LA Film Festival Day Two- Three Films, Three Theatres
Shorts Program Number Four at the lovely Majestic Crest Theatre.
First of all let me say that this is my first time at this particular theatre. The Majestic Crest has an interesting history. It was first constructed in 1941 by the mother of Jane Fonda. It was intended to be a live theatrical venue, but the need for residents to see newsreels during World War two took the Crest upon it’s film path. It was redesigned in the 80’s and the Mural cyclorama of Hollywood in the 1940’s and the elaborate carvings were created. The history of this place fascinates me. For information about the theatre go to http://www.westwoodcrest.com/
Now to the movies. There did not seem to be a theme or intent by placing the films together that I could see. The films were very different from one another and seemed to give a “well-rounded” feel to the evening. There was a couple technical difficulties but they soon got worked out quickly. This seems to happen at every film festival as the shorts are all on different mediums: Film, Digital DVD, Quicktime. I also saw about a minute of a short that was not supposed to be screened called HAPPINESS. About a worker at a condom factory. I was so extremely disappointed when they stopped it because I WAS LOVING IT! Very funny stuff. It is in Shorts Program # 3. Everyone should try to go see that on June 23rd or June 30th. Now onto the shorts I saw.
First up was a quick short called COLOURBARS by Timothy Moore. A cute film about the colorbars, on a camera, and the work that they do. What if the colorbars were living sentient beings on a break at work? Their conversation was cute and kept me interested. An extremely short short. This is what I love about shorts programs. A two minute jewel of a film.
Next up was THE BACK OF HER HEAD by Josh Safdie. In this short a man living on the fourth floor is in love with the girl two floors directly below who keeps sticking her head out the window. A cute concept that seemed very voyeuristic. We all watch our neighbors out the window and the neighbors in this movie were certainly interesting enough. A man, on the second floor, who throws things out his window into the street. A man, on the third floor, who listens to his TV so loud it disturbs everyone. And first floor residents are a couple who yell and scream at each other, the girl who is the back of the head. And of course the man who secretly pines for what he is to afraid to ever have on the top floor. I lived there in NYC. This movie shows it’s ok to watch but better to be an active part. The ending was a little kitschy but it was a pretty solid film.
Next up was ADIDAS “ADICOLOR-GREEN” by Happy. There was a war. Society has changed. A kubrickian future. Looked kinda like sci-fi, but was it? Four people in a white room take a green pellet and place it in their mouth. They then put on Head protection and get green paintball pellets flying at them from nowhere. Soon the entire place is covered in green including the window that we were watching through. The narration was cute, however I must admit I was left wanting just a little more explanation. Because though it was shot very cool, I did not get it completely. Aaah Shorts!
Next up was WOOD by David Fenster, a short documentary about wood. Or so I thought. You watch trees get cut down and the process they go through to become a 2X4 at your lumber yard. I thought it was going to be a little more political than it actually was when it first began. The ease and quick destruction that these “alien” like machines caused in the forest. It was both scary and upsetting. However, when we got to the sawmill. We heard the thoughts and life stories of some, who work in the sawmill. A short ala Studs Terkel’s “Working” It humanized the process and showed the humanity in each board that comes out of a factory. For me it is easier to be angry at these companies when I live in LA but this film puts a face with a family behind it. Nice visuals. A Q&A with the director followed.
Next was by far my favorite with a narrative. FIRST COMMUNION by Daniel Eduvijes Carrera, a fantastic film about children surviving in a Mexican town. The gangs they form, the territories they create and the needless pain they cause. This movie was shot beautifully in black and white and had a big budget for a short film. It shows. The performances he pulled form these actual residential children of the village he shot in are fantastic. The 5 year old with a knofe to big for his hands was a chilling visual, as was the two girls dressed in white ready to turn their head and ignore the sufferering in the church on their most holy of days. Bravo Daniel. A great piece of film. The director was there and did a Q&A after.
And the last film I saw was EVERYTHING WILL BE OK by Don Hertzfeldt. A crudely but nicely animated film with semi stick figures was quite funny, witty and charming. It kept me laughing for quite a while and the starkness of the situation the lead finds himself in becomes disarming. It is his everyday life that is driving him crazy. Nothing else. The film captures the quirks and futility of a life very well. I understood the pain of this stick man. Nicely written narration kept the film moving.
That is Short Program #4. It is playing again July 1st at 12:30pm once again at the lovely Majestic Crest.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Okay, I admit it. I’m a mean-spirited bastard when things don’t go my way. And for a while there, nothing was going my way. I won’t bore you with the details but one: when standing in line inside a giant glass room with no air-conditioning, sweating like you just ate bad fish, one has to wonder if a small Australian mockumentary about children’s competitive dance is worth it.
The answer is ‘Yes’.
RAZZLE DAZZLE is the painfully funny story of the Jazzketeers of Mr. Jonathan’s Dance Academy who competes for the top prize at Australia’s most prestigious dance competition, the Sanosafe Troupe Spectacular. In order to enjoy the glory they must face off against rival dance troupe Miss Elizabeth’s Talent Academy, a five time Sanosafe champion and a highly disciplined troupe filled with charming, preteen stormtroopers who don’t take losing lightly. In fact they don’t take losing at all. Along the way, Mr. Jonathan’s Jazzketeers have to face overbearing mothers, criminal co-workers, backstage rivalries, and Mr. Jonathan’s own style of socially conscious choreography inspired by the socio-economic climate of the day. Whatever is a troupe to do? As the synopsis states, “With perfect comic timing, this sequined-spangled, family-friendly mockumentary about dreamers and dancers will have you tapping your way out of the theater.”
Director Darren Ashton’s film is easily comparable to the works of Christopher Guest. However, at a Q&A following the film, Ashton stated that he really modeled his film after the documentaries ‘Painted Babies’ and ‘Spellbound’, as he respectfully believed the Guest’s films felt too ‘involved in the joke’. I am certain this is the case, as the film never plays a joke, the humor comes from the painful honesty of the situation.
Razzle Dazzle is a crowd pleaser and an enjoyable way to spend a sweat-filled Friday evening in Los Angeles. If you do get a chance to see it, be certain to stay past the closing credits as there is an extra little ending that foreshadows the frightening future of one of the film’s more disturbing characters.
Razzle Dazzle plays again June 26th at 7:30pm at the Mann Festival theatre.
The Town That Was
At the Italian Cultural Institute
In the post-viewing Q&A, one of the directors, Georgie Roland, indicated while attending USC film school he discovered his approach to filmmaking was less studio film track and instead, preferred a more John Cassavetes approach. Originally from the east coast, he eventually made his way back and jumped into the trenches with the everyday man, “getting his nails dirty,” taking on odd jobs to hopefully unearth a story that would be worth telling. While working as a supervisor in the cafeteria of a prison, with the job of monitoring to make sure razor blades were not being smuggled into the food, one of the inmates, knowing Roland was into filmmaking, approached him and (I’m paraphrasing here) relayed something to the affect of “you want a f#&!%d up story?... there’s this f#&!%d up town… with some f#&!%d up stuff that happened to them...” And that was the beginnings of “The Town That Was.”
The film opens with a series of home movie shots of the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania in its early heyday, replete with your local parade, the county fair, and your unsuspecting standers by obliging the cameraman creating your typical Norman Rockwell portrait of American society. Accompanying the archival footage is the voice of narrator and main character, John Lokitis. After the trip down memory lane we are jolted into the present, in film look and mood, as directors Chris Perkel and Georgie Roland bring us squarely into the current state of this vanishing town; a coal mining town that has slowly disintegrated due to a routine controlled trash site burn that ignited a lair of anthracite coal underneath the town in the early 60s. After several years the coal continued to burn and sometime in the 80s smoke began to break through the ground surface and carbon monoxide gas poured into homes at alarming rates. Government officials were notified, but according to residents interviewed, the problem was highly overlooked and it wasn’t until a young boy nearly lost his life that the government stepped in. After several failed attempts to put the fire out, the residents were offered market value for their homes if they wanted to relocate. This set up factions within the community with those who wanted a solution so they could stay and those that were tired of the fight and wanted to leave. After several of the townspeople left, the government imposed eminent domain and began dismantling the homes and public facilities one after another. Lokitis and 10 others remain and plan on staying to the bitter end.
The filmmakers captured the landscape both past (through archival footage and recent years) and present and offered up interviews from current residents and those that had left. I was impressed that they were able to get the amount of footage that they did, considering there is little left of this community.
Even though the film is a documentary, and that can carry with it varying approaches, you want it to have a little more heart than it does. The score, by Paul Henning, although well composed and a nice compliment to the mood, doesn’t have enough matching emotion from the “actors.” It’s especially hard to empathize with the main character, John Lokitis, because we don’t see him sharing his feelings as he unveils the narrative, only his thoughts. Everything he does is focused on keeping this town alive, so much so that he seems to be disconnected from humanity (which was confirmed to a degree in the Q&A). But you still root for him because of his commitment and discipline in fighting the fight, and the few remaining residents and even some that have left, recognize his dedication. The two older gentlemen at the local VFW and the town’s former Mayor are a welcome comic relief in what could have been a long expose about this ravished community. The film is as much a story about the decline of the town and its community as it is about the decline of a man. One wonders though if it was the decline of the town that influenced the man (Lokitis) and his current disposition or if he has always embodied this particular temperament and that keeping the town alive is the one thing that he can connect to that gives him purpose. One does take away with them a renewed affinity for their own home town, and a strong desire to unearth and tell whatever story there may be there to tell.
It will have a second showing at the Landmark Theatre on June 25th at 2:30pm.
For more information go to: http://www.thetownthatwas.com/