AUSTIN -- "Whatever happened to man's best friend?"
While that might not have ever been a question uttered in the city of Austin, it was definitely a major theme in Wes Anderon's newest film Isle of Dogs, which closed out the South by Southwest Film Festival on Saturday.
With all the quirks and symmetry you'd expect from an Anderson flick, festival goers were all smiles as they got a chance to become part of the select few to catch a sneak peek of his latest stop-motion feature, giving it a standing ovation once the credits rolled.
On hand for the exclusive screening was director Anderson himself, Bill Murray (Boss), Jeff Goldblum (Duke), Bob Balaban (King) and Kunichi Nomura (Mayor Kobayashi), as well as producer Jeremy Dawson and music supervisor Randall Poster.
The film tells the story of a young boy from a city in Japan, whose leaders unrightfully banished all dogs to a place they call "trash island." A distant relative to Mayor Kobayashi, 12-year-old Atari (played by Koyu Rankin) sets out on a quest to rescue his beloved dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), from the wasteland. Joined by a ragtag group of hounds, they all journey to find him and shine a light on their government's corruption.
"I think it’s different than any movie that’s ever been made," Goldblum told KVUE. "You’ll see it's rich and surprising in story and in cultural and political conviction, heroism and deep authentic sweetness, and refined original humor. But artisanal brilliance, the likes of which none of us have seen."
And as many Wes Anderson fans will know, the director tends to cast many of the same actors in his films -- a fact Goldblum, Balaban and especially Murray can attest to.
“The three movies that I have been in have all been really interestingly, wonderfully different, and it’s interesting because some of the themes are always there; Wes’s enormous kindness, sensibility, fairness, and he’s so good with actors and stories and can tell things in a beautiful way," said Balaban. "He’s never duplicated himself, they all have a similarity, and they’re all unique, and it’s really hard to find that in any filmmaker.”
Similarity being the key, as Murray -- who had taken to the streets just moments before to help promote his latest involvement -- put it, he's been in "bunches" of the University of Texas alumnus' films. But is there any he'd say no to?
"Yes there is one, but if I say what it is, you know, you get in trouble," Murray said in a panel discussion after the screening. "I’d rather the mystery of the refusal lay there. They’re all fine to do, we have a lot of fun working together. It’s really been a joy to be a part of.”
Anderson said that one way this film stood out from his others was the way they all worked together in the recording process, saying he just kep the mic rolling for two days, turning off the cameras and opening the possibilities for "anything" to be used.
“Anything can become a part of this, it’s a free way to work," said Anderson. "When you’re just recording voices, it is just so completely free."
The director also revealed a few other secrets about the film's creative process, including where the idea came from in the first place: after seeing a sign that read "Isle of Dogs" while on his way to the studio where he was working on his previous stop-motion project, Fantastic Mr. Fox, in London.
"I never knew what it was, it just sounded so mysterious; I really liked the idea of Isle of Dogs," Anderson recalled. "What could be on it? It turns out to be not a very nice place. I went to visit and its kind of like a shipping yard now, but then I read about it and it was a place where the king kept his hunting dogs."
While the film may have origins overseas, Anderson's himself hit a little closer to home -- when he was a film student at the UT Austin.
"Probably the most important time of thinking about wanting to make movies was while I was going to school here in Austin," he said. "My roommate here was Owen Wilson, so we started working together on our first movie."
Anderson's shoutouts to favorite haunts like the "PCL" (The Perry-Castañeda Library) and the fine arts library, where he would study books and laser discs on older films, drew some cheers from the crowd. He also recalled a moment he and Wilson saw Austin's Richard Linklater filming near what used to be Mad Dog and Beans -- a film he later saw in the Dobe Theater.
The trip down memory lane maybe got a little too nostalgic, but for the Texas filmmaker, there was likely no better place for him to premiere his latest project than the city that helped start it all.
"This is probably the only time I will ever see [Isle of Dogs] because I don’t think it will be as good again," he said to a crowd of "aws."
Also staring Bryan Cranston (Chief), Edward Norton (Rex), Greta Gerwig (Tracy Walker), Scarlett Johansson (Nutmeg), Tilda Swinton (Oracle), Frances McDormand (Interpreter Woman) and many others, Isle of Dogs hits U.S. theaters March 23.