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Monday, December 31, 2007

NEW YORK UNITED FILM FEST DAY 2

NY United Festival- Day Two

Shorts:

Bitch
Lilah Vandenburgh

Bitch (Keira Leverton), an antisocial record store clerk falls for a rebel (Juan Garcia) and puts herself through the paces to impress him. Along the way, we come to appreciate Bitch’s loathing towards shallow youth culture- exemplified by an MTV-style beach show, angsty hipsters and how anything nostalgic is all the rage now among young people.
Surrounded by by-products of a society that attempts to corral young people into a homogenous way of thinking, Bitch is rather irritated by the world around her, to say the least. Her deadpan expression- holding just the slightest shade of contempt- is priceless, as she lashes out towards the pop culture clichés she encounters. A hilarious opening sequence involving Bitch and a hotshot roller boy straight out of an American Apparel ad alone makes the film a gem. She’s something of an anti-heroine, a champion of individualism, which makes it all the more heart-breaking when she herself one day finds herself deeply desiring acceptance, and changes who she is to gain it.
Leverton and Garcia play off each other well as the unlikely couple, and it’s intriguing to learn just what sort of circumstances must unfold to bring two such abrasive personalities together.

Puppet
Patrick Smith

Puppet, a hand-drawn animated short tells the bizarre tale of a young man whose sock puppet morphs into an instrument of his own fear and masochism.
“The masochist will create a separate entity to accomplish a repulsive level of self-abuse” – Freud. The quote opens up the film, aptly summing up its central theme. Beginning innocently enough with a smiling man admiring his cute little bit of handiwork, the film quickly descends into a nightmarish chain of events in which the puppet turns on the young man, who is unable to escape his creation’s ill-treatment. A dark and lighthearted feel coexist- the sweet-faced look of the main character, and the fact that his enemy is merely cartoonishly menacing in appearance make the graphic and seemingly unending violence all the more unsettling. Complemented by a superb musical score, Puppet comes off as something of a character study, incorporating issues of identity, the creative process and self-loathing as it progresses through one increasingly hard-hitting image after another in rapid succession.

OM
Fredric Reshew

Set during a New York heat wave, OM cuts between a group of yoga students and a bike messenger, two radically different settings in which a serene and focused state vs. an anxious and distracted one are juxtaposed.
It would be expected that the former state of mind would more likely be found among the students. But though outwardly they appear to be at peace, as we are allowed to observe their personal thoughts- all of which are rather oppressive and put on display in intense, concentrated scenes- this proves not necessarily to be the case. On the flip side, though the messenger is understandably showing signs of great stress, nevertheless there is a certain sense of calm to his swift trek through the streets of Manhattan as he deftly dodges one obstruction after another.
As the film ties the two stories together, the reality of the human condition- of which various aspects are touched on throughout- comes at us full force in the end.

Press Play
Michael Stanmore

Press Play is set in the near future in a Big Brother-esque society in which art and music have been banned by the government. Alan Osborne (Michael Gerard) has become involved with an underground group that gathers at night to secretly enjoy what recordings are left, and after a raid, wrestles with his dilemma as to whether to make a stand.
With minimal dialogue, the film often communicates more through action (an opening scene of a violin being smashed to bits is gut-wrenching) than it does through words. A facial expression or a gesture can say it all, and though the entire cast clearly has a hold on this approach (without a doubt largely in part to excellent direction) Michael Gerard is particularly adept at utilizing these means to convey Osborne’s inner life and struggles. Moreover, Press Play’s transition from a reserved tone to that of navigating through the extreme emotional highs and lows experienced by the characters is guaranteed to hold the viewer’s attention right to what is a decidedly inspiring end.

PPL B TXT’N 2MUCH
Nick Puga

In their hip-hop music video debut, “The Sock Puppets” speak the truth on the epidemic of text messaging that has grabbed a hold of society.
Hysterical and spot-on, PPL calls us all to the carpet for our newly acquired bad habit- even acknowledging that they themselves are guilty of it. In a variety of ridiculous scenarios (some of the funniest being completely irrelevant to the matter at hand and obviously only included for their own amusement) the high-energy duo poke fun of the laziness and insecurity often behind the urge to fall back on non-verbal communication, as well as give their own two cents on when it’s ok to resort to it. What’s more, they’re actually pretty damn good rappers to boot.
PPL gets us to laugh at ourselves and admit that we all go overboard with the T9 sometimes. And though it can’t possibly be eliminated, nonetheless it may actually be a good way to at least get people to keep the tendency a little bit more in check in the future. That being said, I myself am so all about this video, I’m sending a mass email about it to everyone I know ASAP.

Hollow
Paul Bickel

The short thriller weaves through the mental impressions of a young boy (Joshua Israel), centered on his fear of an ominous red door. Starting with a scene out of an ideal childhood, the film abruptly plunges into darker territory, revealing one truly messed up family and packing a punch in a mere 9 minutes.
The plot here is not plainly laid out and relies heavily on the terrifying portraits it paints based on reflections of the boy to suggest what exactly has happened to him. Close attention has been paid to composition here- ghostly lighting (the disparity between the high- and low-key illumination of the door and all that surrounds it is downright spine-chilling) and some sharp camera work contribute to its sinister quality. This, compounded with believable performances, especially that of Joshua Israel, effectively do the job in leaving the viewer thoroughly rattled.

Feature:

Strictly Background
Jason Connell

What makes a good documentary? There appears to be universal agreement on four points: 1) subject matter the general public normally does not have access to 2) interesting people to expound on the topic with first-hand knowledge 3) a degree of tension and 4) most importantly, storyline, storyline, storyline. Strictly Background, which takes a closer look at background actors, hits the mark on all four necessary components.
The people that make up the crowd in a movie, appear behind the lead actors as they bond over lattes in restaurant scenes- these are the background actors, or “extras”. They’re crucial in providing a greater sense of authenticity, and yet due to their high numbers (estimated to be around 40,000) and the nature of the work (for the most part, their job is to blend in, not stand out), they are unknown in the world of film. The ten actors who appear In Strictly Background- all seasoned professionals- are finally given a chance to speak about life on set from their standpoint.
From the get-go, it’s clear that Connell has assembled a lively and varied bunch, all of whom enthusiastically offer their angle on the profession. It would be easy to exploit these personalities, but the film shows nothing but tremendous respect for its subjects. After being taken through the obligatory introductions and ins and outs of the business (casting agent Jeff Olan’s straightforward, man-behind-the-curtain outside perspective about the realities of background acting is a nice touch), we quickly become acquainted with the group through their anecdotes and inside scoops on career highs and lows. Each individual is distinctive from the next and all are extremely likable- naturally we become invested in them and are touched by their achievements and disappointments.
On account of these engaging personalities and the dashes of humor, the film gets off to a light-hearted start. But as it progresses and we are drawn deeper into the world of the extras, one truth becomes evident- the very fact that they’ve all been at it for years serves as a reminder that they haven’t quite gotten that break that allows for the opportunity to really shine as an actor. Therein lies the conflict; the tension manifests in the actors’ discouragement- be it by the fact that they are barely scraping by, not treated well on set, or not feeling creatively fulfilled. Of course, the more we see what wonderful people they are, the more we want them to succeed, and we hope for a sign that their conflict will be resolved.
And so the question becomes: is continuing to do background work really the best way to move up? Is the work helping them or hindering them? There’s no argument that starting with extra work is a good way to get on a set in order to better understand the process of making a film. But it only takes a few jobs to get a handle on that, and this group has been on countless sets. Yet there is very little mention of acting classes, taking on more prominent roles in independent films, or other such means actors use to develop their craft, get more performance time, and ultimately, get noticed. I was baffled on this point: it’s one thing if an actor is content with the excitement of just being on a big set (though one would think it would lose its novelty after awhile) and sees it as a lifestyle and way to make a little cash on the side. In some instances, this looks to be the case. But it’s quite another if they long to boost their income in their chosen field or to further demonstrate their ability. And if part of the job is generally to not be conspicuous, how likely is it that their unique qualities and abilities will be showcased- a must in order for them to move up to the next level?
Seeing these incredible people we’ve come to care about and believe in make little headway with no visible light at the end of the tunnel becomes discouraging- and positively heartbreaking when we see the extreme toll it takes on a few. Even if they are content where they are at, after witnessing the grind and recognizing their potential, we still want more for them. They are in no doubt some of the hardest working people in show business- but one can work hard on a treadmill too, never moving ahead. There’s that longing for them to sprint out onto the open road and consider other lines of attack to achieve their goals. However, when no evidence of this happening any time soon is offered, the film starts to sag somewhat.
Fortunately, this low point doesn’t last for too long; passion and optimism carry the group through. With heads held high they are willing to take on the next challenge, and we are left feeling confident that no matter what road they take, they will go on to live rich and fulfilling lives. And the fact of the matter is, these actors all shook up their career game plan by participating in the project. So as far as that big break? It could very well be this film.

Marleah Martin

AUSTIN ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL

2007 Asian Film Festival

The Asian Film Festival (www.cinemaasiaaustin.org) screened at several locations in Austin: UT, Coldtowne Theatre, Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC), and the Carver Museum, among others. I attended several screenings at the MACC, which is located in downtown Austin, by Lady Bird Lake (Town Lake). The MACC is a beautiful cultural facility for Latino artists, with a spacious multi-purpose space inside and a distinct landscape outside. It was perfect for the outdoor film screening. The atmosphere was ideal for the festival: intimate, spacious, and full of culture.

The Impetuous Angel (Chinese) (Narrative Feature) (2007)
Director: Guo Hua

A new college graduate (Xia) moves to a remote town in hopes of acquiring a teaching position at an elementary school. While finding her place in these new surroundings, Xia meets and befriends an orphan (Lin Lin) with AIDS. While the town members have shunned Lin Lin from the community, Xia boldly tutors the young boy and takes him under her wing. In the process, she too gets the cold shoulder from the town, which tests her values, beliefs, and integrity.

The story’s compelling, endearing, and unfortunately still relevant in today’s times. AIDS is a social issue that individuals fear, challenge, and judge. Envisioning a child living with AIDS, the film challenges the audience’s own beliefs and values, pushing people out of their comfort zone. It’s a film worth viewing.

Generational Threads Short Films:

Tailor Made (Documentary Short) (2007)
Director: Len Lee & Marsha Newberry

Two aging brothers, tailors their entire lives in Vancouver, struggle to decide what to do with their family tailoring business. Over the years, custom tailors have become insignificant and unneeded in today’s world of factory suit-making and clothing lines. The last year of their business is shown in this touching documentary.

Mosuo Song Journey (Documentary Short) (2007)
Director: Diedie Weng

Traditional Chinese Mosuo folk songs have been disappearing from the cultural landscape, with the continuing modernization and commercialism of rural townships and isolated villages. Part of this commercialism resulted from demand of tourists, however, villages benefit from the revenue by supporting their families and businesses. Originally, Mosuo folk songs were sung in the mountains as individuals worked the land and traveled by foot across the mountainside. Mothers would sing to their daughters about love and family, while husbands would sing to their wives about partnership and company. As traditions fade, unfortunately, so do culture and history.

Chestnut Tree (Animated Short) (2007)
Director: Hyun-min Lee

Showing a lifelong relationship between a daughter and mother, this animated short is beautiful, emotional, and flawless. The story accounts the memories and moments the mother and daughter shared by the magnificent chestnut tree as the daughter matured through childhood.

by Krista Anderson

Friday, December 28, 2007

NY UNITED FILM FEST DAY 1


The New York United Film Festival kicked off at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City on December 15, 2007. NYUFF, an offshoot of the Tulsa United Film Festival, incorporated an eclectic group of shorts and features that ran the gamut from animation to horror to dark comedy. Although there was perhaps no readily apparent common ground between the films, festival director Jason Connell stressed his belief that what united the diverse selections was their potential to strike a nerve and resonate with the public- thereby warranting them the additional exposure and attention the festival could offer.

John F. O’Donnell and Matt Zaller hosted. The two had a great rapport and got things rolling with an off-the-cuff opening that mixed funny anecdotes, details on the fest and schwag giveaways. A small but keyed up audience was ready to check out what was looking to be a great program.

SHORT FILMS

The Seed
Directed By Joe Hahn

Half action film, half psychological drama, the Seed depicts the agonizing plight of a homeless veteran who is followed by unseen forces. Staggering by the banks of the L.A. River, Sung (Will Yun Lee) grapples with the mystery of what are seemingly his own inner demons.
Unexpected, disturbing images cut in to provide plenty of jumps and accentuate the torment Sung endures. The reasons behind Sung’s predicament are not entirely understandable- a shadowy character appears here and there with cryptic clues but for the most part, there is little to lay out exactly what’s going on here. If you can settle for getting the general gist of the plot (hint: it’s a bit Matrix-y), and take in the film for its strong points (visual effects, Lee’s convincing portrayal of the tortured main character and an especially striking climatic scene) The Seed is enjoyable. And undoubtedly, it makes the viewer reexamine the idea of the parameters of reality being necessarily determined by whether the majority of people can see it.

I Met the Walrus
Directed By Josh Raskin

In 1969, 14-year-old Jerry Lavitan managed to sneak into John Lennon’s hotel room for a chat, reel-to-reel in tow. Using the original interview recording as a soundtrack, Josh Raskin has crafted an enchanting animated film that is a must-see (and not just for the die-hard Lennon fans).
Though at first I attempted to jot down impressions, it wasn’t long before it became evident there was no way to fully take this piece in without being glued to the screen the entire time. One is left spellbound by the spectacle that is this continuous, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flow of florid illustration which narrates Lennon’s responses to Lavitan’s questions (impressive inquiries at that, especially for a young man barely into his teens). At times laughter-inducing, and at times rather sobering, the film’s captivating imagery underscores Lennon’s viewpoints on social change that are still relevant in this day and age.

Validation
Directed By Kurt Kuenne

Even the most self-assured individuals look for outside approval to measure their worth at one time or another, and Validation explores this aspect of the human psyche in a fable about a parking lot attendant who validates customers- both literally and figuratively- with free parking and free compliments.
T.J. Thyne is delightful as Hugh New man, a man who is changing lives through his kindness. We can’t help but chuckle at his wide-eyed optimism and how it translates into positive reinforcement towards everyone he meets- especially since nearly every individual, no matter how world-weary, proves in the end to be a sucker for a compliment (comically represented by long lines of motley groups anxious to receive Hugh’s validation, who even burst into a musical number lauding Hugh!). His ability to dish out a sincere and eloquent compliment for anyone gains him notoriety, shown in amusing mock old-timey news reels (one bit has Hugh cut into a clip where he appears to be receiving a congratulatory handshake from George W. Bush). But just when it seems nothing can go wrong, he faces the hurdle of his magic having no effect on a woman he is strongly drawn to (at which point the film brilliantly sets the action at the DMV as a metaphor for utter joylessness). The upbeat feel takes a nosedive as the protagonist persistently, but unsuccessfully, strives to win over the object of his affection. Yet this is a fable, and so all is well in the end, with a somewhat schmaltzy but sweet plot twist that tugs at the heartstrings while tying up the loose ends. It’s what you might call a “feel good” film- perhaps not altogether realistic, but fun and uplifting. The smiling, happy world Hugh creates in which the defense mechanism of detachment is dropped, appreciation is shown and the good in others acknowledged seems like a nice place to be- and if there was a moral to this story, certainly the old adage of being able to capture more flies with honey than vinegar would tie in. Validated possesses the kind of message that’s needed to balance out the ever-increasing cynicism and self-absorption in our society- the message being of the mutual gain of simply showing appreciation and seeing the good in others. And of course, that it doesn’t hurt to smile now and then.

Grand Luncheonette
Directed By Peter Sillen

Telling the story of the last days of a 42nd Street hot dog lunch counter, Grand Luncheonette is testimony to the complete gentrification of the Times Square area.
The film illustrates one of these cases that is directly affected by the changing landscape of Manhattan, and follows what’s become something of a format when exposing the ills of “urban renewal”. You have your local mom-and-pop establishment that, through the years, has retained its individuality and distinct style. You’ve got your colorful cast of characters that keep things up and running, and we see them in action. Invariably, there’s always one eccentric standout that provides the requisite dose of comedy. We’re given the history of said small business- no doubt a business being steeped in tradition does something for its credibility- and there’s a little pathos thrown in there to gain our empathy for the doomed small business-owner.
Films like Grand Luncheonette need to be out there to remind the public of the effects of gentrification. It’s not that we don’t know it’s out there. We can’t help but notice the increasing McWalbucksization of metropolitan areas. But too often, in succumbing to its benefits (the major one being convenience), the public looks the other way and becomes desensitized to the very real consequences of the gentrification process- one being skyrocketing rental costs, which result in small businesses that give a neighborhood diversity and a local flavor (as well as being, in a sense, historical landmarks) being pushed out.
However, in following that standard recipe for gentrification awareness, Grand Luncheonette does not appear to contribute anything new to the subject matter. “Hey- gentrification- it’s happening! And here’s another example” will not suffice. To really hit home, we need a little more.
I longed for something to jump out, something new, something different to grab me by the collar and powerfully convey the consequences of this trend- a character that’s completely absorbing, an exceptional story, a twist on the editing- something . Instead, it seemed to blend in with so many others on the issue; and the concern is that if these types of films start blurring together as a well-intended but mushy portrait of rooting for the underdog, the public reaction could eventually end up being that same attitude of “we’ve gotten used to it” as the widespread problem they’re trying to address. Grand Luncheonette is utterly realistic and dignified in its understated tone- there’s no especially compelling personality, no overt emphasis on the tragic elements- maybe that’s how it really is. The owner merely accepts the reality of the situation and moves on. Unfortunately, this style may not be as effective in getting the point across. The film would perhaps work better if included in a feature made up of a series of vignettes focusing on the topic, rather than standing on its own. Nonetheless, the fact still is that it’s covering an important topic, which in itself makes the film one not to be dismissed and worth watching.

Mola Ser Malo (It’s Cool to Be Bad)
Directed By Alam Raja Verges

Mola Ser Malo is the narration of a young man (Fernando Ramallo) as he struggles with his vices and overcomes the obstacles that stand in the way of him attaining his dream girl and finding real fulfillment.
It almost sounds like your standard coming-of-age film of rebellious youth. And yet, it doesn’t make the obvious choices. For one, there’s an offbeat central theme of chicken, and the fact that at one point, the protagonist too easily gives up on the chase, reverting to his old ways and leaving us stumped as to how this will all pan out. The young man’s path has plenty of twists and turns; and this, with the narrator’s clever wit, vibrant cast (a mix of eccentric oddballs and extraordinarily attractive young people) and lightning fast pace amount to a highly entertaining watch.

Blow: A Public Service Announcement
Directed By Dick Thompson

Ever seen that show on Comedy Central, Robot Chicken? Like Robot Chicken? Then you’ll like Blow. Featuring a Barbie doll hooked on the yayo, Blow exposes the dangers of cocaine addiction to the tune of White Lines (of course) in a mock public service announcement (that- did I mention this?- looks a lot like Robot Chicken). Barbie gets progressively worse as her little dog (of course) looks on, making more and more of an embarrassment of herself right up to the cringe-worthy gross-out ending. It’s silly. It’s predictable. It’s juvenile. But it just goes to show that there will possibly always be something innately funny about taking a symbol of smug wholesomeness and altogether corrupting it. Barbie- she’s just like us!

Rest Stop for the Rare Individual
Directed By Roberto Bentivegna

Paul (A.J. Handegard) is having a hell of a time in acting class. George (Barnet Senegal) on the other hand, is doing wonderfully. The two get together after class, at which point George makes the suggestion of Paul temporarily taking his place for his side job. Paul is hesitant, but agrees- and finds himself on his way to the Chelsea Hotel to meet an older man. It goes without saying that he gets more life experience than he bargained for.
A tribute to the hotel? A jab at method acting? Unfortunately, the film’s objective is not altogether clear. However, the acting is solid (particularly Bill Weeden as the creepy older man who has George completely dumbfounded from the start), as is its unique art direction.

FEATURE FILM

Chasing Ghosts
Directed By Lincoln Ruchti

Retro culture- for whatever reason, we’re fascinated by that which helps to define a particular era and what it was to live in it - whether we were actually there to see it or not- though the draw is probably that much stronger when one can remember being there and what it was like. Now imagine how much more you might gravitate to specific aspects of that era if they represented not only some of the greatest moments in your life, but also overwhelming, first-time success. Then for some, if the rest of life never quite lived up those glorious moments- you can presume that the tendency to “go back” is significantly magnified, almost akin to a gravitational pull. This is the psychological experience Chasing Ghosts delves into. That’s not to say that it isn’t a fascinating account of the rise and fall of the 1980s arcade craze as well- the focus being on a select group of young men who were the stars of this subculture.





The film takes us back to 1982, to the small town of Ottumwa, Iowa- dubbed the “Video Game Capital of the World”. It was here that the arcade fad took off (due in no small part to the inception of official scorekeeping led by Ottumwa video-game aficionado Walter Day), elevating the young people who were the best of the best at games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Berzerk to celebrity status. And just rapidly as the fad blew up, it was over. The former whiz kids who dominated the arcades (most of whom appeared in a group photo on a now iconic Life magazine cover), are tracked down and interviewed on their perceptions and recollections of that time. Memories, grudges (to this day!), humorous accounts, and even confessions surface and- as already stated- though we learn a lot of fun facts about the history of retrogaming, what’s more interesting is the effects the whole phenomenon had- and still has- on these ex-superstars.
The one thing all these men have in common is their respect for and love of the games they played in their brief careers as professional gamers. It’s something of a brotherhood that they’ve formed. Those years were a strong influence on them and shaped who they are today. As far as to what degree they were affected by being built up, then having the rug yanked out from underneath them when they were- well- on top of their game- it varies depending on the courses of their lives. On one end of the spectrum, there are those who have a fulfilling existence, and time to time look back fondly on their 15 minutes. Somewhere in the middle there are the ones whose main focus shifted to the priorities acquired in adulthood, but who still have something of a fanatical passion for video games factoring prominently into their lives. Then there are those who never seemed to move on and find replacement aspirations as strong as the ones they had 25 years ago. But in most cases the title Chasing Ghosts is pertinent on some level- wanting something in 1982, not getting it, and always having that wistful side enticed by the pursuit of the elusive dream of fame and fortune.Chasing Ghosts is a walk down memory lane for those who grew up on the classic games, a history lesson for those who did not. But it’s the characters that make the film. At times the goofy oddball stereotype is played up, but as we get to know them for the engaging, even charismatic personalities they are, it’s impossible not to become completely absorbed in the story of their glory days.

Following the first night was the afterparty at Barcade, a Brooklyn bar where the walls are lined with nearly every popular 80's arcade game you can think of. A couple of the guys from Chasing Ghosts were there, intently honed in on whichever game was their area of expertise. Me, I have an appreciation for- but alas, do not share- those gaming skills. And so, with a few friends in tow, I took advantage of the two-for-one instead, as well as the opportunity to chat with Mr. Connell a little more and a few of the filmmakers. Great party at a great venue- always a festival bonus.

Marleah Martin

Sunday, December 2, 2007

OUTFEST FUSION 1

I love the Egyptian Theatre. It is such an amazing venue and LA is blessed to have such a historical theatre still operating in the city. Thank you American Cinematheque!! This is the theatre that first premiered the amazing A Star Is Born (The Judy Garland version) and so many other classic films.

I also love Outfest. They truly know how to throw an amzing party. And the films they program are almost always top rate. They are the oldest contigous festival in Los Angeles and this is Fusions 5th anniversary. It is also the only festival of it's kind in the world. From the opening announcement it is clear that this is a strong festival. "We're here, we're queer... and we intend to be recognized!

Before the opening night films were shown, Outfest gave a tribute award to a significant LGBT filmmaker. Cheryl Dunye, has had her work screened all over the world. She writes, directs, produces and stars in her work. She created a name for her style of work, "dunyementaries" because she is the subject in her early work. Her first feature "Watermelon Woman" was like most of her work as much social commentary as love story, comedy, drama! She is an amazing artist and I was pleased that Outfest recognized such an important director.
Now onto the films!!

The opening night shorts collection is a fantastic group of extremely well made films.

THE MATCHMAKER
Directed By Cinzia Puspita Rini

What am adorable film. A beautiful young lady seems to be admiring the cute male owner of a bookstore. He seems to be falling for her and she seems to be falling for him.... BUT wait for it.....She just wants to hook him up with her best gay pal. Highlarious!! A funny, cute, quirky, well acted film.

MAKE A WISH
Directed By Cherien Dabis

A young girl wants to buy a birthday cake. She does everything she can to get the money and by the end your heart is broken. A sweet inspirational film from war torn Palenstine about love loss and rememberance.

EL PRIMO
Directed By Nick Oceano

A bookish teenager goes to visit family and falls for his older and more mature cousin. A wonderfully acted and directed film. This is a story that most everyone has lived (maybe not with a cousin but hey..). Nick Oceano truly captures what it means to feel out of place. This was a world premiere and I truly loved it. Great performances from everyone in this short.

KALI MA
Directed By Soman Chainani

What can you say about a film you just love to watch, except bravo! This campy classy funny film is just a perfect piece of celluloid. A star making turn from the mother (Kamini Khanna) makes this film a joy from start to finish. Brendan Bradley is delicously evil as the foil that awakes protective Kali in the mother. I LOVE THIS FILM!

PARIAH
Directed By Dee Rees

This is a film that will launch the career of the filmmaker. It is amazing. The story, character and style of this film sets it as one of the best films of the year. this is the third tiome I have seen this movie. It won awards at LA Film Festival and Outfest this year. I really hope to see it on the nomination list for an Oscar. The performances by Adepero Oduye and Pernell Walker are extrordinary. Dee Rees is my pick for filmmaker to watch!! An extremely well crafted and mature film that makes you feel every ounce of pain and confusion.

The after party was hosted by Absolut as always at an Outfest party. It was jam packed with DJ's spinning and people spawled all throughout the Egyptian inside and out. In attendance were alot of GLBT stars.

Kristoffer

Saturday, November 3, 2007

LA LATINO FILM FESTIVAL

Mexican Shorts

This year’s Mexican Shorts screening series was especially good. The Mexican Shorts series consisted of 5 short films by up and coming Mexican filmmakers. All of the films were thematically tied around childrens’ tales, but each story had its own unique aesthetic film style.

Calaverita (A little Skull) by Rafael y Raúl Cúrdenas is an animation about a cross-cultural experience. A little skull, Calaverita, rejects and rebels against the tradition of celebrating the Day of the Dead (a Mexican holiday) and wanders off into the streets of the city in search of a new way to celebrate the holiday. She crashes a Halloween party and attempts to become part of the crowd. When the children at the party remove their Halloween masks, Calaverita removes her skull and discovers that she is an outsider because she is a skeleton. The other children in the party are horrified to learn that she is a real skeleton & reject her in fear. Calaverita is deeply saddened and surprised by their reaction.

Sopa de Pescado (Fish Soup) by Nuria Ibáñez. A dark, satirical comedy about an unusual family whose dinner is disrupted when a pigeon flies into their home and lands on the chandelier above their dinner table. The sister and the mother become obsessed with getting rid of the pigeon, bringing out their shotgun and destroying their home in the process. In the meantime, the father and brother eat, read poetry and are unaffected by their new visitor or the destruction of their home. The film mocks society’s tendency to overreact in solving simple problems.

Una Muerte Menor (A Minor Death) by Paulina Castellanos, is a fast-paced slick flick with a political twist, about a teenage boy who enjoys a sex fantasy seconds before his final breath.

He is shot by a police officer for stealing a woman’s purse. As he lays there bleeding to death, the cop kicks him twice, and other cop robs his wallet, while the other people pass detached by the incident. As he closes his eyes, he fantasizes about the good life. He sees himself cruising around in a red & white convertible low-rider, dressed in a pristinely starched white zoot-suit, cruising around the city with two blond women sitting next to him. He fantasizes about having an orgy with them, then his dream quickly evaporates and comes back to the cold, callous, reality of his world; then dies.

Niña que Espera (Little Girl Waiting) by Esteban Reyes, is a dark/fantasy comedy about a homeless little girl, Angelica, who devices a larger than life plan to get a male and female stranger at an airport to get together and adopt her. At first her plan works, but as they realize that they are a part of her game; they want nothing to do with her. In the process of trying to get rid of her, they fall in love with each other, and learn to love and adopt Angelica.

Ojos que no Ven (Eyes that Can’t See) by Marisol Jasso is a tender, poetic story about Emilio, a blind 8 year-old boy who is abandoned by his Mother, who drops him off at a at a carpentry shop. Emilio instantly adopts the shop owner as his grandfather, while the lonely old man resists getting attached to him. The two seemingly different people eventually bond and learn about life from one another.

Marisol Jasso was the only filmmaker present at the Q&A. She says that she was inspired to tell this story because it is common occurrence in Mexico, in which families with limited resources feel overwhelmed with caring for their disabled children. Marisol said she saw over 100 children before she decided on casting Heli de Jesus Casillas, who played Emilio.
All of the films were very well directed. The acting was believable and the story lines were well developed and well executed.


The last film that I saw at LALIFF (The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival) was Hijos de la Guerra.

Hijos de la Guerra (Children of War) is a documentary about the children of the Salvadorean Civil War that took place in the 1980s, which was backed by the U.S., during the Reagan Administration. These children, who witnessed their parents violently massacred, fled their war-torn country and sought refuge in the U.S. Faced with discrimination, a need to create their own identity, and harassment by existing Mexican gangs, they eventually formed one of the largest and most violent street gangs in the U.S.: the Mara Salvatrucha, also know as “MS-13”.

The Production team, consisting of Alexandre Fuchs, Jonathan Bollier, and Jeremy Forteau, do an excellent of job telling a well-balanced story. During the Q&A, the filmmakers disclose that they developed personal relationships the casts; which allowed them intimate access into their subjects’ lives. This schilling tale about the “MS-13” says much about U.S. foreign policy, the governments’ (both the U.S. & El Salvador) oversimplified and inadequate ways of dealing with a complex issue.

Over all, the film festival continues to grow and develop, reaching out to a wider audience. This is my personal favorite film festival because it is a place to see some of the best films Latin America has to offer and because it offers a rare opportunity to see some fantastic gems that we might not otherwise ever see.

Maria Elena

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

LA LATINO FILM FESTIVAL

Lost & Found in Mexico


Another documentary featured at this year’s LALIFF is Lost & Found in Mexico. I had mixed feelings about this mostly talking head documentary about expatriates, or U.S. immigrants, who retire in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato Mexico. On the one hand, I appreciate first-time filmmaker, Caren Cross’ film debut. The film is technically proficient – well edited, great music, beautiful cinematography, etc. I also appreciate the real subject of her film, which is about people who, after decades of chasing the American Dream, find themselves exhausted, and their life empty and meaningless, despite all their material wealth and success. This is certainly a subject worth discussing, and the film was insightful in this manner.

However, on the other hand, I was disappointed to learn that the U.S. immigrants living in Mexico keep to themselves and have no real relationships with their new paisanos, (countrymen/women) except one woman who married a Mexican man. In fact, though the film is completely shot in Mexico, Mexican people have no voice; yet their rich, vibrant culture, reflected in the colors, music, etc., serve only as background and b-roll in the film. There are no real scenes in this film.

Furthermore, with the immigration issue being such a heated debated in this country, one cannot help but to draw parallels between the immigrants coming from Mexico, and emigrants living in Mexico. One of the chief complaints in this tumultuous debate is that immigrants don’t assimilate into mainstream American society, and here it’s obvious that Americans in Mexico don’t assimilate either. This point was confirmed at the Q&A with the filmmaker.

That Americans are leaving the country and moving south of border in not new. It is a growing trend. Americans are not just moving to Mexico but to all parts of Latin America. Luckily for the U.S. Americans, Latin Americans are far more welcoming than their U.S. counterparts. This is a timely documentary and has screened at numerous festivals around the U.S.

Maria Elena

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

DC REEL AFFIRMATIONS

LOCAL SHORTS PROGRAM

Brian the Gnome Slayer 4
Directors: Brian Tosko, Flip Vanevski

Just when you thought it was safe from the evil doers, Brian the Gnome Slayer returns to remind you that evil still lurks and until it doesn’t the Gnome Slayer will be around to protect you.

Ok, this was fun and very, very campy. I could see a heavy Wonder Woman influence. Lynda Carter is a local girl, so bonus for the tribute!

Truthfully, the plot was nearly impossible to follow, but shame on me for not seeing parts 1-3, I suppose. I really wanted to be in on the jokes! The local audience had a ball, and was full of fans, so I hope these two continue on their mission of saving the world from evil Gnomes.

Houseguest
Director: Michael Chiplock

An unexpected late night knock at the door leads to a revelation about a roommate.
Houseguest is a film that explores one roommate discovering a lifestyle choice about another in a bold way. It begins with a film style that has us in a world that looks a little like a Dove commercial. Once we emerge, we never go back, so it was lacking some consistency.
A lot of the acting was a bit overdone and indicated. I felt like I was being shown things, which is deadly on film. The message of tolerance is a terrific one, however, and I enjoyed the not-so-subtle wit toward the end.

The Preacher and the Poet
Director: Dean Hammer

A DC minister’s infamous anti-gay sermon is juxtaposed with the words of a passionate poet.

This film of social justice was a collage of images and anti-gay sound bytes of Reverend Willie Wilson entwined amongst those of contemporary poet Kenneth Morrison, who challenges homophobia in the African American community. Each is a strong opposing force; they are two whirlwinds doing battle. Wilson has a strong hold in the DC community, but his words are graphic and full of prejudice…propaganda to be sure. Morrison is the new strong voice of reason, equally powerful, percussively elocuting through his poetry the consequences of intolerance and the need for change.

GLLU

GLLU is a short format documentary that tells of how the Metro DC police department has been receiving training in skills they need to protect and serve the GLBT community, which shockingly has come to fear law enforcement more than those who commit crimes against them. Violent crimes simply weren’t being reported in the nation’s capital because it was perceived the police wouldn’t care.
In another film I viewed at the Reel Affirmations film festival, The Walker, when a gay character in Metro DC was attacked, instead of calling the police to report the assault, he did nothing. Art imitates life. Members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities in our city are attacked on the streets, face violence in their own homes, and experience the same types of crimes as straight citizens.GLLU stands for the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit. It recently was awarded the prestigious Harvard Innovations in American Government Award. This $100,000 grant is to be used to replicate this type of unit. This film shows in a very concise manner why this unit is so remarkable, the difference it has been making, and why these skills are teachable ones indeed. The GLLU has been established firmly to arm officers with tools of communication, to protect, serve and defend humanely in the DC community. I feel like the nation’s capital is a better place with it in place.

The First Great Lesson I Learned
Director: Ian Cook

An older gay man remembers a key moment in his childhood; a moment that completely changed his life.

This is a performance piece that made the transition from stage to film very well, which is a very tricky thing to do. Ian Cook kept a tight shot on actor Ralph Dennler’s face throughout most of the film and just let him be…letting the camera capture thought, trusting this exceptional artist and marvelous piece of text.

Ian Cook is new to DC and has just relocated the Metro area from Ohio, bringing this script from stage to screen. As we all know, this doesn’t always make for a smooth transition. Too many times, a film audience craves more physical action and change of location onscreen than a stage audience does. In this case, Cook has proven that it is simply not necessary to physically move us one millimeter in order to pull us in and move us to the empathy to being singled out and humiliated by a teacher as a child --whether it was for the difference of being gay or one of a dozen other issues.

Offline
Director: Jon Gann

Frightened of the dating scene, Kurt is cajoled to meet men in a bar instead of behind the safety of his monitor. Will he survive the face-to-face meetings of so many he has seen only virtually?

Wasn’t it just five or so years ago that we were all petrified of dating online? In his adorable new short film, Offline, Jon Gann shows us where we’ve come through our protagonist, Kurt, who literally has to be coaxed into an actual bar to interact and reconnect with real live human beings! Through the convention of animated computer screens initially appearing over everyone’s faces, we see how people have just become sorted into one profile after another. There were a lot of strong performances in this warm piece exploring the rediscovery of humanity in the computer age.

Talk to Me
Director: Spencer C. Parker

What would you say to yourself if you had the chance?
I don’t mind pieces that contain a plot that is non-linear. I actually like them. I just couldn’t find a plot in this one at all, linear or not. I understood that Parker wanted to explore what he would say to himself were he talking to himself, but there has to be an objective in there somewhere. This just lacked forward momentum. As the director and editor Parker may have put so much attention on crafting the effects of this film, which he did very nicely, that other elements suffered.

Carolan

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

SHREIKFEST DAY 3

I am afraid that today I was only able to cover 3 films. I did not see Criticized at this festival but I saw it at Valley Film festival and reviewed it there! This movie made me cringe alot and I hailed it as a find for the horror genre. I still think that Richard Gale is one of the brightest (or darkest) new directors in American horror Today. You should see it!

Now for the films I did see....

THE UN-GONE
Directed by Simon Bovey

Once again this felt like the Twilight Zone. It would have played perfectly on TV. This was an inspired Sci-Fi film that makes you think where will science go! Really enjoyed the film and the lead perfromance.

SUMMER JOB
Directed By James Pounce

What a fantastic film! Once again there can be horror found in the most unlikely of places. And the killer in this short is downright scary, because it is so beleivable in its normalness. The entire film is. Well acted and paced, tightly shot and wonderfully written. A truly scary short film!

POST CARDS FROM THE FUTURE
Directed By Alan Chan

This is an interesting idea. I think it is to long, but it is visually breathtaking. The special effects in this Sci-Fi were exceptional. They looked very very real and since it takes place in space, very hard to do. Beautifully shot, just to long. I loved the idea of space explorers and watching the successes and failures of the process.

SF DOCFEST 3

Highway Amazon
Directed By Rodney Cramer

This film follows female bodybuilder Christine Fetzer( who has since changed her last name to Rocks since the release of this documentary in 2001) across America as she wrestles men in hotel rooms for money. Along the way we meet the men who pay to be dominated by Christine and watch as she maintains her physique with inventive roadside workout techniques.

Overdue Conversation
Directed By Charles Lum

This is a brief documentary between two gay men who hooked up at a local cruising spot years ago, but never told each other they were both HIV positive. And so begins a dialogue regarding HIV status amongst casual sexual encounters and where the line is drawn between ethics, privacy and buzzkill.

Luchando
Directed By Noelle Stout

An amazing documentary of same sex prostitution in Havana Cuba. This is a glimpse into the lives of four hustlers trying to make a living in the city's gay underground. Since the Cuban government forbids any filming not approved by state agencies, Stout's informal interviews and guerilla street footage shows a gay culture inundated by sex workers that take care of each other in order to survive. "Luchando" has historically meant the fight for the Cuban revolution, but the hustlers portrayed here have taken the word as their own, meaning survival by way of prostitution. Macho, young countryside men come to the city to have sex with men to purchase such western luxuries as sneakers or raise money for their children. Lesbians have sex with men to support their lovers. "Travestis "transform their bodies with hormones paid for by sex with foreign tourists. These stories depict an ever widening gap between the rich and poor in one of the few remaining countries still practicing socialist principles.

Krimpdaddy

SHREIKFEST DAY 2

14 films to cover today, try to keep up!

MOVIE MONSTER INSURANCE
Directed By Paula Haifley

Just watch it! This is a delightful and fun three minutes of your life. A truly enjoyable film.




IRON BIRD
Directed By Chris Richards-Scully

This thriller reminded me of an Outer Limits or Tales From The Crypt episode. Very slick and well made, this is a WWII film complete with bombings and a haunting. One of the crew on board has brought his past with him and it takes the crew out one by one. Wonderfully acted and produced, this is as well made as they get. A visually stunning and creepy film. And as an X-Files fanatic back in the day, I love the name Scully!

GAY ZOMBIE
Directed By Michael Simon

OK, this was funny! A marvelous masterpiece of gay farce. RB saw and reviewed this at Outfest and he loved it too. A zombie gets a second chance by coming out of the closet, after his death and finding the gay zombie trapped inside. He meets the love of his life and hilarity ensues.

THE FROLIC
Directed By Jacob Cooney

This totally felt like a Hitchcock Presents or Twilight Zone, and I mean that in the best sense. I truly loved the idea for this film and it gave me shivers all the way through. You can see the ending coming a little to early, but the performance of Maury Sterling as the killer Jon Doe was outstanding. Truly a remarkable film, that should be made into a feature soon!

FINAL RUN
Directed By Kenneth Foley

This Sci-Fi thriller had an interesting plot and good performances. It's not a new idea, but Mr. Foley pulls it off well. Some of the special effects are a little rough but once again this could be a great launching pad for a new feature.

PERPETUUM MOBILE
Directed By Enrique Garcia

I think that this could easily become a classic piece of animation. What a truly remarkable film. This short has played all over and continues to make its way around the festival circuit. Based loosely around an artist named Leo (Davinci) of course who discovers an alchemist doing truly amazing things and how it forever changes his life....

http://www.perpetuummobile.es/ for more info!

ZOMBIE LOVE
Directed By Yfke van Berckalaer

OMG! What a fantastic film! I love Love LOVE Horror movies! But secretly, or not so secretly I LOVE MUSICALS! And this is a brilliant film. IT is the classic musical story. Boy meets girl and falls madly in love. Boy pursues girl, finds obstacles he must overcome and then their is a glorious musical finale! That is this film, just with zombies! The actors are fantastic and they are blessed with wonderful voices. The song 'Eat the Flesh' is truly inspired and OMG I LOVE THIS MOVIE!!!!!! This is a Disney film on acid and Hollywood should look at this to see how a new musical is made. Congratulations!


THE DAY THE DEAD WEREN'T
Directed By Brandon & Jason Trost

This is a fake trailer. I overheard Jason (one of the directors) saying they were making it into a real feature now. Good! It was campy, gory and a perfect trailer for a real zombie movie. Hope it gets made!

PIG TALE
Directed By Adrien van Viersen

A very dark film about a rapist being confronted mentally with his crimes. You can imagine the toll that being a serial murderer and rapist has on the psyche and this guys is shot! I thought that the ghost of his first victim was all in his mind but the ending proved I was wrong. Really like it and had to look away once or twice.

WRETCHED
Directed By Leslie Delano & Heidi Martinuzzi

OK! Vomit really grosses me out. You can see the interview with these two amazing ladies in horror on our website under Multimedia. This is truly a disturbing film. Disturbing in the sense that so many women go through this horrific ideal and turn to bulemia...... and disturbing watching this one woman completely lose her mind as she is being constantly verbally and emotionally abused by her husband and then abused by her own psyche. This felt like a drama instead of a horror movie and then BAM! BLOOD EVERYWHERE! From what I saw this is probably the bloodiest film in the festival. How do you make a bulemic horror movie? Watch this! BTW! Joe Bob Briggs is in it! And Jaime Andrews is fantastic as the woman losing it!

DEATH'S REQUIEM
Directed By Marc Furmie

Totally thought I was watching the Outer Limits with this one. A beautiful tale of a man's art coming to life..... or him catching the dark realities in his art.... either way a very well made and well acted film.

DRIP
Directed By Jake York

Every camp fire story has a truth somewhere. The idea of this film (campers being massacred, Don't turn on the light's, etc.) They scare us because they are jsut a part of our collective psyche or Urban myths. It's always nice to see one of these well done, and this one was. As scary as an urban legend can be!

ATOM NINE ADVENTURES
Directed By Christopher Farley

Because I am a comic book geek, I am just wired correctly to love this movie. I went in wanting to really fall in love with it.......and I did! Sci-Fi is a hard genre to do low budget. Special effects can look bad, the story, the costumes......etc. Chris Farley knows how to get around these obstacles brilliantly. The moon getting close to crashing into the Earth could easily look horrible (In a Plan 9 type of way) But here it is masterfully done. Mr. Farley has created a wonderful film that deserves to be seen! I really would have loved to been able to speak to him. I will try to get in touch with him for an interview soon. Now the plot.....

A scientist discovers an entity from another world, a symbiotic organism. During an accident, where his 'girlfriend' is taken by the bad guys, the organism bonds with him and makes him Atom Nine! A new superhero who must defeat the villian, save his girlfriend and the Earth and learn how to use his newfound powers. The script is tight and fun. The effects are perfect and the character's make you fall in love with them.

I was afraid it was going to be a rip-off of DC Comics Adam Strange. It was not! Christopher Farley has created a new superhero who is as down to Earth as they come. Loved the robot sidekick, and I hope that this is just the begining for more adventures from Atom Nine!

Kristoffer