You’ve driven by that street a million times. Or unknowingly passed that island in the middle of Lady Bird Lake. But you’ve never noticed how green the hills are on a summer day in front of the Long Center. Or how downtown’s skyscrapers look like skeletal fingers rising up out of the ground.
Luckily, this is how Austin director Anlo Sepulveda sees the world: as a complex series of achingly beautiful moments that go otherwise unnoticed. In his view, the shadows cast from a moving train or how a white sheet billows in the wind can say more than ten pages of scripted dialogue.
It is with this tranquil approach that Sepulveda made OTIS UNDER SKY, an undeniably Austin-centric independent film about two loners finding friendship that will premiere this March at the world-renowned South by Southwest Film Festival.
As a selection in the Lone Star States category of the Film Festival, OTIS UNDER SKY will play at the Long Center’s Rollins Theatre on Sunday, March 13th as well as on the big screen at the thousand-seat Paramount Theatre on Friday, March 18th.
“We had no idea this film would get so much attention,” said Sepulveda at his home. “We got the call from South by Southwest, and we couldn’t be more excited. This is huge.”
More like a series of complimentary art pieces connected by human interaction, OTIS UNDER SKY is Sepulveda’s love letter to the city that he lives in with his daughter and wife/producer, Mandi Sepulveda.
“I was pregnant the whole time we were filming Otis,” she recalls, jokingly. “It was the middle of summer, we were outside for several hours at a time, and I was holding a boom mic for some of the scenes. Bystanders would sometimes offer to help me out, not wanting to watch the pregnant lady sweat so much.”
The cast of the movie also shares strong Austin ties. Anis Mojgani, who plays the titular character, is an internationally-recognized spoken word poet who resides in Austin when he’s not touring the country. Mojgani’s wide eyes and quiet sense of wonder perfectly capture Otis’s simultaneous curiosity and distrust of this world that does not make it easy on sensitive, orphaned loners.
Otis senses a kindred spirit in a stranger, Ursula, embodied by the impressive Roberta Colindrez, and they spend a too-short period feeling less alone while together. Colindrez is a graduate from Texas State’s acting program and has since gone on to perform with the Neo-Futurists in New York City.
The major character in OTIS UNDER SKY, however, is the city of Austin itself. Set largely on the South and East sides of the city, the film captures Austin through new eyes. Familiar streets like Cesar Chavez and South Congress are cleverly anthropomorphized with the locally-produced soundtrack and camera angles. And part of the joy in the movie is juxtaposing your own memories in to the street corners and locales as Otis and Ursula do the same.
OTIS UNDER SKY is a melancholy piece, beautiful in its quiet contemplation and implied hopefulness for each one of us. But every Austinite will delight in seeing their city so masterfully displayed on the big screen.