Sunday, February 1, 2009

Live Cinema Capital of The World

Let's skip the obvious tourist sales pitch about the city's live music scene (even though I'm utterly convinced it's not the least bit exaggerated) -- Austin has got to be the biggest movie industry city in the US after Los Angeles. Sure, we've got to think of New York and Shreveport, too, but you didn't come here for the statistics, did you? Good, because I have none. I prefer to support my claim with the following:

a) The Austin Film Festival
Possibly the only American film festival focused on screenwriting (certainly the biggest).

b) Austin Studios
Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Richarld Linklater are just a few of the heavyweights making regular use of Austin's 5-soundstage studio complex.

c) UT's RTF program
That's "Radio, Television and Film", FYI. One of the biggest in the country. Internship in LA mandatory.

d) The Alamo Drafthouse Theater
With frequent special screenings of older gems, often with directors and actors in attendance, the Alamo is arguably Austin's greatest asset to educate the public, expanding viewers' horizons beyond the latest blockbusters playing at the multiplexes. If that doesn't assure the emergence of new talents and an audience receptive to them, nothing will.

I could go on: SXSW has a movie component of its own, and Austin's independent video stores (Vulcan Video, I Luv Video) deserve kudos as well. But I think it's clear by now Austin has managed to build a thriving, consistent movie scene for professionals and public alike.

Don't take it for granted. It's a very unique scene. Compare it with Brazil: it's nearly impossible to produce and distribute a feature film without government grants or investments from Globo Networks, our controversial national media giant (roughly speaking, think Fox News with very little competition). By the same token, the Brazilian public is not as engaged: the national average viewer goes to the movies twice a year (Porto Alegre has the highest average in the country: four times a year). Of course, you've got to take statistics with a grain of salt. They are an average between people like me, who go to the movies at least six times a month, and people who'd rather stay home and watch TV, for whatever reason. But no matter how you look at it, what it all adds up to is that movie opportunities in Austin are unbelievably abundant when compare to other places (and I don't mean just developing countries: ask British or French filmmakers, it's no picnic in Europe either).

What makes a place movie-friendly is how much cinema has become a part of people's lives. If it feels too extraordinary, it hasn't been properly integrated into the city's reality. That's what makes Austin unique: it doesn't feel as big or special as it actually is. Austin makes it seem easy.

Hopefully this picture will illustrate how great it feels to be a part of it:

Celso with Chazz Palminteri after a screening of
The Usual Suspects
at the Alamo Ritz. August, 2008.

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