First 17 Films of 17th Dallas International Film Festival

Virgin Hotels Dallas Joins as Premier Sponsor for April 28 – May 5, 2023 Event at Violet Crown Cinema in West Village Uptown

The “ First 17” run the gamut from documentaries and dramas to thrillers and comedies, and are a preview to the 2023 Festival, which will feature screenings of more than 100 films submitted from more than 60 countries, as well as Q&A sessions with filmmakers and actors, nightly DIFF Red Carpets, a Festival Lounge, and special events.

Films with Local/Texas Ties:

A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE: HOW THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL HAPPENED (Documentary), directed by Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak, is the tale of the ill-fated The Star Wars Holiday Special that aired on CBS the week of Thanksgiving in 1978, and was never re-aired going on to become the franchise’s dark secret. Featuring behind-the-scenes archival footage from Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Anthony Daniels, it also incorporates the voices of “Weird Al” Yankovic, Kevin Smith, Seth Green, and the late Gilbert Gottfried. The screening is scheduled for May 4. Director Jeremy Coon is a graduate of Berkner High School in Richardson.

BREAKING THE CODE (Documentary) is the story of legendary Fort Worth artist Vernon Fisher. Born to rural Texas farmers in 1943, Vernon Fisher’s childhood exposure to painting was only as “something you did to houses.” By the 1980s, he was exhibiting alongside Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, establishing himself as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. Breaking the Code follows Fisher as he continues to create art that challenges social norms and asks important questions about the nature of reality.

GIBSON ICONS: REX BROWN OF PANTERA (Documentary) Renowned worldwide, Rex Brown and his Texas brethren forged a blueprint with the DFW-based band Pantera that’s been studied by nearly every hard rock and heavy metal band that has followed. Throughout this intimate look into his musical journey, Rex shares personal stories surrounding his childhood, the bonds built between his band members, and the enduring legacy of Pantera.

INTO THE SPOTLIGHT (WORLD PREMIERE) is a heartfelt story of how a script, a stage, and a theater program composed of adults with disabilities celebrate their creativity, explore life’s complexities, and empower a community, in their own words and their own way. This documentary feature film follows a Dallas-based theatre troupe, composed of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, who are determined to write, rehearse, and perform their 11th annual original musical during the 2021-22 season.

KAREN CARPENTER: STARVING FOR PERFECTION (Documentary) is a captivating and unvarnished documentary about Karen Carpenter’s personal struggles told through never-before- released recordings as well as the legendary voices of those who knew her and were inspired by her music. Highly relevant to today’s audiences, Carpenter’s quest for perfection resulted in low self- esteem, a disheartening love life, and a public battle with anorexia nervosa. Dallas-based AMS Pictures produced the film.

THE DOLDRUMS (WORLD PREMIERE) is a not-coming-of-age and anti-musical filmed in Dallas. Centering around three characters and how their friendship shifts when the oldest goes off to college, it is a comedy/drama structured in six vignettes marking his biannual visits to his hometown and how their lives change, or don’t, despite all of them growing older.

THE WILD MAN (Drama) from Ryan Justice follows a young journalist who travels to Ochopee, Florida, with friends to investigate young women that have been going missing. Their search follows the town’s notorious conspiracy theorist into the swamps on his quest to show them “The Wild Man” as their discoveries take a dark and sinister turn. The film was shot on locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Other films rounding out the fantastic line-up:

BAD PRESS (Documentary) showcases how Angel Ellis, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, fights alongside her free press Myskoke Media reporters for government transparency and access to information. Highlighting Ellis’ advocacy for ethical coverage of Indigenous topics and communities, it highlights how her fight to expose government corruption has ramifications across her tribal boundaries.

BLUE JEAN (Drama) takes place in Newcastle, England, in 1988 at a time when the conservative government is on the brink of passing legislation that stigmatizes the gay and lesbian population. Jean is a closeted gym teacher who faces a crisis after a new student threatens to reveal her double life. Written by Georgia Oakley, it is also her directorial debut.

IT’S ONLY LIFE AFTER ALL (Documentary) is an intimate look into the lives of the Indigo Girls, one of the most iconic American folk-rock bands. Featuring never-before-seen archival and intimate Cinéma verité, the film dives into the songwriting and storytelling of bandmembers Amy Ray and Emily Saliers that helped transform a generation. It was directed, produced, and edited by Alexandria Bombach.

MAX ROACH: THE DRUM ALSO WALTZES (Documentary) is the story of an American jazz musician whose far-reaching ambitions were inspired and challenged by the inequities of the society around him. The film follows Roach’s seven-decade career through deep personal struggle, showing the price he paid for his outspoken views.

SAVAGE (WORLD PREMIERE) is an inspiring and intimate portal into the world’s most dangerous sport, through the journey of one man’s grit and rugged willpower to achieve the elusive dream of becoming a world champion, in a game that is often life . . . or death. The documentary is the comeback story of bull rider Clayton Savage.

 SK8 GIRLZ (Documentary) will world premiere with an underdog story that documents the rise of an all-female skateboarding team based out of Orange County as they tear down the barriers created by a male-centric sport. It is the second feature film from Sarah Ivy and the second film about women and skateboarding to screen at DIFF.

THE NEW AMERICANS: GAMING A REVOLUTION (Documentary) is a meme-driven journey into the intersection of finance, media, and extremism with the founders of Reddit and WallStreetBets, crypto fanatics, bored housewives, and TikTok-ers turned millionaire traders. Directed by Ondi Timoner, whose film, LAST FLIGHT HOME, won the DIFF 2023 Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature, it looks at the explosive and irreversible ramifications of our digital future.

THE ORIGIN OF EVIL (Thriller/Drama) is a French and Canadian film directed by Sébastien Marnier about a fish cannery worker on the verge of financial collapse who discovers she is the biological daughter of a wealthy businessman. Attempting to reconnect with his established family, she finds them unwilling to accept her.


DIFF exists to celebrate films and their impact on society, honor filmmakers and recognize their contribution enhancing both the creative community and the city of Dallas, provide leadership in film education, and celebrate excellence in the art of film. Through a variety of year-round screenings, educational programs, community partnerships, and festivals, DIFF raises awareness of the world’s most approachable and inclusive art form.

Heres’ one of the 17 of particular interest to Beverly Smirnis, since Buffalo Gap is just outside of her native town of Abilene (and home to Perini Ranch, a restaurant run by a family that many Dallasites are familiar with).

CHOCOLATE LIZARDS (WORLD PREMIERE) will world premiere at DIFF 2023 with a comedy/adventure about Erwin Vandeveer, played by Rudy Pankow, who finds himself stranded in Buffalo Gap, Texas, with Merle Luskey, played by Thomas Haden Church. The ensuing adventure pits the pair against the bank, the sheriff, and a corrupt oil company, and also stars Carrie-Anne Moss and Bruce Dern. It is based on the 1999 novel of the same name by Cole Thompson.

As admirers and supporters of the work done in our community by AWARE, another First 17 film on our Watch List is this one because it is about Alzheimer’s disease.  Also, since our books Anna from Atlanta and Anna of Iowa are dedicated to caregivers, we can’t miss this this one!

THE ETERNAL MEMORY (Spanish Documentary) is a Chilean film directed by Maite Alberdi that follows the relationship of prominent Chilean journalist Augusto Góngora and actress Paulina “Pauli” Urrutia. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. A couple for 23 years, Augusto was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease eight years ago, and Paulina cares for him, helping maintain his identity despite the challenges of his illness.

What’s Next? 2024 Film Hopeful:

Life On The Estate

Life On The Site

Life On The Set

Life With A Twist

About The Savvy List