By Mark Saldana
After eight days of films, conference panels, and parties, the 2015 Austin Film Festival has come to an end. Every year, filmmakers attend the festival and conference which celebrates and honors the importance of writing in cinema. The conference portion offers attendees a variety of panels that provide education for those attempting a career in the medium, and panels that give insight from more experienced filmmakers who have achieved success in television and/or film. The festival lineup usually consists of various films from both established filmmakers and the hungry ones seeking their big breaks.
This was my sixth year to attend AFF and I have to say that the lineup this year was rather impressive. Unfortunately, I could not take any time off from my day job, so I had more limited time to view films this year. Still, I managed to see twelve films, and with the exception of perhaps one film, I liked all of them.
Here are the top five films I saw at AFF 2015:
(Synopses Courtesy of AFF)
- A Single Frame: (While on a trip to Dubrovnik in 2007, Jeff Bowden encounters a photograph of a refugee child taken during the war in Kosovo. Driven by this haunting image, Bowden sets out to find the boy.) This truly amazing and beautiful documentary really touched my heart. It is a testament to the power and impact of photography, art and cinema.
- Youth: (From Paolo Sorrentino, the internationally renowned writer and director of Italy’s Oscar-winning foreign language film The Great Beauty, comes Youth – a poignant tale of how we each find our own passion in life. Starring Academy Award® winner Michael Caine as Fred and Academy Award® nominee Harvey Keitel as Mick, Youth explores the lifelong bond between two friends vacationing in a luxury Swiss Alps lodge as they ponder retirement.) This often hilarious comedy is a smart, witty, and eccentric reflection on life, love, and aging. The film can boast excellent direction, great writing, solid performances.
- Paperback: (Rob’s stagnating life seems like it might be about to get better: he just met Emily, the girl of his dreams, and his best friend just moved back into town. But, when he finds out there’s a huge roadblock to him and Emily being together, he ends up in a difficult situation and must choose between increasingly troubling choices where there is no such thing as a good decision.) This sophomore feature by writer/director/actor Adam Bowers is an absolute riot. I loved this comedy about a socially awkward guy who gets into a pickle of an awkward situation. Fans of the humor of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm will love it.
- The Adderall Diaries: (Based on the bestselling memoir by Stephen Elliott, The Adderall Diaries is the story of a once-successful novelist paralyzed by writer’s block and an escalating Adderall dependency. When he becomes obsessed with a high-profile murder case as a way to escape his personal troubles, his interest leads him to meet Lana Edmond (Amber Heard), a smart and sexy reporter who gives him unique access to the case. As their relationship takes off, Stephen is suddenly thrust back into the past when his cruel and vindictive father (Ed Harris) shows up to challenge the veracity of the memoir Stephen is writing.) This adaptation a dark, atmospheric and powerful film with superb performances by James Franco, Amber Heard, and Ed Harris.
- The Lion’s Path: (Alex and his new girlfriend, Jade, travel to the countryside to join a small community led by an enlightened professor turned therapist. Longing for acceptance, Alex seeks to become a member. He’ll soon discover that everything is not quite as it seems, and that the path to “truth” is a road he might not want to take.) This sometimes dark and cerebral film by French-Canadian director Stephan Beaudoin and writer Sophie-Anne Beaudry offers a fresh take on the cult-commune/guru experience. With superb writing and transcendent performances, it is a remarkable mind trip.