My original intention on my first night in Texas during the SXSW Film festival was to go see Tilda Swinton in Jim Jarmusch's vampires-through-the-ages flick Only Lovers Left Alive.
What could be more Austin than seeing the white haired American indie director of Stranger Than Paradise's film starring the British queen of off-center cool - who is also showing here in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, and sat for an interview at the Convention Center on Saturday in which she revealed the profound influence on her career of the 1974 Volkswagen Beetle-starring Disney movie Herbie The Love Bug.
But it was not to be. When I rode my rented bike up to the Stateside Theater on Congress Avenue in the near-freezing rain - yes Philadelphia, the weather is miserable in Austin, Texas, are you happy now? - I came upon an enormous line. Getting in the door to in-demand events at SXSW Film and Interactive can be even more difficult than at the music festival, I'm quickly learning, and I was shut out of this one.
A quick scan of the program guide and instead I decided to take a shot at getting into Darius Clark Monroe's Evolution Of A Criminal, conveniently having its World Premiere down the street and and around the corner, and not entirely sold out.
Jackpot. The movie is an autobiographical documentary about how Monroe, when he was a 16 year old honor student, robbed a bank in his hometown of Houston, Texas.
After getting taken out of chemistry class to be arrested, he was sentenced to five years in prison, where he spend time picking cotton, considering the implications of his actions and planning his future as a filmmaker. "Prison is a place where you truly are left with your imagination," he said after the screening. After attending the University of Houston, he would end up at NYU film school - leaving the part about the bank robbery out of his application - where he would meet Spike Lee, who executive produced Evoltion and was at the screening.
Evolution, which took seven years to make, is powerful in part because Monroe's offers hilmself no pity: "You have only yourself to blame," he says. "I don't want to [the robbery] to leave my memory, because it was such a life changing moment." He interviews family members who were affected by the heist and in some cases morally implicated, and ten years after the fact, apologizes to the people who were in the bank when he and his crew burst in with a shotgun held high.. His contrition is not always appreciated.
Post-screening, Lee said that when Monroe first told him about his movie at NYU he replied: "You robbed a bank! How'd you get in this [expletive]?"
"Darius is a great story," Lee went on. "Young brothers are lost. They need to see something visually that the antithesis of that rap stuff, some of it not all of it, that glamorizes that life style. There's nothing glamorous about living in a cell. This touches us all."