Don’t look now, but Austin may be on the verge of becoming the center of America’s next cultural moment. If Nathan Christ’s documentary “Echotone,” a low-budget film about the combustion of Austin’s booming inner-city development and its rocking music scene breaks through the final selection at the Sundance Film Festival, prepare for the nation’s eyes to fix again on the “Music Capital of the World.” As Christ’s film suggests, Austin may be the place where America’s economic recovery and its cultural renaissance intersect.
Or where they collide.
The rapid development of Austin’s central neighborhoods means larger audiences, bigger venues and more national attention. It’s also brought higher housing costs and the proliferation of new sound ordinances. The film asks us to weigh the effect of such changes on the city’s cultural bedrock and offers us a chance to take a larger view.
The films striking trailer touches off with the words, “Austin, TX: Present Day” as it soars over the cities burgeoning developments in a construction crane. In an interview with the Daily Texan, Christ eluded to the contemporary focus of the film: “There’re a lot of music films that are about looking back at a bygone era,” Christ said. “This is what history is. You should’ve been there. But, I realized in the past few years that a documentary can be in the present. You can make a powerful story about your age and about your peers.”
Right now SXSW is considering Echotone for a premier in March. If the film is selected, people in downtown Austin will be presented with a uniquely self-referential experience. On the films blog, Christ writes about “the greater emotional vision of what a SXSW premiere could provide for the viewer,” At the climax, “the credits roll, and the audience walks out into the precisely the world they’ve just experienced for 90 minutes.”
Juxtaposing scenes of Austin’s quirky musical underground with the sights and sound of industrial construction, the film presents a town on the verge of awakening from a long slumber only to discover that it has become a city with an international reputation.
Featuring bands Belaire, “poised for commercial success, but conflicted over the thought of her music turning into a commodity” the “experimental troubadour” Bill Baird, and Black Joe Lewis’ man who fills music halls by night and delivers fish for a living by day, the film tells the story of the cities young artists while promising to deliver “a cultural portrait of the modern American city examined through the lyrics and lens of its creative class.”
Longtime residents of Austin will be surprised to find through Christ’s lens, that their city has suddenly acquired the magic appeal of San Francisco in the 1960s. For the outsider, the film may well crystallize everything they’ve been told about the little gem in the south.
What do you think about sound ordinances? Where should we draw the line between the needs of the Austin music scene and Downtown Austin’s growing residential community? Are these communities at odds or are they mutually beneficial?
Why can’t we be friends?