One of the highlights of SXSW was a screening of Steve James & Peter Gilbert’s IFC Films release At the Death House Door, a doc about Texas Pastor Carroll Pickett who served as the chaplain at the “Walls” prison unit in Huntsville, TX where he presided over 95 executions. It’s as compelling an argument against the death penalty as I’ve seen and Pastor Pickett’s transformation from supporter of capital punishment to staunch opponent is well chronicled against the backdrop of the execution of Carlos De Luna, a convict Pickett believed was innocent. The film follows Steve Mills and Maury Possley, two Chicago Tribune reporters who uncover evidence strongly suggesting De Luna’s innocence.
Pastor Pickett and Steve James following the screening:
Cinelan Filmmaker Advisory Board members Morgan Spurlock and Steve James outside the SXSW screening.
So the knock down, drag out, most boozingest fun 10 days in all of festivaldom kicks off in a scant two months from now and I will be on hand to provide coverage of as much of the tomfoolery as possible, not to mention pix and reports and footage of the films, bands and other goings on in West Texas. Look out, BBQ, here I come! This year I plan on making it out to the Salt Lick. Me need brisket. Another restaurant on my list? Hudson’s on the Bend. I mean, how can you argue with Wild Boar three ways: Masa crusted wild boar scaloppini, wild boar sausage and wild boar taquito with ancho Shiner Bock potatoes and chile d’arbol cilantro beurre blanc? Or how about Espresso-Chocolate-Chili smoked Elk Back Strap topped with Gulf Coast Crab and a Lime-Chipotle Beer Blanc? And for dessert? Rosemary Olive Oil Cake layered with lemon curd and butter cream icing on a prickly pear sauce. Oh, lord!
SXSW Film recently announced that Robert Luketic’s eagerly anticipated film 21 will open the 2008 South by Southwest Festival and Conference. Advance word on the film is positive and I’m really looking forward to seeing it.
One of the other films announced has me doing a serious geek dance and that’s Erik Nelson’s Dreams With Sharp Teeth, a documentary about legendary science fiction author Harlan Ellison. SXSW Film Festival producer Matt Dentler has just informed me that Ellison will be in attendance. I’ve seen the trailer and all I can say is…Yikes! I am geeking out, big time. This guy is a serious legend. He wrote for the original Star Trek (“City on the Edge of Forever”) and The Outer Limits (Demon With a Glass Hand”), although he apparently is less than pleased with the final result of the former.
Also screening is Michael Radford’s upcoming heist thriller Flawless (Magnolia Pictures), starring Michael Caine and Demi Moore. I saw this film at the European Film Market in Berlin last year and while I wasn’t blown away, you can (and probably have) do a lot worse for a heist film. The robbery sequences are brilliantly filmed and will have you perched on the edge of your seat and Caine’s a joy to watch.
Rounding out the preview are two docs, including one that is causing a bit of a stir in the doc community and was written up in indieWIRE in November, Celia Maysles’ Wild Blue Yonder, about her father, David Maysles. The other, At the Death House Door from Hoop Dreams director Steve James and Peter Gilbert (prod. Hoop Dreams) deals with the wrongful execution of Texas inmate Carlos DeLuna. The death penalty is one of my hot-button issues so this is one of my most anticipated films @ the fest.
Of course this is just a sampling and I know for a fact there’s some more big news coming out of the SXSW Film camp before the fest, so stay tuned to SXSW Film, Matt Dentler’s blog and of course, The Rabbi Report!
Remember, Matt Dentler is watching.