Louis Black

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.”

Photo Credit: Hannah Hadidi | Daily Texan Staff

For young film enthusiasts, going to the movies can be somewhat of a financial burden. The Austin Film Society is looking to change that with the inception of the Ed Lowry Student Film Program. The program allows high school and undergraduate student society members to attend all of its regular screenings for free. 

The idea for the program came about during SXSW when Louis Black, co-founder of the Austin Chronicle and board member of the Austin Film Society, honored the late Ed Lowry in a speech. Black spoke of how Lowry led him to pursue film through a previous UT program, CinemaTexas. The program made screenings affordable and accessible to students. 

According to Holly Herrick, associate artistic director for the Austin Film Society, it was this speech that sparked the interest in bringing back something similar to CinemaTexas. 

“After hearing [the speech], we thought this is the perfect opportunity to recreate a program to inspire students in a way much like [Lowry] did for [Black],” Herrick said. “The goal is to create an opportunity for passionate students and give them this through an Austin Film Society exhibition.” 

Students have to show proof of enrollment and be current members of the Austin Film Society in order to participate. Radio-television-film senior David Roberts was previously a member of the Austin Film Society, but is no longer active because of the financial commitment. He said the institution of the program might encourage him to join again.

“If [the screenings had been] free, I could have gotten much more out of it,” Roberts said. “The great thing with this program is that people our age don’t have to be wealthy and don’t have to be part of some elite group to watch the old movies.”

Herrick said the program is devoted to shaping the next generation of filmmakers by giving them the opportunity to see nearly 250 screenings per year and participate in Austin’s film culture. She hopes the program will inspire students to continue to seek out and create great films. 

“We want the next generation to have rich cinematic base,” Herrick said. “[The program] will show them the power of the theatrical environment and hopefully inspire students to pursue cinema, if not as a career, as a lifelong love.”