It's About Time

This inaugural Anaheim International Film Festival will give your eyeflaps a workout

Considering Anaheim is the box holding a world-renowned theme park filled with rides, attractions and costumed characters that sprang from movies, it’s amazing 2010 is only the first year of what organizers hope will be an annual international film festival.

The inaugural Anaheim International Film Festival (AIFF) opens Wednesday with red-carpet arrivals in front of the GardenWalk retail-and-entertainment center near the resort Walt Disney built, a ritzy gala in GardenWalk’s courtyard, and six programs screened in the center’s UltraStar Cinemas.

Crowding the opening-night lineup: Jonathan Lynn’s British black comedy Wild Target; American Alexandra Codina’s in-the-life documentary on a couple with Down syndrome, Monica & David; Mamoru Hosoda’s much-buzzed-about Japanese-anime feature Summer Wars;the U.S. premiere of Aussie David Bradbury’s historical surf flick Going Vertical: The Shortboard Revolution;special presentations of short films; and the late John Hughes’ Brat Pack classic Sixteen Candles.

Skeletons
Skeletons
God of Love
God of Love
A Lost and Found Box of Human Sensation
A Lost and Found Box of Human Sensation

The short films include Joshua and Rebekah Weigel’s Butterfly Circus, Max Lang and Jakob Schuh’s The Gruffalo, Natalia Mirzoyan’s My Childhood Mystery Tree, Lilli Birdsell’s Once Upon a Crime, James Redford’s Quality Time, Cordell Barker’s Runaway, Peter Meech’s Winner Best Short Film,and Iram Haq’s Little Miss Eyeflap.

Your little eyeflaps should be aching after taking in that much celluloid on night one, but AIFF chairman Sinan Kanatsiz revealed there is a reason for this seeming madness.

“The screening of multiple films on opening night enables us to welcome a larger audience of Orange County moviegoers and shine the spotlight on more of our talented filmmakers,” Kanatsiz explained.

An after-party follows the opener films, and by the time the smoke has cleared the evening of Oct. 17, 47 feature films and 80 shorts from 30 different countries will have been presented. On Oct. 16, awards will be doled out at the Grand Californian Hotel next to Disney’s California Adventure, and the festival closes with a gala, screening and after-party back at GardenWalk on Oct. 17. The featured film that night will be Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur’s thriller Inhale, which is about an American couple who travel to Mexico to save their daughter’s life and stars Dermot Mulroney, Diane Kruger and Sam Shepard.

For those un-wowed by the opening- or closing-night titles, consider this one from later in the festival: Broken Springs: Shine of the Undead Zombie Bastards. How can one not love a film with “undead,” “zombie” and “bastards” in the same title? Unfortunately, my screener would not play in either of my DVD players, so we’ll have to go with Burbank director Neeley Lawson’s description from the production notes: “Broken Springs is a movie that happens to have zombies in it. It is about regular people faced with the irregular circumstances sticking together and not quitting, no matter the odds . . . sort of like making your first feature.”

Or your first film festival . . . in the middle of a middlin’-at-best economy.

But AIFF co-founder Wally Schlotter, UltraStar’s vice president of special projects, was saying over our P.F. Chang soups the other day that he believes the festival might put Anaheim on the film-world map because it is showcasing movies during a normally slow period: just after the summer blockbusters have finished their second runs and just before the winter-awards-season titles start hitting theaters. And this is no slouch speaking; for years, Schlotter ran the San Diego Film Festival.

As demonstrated at May’s preview party, the AIFF has corralled the talents of programmer Robert Koehler of Variety magazine and American Film Institute fame, as well as strong support from the Anaheim City Council, collegiate film programs, the Orange County Film Office, the Orange County Department of Education, the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau, and, of course, the ultimate player whose ring must be kissed to do anything in Toontown, the Disney Resort.

Fortunately, my screener for the low-budget independent urFrenz did not go all undead zombie bastard on me. “Inspired by true events”; written and directed by veteran Hollywood screenwriter Jeff Phillips; and shot in Orange, Huntington Beach and other Orange County locales, urFrenz is about a nosy mom and two damaged teenage girls whose lives spin out of control following the spread of ugly gossip and malicious social networking. The film would be cineplex-ready if it had enjoyed, say, a quarter of The Social Network’s budget (or a fraction of the ad buy). The writing, pacing and most of the acting are quite strong. Gayla Goehl, as the meddling mom, and Lily Holleman, in her feature debut as a troubled teen, are particularly solid. This one’s a keeper.

Another gem comes from Great Britain. The dark comedy Skeletons—from first-time director Nick Whitfield and starring first-time leads Ed Gaughan and Andrew Buckley—is about a pair of traveling servicemen who, by performing something known as “The Procedure,” clean out what’s buried in people’s “closets.” You may know them as lies, secrets and passions. Gaughan and Buckley play off each other like a well-oiled Vaudeville duo; Denmark’s Paprika Steen and rising British star Tuppence Middleton provide game support; and Whitfield keeps viewers engaged with clever sets, set-ups and visuals.

Speaking of clever visuals, they are the best thing going for The Lost Thing, a 15-minute animated short and joint Australia/U.K. production directed by Shaun Tan, who wrote the same-titled children’s book, and Andrew Ruhemann, who stumbled upon the book at a children’s fair. It tells the tale of a boy who finds a living contraption of some sort and figures it must belong to someone. But when he tries to find the owner, he is rewarded with societal indifference. We’re all just too damn busy to see kids or whatever the hell they drag behind them.

Another strong 15-minute animated contender from the U.K. is Martin Wallner and Stefan Leuchtenberg’s A Lost and Found Box of Human Sensation, which has the added benefit of vocal star power courtesy of actors Joseph Fiennes and Sir Ian McKellen. A moving poem about grieving, A Lost and Found Box of Human Sensation finds a young man dealing with his father’s death from cancer. Your Uncle Walt’s cartoon this ain’t. (For one thing, Disney mostly killed off moms.)

From the corner of the documentary world occupied by examinations of spelling bees, crossword puzzles and Scrabble comes San Diego filmmaker Kevin Tostado’s Under the Boardwalk, which explores all things Monopoly. If you really, really, really love the board game, you will really, really, really love this flick. The game’s history, pop-culture significance and worldwide reach gurgle up as Tostado builds up to the 2009 Monopoly world championships in Las Vegas. Zachary Levi of TV’s Chuck narrates. Just one quibble from this corner of the game board: It’s unclear if Tostado means to expose nuts who surround the game as nuts or if he is one of them.

Those who gravitate toward goofy-hipster shorts should check out Luke Matheny’s black-and-white valentine God of Love, about a schmuck who croons jazz while hitting bull’s-eyes on dartboards in what has to be the greatest lounge act ever. Thanks to a mysterious gift, he goes from being lovestruck to a love-striker. Slightly Cupid would be a fitting alternative title.

While I can’t actually recommend the following films, they do have interesting set-ups: Baseco Bakal Boys (Children Metal Divers), from first-time Philippine director Ralston Jover, dramatizes impoverished boys who dive into dangerous waters to retrieve scrap metal for cash. American Bully, from Hollywood-via-New York director Dave Rodriguez (Push), is a brutal drama about a gung-ho high-school senior who, before he joins the Marines, takes his hatred of Arabs and immigrants way too far. And visual effects artist-turned-first-time writer/director Tom Phillips’ Sometimes the Moon Is Velvet is a partly animated, mostly live-action short about a fisherman obsessed with an accidental catch.

Visit the AIFF website for show times and other information about the films previewed above and a whole bunch more ready to give your little eyeflaps a workout.

Anaheim International Film Festival at UltraStar Cinemas at GardenWalk, 321 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 399-0300; www.anaheimfilm.org. Opening-night premiere and festivities, Wed. Gala and screenings, $50; screenings only, $10. Festival runs Oct. 14-17, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. General screenings, $5-$10; special screenings, $12; all-day pass, $15-$30. Master classes, workshops and panels, $10-$25 each. Awards presentation in Sequoia Ballroom at Grand Californian Hotel, 1600 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim. Oct. 16, 5 p.m.; VIP World of Color show at California Adventure, $150 (space limited). Closing festivities at GardenWalk (gala, screening, after-party), Oct. 17, 5 p.m. $10-$50; all-access pass, $350.

mcoker@ocweekly.com

This article appeared in print as "What Took So Long? An overdue international film festival debuts in the town Walt Disney built."

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