When Richard Linklater Took 'Slacker' to Sundance in 1991

Randall Michelson

"The movie defined a generation — highly educated guys who work in coffee shops," says Tom Bernard, who bought the film for Orion Classics before the festival.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The 1991 Sundance Film Festival was a bit overshadowed by Operation Desert Storm commencing Jan. 17, the day the fest began. In turn, Richard Linklater's second feature, Slacker, though nominated for the Grand Jury Prize, was a bit overshadowed by more prominent films, including winner Poison by Todd Haynes. Though Linklater left Sundance empty-handed, the then-30-year-old director's $23,000 film, about an assortment of aimless misfits in Austin, Texas, went on to gross $1.2 million domestically.

"The movie defined a generation — highly educated guys who work in coffee shops," says Tom Bernard, who bought the film for Orion Classics before the festival. "Once we figured out the film was about this generation, then lightning bolts struck and we got the marketing plan. We wanted 'slacker' to be a word you'd find in the dictionary by the end of our campaign." ("Slacker" already was in Merriam-Webster, defined as "a person who shirks work or obligation"; it later took on a second meaning as a young person who is "disaffected, apathetic, cynical or lacking ambition.")

Linklater, whose latest film, Boyhood, received six Oscar nominations Jan. 15 (including best picture, director and supporting actor and actress for Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette), was born in Houston and grew up 70 miles away in Huntsville, Texas. He played high school football, parked cars at the local Texas State Penitentiary's annual rodeo and worked on off-shore oil rigs. His early ambition was to be the first pro football player who was also a serious novelist, but instead he became an almost entirely self-taught filmmaker. "I think going to Park City exposed the people there to Richard's film flow, that way he seamlessly puts scenes together," says cos­tume designer Kari Perkins, who worked on both Slacker and Boyhood. "And for him, I think it was validating. Lots of people make movies, but not many of them get to Sundance."

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