Sunday, April 5, 2009

FFF Days 8-10

Sunday night brought the 18th Florida Film Festival to a close. I didn't watch anything that final night, but the previous two days did allow me to screen some terrific films. The only narrative feature I watched was Em, a love story whose journey hits a speed bump due to the woman's bipolar disorder. It isn't an easy movie, it's as tough as its two main characters. It's intimate, never maudlin, and as moving a film as there was at this year's fest, thanks to two great performances by Stef Willen and Nathan Wetherington.

I just realized that I did watch another feature--one of the midnight movies--Deadgirl. I think I forgot about it because I hated it. For those who don't know, the midnight movies at FFF are slightly demented. They appeal to lowest sensibilities. I say all of this in a good way. They are usually wildly entertaining and a blast to attend. And knowing this, I still could not get past disliking Deadgirl. It's sadistic and mysogynistic. I kept waiting for it to somehow, someway to redeem itself. It didn't. Maybe I've lost my sense of humor, but I don't think so.

The rest of the screenings were either shorts programs or docs. This year's documentaries were something spectacular. Art + Copy was a fascinating look at both the show and the business behind some of the most memorable advertisements. The Wrecking Crew showcases a fraternity (plus one girl) of West Coast musicians who defined an era of rock 'n' roll as the session band behind a series of hits in the 60s and 70s. The Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, Frank Sinatra, Sonny & Cher, Sam Cooke are just some of the names Hal Blaine, Plas Johnson, Carol Kaye, Tommy Tedesco, and company played for. Like Motown's Funk Brothers (who were featured in the excellent Standing in the Shadows of Motown a few years back), these great musicians may finally get the recognition that has long been overdue.

Maybe my favorite doc of the fest though was School Play, a film about a year in the life of a 5th grade class's production of The Wizard of Oz. (The school, by the way, is in Mamaroneck, New York, not too far from where I was born--but whatever.) It's a film very much in the tradition of recent documentaries like Spellbound or Mad Hot Ballroom, where it's as much about the kids than it is spelling, dancing, or performing in a play.

The final tally:

This year I saw 14 features and 60 shorts. And I must say that the overall quality of the films were quite good. From We are the Mods to Em, from School Play to Pickin' and Trimmin', from Treeless Mountain to Sita Sings the Blues, the playlist for this year's FFF was one of the best.

Friday, April 3, 2009

FFF Days 5-7

The middle three days of the festival had me seeing four movies on Wednesday bracketed by two single-screening days on Tuesday and Thursday. Tuesday night I saw Nina Paley's altogether delightful Sita Sings the Blues an animated interpretations of the Indian myth, The Ramayana. It's got great (great I say!) music, whimsical animation, and the three most hilarious narrators this side of "Mystery Science Theater".

Wednesday I saw a couple of shorts programs, including the Animated Shorts Program in which filmmakers Bill Plympton (again), Signe Baumane, and Lev Yilmaz attended. All three have had films here in previous years and their entries here were as always among the best of the program. Later that night I screened We are the Mods, which may not be the best movie of the festival I've seen so far, but may possibly be my favorite. Like Sita Sings the Blues, it also had great period music and a great visual style (especially costume design) and a nice young cast, two of whom were in attendance with the director. We also learned that it was the first time either of the two actors who were here had seen the film.

Thursday I saw a doc double-feature of Smile 'Til it Hurts: The Up With People Story, a film about the cultish phenomenon of the massive teenage singing troupe/religious-social movement. As much as I liked it, I was more impressed by the doc short that preceded it, Matt Morris's Pickin' & Trimmin', about a small-town North Carolina barbershop that also hosts a kickass bluegrass band in its backroom. Music seems to be the recurring theme these three days and that's certainly the case in this short, but the film also exists as a wonderful affirmation of slowing down and appreciating the things that make life, well, life.

Animator Lev Yilmaz, director of the Tales of Mere Existence series. Photo courtesy of Samantha.

My very blurry picture at the Q&A for We are the Mods. Actor Lance Drake, director E.E. Cassidy, and actress Melia Renee.