[This is a re-post of my Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny review from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. The film premieres on PBS on September 1st and American Masters: Richard Linklater – dream is destiny premieres on PBS and will be available to stream right here and PBS OTT app.]
Richard Linklater is one of the most interesting filmmakers of his generation. While he came up around the same time as Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell, and other filmmakers from the “indie explosion,” Linklater has always had a knack for going his own way and eschewing Hollywood for the comfort of Austin, Texas. This hasn’t always resulted in brilliant films, but each movie in his oeuvre is at least engaging—plus he’s got a couple of masterpieces under his belt, so there’s that. In their documentary Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny, directors Louis Black and Karen Bernstein chronicle the filmmaker’s entire career in immensely enjoyable fashion, making it all the more fascinating by using the 12-year production of Boyhood to track Linklater’s evolution as a filmmaker. While its appeal may not reach beyond cinephile circles, Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny is essential viewing for anyone with a passion for film.
Black—whose Austin Chronicle editorials helped launch Linklater’s career in the first place—has known the filmmaker for a very long time, and while there was certainly the risk of the movie becoming overloaded with praise, he and Bernstein direct with a deft and specific touch here, attempting to capture the personality characteristics that have defined Linklater as a filmmaker.
The film begins with some biographical material before jumping into the production of Linklater’s first film, Slacker. From there, candid interviews with Linklater, Matthew McConaughey, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Jack Black and more flesh out the filmmaker’s career, touching on disappointment with the releases of Dazed and Confused and The Newton Boys, the boldness of the Before trilogy, and why Linklater decided to make the jump to a studio comedy with School of Rock.
Indeed, Linklater is more than willing to open up about the ups and downs of his career, admitting his dissatisfaction and frustration with how some films were released, but maintaining that he’s never lost creative control over a film—for better or worse, each movie is exactly the movie he set out to make.
Perhaps the most brilliant choice that Black and Bernstein make is threading footage from the production of Boyhood throughout the movie, which began in the wake of the disappointment of Newton Boys, Waking Life, and Tape. Interviews with IFC Films President Jonathan Sehring are essential, as he admits Boyhood was a massive gamble that was plagued with issues every single year of production. With an unfinished movie, it was unclear for years whether this experiment would pay off, and Sehring’s candor makes the ultimate accomplishment all the more satisfying.
The production of Boyhood also mirrors Linklater’s evolution as a filmmaker. At the beginning, he was in an experimental phase after the sting of The Newton Boys’ failure. And as filming progressed, he continued to have ups and downs that led to a dry spell of Bad News Bears, Fast Food Nation, A Scanner Darkly, and Me and Orson Welles. This was ultimately broken by the underrated Bernie, which marked the beginning of a creative upswing that would culminate in the release of the masterful Boyhood.
During one portion of the film, while on the set of Boyhood, Hawke makes a comment about Linklater as a filmmaker that he admits Richard probably doesn’t like him saying. He observes that the ideas for Linklater’s movies are far from original—a story of a couple on a first date, a story of growing up, a story about high school—but what sets them apart is Linklater’s ability to actually realize these ideas in a wholly unique fashion. There is no magic key to what Linklater does—Black says he quickly realized the secret to Linklater’s success was just really, really hard work—but the results are undeniably special. That makes him one of our most valuable filmmakers, and while not every at bat is a home run, he never ceases to make things interesting.
Which is why Linklater is worthwhile subject matter for a documentary, and in the wake of another doc on the filmmaker’s career, Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny proves to be the more artfully crafted and fascinating of the two. Black and Bernstein understand what it is that makes Linklater so curious, and in chronicling his career in such a clear and entertaining way, they’ve put together a worthwhile and winning portrait of a very special filmmaker.