Made in Texas: 30-year-old short films will re-premiere at SXSW

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Louis Black, co-founder of South By Southwest and The Austin Chronicle, is bringing something new to SXSW — “Made in Texas.” Made in Texas is a program of six short films with topics as wide-ranging as aluminum-clad aliens, Jim Morrison and a mother and daughter lost on a road trip — but what all the films share in common is that they were, indeed, made in Texas.

The movies were originally filmed around Austin in 1980 and premiered in New York in 1981. They will re-premiere at SXSW on Friday at the Marchesa Theatre and again the following Friday at the Alamo Ritz.

The program’s films — “Death of a Rock Star,” “Invasion of the Aluminum People,” “Speed of Light,” “Fair Sisters,” “Mask of Sarnath” and “Leonardo, Jr.” — were influenced by the punk and new-wave scenes that took Austin by storm in the early ’80s.  Black, who directed “Fair Sisters” and produced “Mask of Sarnath,” said he believes the films act as a kind of time capsule for the Austin film community.

“In restoring these films, we get to restore honor to these people,” Black said. “The talent in this town at that time was extraordinary, and they all worked together. When you see the credits for one of these films, you’ll see that a lot of those people are on the credits for one of the other films.”

After director Jonathan Demme, who helped assemble the original collection of films, was honored at SXSW last year, he and Black began discussing the possibility of a rerelease. Black said they were sure the films would still hold meaning. 

“The great thing about this program is that young and old filmmakers who have seen these films are blown away by them,” Black said. “Watching them now, you would still think of them as something that nobody’s done before.” 

Paul Collum, UT alumnus and writer of “Speed of Light,” said his film — set in 1963 — placed historical events in the modern context of the late ’70s, when he first started planning his project.

“The film takes place in this moment of optimism before [President John F. Kennedy’s] assassination,” Collum said. “People were making these shock waves that resonated with everyone, and that was something we heard in punk rock then.” 

Both Black and Collum said the “do it yourself” attitude of punk-rock bands served as motivation for them to start making their films. Black said their shared passions pushed them forward, even though many of the filmmakers were living in cramped apartments near campus and were without much money.

“To me, Texas has always been a place where you can create yourself,” Black said. “If you were here, it was because you wanted to be here. We didn’t want to make movies that were just like everyone else’s, and if we did, we’d have been in New York or [Los Angeles] instead.”

As the films return to the screen, Black said he hopes they will connect modern audiences with the creative spirit of Austin in the late ’70s.

“I know that it’s a long program and that some people will walk out,” Black said. “But at the end of the day, I want people to celebrate these films and celebrate this microcosm that kept Austin weird.”