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It’s Not SXSW and That’s a Good Thing: Considering the Dallas International Film Festival

It's Not SXSW and That's a Good Thing: Considering the Dallas International Film Festival

The six-year-old Dallas International Film Festival may not have the buzz of fellow Texas festival SXSW or the long history of the neighboring USA Film Festival, but it puts on a remarkably professional and well-run show.

DIFF ended its partnership with AFI in 2010, a dissolution that might have broken another film festival. Instead, DIFF has increased in scope to become the premiere film festival in Dallas. Here’s a few reasons why DIFF just might destined for bigger things in the years ahead.

If you’re a filmmaker, Texas really wants your business.

At DIFF’s April 12 opening-night screening of Josh Radnor’s “Liberal Arts” in the historic Majestic Theatre, Dallas residents mingled with filmmakers, film fans and government officials looking to promote the film industry in Texas. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings addressed the crowd before the screening, emphasizing his desire to increase film as a business in the state.

Rawlings said he got a late start with cinema (his first film was Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” as a senior in high school). But he said he later got into directors like Michelangelo Antonioni, Frederico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman who helped him realize the power of cinema. “I discovered how movies show us the pathos of pain and the absurdity of life itself,” he said.

In a moment of Lone Star State braggadocio, Rawlings said Texas needs to maintain competition with “second-rate states” like Louisiana and New Mexico, both of which have had success offering major incentives for filmmakers. Looking at some of this year’s crop of films in the Texas Competition, it is easy to see why Rawlings has such great faith in the Texas film industry.

Texas’ film output is getting stronger.

The 2012 Texas Competition program features a healthy mix of narrative films and documentaries. Making its world premiere at the festival, Mark Potts and Cole Selix’s slacker comedy “Cinema Six” resembles a movie theater-set version of “Office Space” with the same kind of raunchy humor and quarter-to-mid-life ennui. Three theater employees debate their direction in life as they deal with college plans, relationships and unexpected pregnancies. The film offers more than dirty jokes and profanity as some surprisingly serious moments pop in as well. Lead actor John Merriman (a former programmer for the Austin Film Festival and a dead ringer for Zach Galifianakis) handles comedy and drama with equal ease and the whole cast delivers with a fair share of absurd comedic moments.

Will James Moore’s relationship drama “Satellite of Love,” also making its world premiere, takes a far more serious tone with a meditative look at what it means to be in love. It reflects on the choices made by a group of three friends and how their shared romantic history continues to impact their lives. Samuel (Nathan Phillips) and Blake (Zachary Knighton) are both in love with Catherine (Shannon Lucio), but Blake’s the one who’s married to her. During a stay at a vineyard with Samuel and his free-spirited DJ friend Michelle (Janina Gavankar), Catherine and Blake’s relationship is tested by Samuel’s feelings for Catherine. The film asks questions about monogamy and accepting the decisions we make without giving easy answers.

Thanks to its subject, Jonny Mars’ Dallas Cowboys fan documentary “America’s Parking Lot” is another high-profile Texas film at the fest. At the heart of “America’s Parking Lot,” is an existential crisis that stems from the decision to demolish Texas Stadium and build the new Dallas Cowboys stadium in its place. Two fans who have thrown legendary tailgate parties in Gate 6 outside the stadium are forced to confront the changing economic times and the sports industry’s new direction, questioning how far they are willing to take their fandom as the price of season tickets goes higher and higher. Naturally, the film played well to a theater full of Dallas Cowboys fans.

One of the festival’s biggest titles at this year’s DIFF is Ryan O’Nan’s musical road movie “The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best,” which premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival The film was not shot in Texas, but O’Nan said Dallas was important to the production because the film’s origins began around the time he was at the festival for “The Dry Land” back in 2010. Reel FX Studios held an afterparty after the film’s Texas premiere. O’Nan and his co-star/band member Michael Weston pulled out their guitar and children’s instruments to play a set as the Brooklyn Brothers.

DIFF is way less stressful for both filmgoers and filmmakers.

DIFF doesn’t get the same attention as SXSW and Sundance — and doesn’t bring the same level of pressure on filmmakers. This year’s DIFF is screening several films that were featured at both Sundance and SXSW, but here you might actually get a chance to see them.

After premiering at this year’s Sundance, Michael Mohan brought his film “Save the Date” to DIFF. Mohan’s short film “Ex-Sex” played at last year’s DIFF, so the festival has been very supportive of Mohan’s work. While Mohan appreciates Sundance, he found DIFF to be a much less stressful experience. “Sundance is the greatest festival in the world, but one thing it’s not is relaxing,” said Mohan. “Dallas is one of those festivals just full of real human beings who love cinema.”

People in Dallas really care about film.

Seriously. Everyone volunteering for the festival is doing it out of a genuine love for film (even drivers who barely see any of the films because they are so busy). There is a genuine passion and excitement here for film that feels real, without the jaded been there done that vibe of other higher profile festivals.

DIFF may not have splashy premieres or big budgets like Sundance or SXSW, but you can arrive at a screening shortly before start time and actually get into the movie. There’s something pure about DIFF; it’s refreshingly free of hype. If you want to attend a festival that feels like it’s actually about the movies, Dallas is the place to go.

The Dallas International Film Festival runs throughl April 22. For more on the festival, check out their website.

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