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SXSW '07 Interview: "Third Ward TX" Director Andrew Garrison

by Eric D. Snider

The "Third Ward, TX" pitch: "After more than a decade of building a community that is safe, livable and desirable, they've attracted forces that may destroy what they made: real estate development and gentrification. Will it survive the blind force of gentrification playing out in Houston and across America?"

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
A neighborhood left for dead. Art and artists help rekindle the spark. Enter developers. Now what?

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you're a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
Second time at SXSW with a film of my own. Also represented a student project: East Austin Stories ( in previous festivals. This year, as part of SXSW, East Austin Stories will be screened at a new library in town.

When you were a little kid and people asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, what was your answer?
Marine biologist. Professional bowler.

Not including your backyard and your Dad's Handycam, how did you get your real "start" in filmmaking?
A group of friends at college and I started making video projects. 1970-1974, reel-to-reel B&W. We later formed a documentary "collective" together. Worked on a bunch of different films as group, including Academy-nominated "Seeing Red."

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it's on "the festival circuit?"
After six years of working on this I feel like I am actually a filmmaker again now that it is out and getting screened.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
All the ones with legs.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
Not much. But occasionally I have those alternating flashes of "You're a genius"/"You're an idiot." Neither voice is right. So I just put the next foot down in front of the other.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
A friend had written a few articles for arts magazines about Project Row Houses. She talked me into taking a camera to Houston and looking at the place and the people. I did and thought it was amazing. She offered to raise money for a doc. Nancy Bless became my producing partner. Noland Walker, another old friend, agreed to come on later.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Working small, in one place can have a profound effect. And don't forget to clean the lens.

Tell us something personal about yourself that you think your film reflects -- your personality, your beliefs, your philosophy, your tastes, etc.
I have a lot of respect for people who try to do something useful. And if it can involve play, too, so much the better.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?
Ummmm, Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley, John Sayles, Thelma Schoonmaker, Ross McElwee, Terrence Malick, Walter Murch ... list goes on and on.

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
Some of the novels of Pablo Ignacio Taibo, or "My War Gone By, I Miss it So," by Anthony Loyd.

If you weren't a filmmaker, what would you be doing for a living? Or, if filmmaking isn't paying the bills full-time yet, what's your day job?
Filmmaking paid my bills all of my working life until 1997. Then, as a father of two small children, I didn't want to be taking freelance work away from home and I wanted health insurance. I sought a job teaching, which I still do at the University of Texas. And I am getting to do some of my own work as well as continue some freelancing as a sound recordist. Haven't figured out how to balance the pulling in three different directions -- family, film, school.

Who's an actor you'd kill a small dog to work with? (Don't worry; nobody would know.)
Small dog, not my own, no direct contact: Jake Gyllenhaal.

Have you "made it" yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say "Yes, wow. I have totally made it!"
I have been lucky to keep working but I am not prolific. I think I need to make at least three more feature length pieces or 10 shorts to feel like I have begun to figure out something.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
Gotta ask yourself that. Obviously I want all the help I can get in letting people know about my film. Do I learn from reviews? Well, they come at the wrong time for filmmaking. But if the critic like the work and has readers -- of course it helps distribution. Another question is who gets to be a film critic nowadays and why? Just because someone can blog does that mean they have things to say to people about movies?

You're told that your next movie must have one "product placement" on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?

You're contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that's absolutely integral to the film or you're getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
Kiss, dissolve, cigarette. Find ways to show the erogenous, the sensual, in ambiguous forms of touching -- a pen on skin, or tattooing maybe. Nah, kiss, dissolve, cigarette. If it is more nihilistic, kiss, dissolve, cigarette, fight. Why mess with success?

What's your take on the whole "a film by DIRECTOR" issue? Do you feel it's tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film -- or do you think it's cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
See it. Eric Snider said it would change your life. [He's kidding, folks. I haven't seen it yet. But who knows? Maybe it WILL change your life.]

* * *

Andrew Garrison's "Third Ward, TX" will have its world premiere at the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival. For more information, visit here. And check out for even more info!

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originally posted: 02/20/07 20:10:40
last updated: 03/07/07 09:34:10
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