What if they gave a film festival—actually, make that two at once—and nobody came?
Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. Filmmakers, friends and family showed up to the FAIF (Foundation for the Advancement of Independent Film) and Indiefest offerings at the Downtown Disney AMC, but many of the screenings were devoid of human life, save your humble scribe. What with first-time filmmakers unclear on the nuts-and-bolts of publicizing their movies in advance, technical and staff glitches at the AMC, and organizer Ray Gibb seeming completely swamped at all times, it seems word didn't get out as far as it could have.
Yellow Lights, directed by Kevin Tostado, was one pleasant surprise you missed: a college movie made by college students on their weekends off for approximately $500. Hollywood has an incredibly distorted view of colleges when compared to the truth—dorm parties generally aren't that exciting, and nerds don't manage to steal the star quarterback's girlfriend. But students are dirty and untidy, and their rooms are minuscule, which the film gets right, though the Massachusetts campus seems so empty at times it's almost Kafka-esque. (Only one character decorates her room with any flair.) Yet it rings true in ways teen movies generally don't.
Exodus 20:13 (a reference to "Thou shalt not kill") came with a nifty premise: A few years from now, overpopulation and immigration will be so out-of-hand that on one day a year, any American can apply for a license to murder someone with no consequences. They must get pre-approval, and it cannot be a blood relative, but other than that, anything goes.
There ought to be a good story to run with here, but writer/director Matthew Hencke takes the Paul Haggis route, showing us many different characters and their motivations, then watching them follow through. There could and should be intricacies to the premise beyond "Here's why a bunch of people want to kill. Here's them killing. The end." It's notable that nobody truly regrets the decision. Is that the point? Tip for Hencke: Sell the remake rights to Hollywood. Maybe even Haggis. You've got a good idea on your hands, but it needs work.
I certainly would never have guessed that a movie titled Race would be a science-fiction, CG-animated feature that's sort of a cross between the podraces in Star Wars and a typical episode of Babylon 5. But such is the mystery of life and festivals. It would have been nice if the character designs were a little better—instead, they're cartoonish and have a weightless/slo-mo thing typical of early CG. Good story, cool environments, subpar characters, heinous fake English accents.
Technical incidents kept me from properly experiencing the low-budget actioner Blood Ties and the Jamaican comedy Room for Rent. In the case of the former, the movie had been running for 20 minutes when the director and his friends walked in, having been in the wrong theater—I couldn't bear to see the entire beginning again. With Room for Rent, DVD glitches caused the movie to start over several times; after the third time, I couldn't take it.
The walkouts made me fell a bit guilty, though, so I resolved to tough it out afterward. I was sorely tested, however, by the mind-numbingly inept high school romantic drama Spirit, a horrible, horrible movie in which every aspect of the production fails, from the central conceit that a nerdy outcast would actually reject the hot cheerleader who loves him for no discernible reason to the heinous Casio-like score and sound mix (which somehow won an award, presumably from a judge who's deaf, dumb, or blind). I'm actually slightly angry at the festival for accepting this movie because if this gets in, there can be no logical basis for rejecting anything.
Redneck Zombies director Pericles Lewnes is back with an experimental feature titled Loop. It has things to like about it—Peri's lead performance is fearless and true. But initially, it's just maddeningly unclear. Peri plays a guy named Joe Neil List (Neil List = Nihilist), who has weird stuff happen to him—a boxful of rats suddenly leap onto his head, and his ego, id and superego show up as other people, engaging him in non sequitur conversations that sound profound but don't seem to be saying anything.
But then the movie picks up. Scenes in which Joe directs a Japanese conceptual-art piece in a darkened studio have a strange beauty to them, and a moment in a park beside a tent, as the air is filled with helicopters, is also interesting. By the time Joe is quoting Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima, revealing that the whole point of this thing is our confused reaction to 9/11 and the curiously narcissistic strain of introspection that ensued, I was totally with it.
Don Wilson's a Mississippian who, like many others, seems kind of righteously pissed that all the media attention on Hurricane Katrina focused on New Orleans' levees breaking, rather than the state where Katrina actually came ashore and flattened everything. So his documentary Mississippi Son is his way of setting the record straight. The people interviewed obviously mean a lot to Don, but the viewer doesn't really learn much about them other than that they survived. The scenes of devastation, however, speak for themselves.
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The makers of the marching-band documentary From the 50-Yard Line actually got a marching band to show up to the festival and perform outside, working the crowd and selling tickets like crazy. Me, I went to see a French movie about domestic violence instead. J.G. Biggs' Pleure en Silence is introduced in the present day in color, with a young woman named Ida Beaussart recalling her (black-and-white) childhood, especially the time when her older sister Kristina left home, sending their abusive father into a state of constant rage. Lest there be any ambiguity over the father's character, he has a framed picture of Hitler on the wall that he makes all his daughters "Sieg heil" to every morning, after which they sometimes transcribe passages from Mein Kampf.
From this point on, Dad smacks Ida repeatedly at the dinner table. If Mom chimes in, she gets smacked. Ida wets her pants. Ida sniffs glue. Ida's sister Francoise, who is Daddy's girl, beats and berates Ida, sometimes at Dad's encouragement. Dad smacks Ida and Mom some more. The performances are solid here, but the smacking is so frequent, unmotivated and so exaggerated with sound effects that it feels like Moe from the Three Stooges wrote the script.
At the awards ceremony, held at the Hotel Menage, Best in Fest deservedly went to Bob Gebert's 11 Minutes Ago, one of the most creative and smart movies I've seen this year, and it was all shot in one day. A young man named Pack (Ian Michaels) arrives at a wedding party in 2004, having apparently gone back in time 48 years to get a sample of the atmosphere. His time jumps can only last 11 minutes, or he'll be stuck in the past. Even though he figures he'll only need to make one trip, he finds that when he arrives in the past, everyone already knows him. And when a beautiful woman kisses him, well . . . he just has to make the jump again to find out how that happened. So initially, we're thinking Memento—the first couple of scenes are in reverse chronological order as far as the wedding goes, though they're in linear order from Pack's perspective. However, things don't stay that linear, as the time jumps become irregular, with some in order, some not.
Morgan Freeman was supposed to show up at the ceremony to receive a special award. No one was too surprised when he not only didn't show, but also wasn't even mentioned.