Film Fests Archive for December, 2010

How to Grow a Small-Town Film Festival

Yesterday I received the press release announcing the lineup of the 2011 Oxford Film Festival, and a couple of things struck me about the fest and this year’s lineup that I wanted to jot down. If you have zero interest in smaller film festivals or conversation about how small fests can grow and thrive, you can stop here and move along to something more interesting. If you are interested in small town film festivals in any capacity, you might find it a conversation you’d like to engage in.
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Indie Film from Coast to Coast

I’ve been experimenting more lately with using Facebook as a place to engage in conversations about film … sometimes as the sole site for discussion, but often as a starting point that leads me somewhere else, such as now …

In a conversation about my Top Ten list, one of my friends commented that it can be hard to find indie films in theaters. And I certainly can’t argue with this. It’s easier to see an indie in an actual theater if you live in NYC, LA, Seattle, San Fran, Chicago, certainly. Or if you’re independently wealthy and can travel around to film festivals just because you love watching movies.

Oklahoma City, for example, is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you think “hotbed of indie film.” But the OKC Museum of Art has been showcasing indie films for years now in a great space, under the direction of curator Brian Hearn. He’s been a force of nature for bringing indie films to my hometown for a long time now. While people like me abandoned Oklahoma City in search of greener, hipper, or more liberal pastures, Brian and a good many other smart, artsy people have held down the fort there, bringing culture to the people.

In part because of Brian, Oklahoma City has a thriving film festival, deadCENTER, which I hope to see keep growing and growing and growing. I missed it last year because it overlaps with SIFF, and since Seattle’s my hometown now and SIFF is the bigger fest, it demands my attention and my coverage. But it’s also important to draw attention to smaller fests doing the hard work of making indie film accessible to the masses who don’t live on either coasts, so I do hope to get out to OKC to cover deadCENTER again sometime.

The folks at the Dallas International Film Festival bring quality film to the Big D year after year, and they’ve done their job there so effectively that when their partnership with AFI ended, they took up the banner without AFI’s name and have worked their tails off to make their fest bigger and better than ever on their own steam. James Faust and Sarah Harris at DIFF are two of the smartest, most passionate people I know when it comes to film, and they work hard to bring Dallas awesome films every year for their fest.

One of the things I most love about DIFF is how people in Dallas see their fest as a real event. They get dressed up to go to screenings (here in Seattle, we tend to view “dressing up” as meaning “putting on my jeans/leggings/tights without holes, and breaking out that prized vintage shirt from Value Village,” so I’m easily impressed by people actually wearing high heels and ties and jewelry anywhere, much less a movie screening, but still. It’s pretty cool. Plus, you can drink alcohol in the theaters in Dallas, which is the best idea ever. I bet a lot of experimental films at Sundance would benefit from the audience being about to bring their Stella or Cosmo into the theater.

In Oxford, Mississippi, my friends at the Oxford Film Fest have been very smart in turning a “little fest that could” into a cinematic event and growing steadily every year while still retaining that Southern charm and hometown feel. Michelle Emmanuel, Molly Fergusson, Micah Ginn and Melanie Addington do a phenomenal job running that fest… now if only they could find the funding and the venue to do bring cinema to Oxford year-round, like SIFF does here in Seattle …

In Champaign-Urbana, Roger Ebert has been bringing the best of the best “overlooked” films to his hometown for years with the annual Ebertfest … a prestigious event for a filmmaker to be invited to, and always a great opportunity for everyone there to relax and enjoy being at the movies with Roger, Chaz and the legion of passionate film fans who’ve been turned onto many great films at Ebertfest and come back year after year. And that fest happens in large part thanks to Nate Kohn and Mary Susan Britt, who pull it all together year after year.

From coast to coast, smaller film fests bring indie films to places that aren’t NYC or LA. Hamptons. Sidewalk in Birmingham. Memphis. Sarasota. Santa Barbara. Palm Springs. Denver. Outfest in LA. True/False. And, of course, Seattle. And many other fests I know I’m overlooking.

Change like indie films coming to places that aren’t big cities happens because one or two or several people who live there and are passionate about film MAKE it happen. They start a festival. They open an arthouse cinema/coffehouse. They get a job at a museum and create a film venue where none existed, and infect the people around them with their enthusiasm.

If you live in a place where there’s not enough access to indie film in theaters, you have a few options. You can move to a city that has better access to indie film. You can become independently wealthy and travel the world going to film fests large and small. You can start a film festival in your town, or figure out how to raise the funds to restore that old, awesome theater that’s been shut down for years and turn it into a showplace for arthouse films.

You can invest in equipment to make a state-of-the-art home theater in your house, program regular mini film fests at your house, and invite people to them (I know a guy who beefed up his resume doing this who is now a programmer for a major fest, so don’t laugh!).

Point being: YOU can change things. Top ten lists from critics and awards from critics groups exist, in part, to spread the word about great films and thereby create more people who love cinema and will support it. So if you love independent film and there’s not enough of it where you live, find your own way of supporting it and be the change.

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A Peek at the Sundance US and World Dramatic Competition Slates

It’s beginning to look a lot like Sundance … well, maybe not quite yet, let’s get through Christmas first before we start packing for Park City. But Sundance has announced its competition entries for 2011, and there are some things that immediately caught my eye:

US Dramatic Competition

The American dramatic competition films offer up an interesting mix of films that look (on the surface at least) to fit the mold of the “Sundance film” and some more diverse storyline options, with both new and familiar names. Inevitably, no matter which films I pick from the narrative feature competitions, I end up missing something that pops at the fest as really great, and then scrambling to find a late screening so I can catch it before the fest ends. But you have to narrow down your screening list one way or another, so here are some films from this slate that look promising:

William Mapother, who was so excellent as the bad guy in In the Bedroom way back in 2001, is in U.S. Dramatic Competition entry Another Earth, which is about a duplicate Earth, a horrible tragedy and a love affair. Mapother’s presence makes this one infinitely more interesting.

Vera Farmiga makes her directorial debut with Higher Ground, about a woman’s struggle with her faith. Farmiga also stars in the film, and cast also includes John Hawkes (who played Teardrop in Winter’s Bone) and Josh Leonard (Humpday). Hawkes’ presence alone would put this one on my want-to-see list.

Little Birds, about two teenage girls who run away to Los Angeles and get into trouble, caught my attention because it stars Juno Temple, who was fantastic as Dani in Dirty Girl (she’s also set to star in the long-awaited teen-lesbian-werewolf film Jack and Diane, which according to IMDb is actually filming at long last, but I won’t believe that until I see it). This one also stars Kate Bosworth, who I think has been a bit underrated; she strikes me as an actress who could actually go “serious” ala Charlize Theron if she could get the right roles. Maybe this is one of them.

Another film with John Hawkes (what, is he aiming to be this Sundance’s Zooey Deschanel?), Martha Marcy May Marlene (say that four times fast) is about a woman trying to re-assimilate with her family after leaving a cult. See above for the John Hawkes Factor being enough to make this one worth catching.

Azazel Jacobs, who wrote and directed the excellent Momma’s Man, which played Sundance in 2008, is back in 2011 with Terri, a comedy about a teenage boy in a small town and the high school VP who takes him under his wing. Stars John C. Reilly, which would make me want to see it even if I wasn’t already intrigued to see what kind of film Jacobs made after the moody, darkly funny Momma’s Man.

Lastly for this section, I’m curious about the film listed as Untitled Sam Levinson Project on the Sundance schedule and The Reasonable Bunch on IMDb. Whatever its real title is, it’s a comedy about a chaotic family wedding. That alone doesn’t make it particularly interesting — chaotic weddings/funerals/holidays are pretty overdone — but the cast does: Demi Moore, Kate Bosworth (that’s two for her, she’s keeping pace with Hawkes), Ellen Barkin, Ellen Burstyn, and Thomas Haden Church.

World Cinema Dramatic Competition

The World Cinema Dramatic Competition slate tends to be one of my favorite categories at Sundance … one of these years, I might just front-load my schedule with every single film in this competition and work everything else around them, because I always seem to miss one or two films that I’m kicking myself later for not seeing. This year, these are some of the films that I’d like to find room for on my sched:

Abraxas (Japan) is about a depressed Zen Buddhist monk with a “heavy metal past” who latches onto music as a means of reviving his spirit. Okay, okay … they had me at “monk” and “heavy metal.”

It’s been a while since I saw a Columbian film, but All Your Dead Ones (Todos Tus Muertos) looks like a good possibility. It’s about a peasant who finds a pile of dead bodies in his crops, and then finds the authorities want nothing to do with them. Dark comedy? Drama? Thriller? Not sure, but I want to check it out.

Heading over to Algeria, we have A Few Days of Respite (Quelque Jours de Repit), about a couple of gay men from Iran who find safe harbor in a village in France. Not familiar with the cast, but the director won a couple of awards for his 2008 film, The Yellow House.

Apart from the presence of Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson on the cast list, the Sundance description of The Guard (Ireland) got me to read it three times:

A small-town cop in Ireland has a confrontational personality, a subversive sense of humor, a fondness for prostitutes and absolutely no interest whatsoever in the international drug-smuggling ring that has brought a straight-laced FBI agent to his door.

Both Cheadle and Gleeson are proven performers, and I’m hoping they chose well when they signed onto this project.

Kinyarwanda (Rwanda) is about Rwandans during the 1994 genocide who made refuges of mosques without regard for tribe or religion. I realize that some folks are about as tired of “genocide in Africa” films as I am of anything to do with the war in Iraq/Afghanistan, but I have not yet hit my saturation point for this topic.

You gotta love the Australians, especially when the entry from Down Under in the world competition category is titled Mad Bastards, is about an “urban street warrior” facing off with a local cop, and features the Pigram Brothers, a country/folk rock Aussie band. If you’ve never heard them, take the time to check them out before Sundance. I’m curious to see how well their music is used in this film.

From Israel we have a film I’m really interested in seeing,
Restoration (Boker Tov Adon Fidelman). This one’s about an antique furniture restorer, his mysterious apprentice, and the estranged son who’s trying to shut his father’s business down. An unhappy family film that appears not to involve either a holiday or a road trip? Worth catching to me.

Lastly, I definitely want to make room on my schedule for UK entry
Tyrannosaur, just because it stars Eddie Marsan, who was a riot as the uptight, nutty driving instructor in Happy-Go-Lucky. That’s pretty much all I need to make it worth seeing.

I said lastly, but then the final film on the world cinema list caught my eye: Vampire, which stars Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider). The description on this one says it’s about a seemingly nice guy who teaches and cares for his ailing mother, who trolls message boards seeking “the perfect girl who will ensure his own survival.” A movie presumably about a vampire, but it’s showing in world cinema, not midnight? Interesting. Okay, I’ll bite (sorry, sorry).

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“One of my favorite things in watching any performance on film is when there isn’t a lot of cutting going on and when you get a chance to become really absorbed in the artist in hand. The same way we do, hopefully, at a concert, when we get a chance to really trip in to something that’s happening on stage. Whether the singer’s singing, or one of the other musicians is playing, we sort of stay there instead of cutting round with our eyes a lot.”
~ Jonathan Demme

“We’ve talked about this before in the past, my obsession with the Shakespearean histories having the ideal combination of the sweet and the sour. In ‘Henry IV, Part II’ which we’ve discussed before, in the end of that story it’s very complex and haunting because Prince Hal becomes Henry the King, and he has transcended his hoodlum days and at the ceremony is Falstaff, his good friend with whom he has really fucked around and been a loser with, and Falstaff comes up to him and says, ‘Now that you’re king we can really party,’ and the king famously says, ‘I know thee not, old man.’ It becomes Henry IV’s anointment and Falstaff’s catastrophe. That’s life. I have experienced very little unfettered triumph. There are moments, such as when my children are born, but even that comes with new fears and anxieties. In a sense the better you can communicate that life is both at once, the more powerful over time something becomes. One strives for something where the threads are there because it lasts in way that is very palpable. The idea of a tragedy is powerful in literature and theater, but in cinema it doesn’t work, certainly not commercially, and less so critically. Why is that? I think it has to do with how movies are so close to us.”
~ James Gray