Jon Stewart, Maziar Bahari discus “Rosewater”

This just in: Jon Stewart is a very funny guy.

But so is Mazia Bahari and the the two played off each other beautifully in a 40-minute Q&A Thursday night at the Paramount after the screening of Stewart’s director debut “Rosewater,” about Bahari’s 2009 imprisonment and torture in Iran after the London-based Iranian journalist was accused of being a Western spy. The two talked with AFF director Barbara Morgan.

“It made the development process much easier after he was out of jail,” Stewart said, to roars of laughter from the packed house. In truth, it sounds like Bahari’s memoir, “The They Came For Me” and Stewart’s script were developed if not in tandem than close together. After trying to find real directors for the project, Stewart said he essentially decided “(Explitive) it, I’ll do it.”

Bahari noted that both humor and journalism come from observation and that the whole thing was so absurd that he eventually began to think of Rosewater, his name for the anonymous interrogator as his muse. Stewart noted that humor is a “higher order of reasoning” and that the humor helped see this not as man versus monster but as a situation two human beings were in.

Bahari said he has no religious beliefs and that he concentrated his thoughts on his family and art (Leonard COhen, the baby he had on the way). Both notes that you could not actually heighten the absurdity of what went on in the jail cell — not only would audiences not buy it, but the lines of questioning were nuts enough.

When asked about the film being entirely in English, Stewart said (half-jokingly?) he initially wanted to shoot it in Farsi with Iranian actors. Bahari pulled him back with a “Don’t you want people to see it?” “He made me own my inauthenticity,” Stewart said.

Stewart said he was hoping for something more than what the current dialogue between Iran and the U.S. is, which he characterized as “‘You’re the axis of evil,’ ‘Well, death to you.'”





You might recall that Jon Stewart took some time off from “The Daily Show” the summer of 2013 to direct his first feature film. “Rosewater,” the Austin Film Festival’s closing night movie, is that film.

While very much a movie made by a first-timer with a modest, $10 million budget, “Rosewater” is also thoughtful, straight-froward and occasionally very funny, with lines and delivery that only could have come from Stewart.

Gael Garcia Bernal in "Rosewater"
Gael Garcia Bernal in “Rosewater”

In 2009, Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) was a London-based journalist who returned to Iran to cover the election between the moderate challenger Mir-Hossein Moussavi and incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His wife is pregnant and is not wild about the trip, but it should only take about a week. Besides, it gives him a chance to visit his mother (well-known Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo) and think about his late father and sister, both of whom spent time in prison as dissidents.
He gets a driver with a moped (Dimitri Leonidas) and heads around Tehran (Iran is played by Jordan), interviewing an Ahmadinejad rep and meeting young dissidents, introduced to the “dish university,” a hangout where they bootleg international television. Stewart efficiently lays out the stakes and identifies key issues.A few days in, Bahari gives an interview to “the Daily Show,” cracking wise about being a spy. After filming some post-election demonstrations and giving it to the BBC, Bahari was arrested at his mother’s home by Revolutionary Guard, accused to being a spy for the West (with the “Daily Show” clip used as evidence) and subsequently interrogated and tortured over the next 118 days by a man he thinks of as “Rosewater,” based on the scent he wears.

It soon becomes clear that not only is the interrogation beyond Kafkaesque (and occasionally very funny –did you know, as Bahari tells Rosewater, there is an exotic city called Fort Lee, New Jersey, where you can get special massages?), but Rosewater (Kim Bodnia) is mere middle-management.

This isn’t “Zero Dark Thirty,” this is the banality of torture. Rosewater is kind of mediocre at his job and Bahari, wisely, never thinks of him as a monster, which probably helped save his sanity, as does Bahari’s sense of humor.

But he’s still in jail in a country that seems to despise everything he stands for. Bahari, a man without a religious faith, draws strength from memories of his family, be it a Leonard Cohen record or childhood bonding with his family. He often discusses his plight with his dead father and sister in his cell. In one lovely scene, Bahari dancing by himself when he realizes the world has not forgotten his plight.

We know how the story ends, so there is no real suspense here, but it is interesting to see how Stewart, an obvious master of one discipline, switches to directing a drama. But there’s a reason the most resonant moments are also the funniest.

AFF Review: 61 Bullets

In case you’ve completely forgotten your American history and want to know just how much a martyr Huey Long is in Louisiana, check out the opening scenes of Austin filmmakers David Modigliani and Louisiana Kreutz’s documentary “61 bullets.”

There’s a load of school children on tour, being encouraged to put their fingers in the bullet holes left in the walls of the Capitol building from Long’s mythic 1935 assassination. It’s hard not to think of St. Thomas investigating Jesus’ wounds — you expect someone to say, “Our Governor and Our God!”

The body of Carl Weiss in a photo from "61 Bullets"
The body of Carl Weiss in a photo from “61 Bullets”

While a rock solid primer on what made Huey a legend (brilliantly executed populism that pulled Louisiana into the 20th century coupled with a near-dictatorial hold over state government ), “61 Bullets” isn’t just about Long’s life and death but those left behind.

The alleged assassin was a well-respected Baton Rouge physician named Carl Weiss, into whom the title’s  61 bullets were shot by Long’s bodyguards after the doctor (allegedly) shot the governor.

‘The case has never made much sense, especially to the Weiss family. He was a well-liked, highly educated doctor with a young family and everything to live for. Weiss had the thinnest of motives — his father-in-law, Benjamin Pavy, declined to run for a judgeship after a Long-ordered gerrymander reworked the district. Did he really go to the Capitol to kill Long, a suicide mission if there ever was one, or was Long, an almost-continual target of death-threats,  killed by bodyguards?

Long, of course, was instantly declared a saint by many, while Weiss was vilified (one headline: “Long’s Slayer Given Catholic Burial –Why?”) While history has deemed Weiss an assassin, the case isn’t even close to closed and (spoiler alert) the truth is likely lost to history. This has always weighed on Weiss’ family, especially Carl Weiss Jr, who was only three months old when his father died.

With a post-Ken Burns feel, the filmmakers assemble photographs, clippings, talking head interviews with historians and forensic specialists, vintage footage to discuss how both families have dealt with this burden, especially the Weiss clan.

The Longs continue to thrive in Louisiana politics. Weiss has lived on Long Island, New York, for decades. But a symposium on Long provides Weiss with a forum to speak about events he has long declined to discuss.

“61 Bullets” blends quiet, thoughtful documentary film-making with moments of historical sweep, contrasting history’s judgement with the everyday lives of those who have to contend with it.


Giveaway: ABCs of Death 2 with prize pack


‘ABCs of Death 2’ is in theaters just in time for Halloween, and we have two tickets to the movie at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar with an ABCs Death Pack including a Blu-ray DVD and satire book. The showing is at 10:10 p.m. on Halloween, Friday October 31.

To enter the giveaway, send us an email with your name by 4 p.m. on Thursday, October 30.

One winner will be selected at random from the correct responses we receive. The winner will receive a pair of tickets to the movie. The winner will be notified by email before 5 p.m. on Thursday, October 30. The winner will need to verify that they have received the notification within a few hours of receiving the email. If we receive no verification, the tickets will be awarded to the next winning participant on our list. Non-winning participants will not be notified. does not store email addresses or any personal information provided by readers for any purpose other than giveaway win notification.

Five movies to see on the final day of the Austin Film Festival

Here are a few highlights for movies screening Oct. 30, the final day of the Austin Film Festival

“The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young” You think your marathon has some weird quirks? Try this one, inspired by a prison escape gone sideways and the entrance fee is $1.60 Every year 40 runners come from around the world to a small town in Tennessee to test their limits at a cult-like, quirky, and virtually impossible trail race. In 25 years of the race, only 10 people have finished.  4 p.m. Alamo Drafthouse Village

“Spoke” with “Crazy Carl and His Man-Boobs: An Austin Love Story” A few slices of Austin here. A short documentary about the legendary dancehall the Broken Spoke plus a longer profile of Crazy Carl Hickerson, a longtime embodiment of Old, Weird Austin. 7 p.m. Alamo Drafthouse Village

“Mentor”  In 2006 and 2010, Mentor, Ohio was selected as one of America’s Top 100 Cities to Live, but over those five years, an alarming number of teens from this upper-class community committed suicide. “Mentor” follows the families of two victims as they uncover the grim history of bullying at Mentor High School. 7 p.m. IMAX Theater.

Gael Garcia Bernal in "Rosewater"
Gael Garcia Bernal in “Rosewater”

“Rosewater”  “Rosewater,” directed by Jon Stewart, is based on the memoir “Then They Came for Me” by London-based journalist Maziar Bahari (written with Aimee Molloy). Gael García Bernal plays Bahari, who was detained in Iran for more than four months and savagely interrogated. Bahari has said that a 2009 interview he gave on the “Daily Show” was used as evidence that he was in contact with the American intelligence community. The movie is out in theaters Nov. 7.  Stewart will be at the screening. 8:30 p.m. Paramount Theater









Radcliffe gets a devilish look in ‘Horns’ (Our grade: C+)

Daniel Radcliffe stars in "Horns." LIONSGATE
Daniel Radcliffe stars in “Horns.” LIONSGATE

By Roger Moore McClatchy-Tribune News Service

In “Horns,” Daniel Radcliffe grows a pair.

He plays a young man whose girlfriend was brutally murdered and who has a magically realistic way of becoming what his suburban Seattle neighbors think of him.

»Read the full review on | Showtimes for ‘Horns’

‘Whiplash’ asks, thrillingly, what is the price of perfection? (Our grade: A-)

Miles Teller, left, and J.K. Simmons star in "Whiplash." Daniel McFadden / Sony Pictures Classics
Miles Teller, left, and J.K. Simmons star in “Whiplash.” Daniel McFadden / Sony Pictures Classics

“Whiplash” is a gripping look at the complicated dynamic between talented students and the abusive teachers who make them thrive (or prey on them, depending on your feelings about this sort of thing).

»Read the full review on | Showtimes for ‘Whiplash’

Excellent ‘Nightcrawler’ highlights creepy Jake Gyllenhaal (Our grade: A-)

A gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal stars in "Nightcrawler." OPEN ROAD FILMS
A gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal stars in “Nightcrawler.” OPEN ROAD FILMS

Jake Gyllenhall is hypnotic and electrifying as the skull-like Louis Bloom, a strange man in need of steady work who hurls himself into the high-speed, extremely competitive world of “nightcrawlers.”

»Read the full review on | Showtimes for ‘Nightcrawler’

Animated ‘Princess’ honors ancient Japanese tale (Our grade: A-)

A scene from "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya." Credit: Hatake Jimusho
A scene from “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.” Credit: Hatake Jimusho

By Kenneth Turan Los Angeles Times

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is a marvel of Japanese animation, a hand-drawn, painterly epic that submerges us in a world of beauty. While almost everything about it bespeaks its origins in a culture very different from the West, the delicacy and grace of its sublime imagery create an impact that couldn’t be stronger.

»Read the full review on | Showtimes for ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’

‘ABCs of Death 2’ is perfect for Halloween (Our grade: B-)

A scene from "Ochlocracy" in 'ABCs of Death 2,' a Magnet Releasing film. (Magnet Releasing/MCT)
A scene from “Ochlocracy” in ‘ABCs of Death 2,’ a Magnet Releasing film. (Magnet Releasing/MCT)

The batting average is higher than the first film, but nothing is quite as extreme. Or maybe it doesn’t seem as extreme. You get numb to this stuff pretty quickly. (Note for parents: The movie is unrated, but we are well into R-rated territory in almost every film.)

»Read the full review on | Showtimes for ‘ABCs of Death 2’