Father Geek here, tearing myself away from a great big pile of incredible "Princess of Mars" production art long enough to post this additional report from that cool little film fest up in Minnesota.
I've been a guest twice at a mid-summer Twin Cities fest called CONvergence, and I always had a great time, felt at home and my hosts/hostess' treated me phantasticly... introducing me to wonderful homegrown versions of Greek, German, Italian, and Cuban food... even sent ol' Father Geek packing back to Texas with a huge haunch of juicy Great Lakes area venison one time... I'll have to be sure and get back up there in the near future... Now here's Mr. E...
Mr. E here again, with more from the Mpls/St.Paul Film Fest. Judging from the Talkbacks on the last piece, AICN has a good number of readers living in Minnesota, though not all of them are happy about it. Well, cheer up folks, 'cause there are some great movies showing at this festival. Here are a few you might have missed. Zatoichi, The Tesseract, Saved!, and more are still to come. Enjoy!
Tuesday night I caught about two-thirds of FESTIVAL EXPRESS, a rockumentary directed by Bob Smeaton covering a five day Canadian tour featuring the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, Buddy Guy, The Flying Burrito Bros., Sha Na Na and 14 other bands, in 1970. The film is mostly concert footage, but the really interesting stuff is on the train carrying the musicians from Toronto to Winnipeg to Calgary. One of the most endearing scenes is of Jerry Garcia jamming with Janis Joplin and one of the guitarists from the band, both of whom are extremely inebriated (Jerry probably was, too, but it's less noticeable). Also interesting is the footage of fans protesting the concert's high ticket price ($14 for 20 bands).
I don't normally go into movies late, especially not a half hour late, but I was volunteering for the beginning part of this one and after my shift was over, well, the music just drew me in. This is one that may get wide theatrical release, so check it out if you like good old-fashioned rock n' roll. From what I saw, I give it 4 out of 5.
Wednesday night I attended the MINNESOTA SHORTS SHOWCASE, for which filmmakers from all ten films were present for discussion, though I was the only audience member to speak up during the Q&A. Obviously those of you who don't live in MN (and even most who do) will have a hard time seeing any of these films, but the best of them are definitely worth seeking out online.
DIGITS - directed by William Scott Rees and JoEllen Martinson, this film is described in the catalogue as "a music video/documentary hybrid". Personally, I found it mostly screechy and annoying. There seemed to be some kind of symbolism hidden within the spastic editing style and grating sound, but I found the film too difficult to enjoy to warrant a second viewing. 11/2 out of 5.
GARBAGE MAN - directed by Wyatt McDill, this is the story of Mouse, a garbage man who apparently got his nickname from the fact that he eats a lot of cheese. He also collects certain refuse articles including a jacket previously owned by a dead man. This particular item spins Mouse's life in a new direction. An interesting short that might benefit from further character development. 31/2 out of 5.
THE COAST - directed by Kevin Obsatz, this is a sad, quiet film about the synchronicity between people's lives. Very funny dialogue, good acting. Some possible subplots go unfulfilled, but overall I liked it a lot and would like to see it again. 4 out of 5.
MENACE! - directed by Matt Bird, this is a very funny spoof of the Red scare, executed in a spot-on stylistic parody of Douglas Sirk and other 1950s Technicolor melodramas. Very clever, with beautiful cinematography and a great ending. 5 out of 5.
LIVING DEAD GIRL - directed by Jon Springer, this a genre of film I've never seen before: a silent-zombie-movie! Anyway, the first part of the movie is a hilarious silent-movie spoof; then the tone shifts to a grotesque, full-color, Romero-style gorefest; then, the third act transcends into the arena of genius, with Mark Borchardt of American Movie as Jesus! If I had to pick a favorite movie from the showcase, this would be it, but I'm a sucker for a good zombie flick, plus the soundtrack features "Harry, You're A Beast!" by the greatest band ever, the Mothers of Invention! 5 out of 5.
KERST - directed by Andrew Awes, this was another one of the best films of the night. A man who thinks his name is Robert Kerst wakes up in the office of a psychiatrist who insists that he, Kerst, is not who he thinks he is. The problem is that everyone else, including Kerst's wife, agree with the psychiatrist. The ending of this film literally gave me chills. Very, very good stuff. 5 out of 5.
DWUNK - the title says it all: a girl (played by Cassie Jordan, who co-directed the film with Joseph Midthun) gets "dwunk" on Captain Morgan, then ... does battle ... with little ... furry ... things? Doesn't make much sense, but it's pretty funny. 3 out of 5.
MY NEW LIFE - directed by Mark Har, this was a well done, funny urban legend movie. A young man, on the way to meet his fiancee's father for the first time, picks up a stranded stranger on a lonely highway ... and everything starts going wrong. The ending is fairly predictable if you're paying attention, but that doesn't detract much from the fun of the film. 4 out of 5.
VIDEO KID - directed by Isaac Gale and Laura Dean, two fellow festival volunteers, this is the story of a young girl (her age is first posited as eight, then ten years old) who videotapes a mysterious incident from the backseat of her parents' car. I thought the film was a little too long and the style was jarring, possibly to distract from the fact that there isn't much of a story. The acting is quite good, though. 21/2 out of 5.
SOLDER MAN - no, that's not a typing error; the film is about a little man who molds himself out of solder. Directed by Dave Nowak, this was the only animated film of the night, and also one of the best. Great animation and a very clever concept, thematically reminiscent of "Balance", the 1989 Oscar winner for Best Animated Short. 5 out of 5.
The following evening I attended a screening at Macalester College and saw something truly amazing:
SURPLUS - subtitled Terrorized Into Being Consumers, this Swedish film by directors Erik Gandini and Johan Soderberg is the true "music video/documentary hybrid" of the MSPIFF. An incredibly unique look at the danger of consumerist culture, the film was made over three years in eight different nations, covering everything from post-911 madness to the 2001 Genoa riots to the manufacturing of $7,000+ sex dolls (one of the film's funniest and most fascinating segments).
The cinematography is very sharp and beautiful, and the interviews are entertaining and insightful, but what sets this film apart from other documentaries is its absolutely brilliant editing. Expanding on Darren Aronofsky's "hip-hop" editing style in a completely new way, examining Communist Cuba and the United States in their seperate hypocrisies and cleverly showing the stupidity of a culture that equates not shopping with conceding victory to "the terrorists". At times, the editing technique seems self-consciously overdone, but it is a welcome change from the average dry, "straight" documentary. Surplus will probably not find widespread distribution, in part becuse of its length (less than 60 minutes), but anyone who loves new, original cinematic endeavors would be wise to seek this out. 5 out of 5.
Surplus was preceded by RED BARN, a work in progress, which was a good example of the dry, straight documentary style that I don't enjoy, but since it is an unfinished local film, I will reserve judgement for the moment.
After Surplus was the INTERNATIONAL SHORTS SHOWCASE, featuring five diverse films from Europe, Australia and America. Overall, I must admit this was better than the MN Shorts Showcase, but we had more movies, dammit!
THE RETURN OF PEG LEG PETE - winner of the Emerging Filmmakers Competition, this silent Scottish short by writer/director Daniel Cairns adumbrates the travails of a peg-legged, hook-handed swashbuckler in today's workaday world. A very funny film that managed to make a crowded screening room roar with laughter at the death of a child. 5 out of 5.
THE RED JACKET - this beautiful, highly professional-looking German short directed by Florian Baxmeyer also features the death of a child, but not for comedic effect. After a boy is run over by a car, his lonely, despairing throws away his red jacket, the only reminder he has of his son. The jacket travels through a war zone and comes full circle in a quietly poignant way. 5 out of 5.
THE BRAINWASHERS - an intriguing and bizarre excursion into claymation by Canadian director Patrick Bouchard. Doctors inject two fearsome creatures into a man's skull who run through his brain burning and vacuuming his memories away. The film overall, and the ending in particular, are very ambiguous and would almost require a second viewing. The audience laughed occasionally, seemingly because they didn't know how else to react. 31/2 out of 5.
ZAMBONI MAN - the Midwestern U.S. is well-represented here by this quietly beautiful short directed, produced, written and photographed by Seth Henrikson. Walt, a zamboni driver played by Michael Shannon (8 Mile), has a thankless job alleviated only by his ironic relationship with Tyler, a graceful figure skater. Assistant director Matt Miller was present at the screening, but seemed unsure about some of the audience's questions (once again kicked off by Yours Truly). Would that Henrikson had been there. 4 out of 5.
HARVIE KRUMPET - this Oscar-winning Australian animated short by writer/director Adam Elliot was a definite case of saving the best for last. Narrated by Geoffrey Rush, this the story of Harvic Milos Krumpetovic, a funny-looking little fellow born with Tourette's Syndrome. The film documents his problem-filled life with a darkly comic sympathy, and this "retarded migrant"'s ability to rise above his problems and never succumb to self-pity is nothing short of inspiring. "Life is like a cigarette...." 5 out of 5.
Thanks to everyone who tore themselves away from the latest news about Batman Beginnings or the new Transformers movie to read about our little festival, and thanks to AICN for showing interest in the first place. For those of you who will be in the Twin Cities in the next week-and-a-half and want to learn more about upcoming screenings, check out www.mnfilmarts.org