Last year, the Lone Star Film Festival, Fort Worths largest movie-related event, could have subtitled itself after the 1982 Mel Gibson/Sigourney Weaver film, The Year of Living Dangerously.
Much of the staff had left in June 2015 just five months before the ninth edition of the annual showcase and Chad Mathews, a TCU grad and executive director of the Hill Country Film Festival in Fredericksburg, was hurriedly brought on board to keep things afloat.
This year, the 10th anniversary version of the festival, running Nov. 10-13 at a variety of venues in Sundance Square, might be able to take its name from a 2006 Russell Crowe film, A Good Year. The 2015 version went off without too many hitches a canceled outdoor screening of short subjects due to inclement weather and turn-away crowds for the popular Cate Blanchett film Carol among them and things are a bit calmer for 2016.
Just having a year under my belt, getting to meet people and knowing who to turn to has made it a little easier, said Mathews, now executive director at Lone Star, in an interview. Not saying the workload is any different. Theres still a ton to do.
The festival is bigger this year, with 135 films (including shorts) compared to 69 last year, and has a slightly longer schedule. Screenings will kick off on the afternoon of the first day instead of during the evening as has been the case in the past.
Also, the 200-capacity Four Day Weekend Theater only available to Lone Star during afternoons last year as the Four Day Weekend comedy troupe had shows booked at night will be showing films throughout the run of the festival.
The increase in activity at Four Day Weekend represents a slight shift in focus away from the AMC Palace, which will still be the site of some screenings. But with the largest of the Palace auditoriums being used for the festival not being able to hold more than 83 patrons, Mathews wanted to have more options.
Other venues being utilized are the Worthington Hotel (for the film festival ball and the Fort Worth Film Commission-sponsored filmmakers lounge) and the Sundance Square Pavilion (for some panels).
Its hard because we want as many people as possible to see each film, he explained. When youre scheduling, youre guessing, Well, where would this film be best served?
Thats a challenge. Sometimes were good at and sometimes were off. At least, we have more flexibility this year to get more eyes on more films.
The goal is to create synergy among the four sites.
The whole idea is to move the crowds and get them walking through Sundance Square. Then well wrap with our awards ceremony at the Pavilion. I dont want everyone to stay at one venue, Mathews explained. Its important for us to have that flow.
There are many more shorts being shown this time around, and they are grouped in themed blocks such as Kids; It Only Gets Worse from Here (Coming of Age); Seth Rogen & Wes Anderson Had a Baby (Quirky); LGBT Stories; Texas Filmmakers; Foreign Films; Yikes, Mom! (Bad Parents); and Lets Talk About Sex, Baby.
I dont know that Im a huge fan of [categorizing them this way] but I think that people are, Mathews said. They like knowing what theyre getting into. If they specifically want to see a documentary short block, they know where to find it.
In addition, more panels were organized for this year, ranging from conversations with Clint Black (the recipient of the festivals music-themed Stephen Bruton Award, which will be presented to him by Don Henley) and Dallas filmmakers David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks (the Petes Dragon remake) to such topics as The Future of Film in Texas and Careers in Film and Television.
The biggest feedback [from last year] was for more panels, which weve been able to expand on, Mathews said. And [the other] was to replay some of our winning films, which we didnt do last year. This year, we will be able to re-screen the winners the best feature, documentary, audience-choice award. We will do that on Sunday. It gives those filmmakers a second screening and, if you missed it [the first time], you can catch it on Sunday.
Another deviation from previous years is that the ball is being held on the first night in order to add more of a sense of event to the festival opening.
The major showcase feature being shown is Lion, the Toronto International Film Festival and Austin Film Festival award winner starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara.
Based on A Long Way Home, the bestselling memoir by Saroo Brierley, it tells the story of an Australian man of Indian descent, adopted and brought to Australia as a child, who returns to India to look for his birth parents.
Thats a film that was very attractive to us, Mathews said. When it comes to the showcase films, we do go after some of those and sometimes were offered certain films.
When you have an opportunity to screen Lion, youre going to take it. Its just a great film, he said. My focus is on the [smaller] competition films but its nice to be able to spice it up with some of these bigger feature films like Lion.
Other features of note being shown are: the documentary Maya Angelou and Still I Rise; the animated Nerdland featuring Paul Rudd and Patton Oswalt; a 25th anniversary showing of Beauty and the Beast; the drama Bereave, starring and produced by Jane Seymour (the recipient of the fests Achievement in Acting Award and who will be on hand for a Q&A); the documentary A Brilliant Genocide, about Ugandan strongman Yoweri Museveni; and Texas-shot indies like Homestate about a troubled family; and Camino, a dark comedy focusing on two guys who steal a cooler thinking theres beer inside but instead find human kidneys.
The Star-Telegrams weekly video series following the Aledo High School Bearcats football team, Titletown TX, will be edited down and shown as a long-form feature and be the subject of a panel discussion.
If theres anything Mathews has learned in his time with the festival is that local moviegoers are more adventurous than he originally thought.
I always knew that Fort Worth was hungry for independent film, said Mathews, who also continues to program the Hill Country Film Festival. Theyre hungry for more and theyre not afraid of content I thought maybe Fort Worth would be a little more conservative, but when it comes to film, theyre very open to seeing anything.