Robert Duvall is among the notable interviewees in the celebratory documentary set to premiere Oct. 25 at the Austin Film Festival.
More than 40 years ago, playwright-screenwriter Horton Foote — already an Academy Award winner for adapting To Kill a Mockingbird for the big screen — had a confab with an executive at 20th Century Fox. He had been working on a screenplay about young Texans trying to establish themselves as country music performers, and wanted some feedback. The exec was impressed, but offered Foote some advice: The scenario might be more compelling with an older character in the mix.
Not long afterwards, the exec was fired by Fox. But Foote took his words to heart anyway. And that’s how he came to write Tender Mercies, the richly detailed and deeply affecting 1983 film that earned Foote his second Oscar, and enabled Robert Duvall to claim an Academy Award as Best Actor for his exceptional performance as a middle-aged, down-and-out country singer who gets his last best shot at redemption.
This episode is just one of many delights to be savored in Horton Foote: The Road to Home, director Anne Rapp’s arrestingly constructed and aptly celebratory documentary about the extraordinary writer who drew repeatedly and fruitfully on his Texas roots during his decades-long career. The film will have its world premiere Oct. 25 at the Austin Film Festival, and will be available to watch virtually for the duration of the festival. (You can purchase tickets here.)
Duvall appears as an on-camera interviewee in Rapp’s documentary, along with such notables as Bruce Beresford, director of Tender Mercies; Texas filmmaker Richard Linklater (Bernie, Dazed and Confused); and the late playwright Edward Albee, who was an ardent admirer of Foote’s work. But Foote himself remains the main attraction, candidly and colorfully discussing his small-town Texas upbringing, his indefatigable work ethic, and his crowning achievements in theater, film and television — including The Trip to Bountiful, The Young Man from Atlanta (for which he received the Pulitzer Prize), The Orphans’ Home Cycle and Dividing the Estate — during interviews Rapp filmed during the last three years of his life. (Foote passed away in 2009 at age 92 — while still busy on film and theater projects.)
Rapp met Foote when she was script supervisor on Tender Mercies. They bonded, she says, “not so much over our love of movies or theater, but over our love of basic storytelling, and our similar backgrounds of growing up in small towns in Texas.” (Foote was born and raised in Wharton, a town he transformed into the fictitious Harrison, Texas, as the setting for most of his plays.) Years later, “Our lifelong friendship allowed me to capture a much more personal and inside view of his life and work, and also capture the connection between his hometown and his successful body of work in more intimate detail.”
We recently had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing Anne Rapp via Zoom about Horton Foote: The Road to Home.
Photography: Keith Carter