By Brian Hieggelke
Lunch with our friends/partners who produce Lollapalooza (C3 Presents is based in Austin and produces the other big annual shindig in this town, the Austin City Limits Music Festival, in the fall) meant no time for the convention hall today if I was going to make it to the world premiere of “Arlo & Julie.” I’d met the filmmaker Steve Mims, as well as executive producer Richelle Fatheree and her family, the very first day of the festival, and repeated bump-ins had led to a certain camaraderie. I was anxious to complete the circle by actually seeing the film. The screening was an early afternoon affair at one of the more remote theater locations, so I was somewhat surprised to see the large auditorium full upon arrival. It makes sense, though, since this is one of the hometown favorites, involving local cast and crew, as well as a University of Texas class in its making.
I loved the film. It’s a quirky, charming comedy that briskly recounts the tale of a young couple who start receiving unexplained puzzle pieces in the mail. First one, then two, four, etc. on up to more than 500. The mystery consumes them, and almost consumes their relationship as a family-heirloom painting gets enfolded into the puzzle. The actors playing Arlo and Julie—Alex Dobrenko and Ashley Rae Spillers—apparently, are Austin stalwarts; Mims says he wrote the film for them and it shows in the way they fit so naturally into their roles. But there are several other characters—Arlo’s mega-nerdy co-worker played by Sam Eidson, a loquacious and likable mailman (Chris Doubek) and, especially, another couple who serve as sharp relief to Arlo and Julie (played by Mallory Culbert and Hugo Vargas-Zesati with delicious intensity). Their Rob and Trish are all neurotic, volatile and careerist, in juxtaposition to the “adrift” state our main characters endure.
Afterwards, I crammed into Fatheree’s rental car with the family for the ride to the opening party which, unlike the bar takeovers being done by most of the other films, was to take place in the backyard of the very home where the film was shot, a large old Texas house near campus. The home, it turns out, is owned by the cousin of Fatheree’s husband Jim, who’d grown up in town. With ample servings of barbecue and local beer, the afternoon had all the warmth of a family picnic and was a welcome respite from the SXSW onslaught, as well as a telling window into the essence of an artistic “community.”
At one point, I was sitting next to Jim when a tall drink of Texas water, an ultra-cool-looking man in black with a leather coat, trimmed beard and a drawl, sat down beside us. “Hi. I’m Cameron Crowe,” he said. He went on to say that he was there in support of the host, who was friends with his father. As soon as I could, I found a place to Google the famed filmmaker and check his photos. No, this is not that Cameron Crowe. But that he could be, in such a nonchalant fashion, is a testament to the film community that Austin boasts.