‘Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny’ explores Austin filmmaker’s past

Updated Aug 25, 2016

Louis Black and Karen Bernstein’s “Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny” is the documentary on Linklater that Linklater nerds have been waiting for.

From the man’s earliest work (the little-seen “It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books”) up through set visits to this year’s “Everybody Wants Some,” “Dream is Destiny” mixes clips from both Linklater’s stronger and, to its credit, weaker work (“The Newton Boys,” we will never forget you) along with testimonials from fellow filmmakers and chats between Black and Linklater as the two go over the filmmaker’s old idea notebook and his Thoreau-like diaries.

The chats seem a bit off-putting at first — documentary directors rarely show up on camera — but there ends up being a savvy logic behind it, revealed when we see an amazing cable access interview by Black of a young Linklater right around the time “Slacker” was breaking out in 1991. The long-term conversation between the two of them about film, a conversation that has been going on for 30 years, becomes a narrative element.

We hear from Kevin Smith, whose viewing of “Slacker” on his 21st birthday led directly to the making of “Clerks”; John Pierson, the indie film-business insider who was an early supporter; and Matthew McConaughey, who notes, “Linklater is so Buddhist he doesn’t even realize he’s Buddhist.”

We also see Linklater’s Bastrop homestead, which has become something of a nature preserve with buildings he has designed and plenty of space for creativity. (“My own low-rent Skywalker Ranch,” he calls it.) Quite frankly, it looks glorious.

“Dream” makes sure to point out the combination of factors that led to Linklater becoming Linklater — his own lack of interest in heading to New York or L.A. to make movies and the fact that late ’80s Austin was in “the middle of one of its boom and bust cycles,” hence the living was cheap.

Linklater shoots the groundbreaking “Slacker” in 1989 and premieres it at Austin’s Dobie Theater on July 27, 1990, but it doesn’t get a wide release until 1991, just in time for him to be labeled with all sorts of Generation X voice-of-generation-type labels. Linklater naturally blanches at this sort of thing but notes that it played to an “audience that had not seen themselves on screen.”

Now and then, “Dream” checks in on the set of “Everybody Wants Some,” his 1980s-set “spiritual sequel” to both “Dazed and Confused” and “Boyhood” (that movie ends on a kid’s first day of college, which is where this one picks up).

And as Pierson points out, time is the topic Linklater returns to over and over. “Our own relationship with our past is the mythology we carry with us,” the director says.

Which brings us to “Dazed and Confused.” A comedy touchstone for folks such as yours truly who saw it in college in 1993, Universal truly had no idea what to do with the thing and let it flop. Linklater notes that he has had studios abandon his films before, “but I haven’t had the bad experience creatively” (where the finished product was not the film he wanted to make. “That would be heartbreaking.”

That said, he is open about the failure of 1998’s “Newton Boys,” thinking at the time, “I’m dead, nobody is gonna fund me,” which leads to the experimentalism of “Waking Life.” And the truth is, some suits have always been in his corner; producer Scott Rudin declined to accept Linklater’s pass on the Jack Black project “School of Rock.” The result is a movie that I can personally tell you 10-year-olds love.

Through it all, Linklater displays the best kind of low-key self-confidence. As he notes regarding projects with which one struggles, “The limitation is often you, what you are not bringing to it.” Words to live by, frankly.