Sunday, April 20, 2008

Atlanta Film Festival 2008 - Closing Night

The Atlanta Film Festival 2008 drew to a close at the Landmark Midtown 8, with a pair of features and five shorts. I would have made it to the Noon screening of PRICELESS, but I was just up too late with the Animated Shorts the night before. (Plus it opens in a week.) And I wasn't sure how late I would be at the Closing Night Party. (Open bar?!!)

LIKE MOLES LIKE RATS (dir. Jim Torres, US, 2007, 95 mins.) As things progressed in this, I continued to question, "Where are we? Who are they? Why are they doing that?" And then, about an hour into it, about the time of the gun fight, I no longer cared. The film is based upon a play, and as I watched, I tried to figure that out, too. It is set in a post-apocalypse and most of the civilization appears to be living underground, in one form or another. There is a pregnant woman, which is a rarity, as there are no children anymore. Now. From there, it seems that the world above is in complete anarchy. There is also some familial feuding. I don't know why. In what felt like Act 3 (I thought it was ending nearly 30 minutes before it did), there is a lot of Greek Tragedy involving mothers and a son and everybody is killing everybody else and it was just sort of a mess, motivationally speaking. Now, this was sort of a shame, as the cast is a fairly accomplished group. But the script was just too unclear for me to figure it out. It was shot in Birmingham, Alabama, so the creators were there for a Q&A. However, I scampered out just as the credits began to roll.

A collection of five short subjects were presented in a program of "Full of Life Doc Shorts". They focussed on elderly and/or disabled people recollecting their past and how they face the present.

THE ART OF KARAOKE (dir. Will Hartman, US, 2007, 8 mins.) The program began with this perfect companion to the feature YOUNG @ HEART. Art is an 80 year old man, who started singing at a karaoke bar in his late seventies. He sings standards, but brings to them such sincerity that he has developed a following of fans at the bar. The climax, when he sings his version of "My Way" really does deliver to the build up that is 'signature song' suggested.

ONE OF THE LAST (dir. Paul Zinder, Italy, 2007, 12 mins.) A 78 year old Italian delivers a monologue about his passion for working in the fields, along with espousing his ecological theories. Watching him climbing olive trees said more than anything else!

THE SHERIFF (dir. Jeff Giordano , US, 2007, 14 mins.) This is a brief portrait of a legally blind, 78 year old, albino African-American, who works at the Industries For The Blind, in North Carolina. Though his speech needed to be subtitled, Eugene Alexander was a fascinating subject to focus on. Director Jeff Giordano did explain at the Q&A that he was going to develop it into a full length feature.

THE LADIES (dir. Christina Voros, US, 2007, 13 mins.) In sort of a GREY GARDENS way, but without the campy fighting, this presented the lives of 87 and 93 year old sisters, Vali and Mimi. They have spent their lives as dressmakers and continue to work full weeks from their small NYC apartment. Hungarian is their native language, so understanding them was particularly difficult and required subtitles. Since they have lived practically isolated with each other all their lives, that is what becomes the story. So, the film is not overly long, as they speak mostly about sewing.

BODY & SOUL: DIANA & KATHY (dir. Alice Elliott, US, 2007, 40 mins.) The final piece of the program was the longest and the most effective. Following the 37 year relationship between Diana, a woman with severe cerebral palsy and Kathy, a woman with down syndrome and also Diana's caretaker. Their lives together serve as examples of activism for independent living. They face Medicare denial of home health care, as they actually leave their home to speak against institutionalizing people with disabilities. The intensity of the relationship, particularly as it falls on Diana, is also documented. It is an exceptional piece.

THE VISITOR (dir. Thomas McCarthy, US, 2007, 108 mins.) For its closing night film, the festival programmed a tour d' force performance from Richard Jenkins! He is in nearly every frame of this film about a man whose world will be challenged and innate talents revealed by interacting with people from outside his little bubble. They are illegal immigrants, who have sub-let his apartment (in the only weak plot point of the film) in NYC. (He teaches in Connecticut and keeps the apartment for...?) Once that little technical hurdle in the screenplay has passed, the rest of what unfolds is particularly touching. Jenkins, whose persona is so "Willy Loman" as to provide a life long career in character roles, uses that tool as an invitation to the audience to view this new world through his eyes. As Jenkins moves from a nearly soulless professor of economics, to becoming a street musician, he appears as excited and surprised by that transformation as the audience is. The supporting cast is also excellent. Haaz Sleiman, plays "Tarek" a Syrian man, and Danai Gurira, as his Senegalese girlfriend, portray the fear and cynicism of this potential confrontation with the conservative Jenkins. When Hiam Abbass (as Tarek’s mother) arrives, Jenkins has already become part of this multi-cultural family unit. Once the issue of deportation is introduced, Jenkins opens up in ways we have never seen from him before, in this film or any of his previous work that is known to me. Thomas McCarthy may have a hole or two in his screenplay, but his direction of this cast is nothing if not SPOT ON! There is not a missed glance or line wasted. The economy of the performances is outstanding. The film's pacing is subtle and never lags. The production design is marginal, however, the costume design, especially of Jenkins and Gurira, is subliminally brilliant! Hopefully, this will reward Richard Jenkins for a once in a lifetime performance. During the Q&A, the device of the illegally sub-let apartment was brought up, and fairly dismissed. As for the emotionally ambiguous resolution... well, to speak of it anymore here, would be to spoil it.

The Closing Night Party was sponsored by Stella Artois and Guillotine Post, where it was held. This meant an OPEN BAR and a nifty little buffet, that ended with a chocolate fondue! YUM! (Now, if they could just do something about those "gift bags", which are only filled with flyers...) At the party, I stuck around for a couple of rounds, some hobnobbing with the FABULOUS Xanna Dont, her partner Ann, and their incredible circle of friends. I had spent a great deal of between-film-time with Xanna at The Independent. The Independent served as the exclusive Festival Lounge during the day. (A FABULOUS idea as it was an "open bar" thanks to Stella Artois and had free wi-fi access!)
Then I whisked myself away to get caught up on THESE postings!

Maxxxxx says
re LIKE MOLES LIKE RATS: "Is it bedtime?"
re THE VISITOR: "Dooby doobie doo-ooo!"
re The Closing Night Party: "Breakfast?! Breakfast!" (That's what Maxxxxx says when he wants to be fed.)

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