Sunday, September 30, 2007


2007 Fantastic Fest
by Krista Anderson

The crowds were large, and the theaters were full throughout the day. Film enthusiasts, filmmakers, and everyday Austinites were present to screen independent films at 2007’s Fantastic Fest. Alamo Drafthouse (South Lamar), located in Austin, Texas, hosted the film festival, which is the quintessential venue to experience and enjoy these types of films. Alamo Drafthouse offers a variety of beers, wines, appetizers, meals, and desserts that satisfy any palette. Sensitive to the diverse community of Austin, Alamo Drafthouse provides an assortment of options for vegetarians, and others with specific dietary needs. The staff is friendly and helpful, and always enhances the relaxed and pleasant atmosphere of the theater.

The Dark Hour aka La Hora Fria (Spanish)
Director: Elio Quiroga

In their present day, a group of individuals live together in a locked fortress, with diminishing living supplies, and no contact with the outside world. Implied causes to their circumstances include a devastating world war and chemical and viral weapons. Now, these survivors live with fears of being infected by the remaining diseased or mutilated by the cold insects roaming outside of their corridors.

The Cold Hour applies to a multitude of genres: horror, thriller, action, drama, post-apocalyptic, and science fiction. While I viewed the film more as a thriller with great suspense, there were frightening elements: (a) The Strangers, infected individuals hosting a chronic, zombie-like virus, and (b) The Invisibles, cold insect creatures searching for humans to feed on. Other themes the film incorporated include pro-female leadership, anti-government, anti-war, lost innocence, and no sense of trust. The strong and accepted female leadership of the group was a refreshing element of the film. Because of the abundance of messages in the film though, it was difficult to concentrate on the plot and action. However, the story moved very easily and the suspenseful moments were well timed. Overall, The Cold Hour was enjoyable, with insightful yet pessimistic messages. In the future, is there any hope?

Princess (French)
Director: Anders Morgenthaler

A controversial mixed-media feature, Princess presents both live-action video and animation to tell the story of a brother and his five-year-old niece, who are reintroduced after their sister/mother’s unexpected death. The sister was a porn star. The brother discovers that his niece was abused and neglected under the care of others, and does everything in his power to protect and amend the cruelty that his niece experienced.

Princess incorporates various genres, including action, drama, and animation. Violence and sex are the dominant elements of the animated feature, with family values interestingly as the major theme behind the story. The brother, on leave from his missionary work, battles his sister’s bosses in the porn industry and his niece’s father. While on his scavenger hunt, the brother is forced to reflect and accept his sister’s path to the porn industry. The live-action video elements capture the sexual nature and experimentation of his sister. In the end, the brother fails his mission and loses his niece forever. Princess has very compelling and striking messages: promoting the sanctity of family and the power of faith, while also dispelling the loss of innocence. While the film at times produces disturbing and titillating imagery, in the end, it suggests that faith connects you to family, and family values must be cherished to survive. Princess’s approach to such a message is fascinating, since most pro-family values films don’t normally incorporate three-way and anal sex, at least the ones I’ve seen anyways.

Shut-eye Hotel (Short animation)
Director: Bill Plympton

Shut-eye Hotel screened just before Princess. Directed by the infamous Bill Plympton (The Fan and the Flower, Guard Dog), is a gruesome animated tale where cops who are investigating murders at a mysterious hotel become the victims themselves. As always, Plympton shorts never let you down.

Miss Krista Anderson

Saturday, September 29, 2007


So back to the very cool Valley Film Festival.....

Written/Directed by Bob Gebert

I have heard about this film at various festivals in the last couple of months. At Dances With Films, a director in her own Q&A took a minute to tell us all that the best film she has seen on the circuit is 11 Minutes Ago. I admit my curiousity was peaked. Especially since I loved her own film, "I am Through With White Girls". Unfortanutely, the time slot it showed in did not allow me to see it. So I was thruilled when I heard it was playing in the Valley Film Fest!

And let me tell you, this film is worth all the buzz it has been generating. This is a beautiful story about time travel, the power of love and the moments most people just pass over. This is a film that will hold up to the test of time itself. Beautifully crafted from begining to end, this semi-non-linear film was a joy to watch unfold, all the way to the end of the credits.

The performances in this film are top notch! Pack (Ian Michaels) and Cynthia (Christina Mauro) are the pair of unlikely lovers that meet and fall in love in non-linear 11 minute increments. Ian time travels 48 years into the past for a sample of air to save Earth in the future. He leaves his house and lands in the same house in the past. A wedding reception is happening and within the first eleven minutes he meets the woman that will change his life forever. The camera crew that is there to film the wedding and reception get sucked in to Pack's story and Jeffrey (Bob Gebert) the crews director begins to keep the cameras on Pack instead of the bride (Taryn Reneau) and groom (Jeremy Juuso). Every person at the party is important and the conversations, if you piece them together throughout tell you the ending of this wonderful love story!

So for people who freak out about time travel films. I know, once they try to explain the hows and whys (Flux capacitors, time continuum, etc...) they never really hold up. The joy of this film is it just accepts that this is the reality... Pack is from the future. It doesn't try to get all sci-fi and explain and/or show it. It is a love story that just happens to be about a time traveller. And because of the way the story lays itself out, you find this fact exactly that. Pack is from the future.

If you get a chance to see this film you should. In the Q&A afterwards, I was shocked to learn that this film was shot in one day. There were multiple cameras filming the film, because of the film crew actually seen in the movie. Mr. Gebert, knew how to shoot this and the end result is an incredible film! It is a beautiful indie that deserves a wide release. Run to see this film.

Look for my interview with Bob on the mutimedia pages soon.

Directed By Richard Gonzales

In front of 11 Minutes Age, VFF played the short film My Wallet. This is a Laurel and Hardy/Three Stooges inspired film about a robbery going awry. It is an over the top chase of the victim going after the Robber. Like most slapstick you have to completely get out of reality for this film. People get shot in the head and are not hurt. People run as fast as cars. It is a cute film that you know this cast and crew had a wonderful time making.


Friday, September 28, 2007


My Other Mother
Diana Keam
Capetown, South Africa

Plot Synopsis: When her baby sister dies, Margo’s other mother shows her how to grieve.

SIDS, or cot death, has existed for thousands of years, and is currently a leading cause of infant mortality, preceded only by congenital anomalies.

This is a film full of contrast. It begins in a world so peaceful and lovely I want to be there and live in it too. It is full of trees, sun and breezes. There is a happy family that seems to be blended where a caregiver of another race, Eezie, is seen as another mother to the family’s children and her own children seem to have equal status within the household.

Chaos erupts in a nightmarish sequence when the new celebrated infant of the house is discovered dead from “cot death”, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. We are shown the entire blended family’s responses to the baby’s death, which are very distinct. The baby’s birth mother is more catatonic while Eezie leans toward hysteria. The responses continue throughout the house, and it seems no one knows how to make sense of the loss, or go on with life. Emotions build up inside, endangering the mental stability of the entire family until the funeral. In a beautiful sequence, Eezie bursts into a spontaneous song that celebrates the life of the child and provides the family a catharsis of release at last.

Sophie Ohara
Glendale, CA

Plot Synopsis: A pocket becomes an abstract metaphor for the journey of motherhood.

The average couple can now expect to live alone without their children for approximately 13 years after the last child leaves the home.

Set to “She’s a Rainbow” by the Rolling Stones, this is an animated kaleidoscopic vision of motherhood. Ohara’s soft colors and curved fluid motions blend throughout this dancing, whirling tribute to the multi-faceted strength that is the unarguable goodness of selflessness.

The Guarantee
Jesse Erica Epstein

Plot Synopsis: A dancer’s hilarious story about his prominent nose and the effect it has on his career.

Women represent 90% of all cosmetic surgery patients, and patient rates have increased 55% since 2000.

The Guarantee offered us an intriguing tale of gender role reversal. Ms. Epstein introduces us to a male member of a dance company who tells us his tale of pressures in a female-dominated field.

As a gender minority, he feels judged on his looks, despite his tangible talents. His female supervisors even go so far as to constantly and strongly suggest that he have plastic surgery to change his appearance.The plot grows before us visually through drawings that take on their own life as our man of many nicknames such as “Cyranose” and “Schnozolla” narrates his story.

Part of me wanted to keep asking him “how does it feel to be looked at like a piece of meat?”; women have been putting up with it since kindergarten. Part of me wanted to reach out to him empathetically… and part of me just wanted to laugh at how ludicrous this entire dance both males and females alike incessantly participate in our culture of judging one another based so heavily upon appearance first and substance a distant second.

Breaking Boundaries
Jennifer Grace
Bozeman, MT

Plot Synopsis: A documentary reflection on one female Olympic athlete’s determination and success.

Women were excluded from the original Olympic Games, so in 776 B.C. they formed their own games, The Games of Hera, honoring the Greek goddess of women and earth. Women were formally allowed to join Olympic competitions in 1900.

I was excited to see a film from a Montana filmmaker, having spent most of the ‘90s there and in the Pacific Northwest. It is a land where people of enormously diverse cultures and backgrounds coexist with mixed and always interesting results Breaking Boundaries, tells a fascinating tale of Olympian Sondra Van Ert from neighboring Idaho. This Pacific Northwest woman has been a pioneer for women, for sports, and for athletes, and did it all by simply being herself, by not letting anyone else’s concept of “that’s not normal for a woman” to enter her mind. She has continuously set her own high bar and surpassed it.

Jennifer Grace’s film is shot with live action interspersed with gorgeous still photography and keeps us intrigued about this remarkable woman’s story. Following the images and words as the story unraveled it was fascinating to think about the path that Ms. Van Ert has now blazed for female athletes (and snowboarding in general), that it is so significant, and that it was simply a natural progression for her life.

If success can be counted in any tangible manner, Sondra has it. She is the two-time U.S. Olympian in parallel giant slalom (1998, 2002), a Gold medalist at the Goodwill Games , she competed in the 1998 Olympics, the inaugural year of snowboarding in the Olympic Games, and she has 11 boxes of trophies in her garage.

As a child, Sondra missed more days of school than she attended, but this was what was normal to her, so she didn’t know that it would have been considered not “normal”.

In the world of contemporary U.S. society, “normal” humans are encouraged to retire at approximately age 64. Sondra was encouraged to retire at age 19. She is now 43 and has yet to slow down. God help us if she does.

She has made what now exists in her sport for women not only possible, but acceptable…normal.

One is the chosen one to break boundaries perhaps, when one has a refreshing perspective added to her incredible gifts due to society’s norms being a bit upside down from the beginning of life.

Daikon Ashi
Ru Kuwahata
Brooklyn, NY

Plot Synopsis: A young girl struggles with adolescent rebellion and the reality of family ties.

Originating from Europe and Asia, most radishes belong to the mustard family, “Raphanus sativas”. Radishes contain Vitamin C and Phytochemicals, which may help cancer prevention.

In Daikon Ashi, a young girl has a few issues with her skinny legs that look like white radishes that she has inherited from her mother’s side of the family.

I think almost all of us have both cursed and blessed physical (and mental) characteristics that we have inherited from our maternal sides. They are the foundation of who we are -- our legacies. We have a choice, however of what we can do with them. We can accept them, care for them and do something with these gifts…or resign ourselves to stagnation. It isn’t what one is given necessarily, but what one does with it, after all.

Doňa Ana (Mrs. Ana)
Directors: Marlon Vasquez & David Sanchez
Animators: Laura Acevedo & Carolina Escobar
Medellin, Colombia

Plot Synopsis: A seller of medicinal plants shares the joys and hardships of her life along with her love of strawberries.

Strawberries cultivated in Ancient Rome were used as a medicinal herb for digestion and as a skin tonic.

In this two-minute animated piece, I found myself immediately compelled to take the advice of this woman, which was odd, as she was someone who had managed to reach an advanced age and skill level but somehow had also managed to lose her home. Nevertheless, the point of view was so well crafted in this film that we were immediately pulled in and respected her, giving credence to her words.

The style of animation was compelling, creating a world that seemed to be somewhere in between the live and fantasy, which interestingly, is a world one often enters when taking the correct or incorrect medicinal plant.

Gödir Gestir (Family Reunion)
Isold Uggadottir
New York, NY

Plot Synopsis: Katrin leaves New York to visit her native Iceland, in this whimsical tale of family secrets.

Iceland’s Gay Pride Parade draws 40,000 people annually, a third of the entire population.

Even in a liberal country, it can still be difficult to come out with a secret that is a bit contrary to the societal accepted norm.

Katrin seems so comfortable with her girlfriend in New York when we first meet her that she invites her to attend an important family gathering with her. Yet somehow the girlfriend doesn’t make the trip. What does that say about the relationship?

Back in liberal Iceland, her entire family and close-knit community seem oblivious to the fact that Katrin is in fact just not interested in men. Through Katrin’s perspective initially, they seem so unobservant and foreign, so backwoods.

We do start to see a few parallels between Katrin and this family that initially seem oblivious to her. We are shown a scene where she hastily blows off a loving grandfather on the phone. As this tale unwinds, tension builds in a fun way. Katrin reveals her sexual preference to an ex boyfriend and self consciously begins to fear it will spread around the family gathering before she will have a chance to possibly explain it herself.

In a beautifully written and filmed final scene, Katrin realizes that perhaps her family is much more capable of understanding and accepting her for whoever she chooses to be than she has been giving them credit all along.

Sophie Barthes

Plot Synopsis: Iwona buys a box of happiness at a strange discount store and has to decide what to do with it.

71% of women would buy more shoes if they could afford to, and 50% acknowledge they sacrifice comfort for style.

I love thought-provoking films, fabulous images, strong acting, and condoms! Happiness has it all! And in 11 minutes!

As soon as I got home, I looked up “happiness” on The entry reads, “the quality or state of being pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing.” With that in mind, I continued to reflect. So many of us go through life thinking that we want is to be happy. Often we think about it to the point where we are consumed by it. When asked to articulate exactly what would make us happy, however, we might be hard-pressed to come up with a specific answer. Many of us would say that it involves being with other people, or something that other people can do for us.

One thing that struck me as fascinating about Iwona was that although she recognized that she wanted happiness, she was going to go out and get it for herself! I loved her strength! The journey and search for happiness that we embarked upon with Iwona was witty and delightful, but at no point did she think she needed another human being to give it to her. She knew what intrigued her, what attracted her…we could read and feel her point of view about everything she looked at.

We ached with her to know what was in the unknown unspecific box of “Happiness” that she bought as a present for herself! And were thrilled with the choice she eventually made, seeing her quality and state of being pleased, glad, over a particular thing, even if for a moment.

Make a Wish
Cherien Dabis
Hollywood, CA, USA

Plot Synopsis: A young Palestinian girl will do whatever it takes to buy a birthday cake.

The custom of placing candles on a birthday cake originates from the Greeks, who believe lit candles send signals to the gods, increasing the likelihood their wish will be answered.

In this lovely film shot entirely on the West Bank, Palestine, we see the bonds of family persevere beyond even beyond war.

A girl is completely driven and to succeed in her goal. In my opinion, the honoree for which she so desperately wants to buy the birthday cake may as well have been along with us on the mission throughout the film. Despite the backdrop of the physical Palestinian conflict going on around her, all we focus on is what she focuses on: the happiness of the recipient of that birthday cake.

The end comes as a complete surprise, and we see that no matter what the circumstances, a loving daughter can come up with magical ingenuity to honor a parent on a birthday.


Thursday, September 20, 2007


Loris Lai, USA

Plot Synopsis: Afraid of losing his family, a man has no choice but to repay his debt to an old friend by participating in an unthinkable task.

Though filmed from a point of view that wanted to us to fight for this man to make the right choice, I had trouble connecting with him. This may have been due to excessive length of the piece, or a plot that seemed a bit familiar.

The “O” Word
Alan Lock, Australia

Plot Synopsis: The mother-of-the-bride locks her daughter in the living room to prevent her from making the biggest mistake of her life.

Two more “O” words (the frightful one we shudder to avoid in this film is OBEY!!!) are Objective and Obstacle…and this is a film that is rampant with those…I did want to see a bit more action from both characters, but perhaps that was the point. Tactics, my goodness yes, but physical action…I wanted to see that veil and some taffeta fly!

If only my Mother had tried to lock me in a room and I had been faced with a question: “Do I really want to fight to marry this man?” Or am I just doing something that polite society expects of me at this age? Or as our fabulous mother phrases it, “You’re doing this so that someone will find you when you’re dead!”

It is true. Men were not put on earth to make women happy. As Gloria Steinem said once, and Bono again, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Don’t do it unless it’s worth a big, badass fight!

Trigger Effect
Tim Gordon, USA

Plot Synopsis: Follow a government official who is conflicted about how best to protect his people, and a young boy who finds himself caught up in the random violence that plagues the city.

Trigger Effect deals with the intricacies of both national issues of gun violence and local issues of gun legislation here in Metro DC. It begins with the chilling words, “the first time you see someone get shot you lose something you never get back.”

We as the audience are flooded with images of peaceful family neighborhoods juxtaposed with flashes of violence, and reminded that everyone who has a gun thinks they have a good reason.

This film serves a higher purpose. I am fond of thinking that there is nothing like live theatre or a well done film to articulate exactly how one feels on an important topic.

An audience member during the Q & A put it quite well by volunteering her observation, “This is exactly how VA Tech happened.”

Remember, you may not leave the theatre the same way you came in.

Ben Crosbie and Tessa Moran, USA

Plot Synopsis: A day in the life of a Washington DC barbershop.

This wise, insightful film is a glimpse into the lives of 3 local barbers from Edge’s Barbershop in Metro DC. On the surface, it shows us how they connect with one another and their clients.

As we hear more and more from them, we see what a social hub this is, and how amazing these men are. At least one achieved his barber’s license in the penitentiary, as a means of legal income to start a new life. The act of barbering literally translates into a tangible power to not give up on someone just because his life started out with a mistake.

I am reminded of similar themes in Hank Rogerson’s phenomenal Shakespeare behind Bars from 2005, which also explores what truly unexpected directions life can take.

What is visually so interesting is the variety of camera angles, probably due to the collaborative direction. What is so moving from these men is that they focus on what they get out of the barbering, and we clearly see how much it brings to others.

Fast Love
Josh Flowers, USA

Plot Synopsis: Go past the mechanical facades of the fast food industry and discover what drives its workers.

Often when one cuts to the chase and thinks quickly, one is able to get some very honest answers. Josh Flowers does just this with Fast Love. It is amazing what people (can you imagine, there are actually, real live, feeling human beings behind those speakers we shout our orders at?) will tell an anonymous voice through a speaker without given too much time to over-think the issue when asked the question, “what do you love?”

Among the answers were:
Myself and my Family
President Bush…(Mom, have you started moonlighting at Taco Bell???)
My boyfriend
My husband
Puppies …and the very eloquent…..
Pearl Jam

Now, give yourself 10 seconds, and no more. What would your answer be?

Flowers was delightful in the post show Q & A. He said that his budget would have been a lot higher if not for the dollar menu.

On a more serious note, he had a very wise piece of advice for future filmmakers. “Make something you like; no one will watch it as much as you do.”

Girls Room
Maria Gigante, USA

Plot Synopsis: A young girl’s horrific trip to the school bathroom results in an unexpected friendship.

Audience Favorite, Show #5Girls Room; Maria Gigante (USA)

Girls Room was a film with a lot of depth that managed to be very funny without stooping to potty humor! Amazing!!

It took us through so many highs and lows, utilizing so many fantastic elements blended together, such as waterdrops into a sink becoming heartbeats… and a symphony made of splashing water into two toilets with a flatulent false note! I think a lot of people empathize with bathroom (or washroom if you are Canadian) bashfulness, and particularly if you are a girl, a bit of friendship connection therein.

Dustin Grella, USA

Plot Synopsis: A study of the life of painter Willem de Kooning and a stream of consciousness narrative concerning the impermanence of life.

I could definitely see an influence of Koyaanisqatsi in this visual journey through the life of Willem de Kooning. As our point of view was drawn, blended, and then evolved from one image through to the next, we were never able to let one become too precious, even as stunning as some of them were.

I was reminded of the Tashi Lhunpo Tibetan monks who delicately construct with millions of grains of colored sand a beautiful mandala over a period of three days. After its completion and a ceremony, the monks sweep up the colored sands, symbolizing the impermanence of life — how all things come from nothingness and return to it.

It was just beautiful how Grella’s film could take us through a very similar experience via the art of Western artist de Kooning.

Personal Spectator
Emmanuel Jespers, Belgium

Plot Synopsis: Do you feel like you’re transparent and your life goes along without anyone else taking notice? You need someone to watch you.

One remarkable feature that the live stage and a piece with a well-filmed point of view share is this: Once you put anything into the designated space, the audience reads it as intentional. And our heroine experiences this magic. Everything she does suddenly becomes a site-specific performance…meaningful, intentional, compelling to watch, and open to interpretation to her very own intimate audience of one. We see her life suddenly come alive with meaning….but also question the motives of the man in the singular audience seat….is he doing work about which he is passionate, or is he just a slick salesman, exploiting someone’s loneliness, like so many other modern day brokers of snake oil.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


The Job
Jonathan Browning, U.S.A.

Plot Synopsis: The corporate world is ruthless. Do you have what it takes to land the job?

Audience Favorite, Show #2The Job; Jonathan Browning (USA)

This was insanely thought-provoking for so short a film. I wonder if our local Metro DC issue of day labor centers would be so nearly hotly contested if this were indeed the reality of our contemporary world. In the one Browning turns on its ear, a working man pulls up in a pickup and chooses from a multitude of a dime-a-dozen executives. In this universe they are the ones who have no guarantee of employment, income, or health benefits from one day to the next.

In the post-screening Q&A, director Jonathan Browning provided some fascinating insight as to his process. He said that in post-production, he discovered that his sound was damaged to the point where it was unusable. He therefore had to go another direction with his project in editing. What he ended up with, he said, was the film God intended him to make. And his product was by far one of the strongest of the festival.

The Money Shot
Chip Franklin, USA

Plot Synopsis: After Wendy discovers her boyfriend’s adult movie while cleaning up, she sits him down to find out what happens after the money shot.

Has anyone ever asked this question before? Well…other than Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights…. What really does happen after the money shot in a porn film?

This is another film that explores on a deeper level, in a very fun way, what happens in a relationship after the initial carnal interest has subsided a bit. Will we be sticking around for something else? Will there be trips to Bed Bath and Beyond? The actors’ performances and their levels of commitment to their respective points of view were specific and priceless.

When I Grow Up
Michelle Meeker, USA

Plot Synopsis: The juxtaposition of the boundless ambition of youthful expectations with the unpredictable, and sometimes tragic realities we end up living.

The dreams we have, and hopefully continue to have, are as diverse as the animation brought together by the umbrella of the uniform theme of this film. We must remember, however, that what is a dream come true to one person can be nightmarish to another, as elucidated in one stark and articulate vignette in this otherwise lighthearted piece.

“Keep it short and finish it!”
Director Michelle Meeker, when asked what advice she might have for new filmmakers.

2 in the AM PM
JG Quintel, USA

Plot Synopsis: What happens when two teenagers are left alone to run a gas station on Halloween night?

Audience Favorite, Show #32 in the AM PM; J.G. Quintel (USA)

This was an animated tale that took us through all of the extremes of many a cliché and urban legend of the best and worst that can happen on an acid trip. As an audience, all we had to have was popcorn and a soda to enjoy the trip with the clerks in safety!

Big Dumb F**k
Dean Hamer, USA

Plot Synopsis: Award-winning spoken-word artist Rhonda L. Taylor elucidates her criteria for an ideal male companion.

Here we had the pleasure of witnessing a filmed poetic artist…

It has been said by some filmmakers that actors are meat that moves…

It has also been said by other filmmakers that 90% of one’s work as a Director is casting…

I believe the latter, and Big Dumb F**k is my evidence.

F**k the believers of the former. You, my dear Ms.Taylor, are exquisite, and you Mr. Hamer made brilliant choices with both your 90% and your 10%.

Can I Kick It?
Gabe Uhr, USA

Plot Synopsis: And you thought kickball was for the elementary school playground.

I had no idea until I saw this film that the Washington Monument appears to be asymmetric at the very top from the side view. Nor that kickball teams often as caped crusaders. As I continued to note this throughout the film, I realized I was finding the visual elements of this film far more interesting than the way the verbal content was holding, or not holding my attention. Uhr has a strong visual eye and just needs to be sure that it doesn’t overpower the rest of the content.

Michael Flores, USA

Plot Synopsis: An expectant mother illegally crosses the US-Mexico border, only to find that life on the other side isn’t what she had hoped for.

We are given a quote during this film, “Hope is the last thing that dies.” Esperando translates as both “hoping” and “waiting.” Oddly, both can be so different. One can be the act of barely more than existing, while the other is so much stronger, so much more willful. We see our heroine (in a very strong performance) bounce from one to the other, and want her to choose hoping…hoping…

James Arnall, USA

Plot Synopsis: When a neglected homemaker lavishes her affections on her garbage disposal, a bizarre relationship blossoms.

Festival Director’s Choice Feeding; James Arnall (USA)

One never knows just what might happen when one’s basic human needs aren’t being met….All bets are off. The result in Feeding is played out in this brilliantly witty and very nearly understandable journey we take from beginning to well, not quite the end with a lovely, quite underappreciated woman. Though atypical, as her relationship with her new partner grows, it follows a certain logic where her needs are met, and she becomes happier and more fulfilled. But then she is faced with a rather unpleasant choice…and as we’ve been on this journey with her, it isn’t really much of a choice at all….

Lesson 5
Stephen Carr, USA

Plot Synopsis: A rotten date can ruin a great meal.

Lesson 5 was unique from everything else at the festival in that it made a very strong choice to very strictly limit the audience point of view. There were two main characters, and one appeared to us only in silhouette. The master shot was filmed almost exclusively over the shoulder of the silhouette character, so that we focused on the responses of the lovely lady…and wondered…wondered about the silhouette gentleman. He was speaking a foreign language…or was he actually speaking? He might have been a recording as we couldn’t see him speak! Was he a blow up doll? Was he DEAD??? Our minds raced as our eyes remained on target.
“I’m a big fan of the law of creative limitations.”
--Stephen Carr, Director, Lesson 5

Palweiser Label
Brad Wilke, USA

Plot Synopsis: After having his “big break” unceremoniously snatched from him, a young filmmaker decides to unleash his unique creative vision on an unsuspecting (and culturally ignorant) corporation.

Any artist who has ever gotten screwed over by an advertising executive who thinks he knows better artistically than he or she does will feel, feel FEEL this film!!!!!

The beauty of this film is that it reaches out universally. Its vehicle is the familiar home playing field of a filmmaker, but so many who see this will cheer in triumph at the spectacular payoff at the end. This is a film that so many will find easy to relate to, as life has handed the fuzzy end of the lollypop to way too many of us.

Elliot Blanchard, USA

Plot Synopsis: A man wakes up to unexpected new guests underfoot – and they have their own ideas about who should be in charge.

This visually luscious film was such a flirt…I could just capture a glimpse of a quote by Borges (no I’m not that quick, as much as I love him I got it from the credits) that I wonder how many times this film is designed to be viewed to catch everything….Two were far from enough for me.

Partially True Tales of High Adventure!
Murphy Gilson, USA

Plot Synopsis: To keep his Hollywood dream alive, Charlie must rely on the gifts of every mid-western kid: a love of booze and the ability to tell outrageously wild tall-tales.

This was one of the longer films of the evening, but it was frankly so well edited I didn’t feel like it was. It had a complete, engaging story to tell and needed every moment to take us from the setup and connection with the characters through the payoff at the end.

As Keith Ulmer Bicknell succinctly put it in the Q & A following the program, it is indeed a “Slice of life about lost souls coming together to find connection.”

Rick Hammerly, USA

Plot Synopsis: A chance encounter with a young hearing-impaired man forces a 41 year-old to face his ambiguous future in today’s youth-obsessed gay world.

Best Local FilmSignage; Rick Hammerly (Washington, DC)

No matter what, there is always going to be something! Just when one thinks he or she has ventured into home turf, such as being gay in gay bar, new criteria is suddenly established. A fresh discriminatory process begins all over again. We think we are safe with our own kind, but even amidst our own kind, we subdivide and judge.

This film is a fantastic analogy for what happens in the relationship process in our contemporary culture. At first, we find our similarities…then we begin to (with the help of our friends) focus on and magnify our differences until it just won’t work.

Signage says it all succinctly in a microcosm. And to boot, has one of my favorite quotes of the entire festival, “Thank God for bar lighting.”



The opening night of the Valley Film Festival showed one of the classic Valley films of the 80's. Fast Times At Ridgemont High, directed by Amy Heckerling. This is a great film to kick off a festival that is proud to be in the (818) exchange. Amy was on hand to do a Q&A after the film as well as Robert Romanus one of the stars. It was quite amazing to see how many future oscar winners were in this movie. 3 Best actor winners: Sean Penn, Forrest Whitaker and in a non speaking role Nicholas Cage. She said that Cage tried to improvise dialogue alot and none of it worked. That made me laugh alot!

The networking after party was great. I met the directors of a few of the films, met a few new friends and had some of the Capolla wine provided by the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. The event and the entire festival takes place at an intrigueing venue The El Portal Theatre in the NOHO Arts district. It is a stage venue mainly. The seats were a little uncomfortable at times, but not to bad. The view and rake of the auditorium was excellent. I was really impressed with the theatre and was surprised by the space. You should check it out.

Built in 1926, the El Portal Theatre is an historical landmark located in the heart of NoHo. The El Portal theatre opened in the San Fernando Valley, as a vaudeville and silent movie theatre. During the sound era, it became one of the city's most prominent second-run houses. It eventually became an all-Spanish language movie theatre. To learn more go to

Before I go into the films and filmmakers let me let you know who won the festival awards:

10 Degrees Hotter Awards
Feature Film: CARTS Directed by Chris Cashman
Short Film: THE ANGEL Directed by Paul Hough

Audience Awards
Comedy Short: HITLER'S BOWL Directed by Matt Gamboa
Dramatic Short: DESERT ROSE Directed by Omi Vaidya
Family Short: WATER DAMAGE Directed by Kellen Moore
Girls on Film Short: THE ACT Directed by Susan Kraker and Pi Ware
Horror Short: CRITICIZED Directed by Richard Gale
Made in the (818): THE FRANK ANDERSON Directed by Dave Perkal. Written by Orit Schwartz.

Now for the films Round 1.

By Appointment Only
Directed By John Faust

Synopsis-Jane has left the big city behind in search of a more peaceful, country life. But when Jane finds the perfect old house for sale, she learns that buying a house can kill you.

This was a film full of foreshadowing. A very quirky and original story about desire and fear. Well acted and filmed. Matt Ryan as the male lead longing for escape and unable to make a change was entrancing to watch.

Directed By Richard Gale

Synopsis-A prominent film critic writes a scathing review of a new horror film, and is abducted by the film's mentally-unstable director, who subjects him to an eye-opening experience.

Funny enough. I have thought about this. An unhinged filmmaker goes crazy on a critic. This sounds like a comedy to me. However, this film is anything but funny. This is a dark disturbing ride that dares you to not avert your eyes. I think its a powerful ride! The horror genre has found a new voice, and I can't wait to see what he does next.

The Eyes Of The Panther
Directed By Michael Barton

Synopsis-A young woman's refusal of her lover's marraige proposal turns out to be for his own good as mysterious events surrounding her birth are revealed. The clever vision of American author Ambrose Bierce comes to life in this adaptation of his gothic fairytale:" The Eyes of the Panther."

A beautifully crafted film that is well acted and darkly shot. The time period was captured nicely and was very believable. I love period pieces and this film holds true to the darkness of the time period.

The Haunting Of Seaside
Directed By Ron Rogge

Synopsis-A salty old seaman tells of the mysterious, haunted events of Seaside and Legend of Peter Blacksmith. All shown in the Digital Cinematic style, as used in "Sin City" and "300"

This is a nice little haunted tale. It was originally made as an intro to a haunted house exhibit. They submitted it to the film fests and has been playing quite a few. It was fun.

The Intruder
Directed By Allesandro Ceglia

Synopsis-A woman, alone in her house, has been receiving a series of mysterious phone calls. When she attempts to calm her nerves with a mixture of medication and alcohol, her fears take on a new form.

A breathtaking piece of film noir animation. I felt like it wanted to be longer and I was hoping. What a great film!

Directed By Jeff Rector

Synopsis-When successful businessman Richard Clarke is bitten by a beautiful Vampire, he is transformed into a creature of the night and plunges into the dark world of the supernatural. When a militaristic Team of Vampire Hunters, The S.T.A.K.E. Team, discover his existence, along with an underground gang of vampires, they are out for blood. All hell breaks loose, and no one is taking any survivors.

This movie was a fun ride from start to finish. I have always had soft place in my heart for vampire films. Most of the time they are to campy or not campy enough. Most of the time the laughs come from the film trying to be scary, and it just can't achieve it. This film, knew exactly what it was and played to its strengths. Well made and well acted, Revamped is a fun ride!

The Angel
Directed By Paul Hough

Synopsis- A young girl stays by her grandmothers bed to protect her from "death" She learns that death has a face and her granmother has other protectors.

I CANNOT SAY ENOUGH ABOUT THIS FILM!!!! I love it! It was dark and disturbing and visually stunning. The acting is excellent as are the action sequences. The twist at the end is bone chilling and I applaud Paul for making an original scary film. A new strong voice in the horror genre! The film stars Eddie McGee from the tv show 'Big Brother'. He surprised me in so many ways, I was stunned. He turned in an excellent performance and made the end of the film a rush of adrenaline. Congratulations!



The Barrows
Tori Garrett, Australia

Plot Synopsis: No matter how dark their pasts, Mr. and Mrs. Barrow share a bond no walls, or even mortality, can break.
Best Female Director-The Barrows; Tori Garrett (Australia)

Of all of the films that I feel could and should be expanded into feature length, this is the one. It left me aching for more! In ten short minutes we grew to love this couple. We didn’t care what they had done to get into their current situation. Their love for one another was all we cared about, and our hearts were aching with theirs.

I know that my eyes weren’t dry at the end of this, and I heard an audible sniff from my filmmaker companion as the credits rolled. More Barrows please, Ms. Garrett!

The Little Gorilla
Harry Kellerman, USA

Plot Synopsis: Beneath the looming NYC skyscrapers, and in the shadows of an older brother, the Little Gorilla must unchain the King Kong within.
Family Film Showcase-The Little Gorilla; Harry Kellerman (USA)

This film was a field day of imagery and influence from the obvious King Kong, but also from a bit of Star Wars, with a most Obi-Wan like elder brother guiding Little Gorilla toward his challenge.

I have no idea how Kellerman got such strong, driven, and focused performances out of Little Gorilla and his older brother. This film hinged upon these two children and the enormous objective meeting obstacle and action overcoming repeated obstacles. This trio truly worked brilliantly together and allowed us to watch as though the camera were merely picking up the brothers’ thoughts…while some spectacular imagery was winking at us in the background.

On top of everything, this is a family-friendly film, as witty and strong as Craig Hammill’s The Cleats of Imminent Doom from 2005. It deserves to get picked up and seen as widely.

The Run
Shawn Costa, USA

Plot Synopsis: Jack’s life is turned upside down when a shadowy figure begins running after him, yelling terrible screams of agony.

God love the festival committee for putting this film exactly where it was during each program! It was very well shot from beginning to end, suspenseful, and the payoff was dynamite. I have always been a fan of (and continue to be) titles that reflect the theme of a film on multiple levels. I’m still having a field day with this one!!

When I am on the Moon
Joseph Hicks, USA

Plot Synopsis: There were robots everywhere. Really.

Oddly, this film that was full of robots was very, very human. One poignant quote from it that I felt hit the nail on the head was, “…so that being alone will not feel so much like being lonely.”

During the Q & A afterwards, Director Joseph Hicks confirmed that he basically crafted this film around the theme of how lonely he was while spatially separated from the woman he loves. He really got this one right.

A Man in the Attic
Ali Imran Zaidi, USA

Plot Synopsis: An American Muslim ponders, discusses and ruminates on his position in America, and the decline of his people in western civilization.

I will start by saying that this lovely and heartbreaking film was my favorite of Program 1, which I felt was the strongest of the three programs I attended over the weekend.

Ali Imran Zaidi in seven and one half minutes beautifully articulates where so much has gone astray in our country in the last six years. Aren’t we as human beings by nature supposed to be at our best when things are worst? Then why instead have so many of our minds closed and we have begun to lash out at anyone who we assume must have the worst qualities in common with the miniscule minority who lashed out at us?

In this film, we view beautiful, peaceful images of our fellow Americans worshipping in their manner of prayer (it happens to be Islam) adjacent to a U.S. flag. And we hear voice over words as we watch: “What did I do for them to hate me?” and “…stripped of my humanity because a tiny piece of us caused harm.” These words are so universal and could easily come from so many minorities who become victimized due to ignorance. Of course the attic reminds us of Anne Frank, specifically. Human beings are so universal… we really don’t change.

This is a film that needs to be seen in wide distribution…particularly in schools.

Do You Have A Minute?
Erik Gernand, USA

Plot Synopsis: Conservative Christian George and liberal feminist Liz are sidewalk activists who find that they might actually have something in common. But can love overcome their differences?

In this political town where one sees characters exactly like these two daily, it is fun to see a film that focuses on two political extremists who quickly deflect their focus toward their similarities instead of their differences. I particularly enjoyed Gernand’s choice that Liz and George seem to lack passion for specific causes, but instead find their purposes from generic laundry lists of every cliche extreme cause. It makes one think about how many people are out there sticking their noses in someone else’s business, or bedroom perhaps, because they are lacking something genuine in their own lives.

Fortune Hunters
Thom Harp, USA

Plot Synopsis: When a writer at a fortune cookie factory accidentally sends a love letter intended for his ex-girlfriend to the printing press, every cookie at every restaurant reveals a piece of his broken heart.

Program One ended strongly with Fortune Hunters. Our poor hero says in exasperation, “I’m Chinese and I work at a fortune cookie factory! Confucius say: “I’m a walking cliché!”

Through the vehicle of a man dumping his girlfriend for one of those arbitrary reasons that seem like such a good idea at the time, we get to explore what just might happen if one’s personal email messages got out to the public in the form of fortunes. Brilliant!

Suddenly, complete strangers think the messages are meant for them and read untold deep meanings into them. Think about that the next time you email your boyfriend…”You know what you did!”….under the right context, someone might reflect upon that for days and it could be life changing!

Very strong performances in this film about people getting on with their lives and doing what they need to do to change them…even if they just need a little nudge by a fortune cookie.

Knife Shift
Jim Hudson, New Zealand

Plot Synopsis: Welcome to Room 110: Check in with your luggage; check out in a body bag.

This film was a visually rich one, and we were taken on a wild ride through this tale through the point of view of the ultimate mark. Although a bit predictable, Knife Shift was nonetheless engrossing to see how everything unraveled.

Missed Connections
Jes Therkelsen, USA

Plot Synopsis: Ever wondered about the places you never went to? The friends you never got a chance to know? The love you never made the effort to discover?

Director Jes Therkelsen said in the post Program Q & A that this film was inspired by the “I Saw You” section that from the local DC City Paper. Similar experiences are available in dozens of brother and sister columns nationwide if not worldwide. If you’ve ever been the subject of one of these particular ads, or the author of one, this piece may be of particular interest. It explores a big “what if” factor. What would happen were people in our contemporary society not quite so afraid to take risks and actually put themselves out there and explore their impulses to connect with others to whom they feel compelled to reach out?

I had begun to make negative feedback notes for this review when someone posed a specific question for the panel of directors inquiring about who was interested in expanding his or her short into feature length. Therkelsen converted me into an instant fan when he very candidly volunteered that his film was too long already. This was my only issue with an otherwise terrific film, which captured bare honesty of subjects with whom so many of us can identify. With a bit more selective editing this will be a jewel.

Public Art, Private Parts
Brandon Bloch, USA

Plot Synopsis: When law firm tenants of the building demanded the removal of Ming Yi Sung’s unique crochet sculptures, she responded with a creative compromise that drew media attention and won the praise of artists and knitters throughout the country.

This frolicsome film featuring a whimsical woman’s playful art actually brings up some deep issues. At the top of the list is, of course, censorship in the year 2007. Why is it again, that simple male and female body parts, that the last time I checked we all have, (although mine aren’t crocheted, dammit), are considered so offensive that highly educated adults (i.e. supposedly not ignorant ones) demanded their removal? The beauty and simplicity of Ms. Sung’s solution was so marvelous, that perhaps we can all take a lesson. Instead of taking offense, she merely used her creativity.

Robin Williams Has No Top Lip
Paul Haber, USA

Plot Synopsis: What begins as a light-hearted bit of eavesdropping turns bad for two single guys.

As this was based on actual overheard public conversation, it was all the more fascinating. One often forgets that anything said in a public place is fair game to be overheard and emotionally responded to…The two performances by the mustached actors were priceless. Were this not an actual overheard conversation, I’d be sending out kudos to the script writer for brilliant stream-of-consciousness dialogue between the overheard women. Somehow, I feel like I know them…

Shuteye Hotel
Bill Plympton, USA

Plot Synopsis: As police investigate gruesome murders at a rundown hotel, they become victims of an evil force.

This was a roller-coaster thrill ride of a film! It was witty, suspenseful, and elicited audible responses of surprise from the audience. We actually connected with animated characters, black and white ones at that. There was a splash of red hue here and there to pull our focus, but this was an intense seven-minutes on the edge of our seats!

Simon Ellis, United Kingdom

Plot Synopsis: In order to preserve his fragile sense of masculinity, a father is forced to deal with problems that he hasn’t had to face since leaving school.

Audience Favorite, Show #1Soft; Simon Ellis (United Kingdom)

In much the same way David Mamet’s Oleanna has done for me live, this intense short film left my peace-loving jaw agape at how I could possibly be rejoicing when pent up victims tire of turning the other cheek and at last explode into standing up for themselves by speaking the only language a crowd of bullies understands…violence. In his 14 minute film, Ellis connects us to the characters so deeply and quickly, summoning such empathy for them, I wonder what other behavior we might have thought justified.