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Houston gets a little love at Sundance as Reality Bites — again

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Ethan Hawke and Franci Crane at the Cinema Arts Festival last November.  Photo by Priscilla Dickson
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News_Cynthia Neely Headshot_April 2011_USE THIS ONE

Do you remember where you were in 1994? While I may have trouble remembering what I had for lunch yesterday, and especially where I put my car keys, I can easily recall certain events that happened that year because they were such a source of pride and inspiration to those of us in the Texas film industry.

It was when screenwriter Helen Childress was in Houston to talk with other writers about her new film Reality Bites. She was all of 25 years old (most of us in her audience were way past that mark) and she’d begun writing that script at 19.
We were in awe. This Texas kid from Missouri City had written a movie — a really good movie — that got directed by Ben Stiller and starred Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke (another Texan), Janeane Garofalo, and Steve Zahn. It also had some really cool music and screened at the holy grail of film festivals, Sundance.

Yet she was as down to earth as Goode Company’s barbecue.

 Reality Bites was shot in Houston and had the whole city buzzing as well as the Sundance folks. They hailed it as the definitive “film about young adults of the '90s that we were all waiting for.”

Fast forward 18 years and Sundance is continuing to show the love. The festival will screen a newly struck preservation print of Reality Bites on Sunday at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah. It’s part of their initiative to preserve independent cinema.

But egads, it’s only been 18 years not 80. When I think of things in need of historical preservation, it’s usually about things really old, like a century. This movie is still a teenager. So what’s up with this?

Apparently, independent movies can become children of neglect. Over the years, the film can change owners and get lost.  If not properly preserved, it will chemically decompose.  (I have an old film in a can and it now smells like vinegar.) So the Sundance Institute, the global nonprofit founded by Robert Redford, came to the rescue about 15 years ago with The Collection at UCLA, specifically devoted to the preservation of independent documentaries, narratives, and shorts.

There are nearly 1,000 titles in The Collection so far, and each year Sundance makes selections from this library to show at the festival. That Reality Bites was chosen as one of this year’s screenings emphasizes the importance they place on a film with a lot of Texas ties.

It’s been a long time since I watched it, so it’s high time that I enjoy it again (although unfortunately, it will have to be at home and not glam Park City).  This movie was also the first real role for another Texas native, Renée Zellweger. (Her first film was the uncredited “girl in a blue pickup truck” in Dazed and Confused.) Since Reality Bites, the former Katy high school cheerleader has gone on to become an Oscar winner.

This time when I settle in to rewatch, I’m going to look closer for actor David Spade.  No, he’s not from Texas, but he has an uncredited role that I don't remember — as a hot dog vendor. 

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