DIFF 2016: Gary Murray finds HONKY TONK HEAVEN & more at Dallas International Film Festival

DIFF 2016: Gary Murray finds HONKY TONK HEAVEN & more at Dallas International Film Festival


Rain always seems to be a part of DIFF, and this year is no different. It has been pouring since late last night and has not let up the entire day. So the people from DIFF and the Angelika have decided to move the entire press inside, making a transfer of the red carpet to an indoors location. It’s one of the many ways they always seem to be very accommodating. Because of the layout of the venue, the entire press was in an area half the normal size. Everyone and everything was crowded into a scant few feet. Truly, it felt like an L.A. style of press event. All it was missing were the handlers for every person, no matter how small a role.

Many of the people assigned to walk were the high school students who were a part of the short subjects. The entire area was buzzing with youthful energy. It garnered a much needed excitement to the proceedings. I was a student filmmaker when there was only one person making films in the entire school. My friends and I would try different special effects and stop-motion animations to amuse ourselves. Eventually, we premiered these works to a larger audience and they were accepted and lauded. It was a highlight of that time. Today, many schools have production classes where students can learn how to operate cameras and editing systems within the structure of education. It prepares these youngsters for a college career in communications and maybe a career either in front of or behind the lens. I was able to talk to some of the young mavericks, asking them how and why they made films. I wanted to know what drove them to make movie magic. I knew what drove me all those years ago, but I wanted to see if it had changed over the decades. They all seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by all the attention. The night was a part of their lauding.


One of the biggest films to premiere at the DIFF on Sunday is the documentary HONKY TONK HEAVEN, which is about the South Austin legendary dance hall called The Broken Spoke. I wanted to be the one to talk to the filmmakers because back in the 1980s I would drink at that very place on nickle beer night. It was a crazy time that was the type of fun that Austin generates on a regular basis. Those types of parties just don’t exist anymore. In attendance was James White, the subject of the film and owner of The Broken Spoke. The producers and directors were also in the crowd. They were all taken aback by the warm welcome that was presented by the press and the staff at DIFF.

After the interviews, I talked to a young man who wants to be a film director. I gave him some advice about making a dent in the hard world of film. After our conversation, I introduced him to a producer of HONKY TONK HEAVEN. She gave him word for word the exact same advice. In the end, it is not what you know but who you know. Eventually, I found my seat in the theater and watched the documentary. For those of us who lived south of Town Lake, this film will bring back memories of the Austin that is slowly being destroyed by growth. The area south of the state capitol has always been a special blue collar kind of place that has been taken over in recent years by large apartment complexes.

This film not only shows the club and the legends that have performed on the stage but some of the more interesting aspects of city growth. One part shows the developers and how they tried to save most of the rural aspects that are the charms of The Broken Spoke. It is one of the last dance halls left in the state of Texas, both an Austin treasure and a state treasure. While this film may not have much attention outside the Lone Star State, it is still an interesting work about how we are losing our country attitude to big city development. It is one of the most interesting documentaries, not only of those showing at DIFF but of the year so far, a film that should not be missed.

After the screening, I went to the Filmmakers Lounge. There, I was able to have a long conversation with both James White and his lovely bride Annetta. They were both very personable and warm. I told them of my days in Austin and how much I missed both the people and the attitude. We all agreed that Austin is not the place it used to be, with high tech people changing the heart of what the city once was. Good, bad, or indifferent change will happen to every city no matter how big or small.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.