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Friday, Mar 15, 2013
Holy Ghost People takes viewers on a trip through a snake-handling church in the heart of the Appalachian mountains as a young woman attempts to discover what happened to her sister with the help of a downtrodden, alcoholic ex-Marine.

Mitchell Altieri’s Holy Ghost People is billed as a psychological thriller set deep in the Appalachian mountains. The film is a sometimes-hypnotic journey into a snake-handling church hidden from modern, mainstream society. Charlotte (Emma Greenwell) and Wayne (Brendan McCarthy) attempt to infiltrate the church to rescue Charlotte’s sister, who she believes is hidden somewhere on the mountain. It’s an eerie film that touches on the relationship between power and religion, especially in communities largely populated by those who have somehow been shunned or tossed out of polite society.


Sometimes called holy rollers, the religious community that Altieri has chosen for his film is very real. Some of the footage in Holy Ghost People seems to be borrowed from Peter Adair’s 1967 documentary of the same name. The mix of the largely ethnographic old, black and white footage with Altieri’s storyline is compelling but also psychologically disturbing. It makes a movie that we might otherwise be able to dismiss as not very realistic seem a lot more accurate. As Charlotte and Wayne travel into the heart of the Church of One Accord, they meet the congregation’s leader, Brother Billy (Joe Egender). They also meet a trouble woman, Sister Sheila (Cameron Richardson), who seems to be hiding in the community more than she is reveling in religious ecstasy.


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Thursday, Mar 14, 2013
Carlos Puga's first feature-length film since The S1gnificance of Se7eventeen is a thoughtful family drama that invites contemplation and deserves praise for its excellent ensemble cast.

Before we go any further, I have to confess something: Burma wasn’t on my original SXSW to-do list. It wasn’t even on the second revision of the list. Nothing about it jumped out at me. In fact, the only reason I went to see Burma at all was because I badly needed dinner and it was being shown at the Alamo, which just happens to offer full, in-your-seat food service. Seeing Burma was really just an accident.


And what a happy accident it was. Carlos Puga’s film is an emotionally heady family drama that takes on how we related to each other, and how sometimes we are least able to see clearly those who are closest to us. The film starts with a fairly basic premise: Dr. Lynn (Christopher McCann) returns to tell his adult children something nine years after abandoning them along with his dying wife. The range of emotions felt by siblings Christian (Christopher Abbott), Susan (Gaby Hoffman) and Win (Dan Bittner) seems a bit stereotypical at first. Okay, it’s a family drama with all the attendant sibling issues. However, as Burma progresses, so much more comes to the surface.


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Thursday, Mar 14, 2013
Short films are often put aside or overlooked as the appetizers of the film world. The shorts program at SXSW, however, is full of tasty gems that deserve to be seen.

Short films and documentaries are often treated like the wicked stepchildren of their full-length counterparts by cinema buffs. Animated shorts perhaps get a little more leeway because they are more familiar to most viewers—but they are still regarded as just a way to entertain the audience before a movie, not as a legitimate, central event in and of themselves. Maybe it’s because bad shorts can be really bad; there aren’t brilliant moments to excuse the lackluster ones. Or maybe people believe that they can’t get lost in a short in the same way that they can get lost in a feature film.


Whatever the problem is, I’m hell-bent on telling the world that shorts are worthwhile. It’s something that the folks behind your favorite films know. A great deal of them started out in short films. If you’re still skeptical about the medium or have had disappointing experiences with shorts, try my top picks from this year’s SXSW shorts program.


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Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013
The Lords of Salem made its debut at SXSW but might not have been what Rob Zombie fans have been waiting for.

“Half of you will love this movie and half of you will hate it.” That was pretty much the extent of Rob Zombie’s introduction to the US premiere of The Lords of Salem and, honestly, he was right. Not being a big horror fan, I had serious trepidation about walking into the Topfer Theatre on Monday at midnight to see Zombie’s long-awaited fifth feature film. Waiting in line to enter the show, I found myself surrounded by serious horror aficionados and diehard Rob Zombie fans. They told me that I was likely to both scream and laugh during the show and that, yes, I might just have nightmares.


Unfortunately, it seems Rob Zombie was right. I didn’t hate the movie, but it seemed that many in the Topfer were less-than-enthused about The Lords of Salem. It took a long time for the story to take off and even after it did, it didn’t seem to go as far as it could to meet its potential. Still, the film had a more arthouse air about it than fan favorite House of 1000 Corpses and offered some pretty stunning visuals. Instead of relying on the constant gore that many fans seemed to be expecting, Zombie used subtle effects that made the film play more like the am I going crazy? narrative it’s supposed to be than a hardcore gore film.


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Tuesday, Mar 12, 2013
The animated short is the perfect vehicle for filmmakers who want to reach audiences in a fascinating, often whimsical way while making substantial technical and artistic advancements. This year's SXSW animated shorts selections don't disappoint on either counts.

Animated Shorts, Often Underrated, Are a Highlight of This Year’s SXSW Film


The animated short provides rich opportunities for filmmakers who want to tell short-form stories that can be just as philosophical as they are whimsical. This year’s SXSW animated shorts selection is proof of just how diverse this form of storytelling can be. The animated shorts program premiered on 3/9 and will run again on Tues. 3/12 at 4:15 PM at the Stateside Theatre and Weds. 3/13 at 9:30 PM at the Vimeo Theater.


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