Sunday, August 26, 2007

3rd Annual Atlanta HipHop Film Festival - Recap

Also posted at Southern Screen Report

The 3rd Annual Atlanta HipHop Film Festival was held August 24 - 26th, in the conference center of the Holiday Inn Select, near Turner Field. This last minute change in venue proved to be quite a logistical challenge in managing such an ambitious group of programs. The AHHFF had a full schedule of forums and workshops in addition to three full days of screenings, Q&As, and not to mention a closing night awards ceremony. I intended to screen as much as possible, while also attending the Atlanta Underground Film Festival, which was running concurrently. However, the opening day screenings were delayed by two hours, as the hotel was unable to provide a 'screening room' on time. There was in-house media tech support, but they seemed challenged in setting up a simple sound and screen system. (I knew it was going to be a LONG weekend for them, since even I supplied a cable for the projector set-up.) In the meantime, the media was encouraged to interview attending directors and panel speakers. (Unfortunately, I am not experienced in interviewing, especially on the topic of hiphop culture.) The hotel was unable to provide a room for that too, so interviews were held in a spare space of the restaurant. Tambria Peeples, the press representative from the p.r. firm handling the festival, was the only voice of any authority present. She ably pulled together registration and equipment for press interviews.

As the confusion continued and the festival's activities were caught in a state of limbo, I couldn't help but feel that I was in an episode of "The Apprentice". I don't know where the festival management was, and there was no sign of hotel management providing help. Perhaps they were locked in a room somewhere, trying to figure all this out? During the projector set-up, the dvd player that was provided was not reading discs, so a volunteer from registration offered up his laptop. That is where my offering up the cables to hook it to the projector and sound system came in. (I was traveling with my laptop and bag, which has the cables for just such an occasion.) It is also disappointing to note that during all this confusion, and what might be considered a disastrous start to a long weekend ahead, the hotel did not even offer water or coffee to the volunteers or the attendees who were milling about, waiting for the room to open and get set up.

I fear that with such a rocky start on the first day, which was scheduled to end only a couple of hours after it finally got started, that this might have been a financial flop for Creative Circle Entertainment, which produced it. I did not notice a great deal of business taking place, i.e. ticket buying. It appeared that the majority of attendees were filmmakers and media. I do not know for a fact, but I would guess that the later screenings on Friday afternoon were canceled due to time, as was the last screening on Sunday. It appeared that the panel discussions were well attended and quite lively though, as I did peek my head in one during my wait for the films.

It might behoove the producers of this event to break it into two parts in the next year. One conference of workshops and panels, and one of screenings. Perhaps, if timed far enough apart, the screenings might be a way of presenting the efforts of and products of the earlier conference. Also, as far as space is concerned, though I am a new arrival to Atlanta of only six months and am far from an expert on possible venues, I do know from my previous life in San Francisco, that the AMC chain prides itself on community involvement. AMC hosted the S.F. International Film Festival by giving up an entire multiplex of eight screens for 2 weeks, for 10 consecutive years. I would think that the AMC Magic Johnson complex would be more than able to 'donate' two screening rooms for three days - one room for panels and/or Q&As and the second for screenings. The festival's connection with B-Side for ticketing and scheduling is the first and best step that the organization has. The organizers might also consider an alliance with the National Black Arts Festival, which occurred only a few weeks before this. Such an alliance would open up opportunities in venue, as well as increase audience exposure. But this is just me, playing "armchair festival director."

As far as the screenings are concerned, in juggling my schedule, I planned on attending Friday and Sunday. Friday was something of a bust, as I could only fit one screening in before returning to the Atlanta Underground Film Festival. Sunday was a bit more successful, though programming was running over an hour late by the second screening of the day (my first of the day). Screenings were pushed back in order to allow Q&As, which meant canceling the final feature of the day. Thus, my Sunday schedule consisted of four short subjects and one feature. (I missed one mid-afternoon feature due to personal business.)

Counting Headz: South Afrika’s Sistaz in Hip Hop (dirs. Vusi Magubane & Erin Offer, 50 mins.) In under an hour, this documentary tackles the subject of South African female hip hop artists. It is a complicated issue, really, in that South African hip hop is more of a form of protest than pop culture. When you mix in the subordinate role that women in Africa are in, the fact that the handful of women in this documentary are speaking out, is a loaded topic. In attempting to address the socio-political aspects, along with the personal stories of the artists, the film takes on a lot of issues. Perhaps more than could be addressed to an uninformed audience.

The other feature I saw, also tackles a complicated topic.Ministry vs. Industry (now titled "Word On The Street") (dir. Shekinah Apedo, 76 min.) is a documentary about 'holy hip hop' aka Christian hip hop. In it's relatively short hour and fifteen minutes, director Apedo opens up a pandora's box of issues related to Christian hip hop. The working title "Ministry vs. Industry" refers to the industry on both sides of the mic. The documentary tackles the acceptance of Christian hip hop within hip hop culture itself, the marketing aspects and challenges, as well as the sexism within the male dominated world of hip hop and how it is addressed by Christian hip hop artists. That is a LOT of territory for just over an hour! It also raises more questions, i.e. how is Christian hip hop released and marketed now? What are the demographics? How are women artists marginalized? The segments are broken up with inter-titles announcing the next topic or question, which gives the film a more academic approach, as well as becoming episodic, which can drag the pace down. The film treads dangerously close to being a 'talking heads video' of commentaries. However, Apedo has interspersed a generous amount of performance videos. As it is a work in progress, I think that Apedo will continue to shape the piece into a narrower focus, or perhaps a more evolving approach that would eliminate the 'textbook chapters' tone of the work. Apedo spoke of being encouraged to expand on individual topics in a separate work. She actually has the outline of series here, which she should look into developing.

Lady Beatmakers Vol. 1 (dir. Tachelle Wilkes, 32 min.) Another documentary about women in the industry, this one profiles in a up-close-and-personal way the challenges faced by a handful of female music producers. Wilkes profiles a fairly wide variety of women and music that extends beyond hip hop. Each profile is fairly concise and filled with just about enough detail of where the women are in their profession. It also includes an epilogue of sorts as to where they are headed. Overall, a nice, compact piece.

Memoirs of an Undiscovered Artist: A Choreographer’s Story (dir. Edward “DAQ” Adjepong, 15 min.) This ballet by and about "DAQ" was almost too compact, though I appreciated the balletic form he used as a non-traditional biography. It would seem that 'undiscovered artist' is about right as I can find almost NO information on him to try and enlighten my view of what I saw. That alone sets the piece apart as being a work of art, as it can only be interpreted by the individual viewer. Ironically, it is his relative obscurity that sets the piece apart.

Lookin Down on Me (dir. Paul Catalanotto, 5 min.) and Back in the Dayz (dir. Renny Rugah, 5 min.) are both music videos. "Lookin Down on Me" is a spiritual memoir of the artist's mother, which proved to be a good fit in what was a predominately feminine program. "Back in the Dayz" was a faux retrospective, which seeks to preserve aspects of hip hop culture and launched a Q&A that was longer and deeper than the short itself.

Considering the logistical hurdles that the festival and the screenings were faced with, the actual programs were fascinating and deserve much more respect than the venue offered. Hopefully, as the festival continues to thrive, it will land at a 'home' that truly values its goals and purpose.

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4th Annual Atlanta Underground Film Festival - Day 4

Also posted at Southern Screen Report
The 4th Atlanta Underground Film Festival concluded at The Plaza Theatre on Ponce de Leon, with closing night films and parties at other venues, though I stayed the day at The Plaza. It was a day of short subjects. All day. Until 11:00 p.m., which screened a short feature before the 'official closing night' feature, BLOOD CAR, which I saw earlier this year.

Massive short subject programs can be difficult for all parties involved. There is the episodic nature of the beast, which can slow a program down for the viewer. If the program has not been transferred onto a single media, then the projectionist needs to be a VJ of sorts, popping discs, tapes and film reels on and off machines and slamming the screen with images as efficiently as possible. There is an art to projection, and it doesn't become more painfully evident than in a shorts program. Thankfully, the AUFF had some pretty experienced guys working the booths. In fact, today, which I approached with a particular dread of what might be technically in store, was beautifully set up and projected, led by a filmmaker himself, Blake Myers. He set up the projection in perhaps the best alignment, focus and aspect than any projectionist I've seen since leaving San Francisco! The technical juggling of discs and tapes by the rest of the crew was handled as best as possible, as they were using an Apple laptop for a dvd player, with a VHS on the side, thankfully forsaking the GO DVD/VHS integrated player which was giving them all sorts of problems the day before. The picture on the Plaza screen was so crisp that I did not mind some of the encore screenings and contemplated seeing BLOOD CAR again (though starting after midnight was going to be a test in of itself).

The day of shorts was divided into five programs: Sci-Fi & Horror Shorts; Shorts from Spain; International Shorts; Experimental Shorts; and last, though far from least, Animation Attack, Part 2, for a total of 36 pieces. Due to some technical difficulties at the beginning (which is why an Apple laptop was brought in for a DVD player), the day started way behind, so it was decided to run the programs concurrently, with nary a pause between sections. EIGHT SOLID HOURS of short subjects is a LOT of viewing, so I decided I needed food (and air!) and skipped out of the International program in the middle. I saw just 29 short films, give or take one or two that may not be in the program notes and/or may have slipped my mind.

Though I pride myself on thorough, yet pithy coverage of festivals, even I find recapping a day of 29 shorts and 1 feature a bit intimidating. If any of these titles strike your fancy, I encourage you to 'Google' them, as I might never finish hyperlinking and photo-linking! I will keep them in their respective programs and in alphabetical order.

The Sci-Fi Horror Shorts:
Agnieszka 2039 (Dir. Martin Gauvreau - Spain - 12 min.) This was also the opening short, and what an opening! The script is fairly surreal, having to do with an 'alien box' of some sort that sprouts (for lack of a better word) this enormous THING that seems intent on destroying the city it landed in. The special effects are simply spectacular, especially considering the fairly small scope of the project. The cinematography is a bit overexposed, though I know that was on purpose, it still made detail hard to see (which may be why they did it?). It is simply an exercise in effects and production design and it succeeds on that level.

By Appointment Only (Dir. Jon Faust - USA - 20 min.) The script is a bit off and confusing. However, Nancy Sinclair's performance is stunning, chilling and totally creeped me out!

Electrical Skeletal (Dir. Brian Lonano - NY - 6 min.) A fun and not too long homage to Hammer Classic Horror flicks! The animated skeleton is a bit cheesey, but that only adds to the charm.

Hanks Auto Repair (Dir. Matthew Stawski - IL - 14 min.) This was a quirky hoot! Visually, director Matthew Stawski has created a world that compares to Tim Burton's suburbia. His characters match the background setting they exist in. Now, if only the pace was in sync with the visual tone of the film, this would be a true cult classic on the festival circuit! He allows some of the takes to go on not one, but two extra beats, when he could easily snip away that extra second and still maintain the near Warner Brothers cartoon affection that the short holds. I really LIKED this and would love to LOVE it!

Happy Birthday 2 You (Dir. David Alcalde - Spain - 14 min.) This short is certainly making a name for itself on the international festival circuit. I first saw it this spring at the Atlanta Film Festival I haven't changed my opinion, and if anything, thanks to the AUFF's superior projection, I am only MORE eager to make it MINE! From the AFF screening: "Ooooo... Definitely twisted! Possible child abuse, dismemberments and a really creepy dream sequence! What MORE could you ask for in a horror flick?! OH! A really TWISTED ending! Bwahahahahaaaa! [I MUST get a copy!]" Yessss... I MUST!

The Boneworm Shrine (Dir. Justin Jones - IL - 15 min.) More or less an exercise in photography, but creepily effective, nonetheless. One could read a "War in Iraq" subtext to it, but in the midst of a festival, I was a bit tired to go that far with it. Justin Jones ably creates an alien landscape that is ruled by a particular insect. (The 'animal cruelty' disclaimer at the end is a hoot!)

The Last Man in Brooklyn (Dir. Roberto Bentivegna - NY - 9 min.) I particularly enjoyed this vision of a not too distant future as two men fight over a 'girl'. In its short 8 minutes, Bentivegna proves that the more things change, the more they stay the same. He creates an eerie setting and then fills it with an ageless conflict. Very clever...

Encore screenings were given to what is becoming one of my favorite shorts of the fest: Jump Rope with Gutz! and I Stand Alone (Dir. Blake Myers - GA - 5 min.)

Shorts From Spain
I don't know if it was by coincidence, but the majority of these shorts share the same general story arc. They each begin in a typical, if not nearly mundane premise and then a twist occurs. Sometimes the plot spins off the wall, or more delicately, the tone of the piece takes a 180 degree turn from where we were being led. I happen to like that! Though I will admit that my patience leading up to these twists was becoming short.

Antes Y Despues de Besar a Maria (Before and After Kissing Maria) (Dir. Ramon Alos - 7 min.) A nine year old boy yearns to kiss his older cousin during a summer holiday. He does get that kiss, but to call it bittersweet is an understatement. Touchingly done.

Boletos Por Favor(Tickets Please) (Dir. Lucas Figueroa - 14 min.) A man attempts to dodge paying for his train ticket and finds himself in a socio-political debate with a man who... well, THAT would be a spoiler! A nice O'Henry twist.

Dos Veces (Twice) (Dir. Joseba Fuentes - 24 min.) I either missed a critical detail in the early stages of the plot or perhaps I was supposed to be confused by this couple who were either playing out their divorce or playing out when they first met. The performances are so genuine for both scenarios that I couldn't tell which one was 'fake' until the end. Worth catching for the performances, though the script is a bit murky.

El Canto del Grillo(The Song of Cricket) (Dir. Dany Campos - 17 min.) Presenting this fairly simple story of a would be assassin in non-linear narrative elevated it from being annoyingly mundane to interesting, though ultimately still a bit annoying. The climax doesn't logically make sense to me, as I saw no reason for why our protagonist's boss didn't just take things in his own hands in the first place. (Vague? Yes, but I don't want to spoil it.) The performances are a bit one dimensional, too.

Josef M. (Dir. Juan Antonio Pascual Albarranch - 4 min.) A short animated moment of navel gazing. I don't know what purpose it was trying to serve as there was neither a complete narrative nor a style or technique to create any kind of visual or dramatic tension.

La Parabolica(The Parabolic Dish) (Dir. Xavi Sala - 12 min.) This was the opening piece of the program and it set the tone and pace of what was to follow. Though it began as an overtly cute episode of an elderly man trying to fix the antenna to his t.v. to watch the Pope, what he creates brings to him much more than what he (or even we the audience!) bargained for. The 2 or 3 minute climax was an emotional rollercoaster and, in the end, breathtaking! A subtle and DELIBERATELY paced little masterwork!

Mimoune (Dir. Gonzalo Ballester - 11min.) A docmentary of an illegal immigrant in Spain as he exchanges video greetings with his family in Morocco. His reactions are touching, though the film itself is a bit simplistic.

Experimental Shorts
The best of experimental (or as Stan Brakhage referred to it as 'personal') cinema should defy words, as the product itself should be of such visual strength that it cannot be described in any other way. However, I will try my best.

America in Pictures
(Dir. Georg Koszulinski - FL - 8 min.) I simply loved this! It harkens to the techique and style of Bill Morrison ("Decasia") in that it is composed completely of found and decaying footage. Here, Koszulinski uses images that are uniquely American and insinuates that these visions of America are antique and decaying. The accompanying film score was terrific too! The director was present and it took all I could do from TAKING his copy of this away from him!

Everything I Know About Drugs I Learned From Hollywood (Dir. Elina Shatkin - CA - 6 min.) "A visual exploration of how drug use is depicted in movies and television." That about says it all, though it was more humorous than not, it did end on a dark note that seemed to belie the implied satire of the piece.

Help is Coming (Dir. Ben Mor - CA - 8 min.) I finally got the chance to see this much talked about emotional dissection of the Hurrican Katrina and the Bush Administration. Three young boys, wearing masks of Bush, Cheney and Mayor Nagin, wander amongst the rubble in order to send "help". The visuals are stunning and the climax is damning. I loved it.

Last Request (Dir. Neil Ira Needleman - NY - 12 min.) The voice over of a dieing man describing his relationship with his father, who was a Dada-ist filmmaker. He is voicing over one of his father's films. As partial as I am to surrealism, Dada crosses the line for me. I find it more annoying (which is its point) than anything else.

Love City Review (Dir. Eric Potter - CA - 5 min.) Eh. Navel-gazing.

Animation Attack! Part 2
Adventure Time (Dir. Pendleton Ward - 7 min.) The best 'kiddie cartoons' are subversive. THIS was subtly so, as our hero and his magic dog must save a princess and her rainbow unicorn! It was a hoot to look at, too!

Self Portrait (Dir. Amber Boardman - 2 min.) Boardman animates via Zoetrope (photographs) and this was a visually fascinating and musically lovely little piece. There was a second short from Boardman, and not "China Zoetrope" as was listed in the program, but I don't remember enough of it to remark here.

Harmony (Dir. Jim Trainor - 12 min.) This 2004 project from Jim Trainor, describing natural events in their nastiest context, could almost be considered a classic. I appreciate his definitive personal style. However, I am still not a fan. I think there is an elitist humor in his work that irks me. He is also something of a rival to my animation gawd, Don Hertzfeldt!

Puppet (Dir. Patrick Smith - 5 min.) I saw this at the Atlanta Film Festival this Spring, and at the time, decided not to comment on it, except at the B-Side website. Really, I don't find it terribly remarkable in technique, style or story. Though it does have a fun little ending, it isn't something we haven't seen before.

The Greyhound (Allan Plenderleith - UK - 8 min.) The story of an old man and his old greyhound, who exist in nearly slow motion. It is really the greyhound's story as he yearns for his faster days to come back. It reminded me of some older European shorts from the '80's, which is NOT a bad thing.

Waif of Persephone (Dir. Nick Cross - 12 min.) A 'fractured fairy tale' of sorts concerning the spirit of Spring being abducted by the devil, whose ransom we are paying for today. Lovingly left wing!

Getgot - but it wasn't (Dir. Bryan Fordney - 6 min.) There was another short by the director of "Getgot", but I do not remember the title, nor does it appear on line. However, it was stylistically the same as "Getgot", and could be considered another episode of that same story.

There were also encore screenings from opening night of Death of a Matriarch (Dir. Takuro Masuda - 3 min.) and Pirate Baby's Cabana Street Fight 2006 (Dir. Paul Robertson - 12 min.)

Freelance (Dir. Drew Sawyer - GA - 63 min.) This was one manic and deftly executed piece of slapstick concerning a man's obsession to become the co-anchor with 'Rod Reel', who he idolizes. Bob Kunkel gives a great performance, going all out without going over the top into camp. Director Drew Sawyer surrounds Kunkel with a cast of actors and characters so well defined that they are able to perform minimally, without competing with the antics that are required from Kunkel's character. Though the script plays out like the best of British farce, the satire within it is purely American, as Sean Mann's script rips apart the family unit, Christianity and Alcoholics Anonymous, not to mention the mainstream media. The cinematography by Drew Sawyer and Bobby Mallin frames the sight gags perfectly, as well as enacting the 'hand held photography' that is done by the would-be cameraman, played by Jackson Williamson. The editing and pacing are terrific, building up to the climax as Kunkel's character SNAPS and decides to become a headline himself. At just over an hour, I don't know what it's future in distribution will be. As heavy handed as people believe farce is, editing it is a delicate matter and "Freelance" does not need padding to fill into a full length (aka 78 minutes or more) feature. Those extra 15 minutes would kill it. Hopefully, the film will provide enough backing for their next feature!

This was the final program and feature for me at this year's AUFF, and what a pleasant and engulfing experience it has been! I have found 'my people' here in Atlanta, as well as a few good spots for movies and food! Oh, and I have hesitated to mention that the HFD has been replaced by the adorable Festival Director, Eric Panter. He doesn't know it yet, but I'm building a festival crush on him! Shhhhhh...

Maxxxxx says
re all those shorts: [grunts and moans]
re Freelance: [nasty laughs!]

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

4th Annual Atlanta Underground Film Festival - Day 3

Also posted at Southern Screen Report
The 4th Atlanta Underground Film Festival continued its exhibitor expansion by beginning its next two days at The Plaza Theatre on Ponce de Leon. It was my first time here and upon entering, I found myself back at the Balboa Theatre in San Francisco. I found HOME! The AUFF staff continue to be impressively welcoming, as well. I'm having all sorts of SFIndie Fest flashbacks and have finally (ok, so it's only been SIX MONTHS!) feel like I am finding 'my place' here in Atlanta! The festival also expanded to another pair of pubs: The Drunken Unicorn and MJQ, which both reside next to the COOLEST internet cafe EVER!! (Now, if I could remember its name...!) However, I digress...

It was a rich and full day at the AUFF! Two features and a dozen short subjects. First the features.

Moonlight and Magic (Dir. Timothy Spanos - Australia - 90 min.) I hate reducing plots to a pitch, but there is no better way I can think of to describe this other than to compare it to a punked out version of "Doctor Who". Tim Burns and Maxine Klibingaitis play a homeless couple who inexplicably survive through the means of intimidation and theft as they wander about Australia. (Now, I am not intimidating that Doctor Who is a thief, but just HOW does he survive?) The wide-eyed innocence and overall joy that Tim Burns displays was captivating. The large cast of people crossing their paths are all well drawn and portrayed. The script is filled with gems! So much so, that as I was watching and trying to make a mental note as each clever line went past me, I overloaded and can't seem to quote one now. The script's humor and philosophy are nearly overwhelming. Apparently, this is a prequel to a film called "Nancy, Nancy", which I will promptly hunt down!

Dirty Habit (Dir. Bryan Root - CA - 81 min.) I was intrigued by the premise of trapping a nun and a prostitute in a stuck elevator. That was only the tip of a mind-tripping iceberg! This is one hell of a psychological thriller! As it began, I felt this was no more than a filmed play. However, as the film opens up into the psyches of the two characters, it explored cinematic depths that took me completely by surprise. That said, it is not an easy ride, as far as keeping oneself with the plot. The apparent contradictions and discontinuities can be overly distracting. However they do resolve themselves with the climax. The performances by Kirsty Hinchcliffe (the prostitute) and particularly Reagan Dale Neis as the nun, are appropriately complicated and harrowingly in tune with the ever evolving script. Reagan Dale Neis has an uncanny resemblance to Sally Field during her 'Flying Nun' years, which I presume was intentional. Bryan Root's direction of the two women throughout his complicated script is flawless.

As for the production elements, the cinematography by Goran Pavicevic handles the 'lifeboat syndrome' with amazing aplomb. And when the story breaks out into the characters' past, he and production designer Richard B. Lewis create even creepier settings outside of the elevator. The sound design and score is so subliminal as to be forgotten.

Oh! And I forgot to mention the talking handbag... hee hee hee...

Viva (Dir. Anna Biller - CA - 120 min.) I saw this in San Francisco at the SFIndieFest, yet never wrote of it, as I was literally moving to Atlanta that week. Unless director Anna Biller has done any cutting (which I think it needs), I think I can speak to the piece as it screened last night. Biller has an uncanny eye for the pastiche (1972)that she has meticulously created here. As a piece of visual art (the field Biller is most noted for), she creates a world nearly extinct of any natural fiber! Within her production design, even the hair is synthetic! I don't remember a single character that was NOT wearing a wig! Her statement as to the artifice of that period is carried through the characterizations. Aye, here is the rub. I appreciated the commitment and extent to which Biller's production revels in the artificiality of consumerism and sexual roles. However, at 120 minutes, that is a LOT of satire and the plastic cynicism that the film is consumed with (even in the performances) became tiresome. Now, that might have been part of the point, too. Biller is too important of an artist to be dismissed. I just wish the production felt more 'joyful' than as much work as it seems. But perhaps THAT is part of its point, too? Regardless, it is well worth seeing, though with the caveat that it will be a long screening.

Now, onto the shorts. Due to a logistical mix-up, as The Drunken Unicorn and MJQ share the same building, there was a group of us in the wrong space for the Comedy Shorts. Therefore, I missed the first couple. Unfortunately, I can only hope that those were the BEST of the lot, as the five shorts I did see were just less than amusing. In alphabetical order:

Carboy: The Five-Seater with a Heart of Gold (Dir. Jamie Gaar, Amber Dixon, Julian Modugno - GA - 5 min.) This was the only one of the five that gave me a good guffaw! As ridiculous as the concept is (carboy is a boy who is actually a car), there were some great stunts and sight gags! And at only five minutes, the joke did not outlast its stay!

Chester's Battle (Dir. Matthew Heinze - IL - 16 min.) I walked in on the middle of this, and even at that, it was too long. Produced as "A silent comedy about a man who strives to better his future by reliving his past with a dash of old-school break-dancing", it just didn't make sense. In fact, I thought he was just daydreaming because he hated being a waiter.

The Chronicles of Impeccable Sportsmanship
(Dir. Erika Tasini - NY - 7 min.) I didn't exactly 'get' this one either. It involves a little girl, her parents and a ball. They won't let her play for the reward of sitting in a rocking chair. Therefore she destroys the rocking chair. The end. No. No chuckles from me, either.

Hobo Man (Dir. Johnny Dingleberry - FL - 13 min.) This was the final piece of the program and either that or its subject matter prompted walk outs. It is a take-off on Herzog's "Grizzly Man", where our 'hero' is living among the hobos. The term 'hobo' itself is a bit condescending in its reference to the homeless to begin with. The homeless in the film are real and so the film does tread the line of exploitation to begin with. It then CROSSES that line by involving them in the filmmakers stunts. I don't know if the premise has any promise, but as presented here, it was just about as offensive as watching "Bum Fights".

I Stepped In Some Poo (Dir. Tristan Orchard - Canada - 7 min.) The title alone filled me with gleeful, sophomoric anticipation! The film itself was just OK. Yes, he steps in dog poo and spends the rest of the day with people wincing at him. Nearly mirthful, but... eh.

Pets As Partners (Dir. Rebecca Adler & Margaret Salzer - TX - 15 min.) This started off promisingly enough, yet the DVD was having HORRIBLE sound problems and it was stopped. And these were the two shorts I missed: Mild People in Aggressive T-Shirts (Dir. Lyn Elliot - PA - 3 min.) and Phone Sex Grandma (Dir. Jack Truman - USA - 9 min.). (I swear I have seen "Phone Sex Grandma", but I can not find any notes on it.)

I dashed back to The Plaza for the final set of shorts for the day: the AUFF Sex Shorts, which was hosted by a local burlesque troop. Here is where your faithful reporter was not so faithful. The program started at approximately 11:00 p.m. By midnight, I found myself dozing off and decided it would be best to depart. This was in mid-program. I managed to stay awake for four of the seven pieces. In alphabetical order:

Afternoon Sweets (Dir. Anna Butwell - NY - 4 min.) Short and sweet O'Henry-like tale of a boy, his mom and phone sex. Short, but predictable.

The Boy Princes: A Tragedie Most Monstrous (Dir. Darren Herczeg - CA - 28 min.) I don't know if this was trying to be campy or a homophobic slam. Described as "A shock-comedy about a delicate trio of Boy Princes," the film itself was a tiresome 28 minutes of mincing about by three men playing young boys who are competing for "the most boyish of boys", so they can ride the motorcycle of their "most manly of men" uncle. I have always prided myself on my ability to recap a film without giving spoilers. But in this case, I will tell you that everyone ends up dead, which is a good thing.

Gary's Touch (Dir. Ken Takahashi - Canada - 25 min.) Oh my. The program says, "We warn you! Prepare to be disturbed - deeply disturbed." Disturbed? Yes!! DEEPLY? Maybe not, but awfully close. It's climax is a really, gnarly sex romp with a homeless woman. I think she was an actress. I hope she was an actress. I kept saying to myself, "She's just an actress. She's just an actress." It was ugly, gnarly sex. Shudd-dd-dd-er...

Kill John Wayne (Dir. Vivian Wong - NY - 7 min.) This was an encore screening of the short which played on opening night. And it was at this point that I decided to go home, too.

I missed the following:
Filthy Gorgeous (Dir. Kyle Hinshaw - GA - 15 min.), Phone Sex Grandma (Dir. Jack Truman - USA - 9 min.) and Whore (Dir. Isabelle Mcewen - Germany - 4 min.)

Maxxxxx says
re Moonlight and Magic: "Woooooooo!"
re Dirty Habit: "What?!"
re Viva: "Such a pretty bird!"
re Comedy Shorts: "Cranky bird!"
re AUFF Sex Shorts: "Is it bedtime?"

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

4th Annual Atlanta Underground Film Festival - Day 2

Also posted at Southern Screen Report
The 4th Atlanta Underground Film Festival continued by expanding into other venues tonight just across the street from the Eastside Lounge, at a fabulous pub called The Earl. Designed as a traditional English pub, there is a bar and restaurant area up front and a 'club' area in back, where bands appear and tonight's screening was held. Being that this was the 'opening night' for THIS space, there were last minute technical difficulties. Even with that, and I meant to include this with last evening's post, the festival crew were able to get the program started within ten minutes of the published start time, which is HIGHLY COMMENDABLE!

Tonight's program was a compendium of "Local Shorts". As would be expected, it drew quite a crowd. There were eight pieces included in this surprisingly polished group of shorts. In alphabetical order:

Ignore (Dir. Michael Palma - GA - 10 min.) This was a documentary about a graffiti artist, who had some remarkably insightful things to say about the 'art of graffiti', both personal and political.

I Stand Alone (Dir. Blake Myers - GA - 3 min.) and Jump Rope with Gutz! (Dir. Blake Myers - GA - 5 min.) were a pair of really nifty, bloody, splatterfests! I STAND ALONE was a fairly typical alien invader yarn, but with a cool stylistic twist at the end. JUMP ROPE WITH GUTZ! wears its punchline on its sleeve, but the twisted bloodbath that leads up to it made me snicker! Yes, evil snickers!

Me and My Bot (Dir. Julian Modugno & Jamie Gaar - 5 min.) This faux trailer is for a sci-fi flick that actually encompasses many, if not nearly ALL possible genres within its five minutes. Though the performances are a tad stiff, if not amateurish, the production design and editing do their best in setting that 1970's 'feel good flick' tone. The script is more clever than the production that realizes it.

Moustache Rifle Vignette (Dir. Ian Cone - GA - 6 min.) Though I found this to be the weakest of the group, it is also the riskiest. Directed as a silent film with intertitles and set in 1927, it concerns itself with something to do about an engaged couple and an assassin that the man has hired. What makes it even trickier is a gag with the intertitles that makes the second half of this quick six minutes even harder to decipher. I admire the risks that Ian Cone took, however I can't say that they paid off, for me, at least.

Russell Baby (Dir. Andrew Treglia - GA - 20 min.) A tour de force by director/writer/editor/star Andrew Treglia. GRIM is a bit of an understatement as far as the style and tone of the the piece. However, it is painfully honest, even at its most melodramatic. It concerns itself with the hurdles of a pimp and his 'main girl' as they try to take a step up in their lives. Needless to say, it isn't easy and it isn't pretty. But Treglia is sort of hunky.

The Street Cleaner (Dir. Nathaniel Nauert - GA - 34 min.) This piece crosses that odd 'short threshold' for me at the 30 minute mark. At that point, I feel the filmmakers need to decide whether to edit it down or expand it to full length. THE STREET CLEANER feels like it needs to expand into a full length thriller involving the murders of Savannah prostitutes. In fact, at one point, I thought that the project was a feature length teaser. I would not be surprised to hear that director Nauert is planning one. His film has some truly remarkable moments. Yet, it has some truly unexplained, if not illogical plot points. Its climax is just not fully explored in the script nor in the performance. The lead female character has the potential of an enormous character arc. However, that possibility is slighted. Ultimately, the director is responsible for that, but it is hard to summarize the problems of script, performance and direction without leaking so much of the plot as to spoil it. It is professionally shot and edited. If the characters' motivations were clearer, this would be stunning. As it is now, the vagueness surrounding the climax and denouement seems like an attempt at a twist, where it is really just a bit annoying.

The Procession (Dir. Tom Rittenhouse - 25 min.) This flick tread along the fine line of annoyance also. Not due to vagaries, but quite the opposite. It is a 'buddy flick' we have seen many times: intellectual nerd is paired with hunky, dim jock. What kept it on its toes was the quirkiness of the episodes that the pair travel through. Once I let down my guard to the absurdity of some of the plot, I actually enjoyed and admired the screenplay. I just wish that the two leads were not such archetypes. That said, I could see the argument that having such recognizable characters make their nearly surreal adventures on their road trip more accessible. It is a project that could be cut down to one brilliant gag or expanded to a feature length coming-of-age comedy.

Maxxxxx says
re Ignore: "Such a pretty bird!"
re I Stand Alone/Jump Rope with Gutz!: "Sweet, sweet eye juice!"
re Me and My Bot: "What's your name?"
re Moustache Rifle Vignette: "Dooby doobie doo-ooo"
re Russell Baby: "Cranky bird!"
re Street Cleaner: "What!"
re The Procession: "har har!"

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4th Annual Atlanta Underground Film Festival - Opening Night

Also posted at Southern Screen Report
Last night (August 22nd) was the opening night of the 4th Atlanta Underground Film Festival, which snuck up on me this week! I was not aware of, nor much less prepared to find film geeks of the like that hang out at San Francisco's Roxie for the SF IndieFests, including Jason Weiner's doppleganger! Brett Thompson is maybe 10 years younger and was the co-curator of the opening night program, "Animation Attack!", which screened at the Eastside Lounge, a cozy little mini-metro-plex of a club that is in the lower east side of Atlanta. In the tradition of ANY opening night, there were little house management screw ups, i.e. WE were there before the bar manager had opened the place up! However, the crowd and film fest management was so laid back that this was nearly a non-issue. Except for the HEAT. Once inside with a glass of chardonnay and a short welcome from Thompson, "Animation Attack! - Part One" began to spin away on the screen in the mezzanine of the club.

"Animation Attack!" is a two part program of a teasingly unknown quantity of shorts. Part 2 screens on Saturday. Tonight's portion included no less than eleven pieces. (There is no 'official' program with an updated list of shorts or print sources, so I am recapping from the anticipated schedule from their website and from memory and IMDB.) With only a couple of exceptions, each short displayed a cool visual style and, most importantly to me, wit and pace! There was a virtual lack of 'animated navel gazing' in the name of art, which usually produces 10 minutes of self indulgent rorschach tests. That's not to say that there wasn't some self indulgence in this program of shorts, but at least the volume of violence and humor made it easier to digest. And in Alphabetical order...

APE SH!T (Dir. Bob Ray - 5 min.) "The original monkeynaunt Albert shoplifts a four pack of wine coolers from the local convenient store and all hell breaks loose." It's what he uses to shoplift with that was just a hoot! This is part of a series and this particular episode can be seen HERE on Super Deluxe.

Bar Fight (Dir. Christy Karacas - 4 min.) It's 'just' a biker bar, where a fight breaks out. And gets bigger. And BIGGER! It is a delightfully wacky and surreal explosion of violence in a tiny setting. AND it had a great twist at the end! (It's on YouTube HERE.)

Dimension X (Dir. Nick Kunin - 7 min.) This was one of only a couple inclusions that I just didn't 'get'. Apparently, it is part of a series, which would explain the exceptionally spotty plot involving vampires and a NASA scientist. I think. Visually, it was fine. I just think that this episode was taken so far out of context that I was confused.

Death of a Matriarch (Dir. Takuro Masuda - 3 min.) This is so unique, both visually and narratively, that though I can't say I completely understood it, I was never bored by it. Actually, I think it deserves repeated viewings to fully appreciate it. You can view the short HERE.

Getgot (Dir. Bryan Fordney - 6 min.) Well, this sort of baby obsessively chases a can of soda through a Wonderland. Of sorts. Looks COOL, though! OH! And this is on YouTube, as well!

Kill John Wayne (Dir. Vivian Wong - NY - 7 min.) Though this might be a bit out of date, Wong does a no-holds-barred visceration of masculinity, politics and war, by using the image of John Wayne in outrageously violent and sexual ways. Though her animation technique is a bit rough at the edges, her visuals are gasp inducing!

One Dog Walking (Dir. Sara Spink - 4 min.) This was navel gazing. Sara Spink is a sculptress who has decided to animate her sculpture, but to no visual or dramatic effect.

Pirate Baby's Cabana Street Fight 2006 (Dir. Paul Robertson - 12 min.) This opened the evening and what a BLAST!! Literally! It is a computer game gone completely out of control as our 'players' run through scenarios littered (and I mean 'littered' as in TRASHED) with mutant babies and aliens! It is horrifically, yet hysterically violent! This, too is viewable at the film's site.

Sinking of the Hunley (Dir. Drew Christie - 7 min.) What most visually set this apart from being a 'fractured tales' version of the sinking of the Civil War submarine, The Hunley, is that Drew Christie used pages from old books as animation cel paper. This simple device gave the short a really cool look, that added to the satire of the piece. There is a video of the short being performed with live music on YouTube. (What is NOT on YouTube, it seems?!)

Space War (Dir. Christy Karacas - 3 min.) At first, I thought this was going to be a 'Don Herzfeldt rip off'. But it became so much more! Simply drawn, yet artistically captivating, it was joyfully pointless and wonderfully violent, just like the other Karacas earlier, BAR FIGHT! AND, yes, this too, on YouTube.

The unAmericans (Darwin Berman, Micah Stansell, Kevin Diggleman - 7 min. GA) I LIKED the script, as it is concerning a PTA's censorship and control of a teacher, the theme is fittingly progressive. However, the claymation is relatively crude and the editing does not present the voice talent at its best. The pacing is a bit sluggish for the parody it wants to be. However, it does earn some chuckles. It just could be tightened up.

There was also a short from the 1940's from Germany, which is not listed on the program and I can not remember the title. However, it was in the vein of the "Merry Melodies" series and purely included for its hallucinogenic qualities, I am sure.

"Animation Attack! Part two" promises to have the latest from Jim Trainor.... ooooo....

Maxxxxx says "Wooooooo!" [Maxxxxx LIKES violence in cartoons!]

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Maxxxxx's sister

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

TLA Releasing releases "Boy Culture" (dvd)

TLA Releasing has been keeping themselves (and ME!) busy with yet another home vid release. "Boy Culture" (dir. Q. Allen Brocka, US, 2006, 88 mins.). This will has been my third viewing of the film, which I have generally LIKED overall, yet I had some hesitation about seeing it again so recently after it's theatrical release this past Spring. All that to explain why I am technically late in posting comments about the DVD release on the DAY AFTER it hit the stores! (Sorry, Lewis!)

My earlier comments on the film itself can be found here,from the 2006 SF LGBT Film Festival and a small comment here (the Spring theatrical release). Upon my third viewing, I do not have that much to add to the film itself, as the experience is easily transferable from big screen to home video. The performances are perhaps more suited to a smaller screen, as the narration was not as intrusive on this viewing. That, or I have begun to tune it out and concentrate more on the visuals and performers on screen. Patrick Bauchau still knocks out a great performance, and there are subtleties to Jonathan Trent's party boy "Joey" that I hadn't fully appreciated before. The video transfer is perfectly fine in anamorphic 1.77:1 widescreen, with no loss in shadows nor are there blinding whites. The sound transfer is particularly well done, as it keeps a well recorded Dolby Digital 2.0 in fair balance. (However, the soundtrack on the menu screens is blaring!) There are also English subtitles available.

The disc contains a hardy number of extras. The screen specific commentary with writer/director Q. Allen Brocka and producer/writer Phillip Pierce is actually sort of nice as they speak about production aspects and keep away from describing 'character intentions' etc., which I find to be rather redundant. And Q. Allen Brocka doesn't shy away from giving a little dirt on what happened around the set, which is ALWAYS appreciated!

There are five interviews: Writer/Director Q. Allen Brocka and actors Patrick Bauchau, Derek Magyar, Darryl Stephens and Jonathon Trent. These interviews do not shed any more particular light on the production, as questions "Describe your character" are fairly mundane, particularly since one has most probably just watched the film! However, Patrick Bauchau does reminisce about working in the French New Wave and Jonathon Trent displays a good deal of intelligence and talent in his comments regarding his character, "Joey" who could be described as the teenage-party boy of the cast. Derek Magyar ("X") takes it quite seriously and, dare I say, seems cautious in his replies. Where as Darryl Stephens ("Andrew") becomes nearly jaded when he begins to speak about this production versus his work on "Noah's Arc" and "Another Gay Movie", which does lend a bit of revelation and gossip to his interview.

There is also a Tribeca Film Festival reel, which is primarily the Q&A after its screening there. As Q&A's go, it is OK, though the Interview sections actually cover the same ground and with higher production quality. The Tribeca Q&A was videoed from the back of the house, apparently, and the sound is not all that great.

There are two deleted scenes, neither of which really add anything, ergo, they were deleted, and a selection of trailers for TLA Releasing.

Overall, it is a pretty nice little package for a pretty good little film dealing with lots of different ways that the 'boy culture' addresses love...

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

TLA Releasing: The Blossoming of...

TLA Releasing is proudly distributing the DVD of this past year's official entry for the Foreign Language Oscar, "The Blossoming of Maximos Oliveros" "Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros" (dir. Auraeus Solito, Philippines, 2005, 100 mins.). I first saw the film at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2006. At the time, I said it "started off REALLY rough! It has ZERO production values! I was regretting picking this, at first. However, the performance by Nathan Lopez as a 12 year old gay boy who falls in love with a policeman was charming! And the policeman (J.R. Valentin) was sort of hot! It had a really mature screenplay that didn't stoop to cheap sentiment. So, I sort of liked it..." I must admit that the film actually screens better on video than the big screen. It is a small and intimate story, but performed with a naive, if nearly amateur heavy handedness that tread the line of pathos when projected in a theater as large as the main room at the Kabuki (now Sundance Cinema) in San Francisco. However, watching it again, albeit on a 96" projection screen, I found it's innocence and sincerity quite touching. As far as 'teen gay coming of age stories' are concerned, "The Blossoming..." is far from trite. The conflicts and raw performances add a touch of realism that most stateside productions avoid in fear of offending an audience with the sexuality of a pre-teen, which is the heart of "The Blossoming...".

The video transfer is 1.78:1, which is a slightly odd aspect ratio that is best screened in the 'native' resolution and not in 1.85:1, as that nearly cuts off the subtitles at the bottom. Other than that, the transfer is as clean as the apparent low-budget production values of the film stock or DV resolution (it is so hard to tell anymore!) allow. The sound is 2.0 Stereo in Dolby, which reflects the original soundtrack. There are no alternative language soundtracks and the only available subtitles are in English. The lack of an English soundtrack doesn't bother ME in the least, as it preserves Nathan Lopez's performance.

The extras are slim. There is a Photo Gallery, which is a compilation of production and publicity shots, though nothing behind the scenes. There are also a trio of trailers of other TLA Releases.

The street date is August 28th and the SRP is $19.99, which suggests that it will probably retail at $14.99, which is a nice little bargain for a nice little film.

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