South by Southwest: Is Texas the new Hollywood?

Over the past 20 years the film festival and directors Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez have turned the Lone Star state into a movie powerhouse.

In the early 1990s a revolution occurred in Austin, Texas. Director Richard Linklater made the city a crucible of cool with his low-budget indie movies Slacker and Dazed and Confused. Robert Rodriguez followed suit in 1998 with his film The Faculty. In the years that followed both filmmakers established enduring film-making roots in the city. “There wasn’t really a film industry here before Rick [Linklater] and I decided we just wanted to keep making movies and stay here,” Rodriguez says. “Let’s build a film-making community around us and get our own studios eventually, and just stay here. That’s what we did, and 20 years later, it’s pretty robust.”

In many ways the past year saw the culmination of the Texas film industry’s growth. Linklater’s Boyhood, shot in Austin over 12 years, was nominated for six Academy Awards, including for best picture, and earned Patricia Arquette a best supporting actress statuette. The film also proved a hit: with a $4m budget it went on to earn $44m. “You hear about people moving to Austin specifically to go into moviemaking, and that wasn’t really the case 20 years ago,” says another Austin-based filmmaker, Mike Judge, who created the animated television series Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill, as well as directed the movies Office Space and Idiocracy. “I’m sure Boyhood, a successful movie that’s very specifically Austin, just keeps that growth going.”

Other directors have come to Austin to make movies, even if – unlike Rodriguez, Linklater and Judge –  they haven’t settled there permanently. Quentin Tarantino made his film Death Proof in the capital city. The Coen brothers and Wes Anderson launched their careers in Texas, with Blood Simple and Bottle Rocket, respectively. And native Texan Terrence Malick filmed The Tree of Life there. Filmmakers have worked in all parts of the state – director Shane Carruth (Primer, Upstream Color) works out of Dallas – but Austin remains the heart of Texas film-making.

Reporting for Talking Movies from Austin’s South by Southwest festival Christian Blauvelt documents the rise of Texas-based filmmaking as a creative force.

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