“Films, Pineapple Juice and Dante”
By Suzie Lackey
Stephen and I look forward to this event each year. We have pre-screened for the festival for many years and have served proudly on the jury. We have had our short documentary films play the festival. Even with pre-screening films, there are so many that we want to see at the festival, there aren’t enough hours in the day.
This year, in addition to pre-screening, I was looking forward to covering films for Cinegeek and Stephen for Mania.com. I looked forward to many hours in a darkened theater before heading out to the VIP tent for glasses of pineapple juice and talking to friends and film fans for hours about all the good stuff we were seeing.
When I wasn’t watching films or talking about what I had seen, I got a chance to meet Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket) and Brian O’Halloran “Dante” from Clerks and Clerks 2. I even got a chance to shake hands with Ben Folds of Ben Folds Five.
Here is just a few of the gems I got to see at the festival this year. It was another amazing year for films and this is just a sampling of the great cinema offered this year:
Directed by Hong-jin Na
Joong-ho is an ex-cop who now makes a living as a pimp. However, one by one, his girls are disappearing and they aren’t easily replaced. He sends his best girl, Min-ji, on a call and when she disappears, he realizes that all of his missing girls have been sent to the same client. This begins the chase to save Min-ji along the seedy rain-drenched back alleys of Seoul to save her from a brutal killer. Blood will flow and lives will be changed forever on one rainy night. The Chaser is a great film, with a visceral plot that keeps your pulse pumping and wonderful noir style cinematography. It is a bit sluggish at just over 2 hours, but there is a lot here to enjoy and is just one more example of the great films coming out of South Korea.
Big Man Japan
Written, Directed and Starring Hitoshi Matsumoto
Dai Soto is a strange man. He dresses strangely, eats very particularly and explains to the documentary crew following him that he likes umbrellas because they only get bigger when you need them too, the same goes for his favorite dried seaweed. Why is a documentary crew following him? Because, he is Big Man Japan, and the Defense Department calls him when Japan is being attacked by an endless stream of bizarre supersized villains. Dai Soto just gets an electrical charge and he is as big as a skyscraper and goes to battle with these “creatures”. Big Man Japan’s battles are even carried on local television, even though his ratings are slipping but that doesn’t stop his manager from selling billboard space on his chest and back. Big Man Japan is one wacky slice of Asian cinema but might not seem as strange to those that are already familiar with Takeshi Miike’s Zebraman, or Ultraman or Kaiju Big Battel. If you have seen those films and series, than this is more of the same. But, that is not saying that you won’t enjoy this film because particularly the “everyday man on the street” interviews that Hitoshi Matsumoto does before turning into Big Man Japan are some of the best stuff in this film. It is definitely still worth a look.
Directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin
Another great documentary from David Redmon and Ashley Sabin (Mardi Gras: Made in China and Kamp Katrina). Charles, who film audiences met in Kamp Katrina, is in love with his girlfriend who just happens to be Joan of Arc, and he believes that with every cell of his body, no matter what friends, family and his doctors tell him. He knows that she will return to him one day in the “flesh” and he believes that she has taken the human form as a bartender he knew when he was in New Orleans. Due to his many medical problems and other entanglements, Charles doesn’t have a car and now he lives with his family and children over 400 miles away. So, he sets forth on his bike to find love. The open hearted and eccentric people of Louisiana he encounters along the way are the stuff of dreams for documentary film fans. More than just a film about a person that struggles with mental illness; Invisible Girlfriend is a cinematic ode to trying to keep a dream alive when real life is trying to bring you back to reality.
William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet
Directed by Patrick Buckley and Kevin Lane
Ben Folds and William Shatner (Star Trek, Boston Legal) put out a critically acclaimed album in 2007 entitled Has Been. Far from his first attempt at music with Transformed Man (1968), Folds understood the entity that is William Shatner and surrounded his wonderfully unique spoken word with some great music and revealed a side of Shatner that was refreshing, relevant and wonderfully irreverent.
One day, after listening to an interview with Shatner on NPR that had some of the songs from Has Been, award winning choreographer Margo Sappington decided she was going to transform the songs from the album into a modern ballet. William Shatner, Ben Folds and Margo Sappington, come together to make a wonderful concoction of music, spoken word and gorgeously choreographed ballet that has to be seen to be truly appreciated. If you think you know William Shatner, you won’t until you see this film as he reveals a surprisingly candid, romantic and self-effacing side to his persona. Fans of Shatner, Folds and beautifully performed ballet must see this film. It is an intoxicating experience.
Directed by Marie-Helene Cousineau and Madeline Piujuq Ivalu
In the tradition of other great Inuit films such as Waban-Aki: People from Where the Sun Rises and Atanarjuat:The Fast Runner, comes Before Tomorrow. Set in 1840, Ningiuq and Kutuujuk, the elders in their Inuit family, embark on another yearly trip to see friends, families and to hunt and fish. However, this year, the stories center on the advance of foreigners that threaten their simple way of life. When Kutuujuk falls ill and family members are delayed in returning to retrieve them from a fishing excursion, Maniq, the young grandson and Ningiuq must figure out how to make the dangerous trip home by relying on their love for one another and their wits. The wonderful storytelling tradition of the Inuit people is on display in every frame of this exquisitely simple film. The cinematography is eyepopping and the performances by all involved are refreshingly unaffected and natural. If you enjoy films such as The Story of Weeping Camel, Before Tomorrow cannot be missed.
Love You More
Directed by Sam Taylor Wood
One of the best short films of the festival, in my opinion. Two teenagers, Georgia and Peter, explore their sexuality with the release of the Buzzcock’s single Love You More in 1978 London. Photographed by Oscar Nominated cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (Atonement, The Hours), Love You More packs more visceral emotion, lust and truth into its 15 minute running time than most feature length films. Do yourself a favor and search out this film on the festival circuit. And, I bet that you will be adding Love You More by The Buzzcocks to your MP3 player the very minute you make it home from the theater.
Directed by Pepita Ferrari
Fans of Documentary filmmaking have to see this film. Werner Herzog, Albert Maysles and Errol Morris, are just a few of the names a interviewed for this film. Filmmakers talk about the art of documentary film, the process to create their films, their inspirations and the future of the genre itself. This film is a celebration of the genre of documentary filmmaking by its most skilled creators.
Written and Directed by Antonio Campos
Afterschool is a movie made by and for the cell phone and YouTube Generation. Robert is a sophomore at a prep school. While working on a video project for his school, he inadvertently films the deaths of two of his classmates. The affects of his constant immersion into internet clips of everything from laughing babies, extreme violence and porn begin to seep into his everyday life and affects his relationship with his schoolmates, his teachers and his outlook on life itself. Being a teenager is hard in any era, but when you are surrounded by not only security cameras but virtually every other student having the ability to film you with their cell phone cameras during every school moment and beyond, being humiliated isn’t just limited to only school hours. The fight you lost during 3rd period is uploaded on YouTube for everyone to consume like an after dinner mint. Afterschool, displays the influence of the films of Michael Haneke on the filmmaker very plainly, explores the notion that technology is a double edged sword: it may be joining the world together but it can also tear us apart and desensitize us as it takes over the daily life of the world.