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     The Austin Screens category at Austin Film Festival is a showcase of local emerging talent that might not otherwise be on everyone's radar. Arguably the best film in this category in 2009 is Baghdad Texas.

     A fleeing Middle Eastern dictator's plane crashes. Three Texas ranchers coming back from a rowdy time in Mexico hit what they think is a Mexican illegal immigrant. When they look through his clothes, they notice foreign currency with the likeness of Brando (Al No'mani), the most wanted man in the world, and the scrambling begins.

     Finances have forced Randall (Robert Prentiss) to turn to exotic hunting to make ends meet, with the help of his son Limon (Ryan Boggus), ranch hand Seth (Barry Tubb), and a pragmatic housekeeper, Carmen (Melinda Renna, pictured above).  An eager FBI agent (Shaneye Ferrell) is looking to prove herself despite a lackadaisical boss. When the ranchers realize who they put in the back of their truck, the antics begin. As everyone pursues their own interest to comedic ends, the two illegals who occasionally work on the farm engage in spectator sports.

     Baghdad Texas has a story that requires a certain amount of trust from the audience, as some devices seem incongruous among more conventional ones in this comedy of circumstance. And with the minimal character development, that begins to wear thin. But like any good comedy, it all works out in the end, although not necessarily how you'd expect. The unpolished quality to the film suits the earthy characters found on both sides of the Texas border. While Seth is a recognizable caricature, the others aren't as excessive.  

     The standout performance is delivered by Renna, whose sensible Carmen has heart, but it's not bleeding.  No'mani's performance is also notable, but mostly at the resolution, when some seemingly random moments have been resolved.

     The cast of Baghdad Texas may not all be recognizable, but perusing their credits will include quite a few familiar productions.  The most notable among them, Al No'mani, was formerly known as Kaied "the Brad Pitt of Iraq" Hassan before immigrating to the US after falling out of favor with Saddam Hussein. He appeared in David O. Russell's Three Kings and a very memorable role on Arrested Development. Sadly, No'mani passed away suddenly in April. 

     Director David Hickey, who currently teaches at the Austin School of Film, co-wrote the script with Ferrell and No'mani. All three worked together previously on The Hassans, a documentary about No'mani and his family's decision to immigrate. –  by Jenn Brown – Slackerwood.com


Sweet! Baghdad Texas is a 5-Star movie – Cheers!


This cute-at-a-glance movie has all the right stuff. Intrigue, comedy, suspense. The music is quirky and fun. I was totally caught off guard by the excellent acting as well. If you didn't see it at the AFF, make sure you see it somewhere else.

I really like this movie. Its humor is right up my alley. Dark and oblique at times but mostly straightforward and down to earth. The music, the animals, the characters, the acting. It all works for me, and the story ultimately tells of how you can't judge a book by its cover and that, if you do so judge, you will miss some of the best that human beings can offer. Five stars. No BS here, no pretense. A simple story, really, told straight.


Siskel and Ebert 2 thumbs up! The ending made my head spin...in a good way. A great Texas movie!


What a great movie. Enjoyed every minute of it. Great story, Great Music. What a twist! Actors are Fab!! A++++++++


Thoroughly enjoyable film to watch. Great production values, interesting camera angles, great color saturation, commendable acting, and an ending with a twist. The music is a welcome addition and brings its own emotions to the film.


BAGHDAD TEXAS - David Hickey’s completely original indie comedy/drama is a lot of fun, but also more than it seems on its quirky surface. (The first action-packed ten minutes have virtually no dialogue, but skillful shooting, editing and musical score give the viewer all the set-up needed.) A Middle Eastern dictator, fleeing his occupied country, finds himself near the Mexican border when his plane crashes. The only survivor of the crash, he stumbles into the highway and is hit by a truck driven by three red-neck cowboys (with stereotypical prejudices) who take the unconscious man to the exotic game ranch that is also home. The wounded man is cared for by the broken down ranch’s Mexican housekeeper and cook (the film’s most compassionate and sensible character). Despite the language barriers (Spanish, English and Arabic -- which make every communication funnier and often more touching), in the ensuing days, every character discovers something about themselves, along with a growing suspicion that this mysterious man might be a very famous, hunted criminal with a large bounty on his head. The flat-out broad comedy is surprisingly sweetened with a larger message about disenfranchised souls and why the meek should indeed inherit the earth. - May 1, 2009




It's time to start warming up for this year's USA Film Festival, scheduled April 29-May 3. There are some definite bright spots in the interesting schedule, which was released on Wednesday. This year's big-ticket appearance, depending on your perspective, is either stare-down star Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), Oscar-nominated and barrier-breaking actress Juanita Moore (Imitation of Life), actor Brian Cox (who seems to be in everything these days) or the great character actor, M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple). If that's not enough, there are also plenty of films. Among the highlights is the new film from Irish director John Crowley, Is Anybody There? starring Michael Caine as an elderly magician entering a retirement home. There's also Baghdad Texas, the quirky comedy from David Hickey about a Middle Eastern dictator (hmm, wonder who that's based on?) who finds himself stranded on a South Texas exotic game ranch. - Tom Maurstad/April 19, 2009


        Producing a movie and producing an album really aren't that different, when you think about it. You've got to meld together ideas from a lot of people. You've got to manage your costs.

        Booka Michel knows all about the processes. As a percussionist, he's played with the likes of Hoyt Axton, Joe Ely, Townes Van Zandt and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. He's also produced four feature films. His latest, Baghdad Texas, will play tonight at the USA Film festival - a day after he dropped by Dallas' Element X Creative production studios to pick up the final copy.

        "It's just like mixing music," Michel says by phone from the Austin offices of his Loudhouse Productions. "At some point you just have to step back, get away from the board, put your hands up in the air and say, 'I'm finished.' At some point, you just have to say, 'It's good, leave it alone. Go away, go home, do something else!' And that's where I'm at right now."

         Baghdad Texas begins with a small jet making an emergency landing in rural South Texas. As three men make their way back from a night of partying in Mexico, their truck plows into the only survivor. Seth (Barry Tubb) dismisses the now doubly-injured man as "just another drunk Mexican," but father and son Randall and Limon (Robert Prentiss and Ryan Boggus) drag the man into the truck bed to take him back to their exotic game ranch. Once there, he's cared for by the ranch's housekeeper, Carmen (Arlington's Melinda Renna).

        It's there that questions begin to arise about the man's identity. Could he be the missing Middle Eastern dictator who has recently fled his country? And if he is, what should they do with him?

        The audience chews on these conundrums during the quickly-paced 90 minutes. To Fort Worth director David Hickey's credit, it's not a movie that gives up its secrets easily - a quality that initially attracted Michel to the project.

        "So many times [movies] have to spell everything out for you. I remember some of the best movies, like Hitchcock, made the viewer think. It's not all there - you've got to put the pieces together. And I like that, where it doesn't just pander to the audience or dumb it down. They're intelligent, let them figure some of this out."

        Baghdad Texas debuted at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in January. Since then, Michel has tweaked the film a bit - shortening a few scenes, playing with the color correction, adjusting the music.

        When the updated version makes its Texas debut tonight, the audience will be filled with cast and crew members. Most of them won't have to travel far to make the screening as the film was made almost entirely by in-state talent. It was shot on a ranch just outside Kerrville in 21 days, and Michel says it never crossed his mind to make a story based in his home state anywhere else.

       "I'm a mom-and-pop shop guy. I don't go to chains, I don't go to the big-box stores. I like to keep my money in the local economy," he says. "It just makes sense to shoot it on locale, if that's the locale where it's supposed to be. If it's supposed to be in France, then go to France to shoot it!"

       Baghdad is probably the most Texas-centric feature at this year's festival. If you're curious about how local, independent filmmaking differs from big-budget Hollywood fare, this is a good place to start. - Stephen Becker, Dallas TX,  for KERA-FM



Just as the 20th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival was getting underway, the Desert Sun’s film writer, Bruce Fessier, sat down with Festival Director Darryl Macdonald to talk about what to expect. Citing five films to watch for in the “Directors Step Into the Spotlight” section, Mr. Macdonald commented enthusiastically about Baghdad TexasBaghdad Texas I utterly adore. We’re doing the world premiere of it. He (director David Hickey) has this distinctly Austin appeal in his approach to movie making. You’d have to see a number of films made in Austin to get what I’m talking about. For instance, Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Fast Food Nation) sprung out of Austin. It’s a dash of Cohen brothers, a dash of Linklater and a helping of his own particularly distinctive approach. It’s not slick, it’s loosey-goosey. The story itself is something no conventional director or screenwriter would come up with, although, when you hear about it, you think, “Why didn’t I think of that?” - January 11, 2009






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