Film Fest Frenzy
City Paper's guide to the Maryland Film Festival 2009
Have you seen the Wolverine movie yet? If you have, did you see it in the theater this past weekend, or did you download the leaked-to-the-web version a few weeks ago? If you're in the latter group, you don't need City Paper to tell you that the viewing and distribution of films--legal or otherwise--is increasingly migrating to the web alongside other forms of traditional media consumption and distribution. But there's still a lot to be said for the unique in-the-flesh opportunities that an event like the 11th annual Maryland Film Festival provides.
This weekend (Thursday through Sunday, to be precise) MFF XI presents screenings of dozens of often excellent films from around the country and the world (see below), a sampling of myriad creative worlds that any weekend of web surfing would have trouble equaling, all projected on the big silver at the Charles Theatre and other midtown venues--an experience no laptop screen can match. The festival also brings in the filmmakers themselves, to host screenings and sit on panels, narrowing that usually yawning gap between those who make the movies and those who watch them and providing the kind of rich viewing experience that no DVD extras menu could (visit md-filmfest.com for a full schedule of non-screening activities). And then there's the opportunity to filter through the Charles' lobby and the festival's tent village with filmmakers, critics, and other fellow film nerds. It's better than an online bulletin board for sure, not least because there are bars close at hand.
City Paper's Film Fest Frenzy (which is not affiliated with the Maryland Film Festival) was written by John Barry, Michael Byrne, Anna Ditkoff, Lee Gardner, Tim Hill, Martin L. Johnson, Chris Landers, Bret McCabe, Erin Sullivan, and Wendy Ward. (Disclosure: Joe Tropea, who copy edited the issue, served as a screening committee member for this year's festival, although he says he doesn't think anything he watched got in.) And as always, we thank Jed Dietz, (erstwhile City Paper contributor) Eric Allen Hatch, Skizz Cyzyk, Melina Giorgi, Lucia Treasure, and all the other hard-working staffers and volunteers who make the Maryland Film Festival possible.
Unbylined blurbs indicate a film not available for screening before press time. A * indicates a must-see favorite recommended by the CP Film Fest Frenzy review crew.
Directed by Joe Swanberg
When young Brooklynite Alex's (Jess Weixler) musician husband Elliott (Justin Rice) goes on tour, Alex throws herself into rehearsals for the way-off-Broadway play in which she's cast as the lover of a character played by Jamie (Barlow Jacobs). Alex offers the new-to-town Jamie her couch and finds herself perhaps wanting to offer him more. Enter her beloved sister Hellen (Amy Seimetz), who pounces on Jamie. When Elliott returns, it's to a chilly bed, and when Hellen drops Jamie almost as quickly as she took him up, simmering resentment boils over. How much you actually care about whether or not Alex sorts out all this inchoate creative/romantic confusion will be most likely determined by how close you fit Alex's young, white, middle-class, urban twentysomething demo yourself, but Alexander is mumblecore mahout Swanberg's most polished film to date, and the luminous Weixler (well on her way to living down Teeth) does relative wonders with the skeletal material. The best thing in the film is the relationship between Weixler's Alex and Seimetz's Hellen, which encompasses virtually all its compelling moments, though it ultimately winds up a subplot. (Lee Gardner)
Directed by Martina Radwan
After that terrorist attacks of September 11, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and the U.S. Department of Justice instituted a special registration program to track men from 25 designated countries living in the United States. Martina Radwan's short documentary "Aliens Among Us" follows several families who found themselves caught up in special registration, and shows how laws sold to the public as anti-terrorism measures did little but force families apart. (Chris Landers)
Animation is no longer limited to a single style or genre, as this diverse line-up of short films prove. The program opens with James Baker's 15-minute black and white "Animated American," which revisits the territory of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, only now CGI animation, not criminal activity, threatens the livelihood of toons, er, animated Americans. For "The Cave: An adaptation of Plato's Allegory in Clay," Michael Ramsey animates one of Plato's most famous allegories using claymation to spectacular effect, particularly when one of the characters breaks free and sees the world around him. Jack Ofield's "Dandelion Will Make You Wise" uses smooth music and smoother animation to depict the surreal graphical life of leaves, birds, trees, flowers, and, yes, a dandelion in a piece that is a welcome balm in the program.
The whimsical stop-motion animation "Forestry," produced by the single-named Woodpecker, places a man in the forest, where he struggles to stop the trees from killing him. "Fruitless Efforts--Fruits of the Womb" (directed by Andrew Chesworth and Aaron Quist) continues with the nature theme in a rather silly computer animated story of grape-eating bananas and a tree in pursuit of its runaway fruits. Bill Plympton's "Horn Dog" is the most charming story of the pack, telling a beauty and the beast story, only with dogs. Stick-figure animation is accompanied by voice-over narration in "I Am So Proud of You," Don Hertzfeldt's follow-up to the award-winning "Everything Will Be OK" starring Bill, a man recovering from mental illness.
It's hard to have too much Plympton in a film festival, so his second film, "Mexican Standoff," is as welcome as the first. Here Plympton uses a Western damsel-in-distress story as the visuals for a music video by the Dutch band Parson Brown. Gerald Guthrie's "The Realm of Possibility" uses the syllogism as a structuring logic in digital animated film that flirts with the absurd. For his last and most satiric film, Plympton brings us "Santa: The Fascist Years," detailing St. Nick's failed attempt to conquer all other holidays. In an appropriate close for the program, Jack Ofield brings us "The View From Cleopatra's Knee," which makes the battle between knowledge and war appear esoteric. (Martin L. Johnson)
The hallucinogenic, brain-scrapingly abstract avant-garde shorts program begins with six minutes in the back of a bipolar brain, as rotating colors and shapes--unidentifiable save for a rough humanoid figure--turn from bright and hectic to cool and flowing and back again. If opener "An Unquiet Mind" is at all disorienting, "Baiana" should come as a salve, as a series of dancers--digitally reflected sometimes into troupes of clones--perform traditional Afro-Brazilian interpretations in front of kaleidoscopic projections. "Barcelona Mosaics," meanwhile, is an experimental collage of abstract field footage with frames bisected diagonally and combined with other half-cut frames to form flickering juxtapositions. Of what, you mostly have no idea, but the effect is oddly soothing.
The eight-minute "Cantata In C Major" is the most process-oriented film of the program. A six-minute piece of electronic music is presented in synch with both its creation and source. In the middle of the screen are clips of old films, 605 of them, while on the left side of the screen is the waveform of the clip's soundtrack. On the right side of the screen is a visualizer showing that waveform being converted into binary information and fed into a MIDI device and converted into much more palatable electronic audio. Out of the left stereo speaker plays the original input, the bare film soundtrack, while out of the right comes the resulting electronic composition. Cool, but in the end you're left wondering What for? There's a great deal of extremely abstract work here that speaks for itself on a purely aesthetic level, but highlights come with the to-the-point "With Delicate Risk," a short hand-drawn animation of arms subjected to various mechanical forces--blowing in the wind, in a pendulum swing--and the program's second dance piece "Do You Like That?" Slyly suggestive, dancer Susan Mann performs in careful concert with a cinematographer and, even more importantly, film editor, leaving a marvelously symbiotic relationship between frame and body figure. (Michael Byrne)
Directed by Agnès Varda
If you find yourself one-tenth as intellectually spry and creatively nimble in your 80s as Belgian filmmaker/photographer Agnès Varda is in her cinematic autobiography The Beaches of Agnès, give thanks and praise to whom/whatever you need. Beaches is an intoxicating treat, 110 minutes of Varda remembering her life, her movies, and her life in movies, lines that thread together into this witty, moving fabric of restless creativity. Although it charts Varda's life--her marriage to Jacques Demy, her friendships with stellar talents such as Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, Jane Birkin, and the perpetually wily Chris Marker--Beaches is as much an exploration of memory and the memoir itself as it is a cinematic treasure of one amazing woman's life. And as with every single frame Varda has captured, Beaches spills over with a nigh-overwhelming empathy. A must. (Bret McCabe)
Directed by Jessica Oreck
In one shot in Jessica Oreck's artful documentary, the camera pans past a typical Japanese roadside stand advertising fruit and on to the adjoining stand, which hawks beetles. In Japan, insects aren't lowly pests, but obsessive objects of fascination and reverence, and, as Oreck shows with the help of Sean Williams' excellent camerawork, they permeate every layer of the culture from centuries ago on up to the vending machines and video games of today. Other than a somewhat elliptical voice-over and a lone talking head, Oreck dispenses with typical linear organization, her focus flitting around and lighting briefly on insect pet stores, the Japanese love of crickets, schoolchildren learning insect mounting in class, those who farm or capture prized bugs, and families who gather outside certain fields to watch fireflies as if they were fireworks. So thoroughgoing is the resulting mood of contemplative near-abstraction that when one young beetle hunter mentions that he bought the red Ferrari he's driving with money earned from insects, it feels like an intrusion from another, more prosaic film. Beautiful and quietly fascinating. (LG)
Directed by Juraj Lehotsky
Positively delightful. Slovakian director Juraj Lehotsky combines fly-on-the-wall documentary filmmaking with an amusing fantasy sequence in this collection of portraits about real-life blind people--essentially playing themselves--and their love lives. For the most part, Lehotsky follows the seemingly innocuous lives of his main characters--mother-to-be Elena, who wonders about her relationship to her child; online romancer Zuzana; Romanian Miro and his somewhat sighted girlfriend Monika--and he never sentimentalizes or otherwise gets in the way of his subjects. Best is the lead short about Peter, a piano teacher--of other sightless students--and his blind wife. Peter outright motors around town with his cane, from his flat to class and back. And then, apropos of nothing, he goes on a Jules Verne-like animated adventure under the sea. No idea why, yet even sans reason it's a deliriously joyous moment. (BM)
Directed by Michael Fountain
Everyone knows that coal mining is the only game in town for a lot of small Appalachian communities, but Bonecrusher manages to really put it into perspective. Generations of men in Dante, Va.--from oldsters toting oxygen tanks to dads with young kids--tell the camera that their daddies were coal miners, and their daddy's daddies were coal miners, too. This documentary tells the story of one father and son duo--Luther, aka "Bonecrusher," a wisp of a man who spent his life mining coal and is now suffering from terminal lung cancer, and 25-year-old Lucas, who started working in the coal mines against his father's wishes--who struggle with the fact that coal is an inevitable theme in the lives of the men in this town. The story is compelling in its mundanity--and just as compelling are the claustrophobic scenes of Lucas and his fellow miners working in the dark, miles and miles below the earth. (Erin Sullivan)
Directed by Noh Young-seok
Recovering from a fresh breakup, twentysomething Hyuk-jin (Song Sam-dong) lets his drunken bros talk him into drowning his troubles in soju on a road trip to a drab rural province of South Korea in the dead of winter. He makes the bus, but they don't, and that's where the After Hours-meets-The Out-of-Towners antics begin in writer/director Noh Young-seok's low-budget, low-key indie comedy. Detailing what happens to Hyuk-jin would spoil the fun; suffice to say that Noh brings a contemporary sensibility and an agreeably dry wit to familiar fish-out-of-water film tropes, reinvigorating them and launching his feature-film career with a deadpan bang in the process. Bank on seeing a Hollywood remake of this starring, say, Adventureland's Jesse Eisenberg, in about three years. (LG)
Ever feel embarrassed by your hobbies? Worried you're too obsessive? Then watch this documentary shorts program and prepare to feel so much better about yourself. "Little Miss Dewie: A Duckumentary" follows co-director Mira Tweti as she finds her duck (apparently everyone's duck is out there somewhere) and then is forced to find a new home for her because ducks shit all over your apartment and prefer ponds to shower stalls. In "Monster Dudes" we meet Venec, the 5-year-old drummer in his dad's experimental noise band. Over the course of the short, Venec's parents try unsuccessfully to convince us that this is good parenting, while director Lance Bauscher wallows in how cute he seems to think this all is. Next up is Aaron Matthews and Richie Sherman's "O.W. Houts & Sons, Inc." which offers a not very informative take on the whole Walmart-is-killing-small-businesses thing. In Nilima Abrams' "Pigs in a Blanket," a bunch of pig enthusiasts tell us how great pigs are for nine minutes. And finally, Karl Merton Ferron of The Baltimore Sun filmed the demolition of an old warehouse from the newsroom window. It's called "Wrecking Ball" and, even with the local connection, might make one wish for a nice quick implosion. (Anna Ditkoff)
"Out of Print," a four-minute short by Danny Plotnick, waxes nostalgic for the days when underground books, music, and art were truly underground and "unearthing quality culture was a treasure hunt" of sifting through crates of records or prowling the stacks at used bookstores. It's sure to elicit plenty of head nodding from a certain crowd, because, you know, culture isn't cool if everyone can have it. In "House of Harrington," Jeffrey Schwarz and Tyler Hubby trace the career of Curtis Harrington, who made horror movies for 50 years. Harrington, who died in 2007, is an interesting character and his progression from kid with an 8mm camera to Hollywood player and, in some ways, back again is engrossing. Spain's Ciro Altabas directs "Hobby," a 50-minute journey about his love of video games and his belief that the gaming world has left him behind. He goes to Japan for the launch of Wii as his final hurrah. We'd love to tell you what happens once he gets there, but the subtitles disappeared on our screener DVD. What we saw was fun and imaginative, juxtaposing Altabas' quest with video-game animation and some dramatized moments. (AD)
Directed by Michelange Quay
This visually spell-binding, somewhat non-narrative excursion into race, sex, and power in Haiti feels like some strange offspring of Sans Soliel-era Chris Marker and Alejandro Jodorowksy circa Holy Mountain, only without the organizational brilliance of the former or the intoxicating lunacy of the latter. What writer/director Michelange Quay does have in his corner is a positively luxuriant eye for haunting imagery, and a languid patience to permit said images to sear themselves into the retina. An older French woman (Catherine Samie) and her daughter (Sylvie Testud) live in a Haitian mansion, where servants attend to them and the daughter bathes young black boys, as Quay's camera carefully catches the stark contrast of her hands on their skin. Everything in Eat, for This is My Body relies on such juxtapositions, but the intent behind contrasting characteristics remains elusive. Nevertheless, what the movie lacks in accruing momentum and purpose it compensates for in lingering moods and feelings; it's difficult to forget, even if you're unsure what it was. (BM)
Directed by Peter Chelsom; hosted by Laura Lippman
Hands down, this movie from the director of Hear My Song is the most singularly imaginative work of cinema to come along since who knows when. Like its predecessor, which paid homage to the Irish tenor, Funny Bones is a tribute to an archaic form of entertainment, in this case, the knockabout physical comedian. It's got a knockabout plot, too, blending the professional trials of young American stand-up comic Tommy Fawkes (Oliver Platt) with outrageous elements including a pair of severed feet mysteriously washed ashore in Blackpool, England; some "eggs" containing longevity powder; and the family secrets of Tommy's dad, George (Jerry Lewis), and English comedians called the Parker family. It's also got Leslie Caron, gorgeous at 64, and a marvelous young British comic named Lee Evans, who offers up an exquisitely anarchic comedic vision that makes Jim Carrey look positively restrained. By turns, Funny Bones is slapstick hilarious, then dark as a coal mine at midnight. What it is, throughout, is a work of unquestioned genius. (Jack Purdy)
Directed by Mai Iskander
In her directorial debut, Mai Iskander follows three teenage boys who are Zaballeen, a lower-class Egyptian caste whose name means "garbage people." For as long as anyone can remember, the Zaballeen have been the trash collectors of Egypt, but their way of life is threatened when the government hires foreign companies to collect Cairo's trash. Besides depriving the Zaballeen of their livelihood, these companies also have a negative environmental impact: They only recycle 20 percent of trash, whereas the Zaballeen, who make most of their money from turning waste back into raw materials, recycle 80 percent. (In America, we recycle about 30 percent of our garbage.) Iskander's film manages to be beautiful, engaging, and heartfelt--you truly come to care for the Zaballeen subjects--without providing easy answers. Instead, you are forced to try and reconcile for yourself the unjustness of the Zaballeen being forced into garbage collection with no chance of upward mobility, while at the same time morning the loss of those jobs. (AD)
Directed by Andrew Haigh
Andrew Haigh's glimpse into lives of a small group of London male escorts--aka "rentboys"--moves with the hand-held intimacy and everyday meanderings of a documentary. But Greek Pete is an improvised drama, which primarily follows the titular escort (Peter Pittaros)--a handsome, fit young man who claims to be hustling only to save up enough money to live the life he's always dreamed of--through his appointments with clients (for actual sex, to shoot pictures, to watch him have sex with other rentboys) and hanging out with his boyfriend and other young escorts. The plot is ostensibly a portrait of Pete--sometimes a naïve good spirit, others a shallow earner--but in the process Haigh captures a snapshot of the sometimes fraught and scrabbling working lives of this community. That it never establishes a cohesive story is made up for by its incidental moments--Pete's sing-song way of selling himself over the phone, an impromptu Christmas party at a friend's flat--that flesh out these young men into multi-dimensional people in an ongoing, indeterminate story. (BM)
Directed by Robert McFalls
When Jules Dervaes killed off the lawn of his prim Pasadena bungalow in the late '80s to start a vegetable garden, his neighbors thought him odd. Twenty-plus years later, now that he and his three grown children reap 6,000 pounds of organic vegetables a year from their one-fifth-acre property, he's become a visionary among the urban homesteading movement. Robert McFalls' lush documentary--Southern California's Tuscan sun drenches everything in optimistic, golden hues--follows Dervaes' mission to free his family from the "cookie-cutter" life: They have solar panels, a small biodiesel refinery, and tools they've purchased from an Amish catalog. They buy food they can't grow from a co-op. The joy of their work beams from their faces. But their lives aren't without difficulty: they have no insurance, wrangle over money constantly, and complain about monotony--seasonal eating means eating the same thing every day. McFalls doesn't probe why Dervaes' wife left him early on, but the family's intense, unconventional dedication to their father's vision gives viewers a pretty good idea. (Tim Hill)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Just when you thought you've had quite enough of Iraq war flicks, along comes the inventive, intelligent action-movie veteran Kathryn Bigelow with this arresting portrayal of a three-man bomb-clearing unit--Staff Sgt. James (Jeremy Renner), Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), and Spc. Eldridge (Brian Geraghty)--in Baghdad. And in Bigelow's deliberate focus on the team's day-to-day activities during its rotation--title cards count down to their tour's end--Locker becomes a very different war movie, one of intensely personal moments in advance areas, where patient quiet becomes infinitely more unsettling than bullet-whizzing chaos. And Renner, a fairly boilerplate character-actor of military and law enforcement types up until now, delivers a fascinating, multifaceted performance as a soldier who straddles the adrenaline junky and the defiantly competent. (BM)
Directed by David Russo
Marshall Allman stars as Dory, a Seattle computer programmer who walks away from his job and ends up falling in with a band of punk-rock night janitors led by the strangely intense O.C. (Vince Vieluf). One of the offices they clean houses a cookie company testing a new "self-warming" cookie, and the group unwittingly becomes the subject of a product-testing experiment. Surreality ensues. This is director David Russo's first feature, and it's funny, smart, well-acted, and strange. Russo experiments enough to keep things a little off-kilter, but the effects never overwhelm the story. The movie gives off the same vibe as the cult classic Repo Man, but The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle is definitely an original. (CL)
Directed by Georg Koszulinski
An immigrant worker pushes a tomato seedling into the sandy Southwest Florida soil. Boxes of unripened fruit roll along a conveyor belt to be loaded on a truck. A half-asleep woman microwaves a box of frozen burritos for her husband's lunch. Dozens of day laborers wait in the pre-dawn darkness for buses to take them to farms--and not all are offered work. Effortlessly, almost wordlessly, these scenes in Georg Koszulinski's Immokalee U.S.A. draw viewers into the profoundly difficult lives of Latino workers who toil to put cheap tomatoes on our table. Koszulinski's remarkable documentary offers no guidance: no narration, no questions, few titles, and best of all, no heavy hand. Laborers' wives prepare tamales for a celebration, talking about their old lives. A Guatemalan man has a nervous breakdown before our eyes. A farm owner says pesticides are dangerous but necessary, while a mother rails against them because her son died of cancer before he reached kindergarten. Who's right? Is any of this fair? Koszulinski lets viewers decide for themselves. Interweaving, confessional monologues and masterful, verite-style camerawork puts the viewer square into this tiny agricultural town's daily life: They do this because we expect tomatoes any time we want, and for next to nothing. It puts many people to work, work most people wouldn't do, but it also takes a heavy toll on their lives. (TH)
Directed by Roy Ward Baker; shown in 3-D
This 1953 3-D film features Robert Ryan as a cuckolded husband left to die in a desert.
Directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin
The filmmakers lay out the basics right way in this documentary: Charles Filhiol is the divorced father of three kids and living with his parents. He's a former resident of a tent camp set up in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He's also a bipolar paranoid schizophrenic who says that Joan of Arc is his invisible girlfriend. The film follows Filhiol on a 400-mile bicycle trek to New Orleans, where he hopes to find DeeDee, a bartender friend that he hopes will turn out to be the flesh-and-blood embodiment of Joan. Along his surreal journey, he encounters a cast of characters, each of whom reveals some psychological fallibility during Filhiol's visit. Unlike a lot of movies that deal with mental illness, this film is not so much about the main character's clinical diagnosis; rather, the illness reveals itself here and there in scenes dispersed throughout the movie, almost like an invisible character in the film. Just like Joan of Arc is an invisible character in Filhiol's life. (ES)
Directed by Kris Swanberg
Annie (director Kris Swanberg) and best friend Cam (Jade Healy) head to Costa Rica to help get Annie over a break-up. They drive around the lush countryside, hike, swim, surf, pick up guys (Annie somewhat half-heartedly), talk, and don't talk--often for several minutes of screen time. Swanberg's debut feature is, in many ways, textbook mumblecore, especially in its near-exclusive focus on young, white, middle-class urban twentysomethings, even in the heart of Latin America, but the exotic setting does strip away some of the expected smugness of the genre, as does the film's near-exclusive focus on the relationship between the two women. Being cooped up in a tiny rental car and a series of single-bed hotel rooms with alpha-female Cam and insecure Annie draws you into their bonds and differences most effectively. A deceptively casual little gem. (LG)
Directed by Fernando Eimbcke
Fernando Eimbcke follows up Duck Season, a charming take on urban ennui, with Lake Tahoe, which does the same for life in rural Mexico. Diego Cataño plays a teenager with a string of bad luck that ends with him babysitting for a store clerk (Daniela Valentine) who is still more interested in rock concerts than child rearing. Given Mexican cinema's reputation in the United States for high octane, multiple storyline films like Babel and road movie melodramas like Y tu mamá también, Eimbcke's attention to slower-paced lives comes as a surprise as well as a welcome reprieve from the intensity of the films of his compatriots. Like Duck Season, Lake Tahoe is filled with quirky characters and artfully directed scenes that add depth to a film that holds the emotions and ideas of its characters at arm's length. A mood piece as much as a narrative, Lake Tahoe accepts existentialism as a way of life. (MLJ)
Directed by Clark Lyda and Jesse Lyda
In the histrionic discussions about illegal immigration in America, family detention is a topic that doesn't get a lot of play. Enter this film, which documents the ACLU's 2007 lawsuit calling for improved conditions at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a former prison converted to a "family detention center," where immigrant children and their parents are housed until their asylum or deportation hearings are held. Through interviews with former detainees--both adults and children--the documentary paints a bleak picture of what life inside the facility was like before the ACLU suit forced changes. But interviews with lawyers and activists, and clippings from news conferences, talk shows, and judiciary decisions highlight the question: Is it appropriate for the United States to detain children and families in jail-like settings at all? (ES)
Directed by Kenneth Price
Either targeted at very young children or the twee-est hipster comedy document you will see in your life, Lightning Salad Moving Picture is the overcaffeinated work of the Superkiiids improv comedy duo. Think bright colors, manic delivery turned to "11" at all times, meta film commentary (race-riot footage spliced in just for the sake of calling attention to film editing), characters named "Princess" and "Meankiiid," "radicool dudicals"--it's all very Pee-wee's Playhouse, but made by folks really into Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry. Local favorites Future Islands contribute a couple of tracks to the soundtrack. (MB)
Directed by Christophe Honoré; hosted by John Waters
John Waters hosts this vibrant if icy Gallic musical, less Dreamgirls than neo-French New Wave with a varied, contemporary soundtrack. Adorable rake Ismaël (The Dreamers' Louis Garrel) suffers from one of those tragic French movie predicaments: He's in love with Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), who loves him so much she agrees to inviting the equally lovely Alice (Clotilde Hesme) into their lives and bed. The movie is very self-aware and referential to 1960s French cinema at first--with occasional outbursts into cheeky pop songs--until tragedy strikes Ismaël outside a nightclub, after which writer/director Christophe Honoré's Love Songs becomes an archly melodramatic meditation on grief, with occasional outbursts into slightly less cheeky pop songs. If it sounds decidedly French, it is--but it is also disarmingly funny, refreshingly silly, and surprisingly moving. (BM)
Directed by the Deagol Brothers
The death of high-school beauty Wendy (Shellie Marie Shartzer) sends a group of friends--twins Carol (Cody DeVos) and Patrick (Eric Lehning), Wendy's BFF Addy (Leah High), Addy's friend Anne Haran (Tia Shearer), cool guy Rody (Jordan Lehning), and Carol and Patrick's little brother Beetle (Brett Miller)--into a post-graduation tailspin in their otherwise quiet, suburban lives. Wendy's death hangs over the opening moments of Make-Out With Violence, lending it the mood of an angst-afflicted young adult drama--until Carol and Beetle come across Wendy's, well, reanimated corpse, after which the movie becomes an angst-afflicted young adult drama with aspirations to explore love and existence. The writing/directing Deagol brothers--a collective of Nashville-area filmmakers--make all the clumsy mistakes of first-time storytellers, employing leaden symbolism and inconsistent tonal shifts, over-selling plot points, and resorting to an over-bearing voice-over from Beetle's faux innocent point of view, which is too bad, because the team possesses an arresting gift for creating startling imagery, marrying those shots with music/ambient noise, and creating a gripping sense of editing rhythm. And as soon as their narrative abilities mature to match those skills, watch out. (BM)
Directed by Dziga Vertov; live soundtrack by the Alloy Orchestra
Eighty years on, Russian director Dziga Vertov's 1929 Man With a Movie Camera remains a daring, visually inventive, and above all playful ode to cinema's transporting power. Over the course of a day, a movie camera captures people and places. That's it, and during the movie's 68 minutes stuff happens--a man loads a projector, a man sleeps in a buggy, a woman wakes up and prepares for her day, people file onto trolleys--and such innocuous events are brought to a manic, poetic life through the power of Vertov's editing techniques. So much of what he does here has been absorbed into common film language that it may feel dated, but watching this movie is like watching a sophisticated cinematic language be created before your very eyes. Alloy Orchestra provides the soundtrack to this essential work, an early cornerstone in experimental cinema. (BM)
Directed by Wendy Key
A documentary portrait/appreciation of the legendary graphic designer.
Directed by Craig Baldwin
Underground filmmaker Craig Baldwin is the sort of formally inventive, politically minded, and mass-media aware filmmaker who gadfly avant-gardists presume only came of age in the 1950s and '60s, and yet Baldwin has been churning out his pre-existing footage collages since the mid-1970s. For Mock Up on Mu, Baldwin tackles the explosion and concurrent explorations of inner and outer space in postwar California, as its 13 chapters follows the lives and ideas of Scientology guru/pulp writer L. Ron Hubbard, Jet Propulsion Laboratory founder Jack Parsons, Parsons' wife and New Age/occultist early adopter Marjorie Cameron, and that standby of occult tales, Aleister Crowley. Fascinating, told-you-so material for all conspiracy theorists/paranoids, Kenneth Anger devotees, and ecstatic fans of the just plain out there, perhaps slow going and certainly bewildering otherwise. What is without doubt: Baldwin possesses Bruce Conner's gift for image combinations, and Mu is a virtuosic display of sound and image editing. (BM)
Directed by Zach Clark
A somber, half-sour satire of suburban derring-do, Modern Love is Automatic is a cross between a wise-guy indie comedy and porno-schlock. Melodie Sisk stands out as an unhappy, bored nurse who decides to play dominatrix on weeknights for cash and kicks. By underplaying her Joan Crawford shtick, Sisk manages to survive the film with nary a false move, which is a relief given that the rest of the characters are there just to make Sisk look good. Sisk's roommate Adrian (Maggie Ross), an aspiring model who finds that "modeling" in the D.C. suburbs really means a PG-13 version of stripping, revives the role of the ingénue for indie cinema. Despite the film's flaws, there are enough good ideas--such as a mattress store where the saleswomen sweet talk their customers into buying pricey bedroom sets--to make it rewarding viewing. While we never really find out whether Sisk can really act or just has the stony silence bit down, the film encourages us to keep an eye on her so we can find out. (MLJ)
While most of the films in this program are narrative, the filmmakers seem more interested in establishing a tone than developing a plot. In "The Bull," director Josh Clayton uses Bergmanesque silence to great effect in the story of a newly married couple that is struggling to settle in to its new domesticity in an old farmhouse in the South. Andrew Haigh's "Five Miles Out" is the most narrative of the films here, featuring a young English girl (Dakota Blue Richards) who goes on holiday when a crisis bubbles up back home.
Andrew T. Betzer's "John Wayne Hated Horses" lives up to its title, depicting men and boys embarked in the most masculine of endeavors: doing pushups, beating old cars with sticks, and climbing over tanks, with no apparent purpose other than to prove their manhood. In an enigmatic film that connects statuary with the material objects of ordinary life, Isaac Green Diebboll establishes a mode that is as much about remembrance as it is about regret in "Memories of My Father."
"Somewhere Between Here and There" is an experimental road film, with director Liss Platt using footage taken between Hamilton, Ontario, and Brooklyn, N.Y., to meditate on hometowns, adopted or not, and the road detritus that connects them. Diebboll returns with "The Widow," another meditative film, this time set in a cabin not unlike that found in "The Bull," with a woman reflecting on her memories of a man she lived with there. (MLJ)
Directed by Lee Isaac Chung
A remarkably self assured first feature from the Korean-American filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung, Munyurangabo takes place entirely in a Rwanda that is still coming to terms with the genocide that took place there 15 years ago. The film opens with two friends, Ngabo (Jeff Rutagengwa) and Sangwa (Eric Ndorunkundiye), who are traveling together to visit Sangwa's parents. Ngabo is Tutsi and Sangwa is Hutu, and while Ngabo is initially welcomed into the village, his ethnic background soon becomes a problem. Unlike Hotel Rwanda, which gave the typical Hollywood treatment of the genocide, Munyurangabo looks like it might be Rwandan, employing the long shots and quiet scenes that are staples of Francophone African cinema. In the final moments of the film, Chung pulls back from his very personal story to address the larger issues addressing contemporary Rwandan society, using the country's poet laureate Edouard B. Uwayo to deliver a message that explains the country's problems and, more importantly, offers a way forward. (MLJ)
In Daniel Brothers' "The Big Fat Lazy Sun," a photographer hitchhikes across America trying to capture the American Dream on film. He gets a ride from a former preacher and his foul mouthed female traveling companion, and the photographer must find a way to extricate himself. Unfortunately, the film feels overly self-conscious. Richard Bates' "Excision" is the deeply disturbing story of Pauline, a teenage girl seen as a weirdo by her peers and her own family. She becomes fascinated with the idea of being a surgeon, but wants to skip past the whole med school part and get right to the cutting. Bates creates an upsetting but beautiful and complete story in 19 minutes and Tessa Ferrer is a revelation as Pauline.
Kate Barker's "Fault Lines" is a quiet film where the content is in what isn't said. Helen (played by Mona Lerche who says volumes with a subtle shift of facial expression) finds a homeless woman (Rachel Lin) in her apartment building. Despite the fact that the woman doesn't speak--or perhaps because of it--Helen allows her to stay at her apartment. Between the repressed Helen and the silent homeless woman, the film leaves one wondering why anyone does what they do.
In Andrew and Daniel Rudd's "Multilevel Relationship," socially awkward Kenny (Johnny Russell) tries to get his friends to buy into a pyramid scheme--not as predator, but as someone using the gambit as a means of connecting to people. And finally in "Varroa," director Bruce Parson draws a connection between a family and disappearing bees that manages to be both heavy-handed and meaningless. (AD)
A common theme among these four films is that they feature young men in difficult situations in the absence of clear direction from the older generation. The first film, Dan Gauthier's "The Art of Getting Over It," is about a young man whose wife serves him with divorce papers. He visits his father for guidance on what to do about the situation, and the old man's absence of compassion or empathy gives him clarity that his advice does not. Harun Mehmedinovic's "In the Name of the Son" features a young Bosnian refugee who escaped war only to have it come back to haunt him years later, in the form of his best friend's father, once a brutal military leader, who shows up on his doorstep. In Kent Bassett's "The Line," a Mexican father and son cross the border into the United States with a plan to find work in Tucson and rebuild their relationship; their encounter with an American father and son, who are also struggling to find common ground, alters the course in a devastating way for both families. And in Jeremy Moss' "Out of the Holes of the Rocks," a young Morman man is prepared by the men of his church to serve his time as a missionary before he can marry his girlfriend. The elder generation offers him prayers and guidance for how to proceed on his journey, but they don't offer him any advice on how to handle his journey into adulthood. Each film takes a rather complex topic and tries to handle it in less than half an hour--a challenging endeavor that at times means the plots or motivations of the characters aren't always abundantly clear. Despite that, each manages to tell a compelling story without resorting to obvious plot ploys or clichés. (ES)
Directed by Frank Lords; hosted by Ian MacKaye
Half the magic of this 1992 French television documentary comes in archival footage that captures one of the most indelible voices and singular artists of the 20th century, a treasure to all fans who never got to see Nina Simone in person before she passed away in 2003. The rest of the magic comes from Nina Simone: La Légende's biographical details, many of which drawn from Simone's own autobiography I Put a Spell on You, which charts one of the more defiantly visionary African-American female vocalists of her time. Just don't call her a jazz artist--a tag she convincingly argues was created by whites to pigeonhole black art. Dischord Records co-founder Ian MacKaye introduces this little-seen document of this monumental artist. (BM)
Directed by Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal
Lagos, Nigeria, is home to more than 14 million people and the third-largest movie industry in the world (after the United States and India), with more than 2,500 low-budget films released straight to street-peddled video every year. Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal's engrossing documentary features several jaw-dropping montages of bits from "Nollywood" films--with plenty of outlandish telenovela-style melodrama and lurid z-grade special effects--plus a colorful central character in imperious director Lancelot Imasuen, shown making his 157th film in a decade or so. But Nollywood Babylon isn't mere cultural-tourist gawking. Addelman and Mallal dig into the colonial roots and intermittent peaks of Nigerian cinema history, the widespread poverty brought on by the country's economic collapse, and the curious blend of diehard belief in witchcraft and Christian evangelical fervor that fuels and shapes Nigerian society and the films it produces. The result is a polished, thoughtful film about a frenzied, protean film scene. (LG)
Directed by Mark Hartley
Hold onto your ass: Before you're even an inch deep into your popcorn bag, Mark Hartley's amphetamine-paced documentary has zipped through the 1960s and thrust you face-first into the crazed world of the Australian exploitation cinema of the '70s and '80s, a garish low-budget wonderland of nudity, full-speed car crashes, low satire, blood-soaked horror, and kung fu that existed alongside more genteel Aussie art-house fare, culminating in the international breakout success of Mad Max. Quentin Tarantino (of course) is on hand to gush about the likes of Antipodean grindhouse classics such as Road Games and Turkey Shoot, but Hartley also gives plenty of screen time to those who wrote the scripts, directed the action, had their limbs ripped off, or flashed their pubes, without ever slowing the relentless momentum or getting stingy with the kind of frenzied clip-o-rama overload that could give the timid seizures. Like a solid week at the drive-in in an hour and a half. (LG)
Directed by Thomas G. Miller
Even though we enter Reverend Albert Wagner's house/museum/gallery/studio at the opening of One Bad Cat with a small entourage of slack-jawed undergrads, Thomas G. Miller's touching documentary of the 81-year-old African-American folk artist refuses to slip into hagiography. Miller has no qualms about taking us into the darker side of what the arts establishment may pass off as "visionary art." Miller (with Wagner's full collaboration) takes a dispassionate look at the ambivalence of other African-Americans to what he's saying about his people, and the string of white art groupies who venture into the 'hood to worship at the temple of his authenticity. In this affectionate but unvarnished account, Miller maneuvers purposefully between Wagner's life and art to gently remind us that, in an visionary artist, authenticity is neither simple nor naïve. (John Barry)
Directed by John Bryant
This bro comedy has little to do with the Hollywood versions of the genre and all about what it means to be a good brother. Jason (Nathan Harlan) and Todd (Mark Reeb) have never, ever gotten along and carry out their estranged relationship from across the Christmas table at their father's house with charming insults from Todd and truthful digs from Jason. Then, they discover they might not have the same blood flowing through their veins after all. A road trip to Texas alienates Jason's girlfriend, offers ample opportunities for competition (from rock-paper-scissor to a freeze out in the moving car involving open windows, a strip down, and water), and fails to bring them any closer. Harlan is the straight man to Reeb's Rico Suave, but has just as many funny lines and the gay version of the tale of King Arthur he's writing could only come from someone so serious. (Wendy Ward)
Directed By Gabriel Medina
Luciano Guana (Daniel Hendler, who could be Clive Owen's twinky mini-me) is a neurotic Buenos Aires slacker. Narcolepsy overtakes him at work--as a guy in a furry suit at kids' parties. He repeatedly calls the clinic about a single sexual encounter. He fears his apartment's doorman. And he's only recently found out that he's the inspiration for his friend Manuel's (Walter Jakob) successful TV show in Spain, titled Los Paranoicos. Argentine director Gabriel Medina's feature debut is an offbeat, seemingly meandering journey that doesn't reveal itself to be a romantic comedy until its final image, a payoff that just about makes its awkward lead up worth it. The key selling point is one of the most hilariously endearing scenes of dancing as soulmate connection ever set to celluloid. (BM)
Directed by Barry Levinson; hosted by Levinson and Matthew Modine
Barry Levinson comes home to present one of the first screenings of his new movie about the American political process.
Directed by Gregori Viens
A hoot. The cautionary showbiz tale chronicled in Punching the Clown is as old as Hollywood itself, but director Gregori Viens and co-writer, composer, and star Henry Phillips tackle it with verve and a poisoned pen wrapped in a sweet sincerity. Phillips plays Henry, a traveling folk singer--though his songs only start off folkish before quietly veering into ribald absurdity--of no fame who moves to Los Angeles to crash on his brother's couch and try the veritable music game. He manages to land a recording contract with a shady A&R rep and a small amount of growing industry buzz while a simple misunderstanding snowballs into a gossip hurricane that begins to label him a bigoted anti-Semite. That may suggest Clown reeks of effort, but Phillips sets the easygoing tone of this calmly hilarious movie and effortlessly carries its offbeat humor and entertainment skewering on his back. (BM)
Directed by Ray Farkas
A collection of documentary shorts by the late television producer.
Hosted by Bobcat Goldthwait
This inaugural screening invariably features many of the best of the fest's short films.
Directed by Marshall Curry
A documentary about go-kart racing from the maker of acclaimed political doc Street Fight.
In "Fish," the life cycle of a sardine is reimagined as a passage from blender to pancake press to decapitated hog's head to bigger fish and back to blender. In "Feeding Time," an old man starving and going mad in a squalid apartment resorts to eating himself alive. In "Snake Mountain Colada," a hitchhiking hippie high on speed and foggy on warm Miller Lite watches as an even more hippie hippie pours pina colada into the glistening guts of her "surgery" patient in the back of a beat up RV.
But none of those would be the most brutal of these to watch. That would be Mary Bronstein's "Round Town Girls," which is so unexpectedly uncomfortable you want to run away from the screen. Basically, two street punk girls get taken in for the evening by a kinda plain, really nice guy, and they proceed to spend the evening emotionally torturing him in various crude and banal fashions. There's no blood or tears shed, but you wind up convinced that they're the devil incarnate.
Two shorts in this program include bubble-head characters. One, "And Everything Was Alright," concerns a bear who generally gets dumped on by the non-bear world and kind of mopes around, until one day saving up enough cereal box tops to allow him to blast into space. It's sweet and innocuously absurd, but there's not much more to it. The other, "God of Tears," is a bit more satisfying: a bubble-head god lives on a giant planet by himself, lonely to the point of weeping. But his tears sustain another world below, this one claymation, at least until the bubble-head god finds a sweet house cat companion and stops crying, causing famine below. A nightmarish hallucination and bloody sacrifice ensue. (MB)
Directed by Brett Ingram
Everyone has a fantasy life, but not like Renaldo Kuhler's. Brett Ingram's documentary delves into Kuhler's dual existence as an eccentric scientific illustrator for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the inventor/chronicler of Rocaterrania, the imaginary realm Kuhler's spent more than half a century dreaming up and documenting in reams of dazzlingly detailed drawings, paintings, and writings. Ingram unhurriedly introduces Kuhler, a septuagenarian bachelor habitually clad in a uniform of tailored shorts and sleeveless tunics, and Rocaterrania, a tiny nation with its own language and detailed history cobbled together from bits and pieces of Eastern European culture, Judaism, and Kuhler's exacting imagination. As the storylines unfold, the tale of a sad-eyed, fanciful boy who grew up lonely and eventually freed himself from the disapproval of his parents and peers merges with the rise and maturation of his invented empire. Ingram's deft, light-handed approach, generally a good thing, leaves it somewhat unclear how much of this slippage is conscious for Kuhler, but Rocaterrania nonetheless stands as an engrossing and inspiring portrait of a man who didn't think much of our world and so made his own. (LG)
Directed by David Lowery
This surprisingly poignant debut film from David Lowery resets the lost-child story of Hirokazu Koreeda's Nobody Knows in Texas. A brother and sister (Tucker and Savanna Sears) run away from home for reasons not stated in the film and try to live on their own, finally settling on an abandoned farmhouse that they soon turn into their own. Many of the scenes are shot in the dawn and dusk magic hours, giving the film a Terrence Malick Badlands-era look that heightens the confusion and alienation felt by the two children. The child actors prove to be more compelling than the adults in the film, and the film's plot is a bit threadbare, but Lowery is willing to put aside a concise narrative in order to explore the dangers, real and imaginary, of childhood. (MLJ)
Directed by Bestor Cram and Judy Richardson
Remember the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre? No? Well, that's the point of this documentary. In the 1960s, Orangeburg, S.C., was a town with two black colleges and a majority African-American population that was still heavily segregated. Over the years, largely as the result of nonviolent protests by college students and black residents, most of the town's institutions were integrated, with the exception of the hospitals, doctor's offices, and the bowling alley. In February 1968, a group of college students decided to try to integrate the bowling alley, and after two days of tensions between students and the white establishment, law enforcement opened fire on a group of students, killing three and injuring 27. This documentary uses the usual heads and archival footage to illustrate both the lead up to and the aftermath of the tragedy. While the filmmaking itself is nothing special, the film does offer a worthwhile education in a little-known event of the civil rights movement. (AD)
Directed by Eduardo SÁnchez
Eduardo Sánchez might have struck gold with The Blair Witch Project, and he may be good with weird camera angles, but maybe his knack just doesn't extend to plotting or dialogue. In his new film, Chinese-American Yul (Tim Chiou) and his cute blond girlfriend Melissa (Amy Smart) take their honeymoon in rural China. They're on the way to meet Yul's parents, escorted by their tour guide Ping (Dennis Chan), but, well, it's the Seventh Moon, when the demons come out to prey on the living, and their hapless driver doesn't have GPS. In case you didn't know anything was going to go wrong, the blue lighting, the deer-in-headlights effects, and the "Wooo!" music, and . . . well, they've used every trick in the book here, except for good characters, suspense, narrative, and meaningful dialogue. (JB)
Directed by Shane Meadows
Fans of Shane Meadows's This Is England, a semi-autobiographical narrative of right-wing extremist movements in the 1980s, fell in love with the film's young star, Thomas Turgoose, in spite of his rather unpleasant role as a wayward youth who falls in with skinheads. Here, Turgoose plays a far more likeable character who, having run away from a state orphanage, befriends a Polish immigrant (played by the equally captivating Piotr Jagiello) and takes him through a series of antics that could have been lifted from a Mark Twain story. The two boys, and the film as a whole, focus when they meet Maria (Elisa Lasowski), a French waitress who encourages their crush, giving this rather directionless film an unexpected jolt of purpose. At just 75 minutes, the film is a bit too breezy for the full feature treatment, but Meadows deserves credit for knowing just how long a slice-of-life tale needs to be. (MLJ)
Directed by Cory McAbee
From the director of American Astronaut comes this much buzzed-about "sci-fi/western/musical in six serialized parts."
Directed by Zachary Levy
Strongman Stanley Pleskun, aka Stanless Steel, is hitting middle-age. Realizing that the strongman market doesn't treat middle-age folks too well--or maybe the world has lost its fascination with feats of strength like, say, bashing a nail through two boards and a license plate with your bare hand--Stanley isn't having the best time with the world. The penny-bending competition is smoking him, event promoters are stiffing him, his body is starting to lose that special reserve of power that means the difference between hoisting a truck or just a mere car. Meanwhile, his girlfriend's sister is crashing on the couch indefinitely, his boozehound brother is a mess, his job hauling scrap metal is beating him into the ground, and he's starting to lean on cigarettes and booze way more than someone whose treat-your-body-well mantra would seem to allow. Over several years, Zachary Levy's camera catches nearly everything. For a number of reasons it would be easy to condescend here, but the film's characters are rendered with empathy and obvious affection. (MB)
Directed by Sean Guinan
Sepia-toned dream sequences, out-of-focus filming, and a chaotic soundtrack that ranges from carnival music to organ and back again make this full-length movie about a young man haunted by the memory of watching his cousin murdered when they were children feel like a tip of the hat to German Expressionism. Despite the young man's recollection of the murder, his cousin is not dead--in fact, she's very much alive--and the man seeks the help of some creepy guys in white face-paint and porkpie hats to help him make sense of the situation. They show him an alternate reality where his cousin was indeed murdered by a demon, and rather than bringing him clarity, the experience becomes even more confusing and maddening for him, until he is no longer sure what is real and what isn't. (ES)
As odd as it sounds, the best film in this shorts program is Kanako Wynkoop's "Butthole Lickin.'" The five-minute short is actually about post-rim job kissing etiquette becoming a relationship issue, and Wynkoop and actresses Bridget Irish and Missus Adams manage to bring authenticity not to the sex act--which is fortunately unseen--but to how people in romantic/sexual relationships deal with awkward intimate moments.
Kyle Spleiss' "Cold Turkey" is ridiculously Tarantino-esque, filled with violence, obscenities, and a rape played for laughs. Stanley (the very hot Gabriel Raffaelli) is court ordered to AA, but ends up in the hands of a sadist AA guru leading to bad things and a questionably happy ending. In "Countertransference," a sad-sack of a woman played by Deb Margolin goes to see the universe's worst therapist; Margolin's performance is very appealing, but the short's sure to set mental health professionals' nerves on edge.
Dave Kratz's "FaceMouth" follows a man's love affair with a Wii avatar to semi-amusing but mainly depressing effect. "Hungry for Love" directed by Ruckus Skye, depicts an older woman who looks to hypnosis to overcome her binging tendencies and ends up learning to deal with her husband's death; TV actress Patricia Place, who died last year, stars. In "Imminent," a guy stares at another guy for nine minutes. "Paid Advertisement: Power Mini Ultra Flex Turbo," a series of fake infomercials for a penis-shrinking system, is amusing, but like all films born of a "Dude, that would be so funny" moment is nowhere near as hilarious as its creators undoubtedly think it is. Overall, this shorts program will probably leave you smirking. (AD)
Baltimore video artist Miguel Sabogal presents his "Cube" trilogy--"Dream's Structure," "Escape," and "Behind the Red Door"--all of which narrate the encounters of different people with a cube in the forest. The film places itself firmly in the visionary tradition of the American avant-garde, and as such it is better marveled at than understood. Michael Vincent's "Dream Girl" wears its trippy heart on its sleeve, giving the film a similar look to Sabogal's trio, only Vincent's work is grounded in a faux-'60s haze.
Karen Yasinsky presents two new animated films based on Robert Bresson's 1966 film Au Hasard Balthazar, a tale of a girl and her donkey. In "Enough to Drive You Mad," Yasinsky uses line animation that quickly moves to abstraction, while "I Choose Darkness" is a stop-motion piece using dolls instead of actors.
Rounding out the program is "Proud Flesh," a 36-minute meditation on the American West as seen through the eyes of a 70-year-old wounded woman. Chiara Giovando and Jenny Graf Sheppard directed the film and produced the eerie soundtrack, a mix of Appalachian folk song and electronica. The on-location filming in the Badlands of South Dakota adds to the atmospherics of the films, which is at once stark and wild. (MLJ)
Directed by So Yong Kim
When a struggling single mom (Soo Ah Lee) leaves 6-year-old Jin (Hee-yeon Kim) and baby sister Bin (Song-hee Kim) with her no-good husband's sister in a new town, she gives them a red plastic piggy bank and tells them Big Aunt (Mi-hyang Kim) will give them a coin when they obey, and when the bank is full, she'll be back to pick them up. As the girls deal with Big Aunt's desultory-at-best caretaking and their own homesickness and loneliness, the coins begin to fill the pig. They are heartbreakingly convinced that every scheme that puts coins in the slot brings them a bit closer to their mother and their old life; as the days drag by, Bin's princess get-up gets more and more bedraggled, Jin grows silently more desperate, and the viewer is likely to be much less certain. The image/metaphor that gives the film its name is a bit overripe, but South Korean writer/director So Yong Kim's patient, unshowy filmmaking and a pair of uncanny performances from the young leads provides a devastating child's perspective of dealing with hard realities at the most hopeful time of life. (LG)
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait
The latest ill vision from comedian/cult auteur Bobcat Goldthwait sports Robin Williams in the title role.
Some things are better than they have any right to be and this shorts program is one of them. In particular, André Silva's "Ichthyopolis," which is accurately described in promotional materials as a "short psychedelic technomation." Silva's dialogless film about fish and two people pulled into each other's worlds is hypnotic.
Brendan Bellomo's "Bohemibot" is the story of a sensitive harpist trapped in dark world of senseless brutality. It starts with the words "this story has been reconstructed from his dreampods and is presented in the language of Zodnok," but despite that, and the late-'70s feel of the special effects, you end up caring for the characters. The Blade Runner-esque "Scion," directed by Michael Rossetti, also gets its audience to feel for its main character, a strange crippled creature living in an abandoned building. The cinematography of this short is hauntingly beautiful, with warm amber glows and lines of washed out white breaking up the darkness of Scion's world.
Kevin Corcoran's "The Institute of Séance" is less successful; told in the intentionally over the top and hammy style of silent film, it still feels over the top and hammy. Likewise "The Song of the Mermaid," directed by Troy Morgan and chronicling a man searching for his lover after she leaves him to go to sea, falls flat. It's pretty in a stylized way, but the puppetry detracts from any true emotion. (AD)
Directed by Simon Ennis
The world thinks Robert R. Mutt (Joshua Peace) is a douchebag, obsessed with it even. As Mutt--sporting Coke-bottle glasses, a severely receding hairline, and swim trunks--gets ready to pitch himself off a low bridge to his supposed death, a passing motorist even shouts it at him. For this and his many other failed suicide attempts, Mutt winds up in a mental hospital. Cut to scenes of Mutt joyfully chasing pool rings or dueling psychiatrists at air hockey; this is the only place where he's been happy or accepted. But, soon enough, he gets kicked out for being, well, too happy. And the world still hates him, and now a neighbor is framing Mutt as a pedophile. What follows is a madcap comedy centered around running from people trying to chemically castrate him and obtaining the three keys to happiness: money, a girl, and a championship ring. It's funny, easy, and takes the classic jerk/loser comedy to a rather "adult" level, with some of its choicest comedic moments revolving around a mushroom trip, a full-frontal chase scene, and, later, a bondage party put on by the local TV weatherman. Point is: The world outside the hospital is a profane, mean place, but just maybe it can come around to a kind soul. (MB)
Directed by Chai Vasarhelyi
The film opens with that voice--the high, supple muezzin keen that has made Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour an international star. Chai Vasarhelyi's I Bring What I Love isn't a concert film, however, but a polished documentary that strays into hagiography. Cameras follow N'Dour as he revisits his griot heritage, does earnest press and speaks out for worthy causes, and records his ambitious 2004 Afro-Arab fusion album Egypt. The subsequent tour provides a wisp of drama (the Egyptian members of the band refuse to play anywhere alcohol is served), as do the album's hostile reception back home and the wait to hear whether or not N'Dour wins a Grammy for it, but the singer remains a one-dimensionally sincere, genial, spiritual, successful guy throughout, and, frankly, it's a little boring. (A lone shot of him with a post-concert cigarette hints at the possibly somewhat more relatable account that got away.) I Bring What I Love is visually gorgeous, though, and the best of the live footage backs up the attention being paid. (LG)
Directed by Ry Russo-Young
Twenty-seven year-old Ry Russo-Young co-wrote (with star Stella Schnabel) and directed this meditation on a young, unmoored woman shortly after her release from a psychiatric hospital. Shelly Brown (Schnabel) flirts with the loose New York artist community of mostly unsuccessful kids whose unwashed hair, sex life, and use of drugs seem more an occupation than any job or responsibility they might have. Shelly's apartment is small and crappy, dates never turn into relationships, and she does little more than nothing, really. Thoughts on being an artist/actress, love, etc., unravel in voiceovers during scenes of her riding on the back of a motorcycle and making home movies with a girlfriend, but she doesn't say anything. Her absent mother plays a role in her life by not answering her phone or returning her calls, but, one assumes, is to blame for Shelly's insecurity, deep-rooted anger, and frustration. The film's best moments happen when she's called on her shit by a fellow groupie in an Atlantic City hotel room and later by a director after a dreadfully unprofessional audition. Russo-Young has talent; it'll be nice when she trains it on a worthy subject. (WW)
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