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Lone Star Festival shines brighter than ever

Posted 10:07pm on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010

The 2010 Lone Star International Film Festival came to an end on Sunday night, with screenings of a quirky Japanese remake of the Oscar-winning comedy Sideways and Chuck Workman’s documentary Visionaries, about avant-garde cinema champion Jonas Mekas.

Those two selections point to the diversity and occasional eccentricity of the festival’s well-chosen slate of forty or so feature films.

But the real climax came on Saturday night, when for a few hours the film festival took center stage in Fort Worth -- no mean feat, considering the likes of Lyle Lovett and Elton John were also drawing large crowds downtown that night.

At the AMC Palace, a sold-out audience watched Dan Rush’s eloquent, sweet-natured drama Everything Must Go, produced by Fort Worth native Marty Bowen (both Rush and Bowen were in attendance); it was the film’s first public screening since it’s world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September.

Meanwhile, another sold-out crowd a few miles west crammed into the auditorium at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth to watch festival tributees Jeff Bridges and T Bone Burnett introduce the cult classic, The Big Lebowski.

Following both of those screenings, hundreds braved the sudden dip in temperature to watch Bridges and Burnett perform a joyful, nearly 30-minute set on the patio of 8.0, which included a numbers of songs from their Oscar-winning collaboration Crazy Heart. One first-time visitor I spoke with at the 8.0 event said to me, “I had no idea Fort Worth was so cool.” I suspect it wasn’t the only time this phrase was uttered on Saturday night.

What a triumph for the organizers of the Lone Star International Film Festival, which has struggled -- like so many other arts organizations, both established and emerging -- to finds its footing in a tough economy. The festival’s first installment, in 2007, bit off more than it could chew: There were too many movies and events; a half-dozen or so A-list celebrities (including Martin Sheen and Robert Rodriguez) were brought to town, but then seemed to take little part in the actual festival.

The second installment, following a regime change with the festival’s leadership, suffered the reverse problem: Not enough star wattage or exciting movies.

But beginning last year and continuing into this year, the Lone Star fest -- led by festival director Dennis Bishop, artistic director Alec Jhangiani and managing director John Storm -- has found its balance.

The tributes to Bridges and Burnett, especially, were beautifully executed, and a case study in how a festival can build an entire weekend around one or two marquee artists. Both men appeared at a gala fund raising event on Friday night, and then Bridges introduced screenings of The Last Picture Show and Crazy Heart, in addition to The Big Lebowski, on Saturday.

It’s a lesson that should be obvious, but which so many festivals get wrong: When it comes to special events, quality -- actors or directors or musicians who will attract a large, curious audience -- matters much more than quantity.

There are certainly still areas for improvement: It would still be nice to see a few more Oscar-buzzy titles in the mix; part of the fun of going to a festival is so that you can have the bragging rights that you saw a big movie weeks or months before anyone else. The scheduling this year was also a little frustrating, with some of the best titles pitted against one another. (I'm still smarting over having to miss Mike Leigh's Another Year, which screened on Friday night.)

These are small, correctable missteps. The larger point is that this year the Lone Star International Film Festival managed to do something that goes beyond showing one or two good movies: It claimed its place in our city’s highly competitive cultural landscape.

I don’t envy the organizers, who have certainly set a very high bar for next year. But I’m certainly eager to see what they’ll come up with next, and grateful for this reminder of why film festivals can be so vital. Fort Worth did indeed seem incredibly cool and cosmopolitan last weekend, and for that, the folks at the Lone Star International Film Festival should take a bow.

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