Austin Film Festival 2021: BUCK ALAMO

Audience Award Winner is a Texas tale of music and mortality

Based on stories said to be true.

The opening line of Buck Alamo sets the tone for what ends up being a beautiful, well-acted homage to aging and change, both of a man and of a place.

Austin stalwart Sonny Carl Davis has been in this game a long, long time. Starting back with Eagle Pennell’s seminal 1978 film The Whole Shootin’ Match, Davis personifies the quintessential Texas actor, a chicken-friend hoot-n-holler of the silver screen. In Buck Alamo, he ages gracefully into a character larger than life and striving against the end come near.

Broken into three “stanzas,” Buck Alamo centers itself not just on the man but on the music. Director and writer Ben Epstein got his start doing music videos for hip-hop artists in the ATL, and while there no urban floetry to be found, there’s plenty of rural pickin’ and grinnin’.

Eli Cody might be his real name, but his nom de plume is Buck Alamo, and a lifetime of making music hasn’t meant a lifetime of good choices, especially when it comes to family.

In an effort to mend some fences, Buck takes a trip to what has to be the snooty suburb of Westlake to reconnect with his daughter Dee played by Lee Eddy. While the Austin-based actor she has shown herself capable of playing a variety of roles, this one is all tears and heat. She exudes the pure rage of a daughter blistering an absentee father.

Good mornin’ Austin, wherever you went.

The running subtext (and sometimes plain text) of the film is that Austin is changing underneath the feet of those that made it what it is. There are references to long-gone institutions like Threadgill’s, an anecdote about Townes Van Zandt, and a nice little scene on South Congress Ave. Epstein harnesses that energy by infusing the film with real music from real local musicians.

Not first and but certainly foremost is George Ensle. His song “On Your Way” plays a part in Buck Alamo’s most powerful scene. Sitting around a campfire with a bunch of good ol’ boys, Buck recites a poem that seamlessly segues into Ensle’s tune. The camera stays on Davis’s face throughout, and the effect is just perfect. It’s four minutes of movie magic. I wish I could bottle it and give it to everyone I know. It’s that good.

Take it from a wannabe has-been that you can’t change the past, but make the future better.

Buck Alamo is a small movie that tackles big ideas, and does so with sensitivity and an eye that captures beauty in unlikely places. Sonny Carl is a gift, and thank God he’s still gracing us with his presence. I don’t know if this is his best role, but the Buck Alamo we come to know and love wouldn’t be possible without him.

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