Intoxicating neon, the mellow hum of a Pedal-Steel Guitar, a salt-rimmed Margarita glass and a swelteringly vibrant atmosphere that melted all of your troubles away – sounds, dare I say, like heaven, doesn’t it? Well, if heaven was hotter than hell, obsessed with live music and God served up Lonestar beers on arrival at the gates, then I guess it would resemble something like Austin, Texas. There I was, stood in the Continental Club, a famous Austin musical landmark and later on, the venue for a short scene in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. This, however, was May last year, long before Boyhood exploded into the critical powerhouse that we have witnessed throughout a long, tiring awards season.
I was in a unique position, a film fanatic and filmmaker in the pre-Boyhood Austin Film Scene. I began a two week internship with the Austin School of Film with hope of immersing myself in what was beginning to become a journey into the height of independent values. Only a few days after my night at the Continental, on the recommendation of the School’s Executive Director, I attended a film screening North up the highway from downtown Austin at the Marchesa Theatre as part of a series entitled ‘Jewels in the Wasteland’.
The event was Linklater’s own, presented by the Austin Film Society (which he co-founded), one in which he wanted to share his love for some of the 80’s films that slipped under the radar of cultural memory. The Dazed and Confused director was in fact a presenter at the event, (a screening of Dennis Hopper-directed ‘Out of the Blue’) sharing humorous Dennis Hopper anecdotes and discussing the film itself. Before this, as Linklater began to make his way to the stage, the compère for the event made a joke about how ‘this is the last time we’ll see Rick before he goes away and wins all the Oscars.’ I sat blissfully ignorant to the meaning of the statement, laughing to try and fit in with the crowd, who at the time were obviously much more informed than I about what was to happen this year. Keep laughing Patrick, I tell myself, they’ll never know.
As a blog-writer for the school during my internship, I spent the free time I had sat in the booths of cinematically familiar Texan bars, scanning through my iPad attempting to piece together my own interpretation of a city’s film history that had peaked my interest since my arrival there. When I wasn’t repeating myself for those who consistently failed to understand my Mancunian accent, I was looking through article after article about the roots of Austin’s burgeoning independent film scene. Linklater’s name continued to come up and my discussions with those at the Austin School of Film, only confirmed his importance to the city’s evolution into an Indie hotbed. It was somewhat overwhelming to realise how much of an impact one person and one city could make. A late-starter (began an interest in his early 20’s), Linklater has been pretty much going it alone from Hollywood, and uncompromisingly basing himself in the city he loves and has lived for over 30 years. The fact that he takes time out, every week, to give back his experiences to those who have stuck by him in the city is pretty unheard of and just speaks to how different his attitude is to most.
I place a lot of significance on his Best Director award at the Independent Spirit Awards, particularly, when Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu is tipped to win the Oscar in said category for Birdman. This is by far a criticism on Innaritu, whose unique work on Birdman is incredibly original and is a scathingly funny satire on that same Hollywood culture he himself has sought to avoid. However, Richard Linklater’s work is something much simpler, a concept placing an individual importance on the nuances of one’s life. I write this article pre-Oscars, because I don’t feel it matters, Linklater has done enough to earn the credibility he deserves. As with his Before trilogy, Boyhood finds itself examining life and giving value to our own. This is a man who has done so much for the Indie community and rarely seeks plaudits, dedicating his time to his family and sharing his love of cinema with the city of Austin at any chance he can get. I challenge you with all your energy to try and find someone who has a bad word to say about him, because I don’t think that person is out there.
However, the man himself, from the short time I got to witness his demeanour in person, would not want to be bestowed with The city’s film scene is built by real filmmakers for real filmmakers and enthusiasts. The Alamo Drafthouse is one of the greatest Independent cinemas you’ll ever see. The Austin School of Film, where I had been working was also perfect example of the community spirit. It’s a small school which supports the indie community with excellent classes, equipment and is a valuable resource for filmmakers. They, perhaps most poignantly, hold film camps each summer for Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico, to help them adjust to life in America and find an outlet for possible troubles they may have faced back home (I heard some particular gruesome stories which I wouldn’t dare repeat about life for the children in parts of Mexico). From 2 weeks that I had in Austin, before I left to attend Film School as a student in New York City for 6 weeks, my whole perception of what could be achieved as an Indie Filmmaker had changed. An entire city built on the values of teamwork, helping each other and exploring the unexplored – I felt like a different person, and if I wasn’t, I wanted to be.
In a world who’s latest fascination is the Fifty Shades of Grey film (which on principle, I shall never see), there are indeed small pockets of hope throughout the world, including at Raindance, who’s strongly independent philosophy parallels those that I experienced in Austin. Both represent the wonderful way the Independent community can come together, amidst Hollywood and commercial elitism in the industry. I don’t consider myself to be an antagonist to the gleeful Hollywood narrative, I don’t see myself as an antagonist to anything, I’m just a normal person without a big enough narrative. Yet what Boyhood teaches us is that our normal lives are big enough, everything is noteworthy and everything we do counts towards something.
The city, as well as Linklater himself, were the biggest inspiration an Independent filmmaker such as myself could ask for. It left an even better taste in my mouth, than the brisket and ribs at the Iron Works Barbecue joint on Red River Street (damn I miss that barbecue place…). If anything what I learned, was that anyone, at any time, anywhere, with a little help and collaboration, can do something incredibly powerful and completely game-changing.