Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to discuss a few of the “Tex-centric” films that we didnt have a chance to see on-screen at this year’s Dallas Int’l Film Festival. Thankfully, we’ve had the chance to catch a few of them on DVD, so we can talk about them now. In a couple of cases, these films will soon be making a return to Texas screens, even.

In an extremely well-made, immediately engaging documentary, we are faced with so many questions about the strength of family bonds, the usefulness of hope and the need to accept what has happened, even when answers arent clear, or perhaps unavailable.

Henry Corra’s The Dissppearance of McKinley Nolan looks into the fate of a Texan soldier that changed the course of his, and his families history, when he fought in Vietnam. Private Nolan vanished from Vietnam, and made a new life for himself in Cambodia, where he may or may not have been killed during the course of Khmer Rouge-conducted genocide after starting a family. That much we all know. Sadly, only a few more, tragic answers are revealed, while still leaving gaps that perhaps may never be filled-in.

Nolan’s family, living in Washington, TX, has basically given up the urgent search for answers, having long ago been made to feel by the US government as though their beloved McKinley was little more than a desserting traitor. The thing is: He may have been just that, but the family is personable, likeable and most of all, sympathetic. Ultimately, it is the brother, Michael, and Nolan’s wife, Mary that become the key figures of the film, along side the memory of Mckinley, that is.

Things get even more interesting when Dan Smith, a retired Army sargeant, claimed that during a visit to the fields where he lost his leg in battle, he came across a man he believed to be the elusive Nolan. Thus began a rejuvinated family search for Nolan that saw Michael and Smith make their way to Vietnam and Cambodia  in search of answers from people they believed had regular and close contact with Nolan.

Brutal footage from Vietnam conflict-era news films conveyed the possibility that perhaps the rumor of Nolan simply going crazy was more than substantial. Not long into the fact-finding mission, Michael discovers one thing after another that sometimes hurt, sometimes encourage and always enlighten his search. All of this unfolds with a sense of urgency and successfully draws the viewer into the search, even if the viewer begins to have a gut feeling about what fate may or may not have fallen on Nolan.

Even as findings suggest that McKinley Noaln wasnt exactly the greatest of humans, it’s simply impossible not to still hope for the best, as Nolan’s lovng brother and long-suffering wife are as true and beautifully sincere as anyone can be. Nolan’s brother, Michael sums up his search and all that he finds simply, but perfectly, when he says, “All that matters is love.”

As stated earlier, some questions are answered, and many are left dangling. One specific question that perhaps could’ve used a bit more exploring, was the role of Dan Smith in all of this. In the mvie, he claimed to not be merely a bored, loony former GI who needed soemthing to do. Actually, that might’ve been the case, yet the family still appreciated the fact the he did spear-head the new search that helped them gain far more answers than they had for the past 40 years leading up to that time.

This film is a great example of why a documentary, when it has subjects that are worthy of carrying the film on their own, is the best kind of film. This story simply couldnt have been made up. Reality has an edge and an urgency that the lights of Hollywood will never possess.


Very exciting stuff for us, here at The Squawker: We will be all up in this year’s Dallas International Film Festival! I mean ALL up in it.

Hosted by the Dallas Film Society, and presented by Cadillac, this year’s festival, will take place on screens inside of the Magnolia Theatre, Angelika Dallas, the Texas Theater, and at the North Park AMC. Beginning tonight, Thursday the 31st, and rolling through Sunday, April 10th, this is no mere weekend at the matinee.

Films are split into several categories (See the video above for trailers from a few of the films), including: Documentary Showcase, Narrative Feature Competition, Premiere Series, Midnight Specials, Latino Showcase, India Spotlight, World Cinema – and yes, even a Texas Competition – among other divisions.

Of course, the Texas Competition is of special interest to us here. OK Buckaroos, a documentary profiling the lengthy and influential life and career of Texas legend Jerry Jeff Walker, is a prime offering,  and Traveling, a story of life on the road for three folks who find themselves bonding in Texas seems like it could be worth making time for, as well.

The Nolan's from The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan

There are a couple of films that aren’t a part of the Texas Competition, yet have Lone Star connections, none the less. They also happen to look as though penciling them in on our schedule would be a wise choice. The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan is a documentary that looks to piece together the puzzle surrounding the nature of why Nolan – a Texan who was fighting in Vietnam – went missing all of a sudden and how he may have recently been spotted alive. Was he captured? Did he go AWOL? Did he go crazy?

Also, as a part of the Shorts Program, 8, is a product of filmmakers with ties to Dallas and Austin. This docu-short tells the touching story of how a daughter spends the anniversary of her father’s death with her mother (See trailer below). Adding to the Texas flavor of 8, Austin’s David Graza handled musical duties for the film.

Of course, big names that have little to do with our state will be present, as well. New features from Morgan Spurlock (The Greatest Movie Ever Sold), Maria Bello (Beautiful Boy), Colin Hanks (Lucky), Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt (Soul Surfer) and even the New York Times (Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times) are among the titles that will surely generate a fair amount of word-of-mouth over the course of the 10 day extravaganza.

As was stated earlier, we’ll be there! Follow Kelly on Twitter for live-updates, and also look for cool notes to pop-up, here on The Squawker, as well. Of course, we’ll also offer all kinds of recapping and reviews towards the end of the shindig.

“8″ Trailer from Daniel Laabs on Vimeo.

Over 40 years ago, Texas native McKinley Nolan enlisted in the Army, found himself fighting in Vietnam and never, ever came back. He left behind a wife, a brother and many, many unanswered questions that haunt not only his family, but also one Vietnam veteran in particular.

Michael Nolan as photographed by Corra Films

Nolan, it is alleged, became an Army deserter, joined the Viet Cong and it is rumored that he was later killed. However, no one really knows the truth and some believe that Nolan survived.

In 2005, a retired Lieutenant by the name of Dan Smith visitied Vietnam and, by chance, encountered a man he thinks is one Mr. McKinley Nolan.

A new film by Corra Films, The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan, follows Smith and Nolan’s brother, Michael, as they travel tacross the world looking for answers to the mystery behind McKinley’s disappearance.

If you’re lucky enough to be attending the Austin Film Festival, you can catch a screening of the documentary:

Austin Film Festival
Sat, October 23, 4:30pm – 6:30pm
Spirit Theater (map)

If not, you can request the film in your Texas town here.

Watch the trailer: