The Lone Star International Film Festival officially kicked off Wednesday with a screening of the documentary Marwencwol, but most of the nearly 50 screenings and panels begin Thursday and continue through Sunday. With such an impressive list of filmmakers coming to town, including Jeff Bridges, Peter Bogdanovich and producer Marty Bowen, there's always the danger the films themselves might be overshadowed. At first glance, though, this year's lineup looks solid. Our tipsheet comes with the usual caveats: It's impossible to see everything, and what we've seen represents just a quarter of the films. (For a full schedule, consult the quick guide in today's INK.) We urge you to take a chance on something unknown -- that's often where you'll stumble upon your best festival experiences.
What we've already seen
Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff
A treat for film buffs, this affectionate documentary traces the career of cinematographer Jack Cardiff, whose career has stretched from the silent era to sound, and black and white to color, and who worked with dozens of legendary directors (Alexander Korda, Michael Powell) and actors (Marlene Dietrich, whom Cardiff helped to light in order to soften the size of her nose). He died last year at 94, though not before conducting extensive interviews with the makers of this film.
Screens: 7 p.m. Thursday, AMC Palace
At some point in the hopefully not-so-distant future, an intrepid politician will pass a law banning American independent films about the anomie of urban-dwelling, creative types in their twenties. Until then, we must suffer through efforts like Monogamy, a comedy-drama that follows a self-absorbed photographer (Chris Messina) who becomes obsessed with one of his subjects (Meital Dohan), threatening his relationship with his musician girlfriend (Rashida Jones). Tedious and utterly charmless.
Screens: 8:30 p.m. Thursday, AMC Palace.
This low-budget psychological horror movie has an intriguing premise -- a family reunion at a cabin in the Minnesota woods steadily goes haywire when the dog is killed and a stranger turns up on the doorstep -- but the performances aren't especially convincing, and the movie isn't nearly as unnerving as it wants to be.
Screens: midnight Friday, Four Day Weekend Theater
One Hundred Mornings
Set in the aftermath of an unexplained disaster that has left a group of villagers with few supplies and dwindling hopes for salvation, this Irish thriller might easily have turned into the apocalyptic-movie-of-the-week. But writer-director Conor Horgan creates a spooky, slow-burning atmosphere of unease that steadily gets under your skin.
Screens: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, AMC Palace
Sons of Perdition
Perhaps the strongest entry in this year's festival is this engrossing documentary about three young men who have either run away or been exiled from the polygamist community in Colorado City, Utah, run by Warren Jeffs. Comparisons to HBO's Big Love are inevitable, but there's no hint of Hollywood glamour here: Only the sad stories of young people struggling to re-invent their lives, even as they still yearn for some kind of connection to family.
Screens: 8:30 p.m. Saturday, AMC Palace
Night Catches Us
One of the most intriguing (if least appreciated) films from this year's Sundance Film Festival. Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington are excellent in a romantic drama that also explores the rise of the Black Panther movement. First-time writer-director Tanya Hamilton does a particularly strong job of bringing Philadelphia in the 1970s to life onscreen.
Screens:: 1 p.m. Sunday, AMC Palace.
What we're psyched to see
The latest from British director Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies, Happy-Go-Lucky) premiered this year to raves at Cannes. It follows Leigh stalwarts Ruth Sheen (Vera Drake, High Hopes) and Jim Broadbent (Topsy-Turvy) as a longtime married couple over the course of four tumultuous seasons. Lesley Manville's performance an alcoholic, middle-aged single friend has been tipped as a likely Oscar nominee.
Screens: 7:30 p.m. Friday, AMC Palace
The Art of Screenwriting with Callie Khouri and John Lee Hancock
Saturday brings a full day of panels and live interviews, all of which should be worth checking out. This may be the most intriguing ticket: Callie Khouri, who wrote Thelma and Louise, and remains one of the few women ever to win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, in conversation with John Lee Hancock, who wrote and directed The Rookie and The Blind Side (and The Alamo -- but, hey, nobody's batting average is perfect).
Panel: 2 p.m. Saturday, Fort Worth Public Library
Chuck Workman is best known as the guy who assembles the clips at each year's Academy Awards ceremony, but here he turns his attention to the legendary avant-garde director Jonas Mekas and a number of his contemporaries, including Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage. If you've even been curious to learn more about avant-garde filmmaking, which doesn't get much attention around these parts, here's your opportunity.
Screens: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth