Richard Linklater Discovered ‘Inordinate Amount’ of High School Peers in Prison While Filming Hometown Doc ‘God Save Texas’

Richard Linklater’s participation in the anthology series “God Save Texas,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, brought him to trace his high school football teammates to the Texas prison system.

Based on Lawrence Wright’s book, “God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State,” native directors Alex Stapleton, liana Sosa and Linklater painted their own portraits of Texas. Linklater’s return to his Huntsville roots took him on a process of search and discovery in which he determined an excessive amount of his high school football teammates ended up unemployed or incarcerated by the Texas prison system.

“If you really break down my high school football team I was on a really inordinate amount of my teammates ended up on one side of the bars or the other,” he said at TheWrap’s Sundance Portrait and Interview Studio presented by NFP. ”What you really learn as you get closer it’s brown and black, for sure, and it’s poor white. Let’s never forget that.”

In returning to his hometown to dig for the docuseries, the “Before” trilogy director observed how the city made the news, which was normally for negative headlines.

“That’s the only time we hit the map, when we’re executing a grandmother or someone who’s proven to have an IQ of 67,” he said. “We get national. Huntsville makes the national news when it’s something horrific or the rest of the country’s like ‘What?’”

Stapleton spotlighted the joy each director tried to capture as part of what Wright describes as a paradox in his book. She related that concept to how Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused”(1993), starring Matthew McConaughey, reflects Linklater’s style that was shaped by where he grew up.

“As a kid growing up, and knowing what he’s done for the state, and putting us on the map as filmmakers, and watching ‘Dazed and Confused’ and understanding its connection to Huntsville, it’s so cool to see how Huntsville inspired him as an artist,” she said.

Linklater reflected that the influence shows in his work even to this day.

“You can’t escape your past. We don’t pick it, that’s where we come out in the world,” he said. “I love Texas. I love these people, everybody I grew up [with] – friendly, good, good people. Texas has so many.”

“I think we’ve been misrepresented so much by our government in the last two generations. Not always, but it’s always been a big power structure,” he added. “There’s actually a little room for optimism, not probably at this moment but as we all look to the future I don’t think we would have done something like this if we didn’t think things could change for the better.”

Sosa added to Linklater’s point of optimism.

“We forget that there’s a lot of activism happening in Texas around trans rights, around the abortion bill, immigration. People are on the ground really putting their lives at risk to change things and try to change things,” she said. “In all our episodes we do show some of that optimism and people not giving up. That’s the contradictory part of it, too. People still have to live and work there, and how do you do that? You gotta fight, too, right?”

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