How A Little-Known Film From The 1970s Kickstarted The Austin Film Scene

The influential film, “The Whole Shootin’ Match” was made on a shoestring budget, by a first-time filmmaker.

By Terri Langford & Laura RiceApril 9, 2020 3:09 pm

A long-forgotten gem of Texas moviemaking is being rediscovered, thanks to a new retrospective, sponsored by the New Film/New Director series, which showcases a selection of innovative international and American films. And “The Whole Shootin’ Match” should be far better-known, according to The New Yorker’s Richard Brody

Released in 1978, “The Whole Shootin’ Match,” was directed by Eagle Pennell. It was the first film to gain national attention for the Austin film scene.

Brody profiled the film in the latest issue of The New Yorker. It recounts the misadventures of Loyd, played by Lou Perryman and Frank, played by Sonny Carl Davis, as they scheme to get rich. Meanwhile, Paulette, Frank’s wife, takes care of their son and endures Frank’s antics. She is played by Doris Hargrave. The black-and-white film is marked by poetic dialogue and subtle, but emotional performances, Brody says.

“It is a story of near success and poignant failure,” he says.

“The Whole Shootin’ Match” is the archetype of an independent film. With a small budget, the cast and crew borrowed equipment and shot on the weekends. It was Pennell’s first film. He was 25 years old. It received wide acclaim, but he was not able to produce any more films of equal caliber. 

“Unfortunately Eagle Pennell did not make the career of the extraordinary attention and merit his first film got,” Brody says. “He got a deal in Hollywood but he had a substance abuse problem. He came back and found himself in alcoholism which dominated the rest of his life.”

Despite a dismal end to Pennell’s career, “The Whole Shootin’ Match” had a lasting impact on the Austin film scene. After watching it, Robert Redford was inspired to found the Sundance Film Festival. The film also inspired Richard Linklater to experiment with cinematic storytelling. His 1991 film “Slacker,” screened at Sundance and at the New Directors/New Films series. 

“‘The Whole Shootin Match’ galvanized a community and brought people together who wanted to make a film in Austin,” Brody says. “Even if Eagle Pennell’s career and life were truncated that community clearly lives on.”

“The Whole Shootin’ Match” is streaming now on Vimeo and on Amazon.


Written by Laura Morales.