Austin Filmmaker Alex Holdridge comes home tonight with his new film MEET ME IN MONTENEGRO, a love letter to Americans in Europe falling in love, falling out of love, seeking dreams, abandoning dreams, and generally just getting their crap together. With the first screening at the Violet Crown sold out, the theater has added another, and Holdridge and co-star/writer/director Linnea Saasen will do a Q&A after both, moderated by Richard Linklater.

How did we get here? It seems like forever ago that Holdridge’s first film, “Wrong Numbers,” played Austin Film Festival (2001 actually), and his 2007 In Search of a Midnight Kiss graduated to SXSW and took home the Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard from one of Austin’s most distinctive voices (although now he is more of a Berliner than an Austinite (did I just call him a jelly donut?)).  MEET ME IN MONTENEGRO premiered at TIFF last year and I was shocked when it didn’t show up at Sundance or SXSW. It seems like had this movie come out in 2009 or something, it would have been a shoo-in for both. I actually was able to get Holdridge back to town in 2013 for a retrospective screening of “Wrong Numbers” in the midst of shooting this movie and he told me then that part of the plot of his new film concerned just how hard it is to get a film made if it’s been seven years since your last one. This is a primary concern in the film, but the lead character as filmmaker is really just a back drop to a much more heartwarming and visceral story about the girl that got away and and with her took an artist’s will to dream.

In the film, Anderson (Alex Holdridge), an American filmmaker, finds himself in a bit of a spiral. His last girlfriend dumps him in the opening minutes of the film, in one of the most mean-spirited but understated way I’ve ever seen. That and his career is almost over. His agent offers him one last shot, hop on a plane to Berlin to meet with Jason Ritter (played quite convincingly by Jason Ritter) to pitch him this far-fetched scifi project that Anderson doesn’t even believe in. He thinks he believes in it, but then he ‘runs into’ (by hunting down places he knows she might be) his ex, Lina, a girl he spent a few magical weeks with several years earlier but then who mysteriously disappeared leaving only a note. Reconnecting with Lina, and learning how she has followed her dreams of being a dancer, Anderson sees how he has abandoned his own artistic integrity. Or would, if anyone would give him the chance. Instead of focusing on what he came to Berlin to do, he gets swept back into the feelings he had for Lina, desperate to find out why she bailed on him all those years ago.

Filmed on location in five countries over four years, Holdridge and Saasen’s film is at once both personal and universal, a nostalgia-filled sweeping romance that takes the audience from the cliffs of Montenegro to the underground clubs of Berlin. It’s also wickedly funny, with much of the humor arising from Anderson’s hosts, a couple on the verge of sexual exploration, but hesitant to dive into the deep waters of a Berlin Swingers club.
According to Holdridge and Saasen, a real life couple as well, the idea came from their own personal experiences of meeting when they both thought their lives were headed in very specific directions, only to have their plans suddenly change. After writing the script in Berlin, they lived in a small apartment in Montenegro for four months shooting and editing, then moved all the hard drives to Berlin where the same occurred there for years, then finally to Los Angeles with hard drives and cameras then back to Berlin to finish. They could do this because the crew was so small and were also their friends. By playing themselves and co-directing, they were able to gather material and shoot for a length of time no other production could imagine. Some of their real life friends play into the movie, and Anderson’s agent is actually Holdridge’s agent back in Los Angeles – one of the most memorable characters on screen.

In the end, MEET ME IN MONTENEGRO is a triumph of indie filmmaking, and hopefully Holdridge won’t make us wait another seven years for his next film. MEET ME IN MONTENEGRO screens tonight at the Violet Crown theater, with directors in attendance, and will open in Austin theaters on July 31st.

BearsAMFMshotBears Fonte covers indie film for AMFM Magazine and programs and consults for film festivals nationwide.  He is the Founder and Executive Director of Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival as well as the former Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival.  His short The Secret Keeper played at 40 festivals, his feature iCrime was released in 2011 by Vicious Circle.

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