'W.' marks spot for Austin fest


You can see the Texas State Capitol building from the elegant Paramount Theatre in downtown Austin. So it was a perfect setting for the first public screening of Oliver Stone's "W.," the opening-night film of this year's Austin Film Festival.

As co-star James Cromwell, in attendance Thursday, remarked with a sigh, "It began here in Texas, right up the street."

The Austin fest, in its 15th year, is the only film festival to focus primarily on the writers of TV and film. In addition to film screenings, the first four days are crammed with wide-ranging panels and Q&As, where hundreds of aspiring writers can get face time with such professionals as John Lee Hancock ("The Rookie"), Kirsten Smith ("The House Bunny"), Shane Black ("Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"), Jake Kasdan ("Walk Hard"), John August ("Corpse Bride") and Jeff Nathanson ("Catch Me If You Can").

On opening night, many of those attendees lined up around the block to get a look at Stone's biopic of President George W. Bush, who began his political career as governor of Texas 13 years ago. Although the state capital leans toward the liberal (the city's unofficial slogan is "Keep Austin Weird"), filmgoers ended up giving the film only slightly better approval ratings than the president.

Cromwell, who plays George H.W. Bush in the film, didn't hold back his criticism of the film's subject while working his way up the red carpet.

"Listen, it's too late now," said Cromwell, despite entreaties from Lionsgate that the cast refrain from injecting their political views when discussing the movie. "Once you unloose me, all bets are off. Now it's open, the damage is done. They're going to spin it whatever way they want. I might as well get my licks in now. They're certainly not going to withhold any criticism of me."

The following night, Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" screened at the Paramount and stirred up more positive reactions, with the crowd leaping to a standing ovation as the credits rolled.

The festival also holds pitch, screenplay and filmmaking competitions, the winners of which were announced Saturday. (partialdiff)