"Everything in acting for me is about how you bring pieces of yourself and then you apply it to the character," she said. "I think for Jane I wanted her to come across as kind of, she's been thrown into this world but she's kind of trying to figure it out. She's not sold on anything quite yet, and is just kind of going with it."

It is difficult to talk about the story without giving away too much. Baker carefully modulates how and when information is revealed, so viewers can get to know the characters without instantly judging them.

"We intentionally have a lot of reveals in the film," Baker said, "because it's all about breaking these preconceived notions you might bring. It's about breaking stereotypes, people going past first impressions. The reveals were intentional."

The film features one major scene of explicit sex, a behind-the-scenes look at the workaday world of a porn shoot. The scene would likely push the film, which is looking for distribution, into NC-17 territory. 

"I'm not concerned about it," Baker said. "We obviously know this film will be either unrated or NC-17. There's no way around it. This is how I see it -- the film is for adults, made for adults. The state of independent film now anyway, you're going to play a few theaters in the major cities and then do well on [video on demand]. If anything I could see this only enhancing that. This might even be a film people would be more comfortable watching at home, even though I would love people to see it on the big screen."


SXSW 2012: Lena Dunham returns as one of the 'Girls'

SXSW 2012: Unusual buzz-building with 'frankie go boom'

SXSW 2012: Sarcasm, romanticism in 'Somebody Up There Likes Me'

-- Mark Olsen in Austin, Texas


Photo:  Dree Hemingway and Stella Maeve in "Starlet." Credit: South by Southwest Film Festival

SXSW 2012: 'Gimme the Loot,' Ginger Baker doc take top prizes

March 13, 2012 | 11:45 pm

Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson in "Gimme the Loot."
"Gimme the Loot," Adam Leon's tale of two teenage graffiti artists in the Bronx, won the grand jury prize for narrative feature at the South by Southwest film festival, organizers announced Tuesday.

"Beware of Mr. Baker," Jay Bulger's examination of how Cream and Blind Faith drummer Ginger Baker survived 50-plus years of drug abuse, took home the top prize in the documentary category.

Special jury awards for performance went to Jamie Chung in "Eden," 85-year-old Besedka Johnson in "Starlet" and Nico Stone in "Booster."

The festival in Austin, Texas, hosted a total of 132 features and 138 shorts this year, culled from more than 5,300 submissions.  

Click ahead for the other winners:

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SXSW 2012: Lena Dunham returns as one of the 'Girls'

March 13, 2012 | 12:17 pm

The cast of "Girls"

Writer-director-performer Lena Dunham is one of the greatest success stories to emerge from the South by Southwest film festival. She first came to Austin, Texas, in 2009 — also the first year for current festival producer Janet Pierson — with the short feature "Creative Nonfiction." Dunham met a number of people who would become key collaborators on her breakthrough film, "Tiny Furniture," which won multiple awards at SXSW in 2010, and she was back in Austin on Monday to premiere the first three episodes of her HBO series "Girls."

The show centers on Dunham's character, two years out of college and recently cut off financially by her parents, struggling to make a go of things in New York City surrounded by a circle of friends. The show has Dunham's signature blend of incisively urbane wit and wince-inducing self-involvement, such as when her character rebuffs her parents with, "I have a dinner thing and then I am busy, trying to become who I am."

Dunham was joined onstage at the Paramount Theatre by the show's executive producers, Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner. Moderating the event, Pierson chuckled at a question regarding the inspiration for the show, as Dunham simply pointed to herself.

"I made this film 'Tiny Furniture,' " explained Dunham, "which was about this sort of moment immediately after college that I had experienced as extremely confusing.... Historically I have been interested in the female experience — that's a ridiculous thing to say out loud — but there was stuff that I wanted to continue to explore."

Apatow compared "Girls" to previous projects he has been involved with, the film "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" and the television show "Freaks and Geeks," both for the way it turned out better than he expected and how the cast — which includes Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver and Alex Karpovsky — seems made up of many potential stars. He also acknowledged how much of his previous work is seen as dude-centric.

"I've never been around so many women before," said Apatow of his involvement in the production. "That was a new thing. No bongs, no penises, and they don't really like pornography. It was all very new for me in this collaboration."

"For me it's been low-stress," he added. "I'm like, it's Lena's show."

While it might seem unusual for a film festival to air episodes of a television show, the decision was motivated partly by the desire to continue to showcase Dunham and also as a way to include a medium where many currently find vibrant narrative storytelling.

"That's intentional," said Pierson in a phone interview before the start of the festival. "I think there's a lot of talent working in television, and we've been trying to figure out how to celebrate that kind of great filmmaking even if you're watching it on HBO or Showtime or AMC. It's great entertainment that you see on a screen. We've been trying to figure out for a number of years how to spotlight it, and the program with 'Girls' came together perfectly."


SXSW 2012: Unusual buzz-building with 'frankie go boom'

SXSW 2012: A vision of nocturnal New Orleans in 'Tchoupitoulas'

SXSW 2012: Sarcasm, romanticism in 'Somebody Up There Likes Me'

— Mark Olsen, reporting from Austin, Texas


Photo: Jemima Kirk, Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet in "Girls." Credit: HBO.

SXSW 2012: '21 Jump Street' star Channing Tatum keeps his shirt on

March 13, 2012 | 11:04 am

"21 Jump Street" premieres at SXSW

Actor Channing Tatum proved the main attraction Monday night for the high percentage of very young women who turned up at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas, for the premiere of "21 Jump Street" — the comedic re-imagining of the 1980s-era television show. Cheers filled the auditorium as the cast and filmmakers took the stage following the screening, with Tatum and costar Jonah Hill dressed in the same ill-fitting bicycle cop uniforms they wear in the movie.

"It's a bromance," said Tatum, when asked about making the shift to comedy following his streak of romantic roles in films such as the recent "The Vow." Tatum was also asked by one questioner why he didn't take his shirt off in "Jump Street" and could he do so right there. Mentioning the amount of salty food and beer in both New Orleans, where the film was shot, and Austin, he declined.

"21 Jump Street" casts Hill as the brainy Schmidt and Tatum as his brawny partner Jenko, two fairly inept cops who are sent back to high school as part of an undercover effort to stop a drug ring. The mission puts them in the orbit of the cool clique, headed up by Dave Franco's ecologically minded Eric (the actor is James Franco's younger brother). Much of the comedy derives from how much has changed since Schmidt and Jenko were students — with Schmidt finding his geeky stride and Jenko spending some quality time with the misfit kids in the AV club.

Hill, who, along with Tatum, is also an executive producer on the film, seemed particularly excited about the uproarious response the R-rated film received from the crowd.

"No matter what happens next week," Hill said, "all the concerns of what happens to it, what happens when it goes in the world, we'll have this night forever."

Hill and Tatum were joined onstage by directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, screenwriter Michael Bacall, actors Franco and Rob Riggle and the festival's Rebecca Feferman. Hill busted on Franco for his role in "Charlie St. Cloud," or, as HIll called it, the "Zac Efron ghost brother movie," while celebrating Riggle for an outrageously vulgar improvised stunt.

Those onstage also all discussed the not-to-be-spoiled-here surprise cameo in the film, which included years of legwork to pull of.

Hill joked throughout the Q&A about the possibility of a sequel and how any of them could potentially be replaced by Ryan Gosling. Getting serious for a moment, Hill noted, "All of us up here would love to do a sequel, but it's no longer in our hands. So if you tell your friends that the movie was great and they go watch it and it makes a bunch of money, then we will all be making a sequel very soon. If not, you will never see us ever again. It's in your hands, no longer ours."


SXSW 2012: Sarcasm, romanticism in 'Somebody Up There Likes Me'

SXSW 2012: Unusual buzz-building with 'frankie go boom'

SXSW 2012: A vision of nocturnal New Orleans in 'Tchoupitoulas'

— Mark Olsen, reporting from Austin, Texas


Photo: Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in "21 Jump Street." Credit: Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures.

SXSW 2012: Sarcasm, romanticism in 'Somebody Up There Likes Me'

March 12, 2012 |  5:26 pm

Nick Offerman in "Somebody Up There Likes Me"

Bob Byington's "Somebody Up There Likes Me" — a story of tumbling through on a streak of good luck and a little help from a magic suitcase — had its world premiere Sunday night at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas.

The screening began with costar and producer Nick Offerman taking the stage with a guitar and beginning to sing "Rhinestone Cowboy." Festival producer Janet Pierson had to inform him this was a SXSW film event, not a music event, and so the concert stopped and the screening began.

Following up on the sweet melancholy of his 2009 film, "Harmony and Me," director and co-writer Byington has crafted something of a sarcastic fable in which aging is held at bay but not quite defeated and love and friendship are truly put to the test of time.

The story covers 35 years in the life of Max (Keith Poulson), his best friend, Sal (Offerman), and the woman they both come to love (Jess Weixler). They are all aided by a magical suitcase that slows the aging process through hookups, breakups, weddings, birth, divorce and a funeral. (The special valise is never particularly explained or discussed; it's just part of the fabric of the story.)

Both Poulson and Offerman have roles in "Harmony," and Byington wrote their parts in "Somebody" with them in mind.

"It's really where the movie kind of sprang from," the Austin-based Byington said in a phone interview before the festival. "I imagined these two actors as friends, and I imagined a woman sort of coming between them, but not really. ...

"And that was the basis for the tone of the movie: how these two guys could communicate and that something cataclysmic might happen to them but that wouldn't affect them too much. The whole tone ended up being off-kilter or fable-like."

Though Offerman is a star of TV's "Parks and Recreation," Poulson has far less experience as an actor. (He's also a musician.)

"Keith has some type of presence, and it's not necessarily an actor-type presence," Byington said. "We did that on 'Harmony,' and I like to throw actors and non-actors together. I'm not sure what happens exactly, but I do think the impulse to write for Nick and Keith in the first place came out of this idea that there is some type of sparks that fly out of a thing. I don't fully understand it, but I think a scene can get a little dead if it's just actors."

The purposeful unreality of the main conceit in "Somebody" brings into relief the tart humor and jaundiced romanticism of the story. But Byington said he didn't intend to make viewers uneasy. 

 "There's never an impulse to make anyone uncomfortable. That's got to be the dumbest thing you could possibly have as an agenda as a filmmaker, making people uncomfortable," he said. "Do you go to a movie to be uncomfortable? Why not just open a theater and turn the heat up really high? I know there are great films by great filmmakers where the impulse is unsettling people. I'm just not interested."

For the post-screening Q&A, moderated by actor and filmmaker Alex Karpovsky, Byington was joined onstage by Poulson and Offerman, actresses Kate Lyn Sheil and Stephanie Hunt and composer Chris Baio from the band Vampire Weekend. The group was in fine spirits following the pressure-valve release of their first screening, and answers tended to drift off into sarcasm or what seemed to be inside jokes.

Asked about the decision not to use makeup or effects to age the actors during the time shifts of the story, Byington curtly responded, "Incompetence, basically."

Offerman closed the evening with a little sincerity when he noted (acknowledging the rapidly changing landscape for independent film releasing), "It's nice when you finish a movie and they show it in a theater."


SXSW 2012: Unusual buzz-building with 'frankie go boom'

SXSW 2012: A vision of nocturnal New Orleans in 'Tchoupitoulas'

SXSW 2012: Two sides of opening night with 'Cabin' and 'Babymakers'

— Mark Olsen, reporting from Austin, Texas


Photo: Nick Offerman in "Somebody Up There Likes Me." Photo credit: SXSW Film.

SXSW 2012: Unusual buzz-building with 'frankie go boom'

March 11, 2012 |  8:02 pm

Charlie Hunnam and Chris O'Dowd in "frankie go boom"

Is is possible for a movie to peak with its description in a film festival announcement? That was the question in Austin on Saturday night at South by Southwest going into the premiere of the "frankie go boom," screening as part of the Narrative Spotlight section.

The film had begun generating buzz when it was first announced for the Texas festival, not because of filmmaking pedigree or talent attached, but rather for the oddly worded, quizzically spelled, poorly punctuated and slightly vulgar description that accompanied it -- "A flick by bruce about his little brother frank who's a crybaby ... who shouldn't do ... embarrassing ... if he dozn't want people to 2 see it." For anyone who has had it with another family reunion/weekend wedding/road trip log-line, it was just weird enough to be refreshing. 

"Welcome to my mid-life crisis," said writer-director Jordan Roberts, a longtime screenwriter whose credits include the narration to "The March of the Penguins," while introducing the film. With an enviable cast that includes Chris O'Dowd, Charlie Hunnam, Lizzy Caplan, Ron Perlman, Chris Noth and Whitney Cummings, one might expect a packed red carpet, but none of the cast were in attendance.

"I'm sorry the actors aren't here," said Roberts, "but they are all working. They don't hate me."

The story centers on two brothers, Frankie and Bruce. Frankie (Hunnam) is trying to live down the disgrace of not only finding out that his fiancee had been cheating on him as their wedding was underway, but also that his brother Bruce (O'Dowd) posted a video of his subsequent meltdown on the Internet. Bruce is struggling to overcome addiction issues and reenters Frankie's life just as Frankie is meeting a woman (Caplan) he might have a real chance with. When Bruce uploads another video and complications ensue.

The wild farce went over well in the room. Citing "Borat," "Flirting With Disaster" and "Some Like It Hot" as his main influences in writing the story, Roberts said during the post-screening Q&A that, "I wanted to make a comedy about second chance, in love, second chance in whatever the thing you got slapped down at, and I was fascinated by humiliation and challenging humiliation." 

The inevitable question about whether he has a real-life sibling yielded an interesting response, given that the film centers around two brothers, one an addict, as well as a colorful and tender transgender character played by Ron Perlman.

"I have a brother who is now my sister, or a sister who used to be my brother," said Roberts, "and I have a brother who is no longer with us. So there is addiction in our family, and that's definitely in play here. I feel like these two characters are as much me as they are my brother and I. I am both a rabid, despicable, hungry, voracious quester for fame and I am also a shy, withholding guy who wants to be in the background. So I'm both Frank and Bruce."


SXSW 2012: Two sides of opening night with 'Cabin' and 'Babymakers'

SXSW 2012: 'Gimme The Loot' a freewheeling inner-city adventure

SXSW 2012: 'Jeff' explores Dahmer's effect on Milwaukee

-- Mark Olsen, reporting from Austin, Texas


Photo: Charlie Hunnam and Chris O'Dowd in "frankie go boom." Credit: Courtesy of South by Southwest Film Festival

SXSW 2012: A vision of nocturnal New Orleans in 'Tchoupitoulas'

March 11, 2012 |  2:53 pm


In their previous documentary "45365," which won the grand jury documentary prize at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, in 2009 and an Independent Spirit Award, brothers Bill and Turner Ross took a look at the rural Ohio town where they grew up. The film captured the intersection of past and future in even the smallest corners of America. With their new "Tchoupitoulas," which premiered Saturday as part of the Emerging Visions section at the SXSW film festival, they again prove themselves to be poets of place, crafting a vivid look at New Orleans as seen through the eyes of three young brothers set loose in the nighttime world.

The Ross brothers spent time in New Orleans during their youth, and after months and months of filming scenes with strippers and street musicians and assorted nightlife characters, they came to realize what they were missing.

"What we had seen when we were kids was an inundation of the sense, a lot of color, light and sound," Bill Ross said in a phone interview before the festival. "But it became apparent it wasn't just about those sensory things, it was about the context of being a kid in that adult world and that we needed surrogates for that experience -- their reaction to that world, that immersive experience, that very adult world, their amazement and wonder."

(The title of the film refers to a street in New Orleans, and is pronounced "Chop-a-too-las.")

One afternoon, they met the brothers who would provide the spine to their story and began shooting them that day. Though the Rosses filmed the boys multiple times, much of their footage in the movie does come from one epic night spent wandering New Orleans, just the five of them --  the three boys,  with Bill and Turner filming and running sound.

In presenting the movie as taking place over one night, the Ross brothers may break what seem like some elemental rules of documentary filmmaking, but they believe it is in service of something larger.

"I think it's like anything we do, it's finding moments. In all of this, we're just trying to build a feeling and a tone," said Bill Ross. "The moments are real, but it's in a heavily constructed context. The Ohio film was a total construction, but it's just placing these things in a way that hopefully evokes the feeling that we're trying to convey." 

Turner Ross said he and his brother were "using pieces of the truth to tell a greater truth" and "trying to create these immersive experiences so that you are existing in a time and place. I think we're more after what the film needs to be and not specifically what genre it's going to be programmed in."

Since their time together in New Orleans, the Ross brothers have been tackling what they describe as a real-life western on the Texas-Mexico border.

"The impetus for us is just new experiences," said Bill Ross, "adventures and seeing new parts of the world, meeting people, having stories to tell."

Turner added, "By doing this, we get to participate in a thousand other people's lives."


SXSW 2012: 'Jeff' explores Dahmer's effect on Milwaukee

SXSW 2012: 'Gimme the Loot' a freewheeling, inner-city adventure

SXSW 2012: '21 Jump St.,' 'Cabin in the Woods' eye 'Bridesmaids' bouquet

-- Mark Olsen, reporting from Austin, Texas


Photo from "Tchoupitoulas." Credit: The South by Southwest festival.

SXSW 2012: Two sides of opening night with 'Cabin' and 'Babymakers'

March 10, 2012 |  4:11 pm


On the first night of South by Southwest, there were plenty of films playing around Austin on Friday, including the psychedelic-tinged Mormon pregnancy movie "Electrick Children" and the age-inappropriate rage-rampage of Bobcat Goldthwait's  "God Bless America." But the film festival's official opening night selection was the world premiere of "The Cabin in the Woods." The film, originally with MGM, will be released in April by Lionsgate after being held up for some two years due to MGM's bankruptcy proceedings.

The film's story holds many surprises that will not be spoiled here -- needless to say there is a cabin, it is in the woods and the attractive young people who make their way to it find more than they expected.  With its knowingly subversive storytelling,  "Cabin" in many ways was built for the excited, whooping horde at Austin's Paramount Theater.

"I'm about to cry onstage," director and co-writer Drew Goddard said after the screening. "That was a dream come true. Thank you."

Goddard was joined onstage by co-writer and producer Joss Whedon, actors Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins and actresses Kristen Connolly and Anna Hutchison. The audience's enthusiasm for the the movie was palpable. Goddard and Whedon talked earnestly about the process of writing and making the film, Whitford and Jenkins provided comic relief and Connolly and Hutchison added a bit of fizzy, leggy charm.

"I think this came from a place of love; we just love horror," Goddard said of the inspiration for the story, which he and Whedon wrote over three days staying together (in separate rooms) at a hotel. "It came from a place of 'all right ... it.' If we could do whatever we wanted to, let's just do that and if nothing comes of it that's fine because we just enjoyed writing it."

Perhaps revealing Austin as the college town it is, amid the questions from the audience regarding the film's references to "The Evil Dead" and "Scooby-Doo" were a number of inquiries regarding the way the film handled storytelling archetypes.

"It's not that we don't like that," Whedon responded, "it's that we feel they need to be honored, and then killed."

Whedon was asked about the film's portrayal of its female characters and why (given the film's interest in subverting stereotypes) the girls were still sexy objects of desire in tiny tops and short shorts. He responded: "We did want to be making that movie at the same time we were talking about that movie. And making images that were sexual and on occasion sexy, even if they were exploitative."

When his response garnered a smattering of applause, Whedon added: "I have never been applauded for exploitation before. This is a great festival."

The Paramount was cleared out and anther audience brought in for the world premiere of "The Babymakers," directed by Jay Chandrasekhar. Best known for his work as part of the comedy team Broken Lizard, with rowdy comedies such as "Super Troopers" and "Beerfest," Chandrasekhar seemed here to be reaching partly for something like maturity. But he's not emulating the emotionally sensitive raunch of the recent Judd Apatow school of filmmaking.

Before the screening, Chandrasekhar and his collaborator Kevin Heffernan worked the crowd a bit from onstage, including a contest to chug a couple of beers that was met with wild cheers.

The film stars Paul Schneider and Olivia Munn as a couple trying to conceive a baby. When they discover that their problem may be "confused sperm," a plan is hatched to steal back a healthy dose from an insemination clinic.  The film's greatest strength may simply be Schneider and Munn. Each has as winning a screen presence as one could ask for, and there's an unusual chemistry between Schneider's earthy authenticity and Munn's upbeat perkiness.

The movie played unevenly to the usually friendly Paramount crowd and after the film the audience thinned substantially for the Q&A. Munn wasn't present -- perhaps not surprising, given that just days ago some racy photos apparently from her cellphone appeared online.  Actor Johnny Knoxville, who starred in Chandrasekhar's big-screen version of "The Dukes of Hazzard," shouted a few joking questions from the audience to pump things up, but the energy seemed to have left the room before the credits rolled.


SXSW 2012: '21 Jump St.,' 'Cabin In The Woods' eye Bridesmaids bouquet

SXSW 2012: 'Gimme The Loot' a freewheeling inner-city adventure

SXSW 2012: 'Jeff' explores Dahmer's effect on Milwaukee

-- Mark Olsen, reporting from Austin, Texas


Photo from "The Cabin In The Woods" courtesy of the South By Southwest Film Festival.

SXSW 2012: 'Jeff' explores Dahmer's effect on Milwaukee

March 10, 2012 |  8:00 am


Premiering Saturday as part of the documentary competition at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, the film "Jeff" paints a quietly unnerving portrait of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and his effect on the people of Milwaukee. Interviews with Dahmer's former neighbor, the police detective who took his confession and the city medical examiner are intercut with fictional scenes of Dahmer at his most normal and mundane, out in the world like anyone else. Sometimes evil too must ride the bus.

The meditative hybrid film is the feature debut for 29-year-old director Chris James Thompson, who works in the Milwaukee office of Chris Smith, maker of the seminal documentary "American Movie." It was Thompson's friend Frankie Latina, director of the nouveau-exploitation film "Modus Operandi," who initially kept encouraging Thompson to make a film about one of their city's most notorious residents, a man found guilty of the murder of 17 people. Thompson wasn't interested.

"I think Frankie had this idea that I'd start and he'd sort of commandeer it, to make this crazy, violent Jeffrey Dahmer slasher film," said Thompson during a recent call from Milwaukee. "And I wanted nothing to do with that, but he kept bringing me magazines and books and movies and all this stuff he would find to convince me to start shooting a Jeffrey Dahmer film. What I realized was that no one had ever done a respectable job telling the story."

When Dahmer was arrested in 1991, Thompson was often shuttling back and forth between the homes of his recently divorced parents in Madison, Wis., and Milwaukee. Even then he recalled being struck by the difference in how people talked about the story from outside and inside Milwaukee. That same distinction came to him from his research on Dahmer.

"None of it seemed like it paid the respect that the city deserved," he said. "It all felt like it was told by outsiders and none of it felt like it did the city any justice. They never really got to the point of letting anyone from Milwaukee talk, about how it affected them or how they felt or what it did to their lives. It had such a crazy effect on so many people here, yet everyone just came in like, 'What was wrong with him?' as opposed to 'How did you deal with it?' "

Enlisting another local filmmaker, Andrew Swant, as his lead, Thompson began to make a fictional film about the everyday Dahmer, walking around, riding the bus, everything but his horrific acts. It was only after he had begun filming that he decided to talk to some of the people who were affected by Dahmer, transitioning his film from fiction into documentary.

That began an odyssey of wooing onetime neighbor Pamela Bass, former medical examiner Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen and former detective Patrick Kennedy into participating; all had grown weary of talking about the man they hadn't invited into their lives.

"They each had this list of things that had happened to them they just assumed no one wanted to hear," Thompson said. "It had never been done that way, when they get to talk about every single thing from their own point of view. It's always been Dahmer, Dahmer, Dahmer, it's never been their side of it."

Kennedy described the striped shirt that Dahmer wore in a now famous courtroom appearance, memorialized on the cover of People magazine, and how it actually belonged to Kennedy's son. It was just the kind of disarmingly personal information Thompson was looking for. 

"He was so surprised anyone cared about that part of the story," Thompson recalled. 

The film at times brushes the line of taking a sympathetic view of Dahmer, humanizing him even as he is depicted buying an unusual amount of bleach or awkwardly carting home an oversized blue waste bin.

"It's such a sensitive topic, the list of things I was worried about was endless," said Thompson of his decisions on how to portray Dahmer. "Except I knew that I didn't set out to make him sympathetic. That wasn't my goal.

"Anyone watching the film knows the horrible things he did and would never excuse any of that or make apologies on his behalf. We didn't sit down and say, 'Let's make a sympathetic plea for Jeffrey Dahmer.' It was more, 'Let's make a movie that shows what everyone around him had to deal with.' "


Jessica Biel, Nazis top SXSW midnight movies lineup

SXSW 2012: '21 Jump Street' and 'Cabin in The Woods' aspire to 'Bridesmaids' bouquet

-- Mark Olsen


Photo: Andrew Swant as Jeffrey Dahmer in "Jeff." Credit: Michael Vollman / "Jeff"

SXSW 2012: 'Gimme the Loot' a freewheeling, inner-city adventure

March 10, 2012 |  5:01 am

Gimme the Loot still BRIGHT

In "Gimme the Loot," the debut feature from writer-director Adam Leon, two Bronx teenagers hustle their way forward with a plan to "bomb the apple" -- graffiti the gigantic apple that is raised in celebration when a New York Mets player hits a home run at the team's stadium.

Premiering Saturday as part of the narrative competition at South by Southwest, the story of "Gimme the Loot" could just as easily be pitched toward harsh, gritty urban drama, but Leon goes for a tone of lighthearted, freewheeling innocence.

"They have fun, they're not bad people and not everything that happens to them is awful," explained Leon by phone recently from New York. "We liked to say they have a crush on juvenile delinquency. It was so essential that this movie not be about the perils of youth or some kind of message film that's very dark. Even the drug dealers, they don't have guns."

Leon, 30, grew up in New York City and has friends who were into graffiti, but his relationship to that world was mostly tangential. It was while casting for his 2009 short film "Killer" that he met a number of graffiti artists and found something special in their swaggering worldview.

"I became really inspired that these kids were like real-life action heroes," he said. "They climb buildings and jump over roofs and run from the cops and have rivalries.

"I tried to write this idea using graffiti as the jumping-off point," he added. "I didn't want to do something that was completely about graffiti, but I wanted the characters to be graffiti writers and to use that to propel an adventure, a road-trip kind of thing."

Ty Hickson was in "Killer" and Leon wrote a part with him in mind. For the female lead of Sofia, who has a platonic but deep bond with Hickson's character Malcolm, Leon cast actress and singer Tashiana Washington.

Set over two sun-soaked summer days, "Gimme the Loot" has a vibrant immediacy as schemes are hatched, sneakers are snatched and maybe a couple of lessons are learned. Leon said the film was completely scripted in advance, but a few scenes were improvised and he worked with the actors to put the dialogue in their own words.

"I wrote it, rewrote it and really wanted the film to capture a freshness, a quickness," Leon said. "So we felt if we could prepare as best we could and really know the material and the characters, then we would be able to try to do it as fast as possible, to be as quick and on the fly as we could, and the backbone of the script would allow us to do that while maintaining the storytelling and capturing a sense of the city, a sense of youth, a sense of adventure." 


'21 Jump Street,' Bob Marley doc to premiere at SXSW 

SXSW 2012: '21 Jump St.,' 'Cabin In the Woods' eye 'Bridesmaids' bouquet

-- Mark Olsen


Photo: Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson in "Gimme the Loot." Credit: SXSW



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