Docs That Rock Texas Tunes
by Bridgette Poe
When considering the slate of music-centric documentaries at this year’s DIFF, a common thread emerges amongst the films that also share a distinct Texas connection. The idea of ‘perseverance’ as an overall theme can easily be argued for the films: A SONG FOR YOU: THE AUSTIN CITY LIMITS STORY, HONKY TONK HEAVEN AND FAT WRECK. It’s not just a narrative about music that ties these works together and it’s more than these stories being about or told from the Texas perspective, it’s also the fact that all these docs (as well as the short, MIDNIGHT MOTEL, screening with THE ACL STORY) involve a dogged pursuit and dedication to a goal.
A SONG FOR YOU: THE AUSTIN CITY LIMITS STORY chronicles the long-running PBS concert series. Examining the now 40-year history of the show, this gives audiences a look, with almost unprecedented access, into all sides of the experience. Beginning as a small, local production, the initial intent of Austin City Limits was to showcase and highlight the original Texas music scene. From its humble beginnings, the series has not only evolved and expanded its boundaries; it’s become a recognizable institution of relevancy, coolness and musical history. Keith Maitland (whose doc TOWER, with its inherent Texas ties, is also part of this year’s DIFF line-up) offers up more than just the academic history – performances shown here range from Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughn to Beck and Radiohead. Maitland sweetens the story with interviews from artists and fans, as well as the perspective from the long-time show producer. Screening with THE ACL STORY is director Michael Tully’s short, MIDNIGHT MOTEL. A Texas-produced work, the story centers around a musician and the choices to be made when chasing one’s dream. MIDNIGHT MOTEL stars and features songs by country artist Jack Ingram, himself a native Texan. While part of this cast, both Ingram and singer Jerry Jeff Walker also cross over in another DIFF offering, HONKY TONK HEAVEN.
Continuing on the subject and specifically within the Austin milieu, HONKY TONK HEAVEN is the fantastically fun story of The Broken Spoke, one of the last true honky-tonk dance halls. While the four-decade run of the Austin City Limit series is an unheard-of accomplishment, The Broken Spoke’s been at it for more than fifty years. Self-billing as a place for: “Live music & boot-scootin’, plus beer & chicken-fried steak since 1964”, The Broken Spoke remains the real deal. The musical history alone that’s been comprised here over time is somewhat mind-blowing. Up and coming locals get their shot, as well as established bands that have been on the regular bill for decades. Acts of the highest caliber have also been featured: from George Strait and Dolly Parton to Harry Connick, Jr. Well-known for hospitability, The Broken Spoke has also become the go-to place for certain Hollywood types such as Robert Duvall and Quentin Tarantino when in need of a festive environment. While James and Annetta White have established a place that is now world-famous, a great deal of the charm and appeal is that it still operates without pretense. Yes – some very famous faces have graced the space, but one can still get their favorite lunch-special during the day or sign up for the Two-Step dance lessons that are offered several times a week. The bigger the picture gets overall though, the harder the owners have to fight to keep it a small, family-run business. Unfortunately, HONKY TONK HEAVEN is not only a celebration of the institution, it’s also the all-too-familiar tale of a small organization’s plight and threat by urban development. In addition to the music and dance scene, it’s also the unique tenacity of the Texas spirt that’s beautifully displayed in this rousingly entertaining film.
Tying together the idea of musical perseverance is one of the Deep Ellum Sounds listings: A FAT WRECK. A film about the 1990’s California punk rock record label, Fat Wreck Chords, the project was helmed by Dallas filmmaker Shaun Colón. To attempt any kind of ‘career’ in punk rock is itself an exercise in dedication and A FAT WRECK features interviews with label founders Fat Mike (of NOFX) and his then-wife, Erin Kelly-Burkett, as well as some of the most iconic players in the genre. This doc recounts the struggles, challenges and growth behind what the label refers to as “ruining punk rock” for the past 25 years. An editor and producer, (as well as the founder of his own record label) Shaun Colón absolutely embodies this idea of persistence. Colón has participated in the Dallas Film Festival for the past several years – first as an audience member, then volunteering for the organization – and now, is being celebrated as a DIFF filmmaker. Like many filmmakers before him, Colón and his crew have accomplished their end results by any means necessary. Which, in this case, includes the use of rare archival footage, as well as propelling the narrative through the use of puppets! DIFF’s 10th year definitely gives fans the opportunity to explore many different types of music – while appreciating the dedication of each artists’ vision.
DALLAS STAR AWARDOscar-nominated cinematographer Ed Lachman’s selected credits as a cinematographer include the Emmy nominated HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce and films including DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, and the Academy Award nominated film, CAROL.
DALLAS MAVERICK AWARDOur inaugural honoree, director, editor and producer Monte Hellman, has a career that spans six decades. He has exemplified cutting-edge filmmaking across multiple genres, working with budgets, from high-to-low, and with casts featuring stars to complete unknowns.