Posted by keelsetter on November 16, 2008
Any films buffs near Denver this November 13 – 23 are advised to check out the 31st Starz Denver Film Festival. Here is a glimpse at what S.D.F.F. offers: Red Carpet Presentations (gala screenings with special guests followed by parties), Special Presentations (these are titles that programmers feel are destined for various awards), Films In Competition that vy for The Krysztof Kieslowski Award (reflecting the sensibilities of the late Polish director), the Emerging Filmmaker Award (presented to first or second-time directors who have yet to gain U.S. distribution), and the Maysles Brothers award for Best Documentary (presented annually by Albert Maysles to a feature-length nonfiction film without U.S. distribution). But that’s not all, there’s also: Contemporary World Cinema (one of my favorite sections), Documentary Films, a New Directors Showcase, a Tributes section (this year bringing out Carolee Schneemann, Richard Jenkins, Majid Majidi, Thomas Imbach, and Wally Pfister), a showcase called In Memoriam for recently departed artists (this year: Anthony Minghella, Paul Newman, and Sydney Pollack), a selection of late-show/cult fare titled The Watching Hour, two different platforms for short films (one for vets, one for students), and this year a spotlight on animation. Also: too many attending guests, panel discussions, etc., to list here. Phew! Still with me? Good. Below is a brief look at four films screened at the 31st S.D.F.F.
Wendy and Lucy (2008, directed by Kelly Reichardt – part of the New Directors Showcase)
I was a fan of Reichardt’s previous film, Old Joy. But whereas that film about two old friends was dipped in equal parts natural beauty and a wandering melancholia, Wendy and Lucy explores the struggles of someone further down the rung. Wendy (Michelle Willaims) is a young woman with only a few bucks to her name travelling by car to Alaska with her only companion, a dog named Lucy. When Wendy’s car breaks down it triggers a series of unfortunate events. Reichardt’s talent for creating touching dramas includes a naturalistic and low-key sensibility that avoids the usual pumped-up histrionics of many young filmmakers desperate to make their mark, and the result is a quiet and poignant drama that avoids crass escapism and favors authenticity. The film also stars Will Patton, Will Oldham, and Larry Fessenden (who co-produced). The S.D.F.F. program notes that “Wendy and Lucy was presented this year in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival – where Reichardt’s own dog, who plays the highly appealing Lucy, won the unoffical Palme Dog.” Don’t miss this one if you were a fan of Into the Wild.
Not Quite Hollywood (2008, directed by Mark Hartley – part of The Watching Hour).
Speaking of “young filmmakers desperate to make their mark” with “pumped-up histrionics,” yee-gads, here’s a documentary that lovingly delves into an orgy of Australian exploitation film clips, helped along by various talking-head fanboys (such as Quentin Tarantino, and other equally and hormonally ebullient filmmakers). While everyone knows about Mad Max, this film gives visibility to a slew of other titles, covering sex comedies, martial arts films, horror films, and more. It’s a fun romp, but I have to admit to getting a head-ache as I strained to filter out all the fun anecdotes that were being hurled out at a dizzying pace, in Australian accents, that were all but drowned out by an over-enthusiastic pumped-up rock soundtrack. It was a bit like being at a bar where they crank the music so loud that everyone has to yell at each other to try to make themselves heard, but only half of it registers. Still, I managed to write down some titles that looked like great genre fare, such as Long Weekend (1978), and Next of Kin (1982), and look forward to seeing these, in their entirety, soon.
His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th (2008, directed by Daniel Farrands – also part of The Watching Hour)
More clips and talking heads, but unlike Not Quite Hollywood (which was on 35mm and had a treasure-trove of material to work with), this was far more limited by its subject matter and a very uncritical overview of the Friday the 13th films. Made by fans, for the fans, it’s also hosted by special-effect guru Tom Savini. The talking heads here are all cast members associated with the franchise so it’s kind of like being privy to chummy, backlot banter – it’s fun and affable, but feels more like a promo for the upcoming Friday the 13th remake scheduled for a 2009 release, directed by Marcus Nispel (and, scariest of all, produced by Michael Bay – whose track record so far in mangling iconic horror films truly gives me something to scream about). Onhand to talk about the film afterwards were the producers of the film along with Ari Lehman (who played the very first Jason – that mutant kid who jumps out of the lake and tips the canoe). Below: Lehman and my friend Alisha proudly display the free masks that were given to all who attended the screening.
Chocolate (2008, directed by Prachya Pinkaew – part of The Watching Hour).
What can I say? I’m a sucker for the late shows. But in my book, this one also qualifies for World Cinema. Billed as a martial arts action film with “No stunt doubles! No wires! All action!” – it delivers the goods. The film follows a young autistic girl “whose savantism – and lightning-quick reflexes – allow her to acquire random skills, down to the slightest nuance, just by observation.” Which is to say, she watches martial arts films, plays martial arts video games and, lo-and-behold, becomes a lean-mean martial-arts, ass-kicking machine. Prepare to wince. A lot. Especially during a scene in a dirty, fly-filled, marketplace full of angry butchers whose meat cleavers fly around with abandon and riddle the big hunks of surrounding meat with plenty of unintended cuts. Vegetarians can delight in knowing that the knife-wielding butchers get poked and diced just as much as the meat on the table.
Next up: Lord God Bird (2008, directed by by George Butler – Documentary Films), with Butler in-person, and Idiots and Angels (2008, directed by Bill Plympton – Spotlight on Animation).
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