A “love song.”
That’s how longtime Austin cultural booster Louis Black introduced his new documentary on Richard Linklater to a SXSW film festival crowd Saturday at the Paramount Theater. Black offered no pretense of arms-length objectivity about his longtime friend and, now, subject. Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny is a full-throated anthem in praise of the director of Slacker, his work and his impact on Austin’s film culture.
Black, who co-founded the Austin Chronicle and the now two-week-long SXSW film, music and interactive festival, in addition to being an early board member of the Austin Film Society, is well-placed to make determinations about the city’s artistic heritage. And in introducing Dream is Destiny for its first South by Southwest showing, Black traced not only the spirit of Austin’s film culture, but its very existence, to Linklater’s decision not to decamp for New York or Los Angeles after the success of Slacker in 1991.
From that unlikely breakout first feature, Black and his co-director and co-producer, Karen Bernstein, move through Linklater’s professional career with archival footage, interviews and shots from the set of Everybody Wants Some, the “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused that premiered Friday at SXSW.
Echoing Linklater’s own filmic fixation on time, Dream is Destiny takes a mostly linear approach to unraveling the director’s method and body of work. Bernstein’s obvious mastery of biographic documentary (she spent years producing for PBS’ American Masters series) and Black’s familiarity with the film’s subject work in tandem, with the duo matching Linklater’s distinctive relaxed pace and easy tone.
Like love itself, Dream is Destiny is not without small moments of pain: Linklater’s suspicion that Universal Studios worked against Dazed, his retreat back to more experimental films after The Newton Boys’ cool reception in 1998, and other critical and commercial failures. But the arc of Black and Bernstein’s ballad ultimately bends toward romance.
Linklater is just coming off the peak of his success as a director with a 2015 Oscar nomination for Boyhood. Now, at the height of his career, he’s able to release a project like Everybody, a sentimental but entertaining re-enactment of his college years. It’s a labor of love he spent a decade trying to finance.
Bernstein said Saturday that the success of Boyhood was the impetus that got her idea for a Linklater documentary off the ground. Suddenly, everybody wanted more of him.
The film’s narrow focus on Linklater’s professional and artistic life (even his high school notebooks are treated as clues to the filmmaker’s storytelling future) doesn’t tell us everything we might want to know about Linklater the man, but there’s much to be gleaned from this version of his story for any student of film.
Linklater’s unflagging motivation and willingness to work outside the major studio system helped set him apart and defined a style of filmmaking all his own. Now, nearly 25 years after Slacker’s debut, members of Austin’s cultural in-crowd credit Linklater for turning the city into a cinematic destination and paving the way for homegrown talent to make it in the film world from the heart of Texas.