The Western Lives On in These DIFF Films | 2015 Dallas International Film Festival—April 9-19
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The Western Lives On in These DIFF Films

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by Bridgette Poe
DIFF Writer

Ah…the ‘Western’. Is there any film genre more indelible? Just the term alone usually evokes a favorite movie memory. Often referred to as a ‘uniquely American art form’, it’s more than just endured – for decades now, it’s been emulated and incorporated into stories the world over. While movie trends come and go, eventually everything old is new again and Western fans are definitely in luck this year! DIFF’s 9th outing contains selections (RED ON YELLA, ECHOES OF WAR and SLOW WEST) which specifically uphold and invigorate the field.

Any academic conversation about a Western will usually address the standards: an enigmatic lead, isolated, dangerous lands and a general lawlessness abound. (Thus, the story usually revolving around some interpretation of the basic ‘good vs. bad’ conflict.) Almost as iconic, however, is the ‘search’. Our protagonist is usually on a mission to recover either the people or goods that have been taken from him, or he’s out to ‘right a wrong’ that’s been done either to him or to those close to him.

These particular three films not only fit the Western bill beautifully, they each bring something original and entertaining to the cinematic table.

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RED ON YELLA, (written and directed by the Austin-based team of directors Duane Graves and Justin Meeks) takes the traditional formula and runs with it. All the basic tenets are here: our group of outlaws has set out to recover their loot from a railroad robbery, they are in some mighty hostile land, and yes, the law is close on their heels.

Graves and Meeks have captured a look and tone that harkens back to the cowboy films of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Packed with action and dusted with humor, it’s also imbued with a certain grittiness. However, their uniquely modern approach is to incorporate some horror film aspects and it’s done to great effect – the movie takes quite a dark turn.

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ECHOES OF WAR begins at the end of the Civil War, with the ex-soldier’s return to Texas. True to form, home is not how he left it. In his misguided attempt to protect his extended family, he quickly finds himself embroiled in a domestic kind of war. DIFF’s program guide likens it to such films as UNFORGIVEN and PALE RIDER, and it definitely shares the same smoldering intensity with those classics.

Australian director Kane Senes shot this in Austin, TX and it’s simply stunning in detail and art direction, the viewer quickly and easily forgets that this has been made in the current day. Strong casting is also evident here; James Badge Dale and William Forsythe make stellar foes.

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SLOW WEST completes the trio of DIFF’s must-see Western films. Here, the archetypical ‘mysterious stranger’ is portrayed by Michael Fassbender, who teams up with a teenaged Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Together they traverse the American West, trying to locate the woman Jay loves. This particular woman, however, has a bounty on her head and things quickly turn complicated. While an exceptionally well-made film across the board (especially making nice use of the wry humor often associated with the form), the film takes a particular emphasis on the unwelcoming frontier. As in ECHOES OF WAR, the lines delineating the good guys from the bad guys aren’t always so clear.

SLOW WEST is also a wonderful example of just how transcendent the genre; British director John Mclean (whose background is music, which segued into directing videos) made this in New Zealand. Mclean won the 2015 Sundance World Cinema Jury Prize with SLOW WEST, his feature-length debut.

These modern-made Westerns will easily please even the most discerning fans of the genre. Sticking to the rules of the formula, these stories all start simply enough but quickly add complexity layer after layer, taking the viewer on a wild ride to an unexpected end. Audiences won’t be able to exhale until long after the final bullets ring.


MAJOR DONORS

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DALLAS STAR AWARDS

L.M. Kit Carson (Posthumously)
Lone Star State legend and influential writer, actor and producer Carson first gained recognition as creator of the mockumentary, DAVID HOLZMAN’s DIARY (1968), and co-wrote PARIS, TEXAS (1984).

Blythe Danner
Danner is well regarded for her roles in films such as MEET THE PARENTS and THE GREAT SANTINI. The Emmy-winning and Golden Globe-nominated actress is alos know for her work on television shows such as Will & Grace and Huff.

John Landis
A director for more than 40 years, Landis' films include NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE (1980), THE BLUES BROTHERS (1978) and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981).

Learn more about the honorees

TEXAS AVERY AWARD
Presented by REEL FX

Phil Lord and Chris Miller
are the prolific writing and directing duo behind some of today’s most successful comedy films including, THE LEGO MOVIE, 21 & 22 JUMP STREET and CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS.

Learn more about the honorees

RECENT TWEETS (DallasIFF)

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