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Brooklyn International Film Festival
Festival Diary

Day 1: Opening Night - April 29

Opening night at the Brooklyn International Film Festival included short speeches from Marco Ursino, the festival director, Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President and Irwin Yablans, a local producer and Brooklyn native. Excitement oozed from Mr. Ursino, infecting the room with gleeful tension, and the first film of the festival rolled.

Off To the Revolution By 2CV
(All Rivoluzione Sulla Due Cavalli)
Director: Maurizio Sciarra
Italy, 2001, 98min, 35mm
Golden Leopard for Best Film at the 54th Locarno Film Festival

Marco, an Italian lothario, and Victor, his Portuguese friend, head off to Lisbon from Paris in their yellow Citroen 2CV automobile in the spring of 1974, after a half-century long dictatorship has fallen. Victor is going home, Marco comes along for the adventure and Victor's now-married ex-girlfriend Claire decides the trip would be a good vacation from domesticity. To call this movie a road trip would be to dismiss the grandness of the landscape, the sexual tension of the trio and the underlying fears Victor has in returning from exile.

At times wacky, the film never strays far from the main issue for Victor - a free Portugal. He dreams about the red flags of revolution and the students in the streets celebrating freedom. Marco provides levity, while playfully pursuing available women on their travels. Claire is their conscience on the trip, digging deeper in the motives of each man, looking at her own life and bringing everyone together in the tenser moments. The soundtrack gives clues to the era, the early 70's, mixing classic rock and roll songs with more ethnic tunes. Overall, the film looks stunning and evokes the era well. This is not a simplistic buddy film with a female thrown in - the story evolves, the characters are complex and compelling and the cinematography is magnificent.

Post Film Reception…

After the film, the crowd gathered in the Beaux-Arts Court for a VIP reception just around the corner from the Cantor Auditorium. Festival posters hung along the entryway, as many in foreign languages as in English. Stella Artois provided the beer, while festival attendees gathered around the buffet tables to munch, talk and schmooze.

The mood was relaxed, with festival director Marco Ursino greeting many of the crowd. A DJ spun an eclectic mix of house, trance, 80's new wave and some Spanish tunes thrown in. Matt Heindl, the PR/Communications rep for the festival, shows me around a bit and introduces me to a few of the directors for the following night's screenings. I am made to promise I will show for "Anacardium", a film about men sharing a single persona, ala "Fight Club". But I am itching to talk to Abe Schrager, the festival's technical director, and continue our conversation about film versus digital video from the "Hotel" screening the week before.

As I head out the door, I am handed a goody bag - a Stella Artois glass, some mints and a few more press kits. It's a nice touch to an already interesting evening.


Festival Diary Day 2:

Rainy Evening At The Theater…

Tuesday on the 2 train to the Brooklyn Museum of Art - its rainy and chilly. Part of me just wants to go home and sleep - its perfect bed weather. The train slows in the tunnel just a few stops before the museum and I am lodged in the throat of mass transit for at least half an hour. As we pull into the Eastern Parkway stop, I glance at my watch and I know I am too late for the 7 PM screenings.

Luckily there are 9 PM screenings, but I made a promise to the "Anacardium" filmmakers to screen their flick. I sidle up to Matt Heindl, the Festival Press Rep, and he promises to get me a tape of the film to screen later on my own. He also gives me the low down the festival so far - disappointing attendance this evening due to the weather, but still pretty strong. Tickets for Sunday's screening of "Pale Male" are selling out fast. The filmmakers and attendees so far are very happy with the festival and there is a blowout bash Wednesday night in Dumbo at Superfine - free beer from 10 to 11 PM and $2 Stellas after 11 PM.

I chow down on some pizza and red wine in the lounge area and wait for the next films to start. Over to my right a group of Canadian filmmakers (of the films "Man with a DV Cam" and "So Far Away and Blue") are having a swell time drinking and talking about the festival. The gang from Montreal ("So Far Away and Blue") are a lively bunch, their thick accents rising in the cavernous Beaux Art Court.

I grab some more munchies and head off to the theater for the 9 PM screenings. The crowd trundles into the theater and the screenings begin.

Film 1: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
(Sbagliando s'impara)
Director: Stian Smestad
England/Norway, 2002, 12min
Screening: 35mm - Shooting: 35mm
Category: Short

Here's a film that understands the medium of shorts - it's a concise, witty, bittersweet tale that uses visual shorthand to tell a story. Marco comes to England from his beloved Italy to learn English. He leaves behind the natural beauty of his father's olive farm to study in the squalor and concrete barrenness of London. Marco learns what a "wanker" is and how bar fights get started. The beauty of this black and white short is the use of juxtaposition when telling the story. A brilliant treatment to the passage of time occurs early in the film, when the room shakes and the lights flicker, and what follows is Marco's humorous re-telling of his disastrous evening out.

Film 2: THE ORPHAN OF ANYANG
(An Yang Yin Er)
Director: Wang Chao
China, 2001, 84min
Screening: 35mm - Shooting: 35mm
Category: Feature

Never has desperate poverty and the misery of meager living been so well depicted. The story of a Manchurian hooker who gives her baby to a recently unemployed factory worker is packed with depressing details of destitution. The rubbish-filled rooms and hallways of their cramped living quarters play host to long silences, while the rhythmic sounds of the city around them add a dismal weight to their drawn, pale faces. There is no relief here from their situation - the audience is made to sit with them in their desolation. The hooker is beaten, rejected and finally sought out again by a criminal boss dying of leukemia. He desires the baby to be his heir. The oppression of each person's desperation is at times hard for the audience to take. There are moments of levity but they seem to be the kind of levity that is absurd in the face of very grim circumstances - the characters must be laughed at lest our own deep fears of poverty engulf us.

The camerawork is full of long, still shots, while the characters pace anxiously across the screen or sit as still as possible, trying not to crack their surface of calm. When the hooker finally breaks down, it is a very raw moment. The soundtrack is full of cityscapes - what you don't see on screen, but what the character hears as he sleeps on his bed - the continuous and stifling urban din. I would recommend this movie only to those with the patience to sit through an astonishing yet difficult film. It is well worth watching but requires endurance.

Get The Hell Out…

It's late and the wine has made me drowsy. I dread the trek home and hope to grab another slice and cup of wine, and then crash as soon as I get home. The Beaux Art Court is being emptied by museum staff and the Canadian crew reluctantly calls it a night. Just as well I didn't drink another wine. Homeward bound, the train station holds the brave Tuesday night crowd as we wait for the next subway home.


Festival Diary Day 3:

Animated and Fuzzed…

Wednesday's trek out to the Brooklyn Museum of Art goes smoother - hey, I am getting the hang of the 1 and 2 train…so I plan for the 9 PM screenings - an experimental short and an animated flick. I predict a night of pure fun. Plus there is the promise of free beer at the after-party at Superfine.

So it starts out well - the experimental short is brilliant and stunning. The audience claps spontaneously and the laughter is gleeful and unguarded - as if the crowd didn't expect to be enjoying the film so much. The after-film talk is short and interesting - the director speaks about the thrill the Kurt the excavator operator had in realizing the graceful dance he could make his heavy machinery do.

I am looking forward to the animated short because the identical O'Donnell twins made this film with software they wrote themselves. Five years of writing the software, a year and a half of animation work on this film and the general buzz about their work makes me think this is going to be an amazing flick. Well…read on…there is definitely some work to be done on this film but it has merit.

Film 1: MODERN DAYDREAMS
Director: Mitchell Rose
United States, 2001, 15min
Screening: 35mm - Shooting: MiniDV
Category: Experimental

This film is a Walter Middy tale of a man who fantasizes about post-modern situations as dances. The film is broken up into four short segments of classical dance music juxtaposed with urban settings. In "Unleashed", the office becomes a playful kennel of office workers as dogs. Brilliantly, the segment "Islands In The Sky" depicts a field of cherry pickers majestically dancing a Swan Lake ballet, while looking at times like scenes out of Return of the Jedi when the large robotic ATSTs Walkers roam the forest. The audience was thoroughly entertained, as the unexpected parody of city life takes a strange turn into free form dance and play. At times, I almost expected a logo for the machinery or some kind of pharmaceutical to pop up on the screen, since the pieces were short and thoroughly amusing. An extremely watchable and enjoyable film - I highly recommend it.

Film 2: MISSING PERSONS
Director: Dan & Matt O'Donnell
United States, 2002, 86min
Screening: DigiBeta - Shooting: 3D
Category: Feature

Here's the story - sort of - Snookie, a idiot savant cop tumbles into the life of crusty John Funn, a cop at the end of his career. Together, they sort of bust Crazy Legs, the half corpse, while his buddy Computo, the analog WWII robot (that runs on anything that burns - gas, booze, etc), takes the rap and is sent to jail. Crazy Legs lost his lower half in a shoot out at his drug den where he sort of sells mislabeled drugs. There is a strange back-story of Funn's sugar loving toddler who overdoses on pure cane sugar, and the ever-present half-drowned man who swims just below the surface, breathing out of a straw. Absurd and convoluted, it's an interesting take on the surreal life of cops and robbers in the 60th precinct out near Coney Island.

Here's the problem - the characters mumbled too goddamn much and there was too much talking - literally, the characters blather constantly and unintelligibly about nothing. Snookie was beyond idiotic and some of the twists and turns in the story, while interesting, seemed unnecessary - this film should be edited down to half it's screen time. The animation was interesting but I began to care less and less about the story. It seemed to aspire to the surreal and slightly insane animation commonly found on MTV - Aeon Flux, for example, but definitely didn't stand up as a feature. The music, Van Morrison and other 70's moody music, added something to the tale and some parts really stood out well - the courtroom scene was pure satire. However, the film kept losing me and I almost walked out. Interesting concept but it requires tighter editing and better diction.

Super Fine at Superfine…

I grab a cab with the director of "Peroxide Passion" - Monty Diamond - and we head on down to Dumbo for the after-party at Superfine. It's loud, the Stellas are flowing and the crowd is talkative tonight. I meet several of the filmmakers, get handed a few more cards and tapes and promise to include them in my reviews of the festival. Monty and I end up talking shop about the equalizing force DV will have on filmmaking and the age-old dilemma of art versus commerce.

The Canadian crew is in the house again, drinking and having a swell time. I snap a pic of Roy Cross, the director of "So Faraway and Blue". The director of "Operation Midnight Climax", Will Keenan poses with Monty for a picture. David Brooks, the director of "Member", which stars that teen heartthrob Josh Hartnett, tells me all about his production. Shot in four days total, Hartnett kept a promise to finish shooting, even after he made it big. Brooks is a freelance editor in L.A. and we talk shop about digital editing - he got to edit his film on an Inferno suite for free, but the deal was he had to learn on his own, at night. His website, www.nonmember.com, streams the entire short, so I promise him I will watch and weigh in with my opinion.

Monty and I share another cab back to Manhattan, as I head home to the Bronx (a move is eminent). We chat slightly drunkenly about the Beaux Art monoliths of architecture - the bridges and pre-war towers of New York - and compare them to the dainty structures of Europe. With one exception - Monty equates the colossal size of ancient Roman architecture with the scale of ours. "We are them; the Romans were us..." Monty muses. We drop him off downtown and continue northward.

The cabby, who ends up being the president of the Lunatarium, tells me the festival party there on Saturday night will be a blast. He asks about the festival and thus far, I am pretty happy with what I have seen. Off to bed for me, with a bit of headache from either the beer, the loud bar conversations or just smiling too damn much out of pure enjoyment.


Festival Diary Day 4:

Brooklyn In Da House…

Tonight was a tour de force in documentary filmmaking: "Black Picket Fences" was an astounding film about the struggles of two young men and their friends growing up and out of East New York. The crowd became absorbed in the experience of the lives revealed in this film - by the time Tiz and I'eisha had their baby boy, the crowd was openly applauding and hooting. The genesis of this film is rather interesting - director Sergio Goes originally came on this project to help a friend doing community work in an East New York project (the result of beating up a cabbie, stealing his cab and crashing it into a concrete median). Initially, the idea was to create a fund raising reel but it evolved after filming Tiz at a benefit rap contest for the community center. Two years of filming was edited down into an exceptional and compelling story.

The opening short, "Headcheese", was, well, weird. But not in a good way, just in a strange, almost narcissistic way - I would not necessarily call this experimental. It started out as an interesting film, but ran on long and became unexplainably weirder. There seemed to be no clear progression from the initial concept to the lack of form or storytelling at the conclusion. The after-talk with the filmmaker, Justin Meeks, was peppered with questions about his sanity (pretty stable), his target audience (anyone who wants to watch it), and how his family felt about the film (alright except for the suicide scene). He also mentioned that this film was the last footage shot on the location of the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", and is a homage to those filmmakers who originally brought movie making to Austin.


Film 1: HEADCHEESE
Director: Duane Graves & Justin Meeks
United States, 2002, 22min
Screening: MiniDV - Shooting: 16mm
Category: Experimental

What to do when evil parasites control your brain…I know! I will plan to wildly swing around a chain, while strapping a cow's pelvic bone to my chest and dance like a trailer park Elvis on 'shrooms! And I will film it in super 8 and 16mm, changing format without reason or relation to the story, and show it around the country at festivals, where someone will recognize I need help and put me away in a safe, padded room. Yah, so here's a film that really doesn't even deserve a review. It's real bad - starts out promising, all the way up to the butt slap, but from there, it is a wild mishmash of images, garbled ranting and distorted sounds. Even a crazy person doesn't act this badly! Sigh…quoting the bible doesn't make the film any less silly.

Film 2: BLACK PICKET FENCE
Director: Sergio Goes
United States, 2002, 90min
Screening: 35mm - Shooting: MiniDV
Category: Documentary

This film was DA BOMB…really! It has to be one of the best flicks I have seen yet at the festival. Everything from the photography to the sound design was thoughtful and added to the story being told. Tiz and Mel, two young black men in the East New York projects, struggle against their environment, jail and despair, hoping Tiz will make it big as a rapper. Tiz is a natural performer, but the street and hustling drugs draw him back. Mel, in a parallel story, is just out of jail and eager to do nothing but chill. Over two years, their stories arc from disappointment to slow change in circumstances.

You can't help but root for Tiz and his crew - they are earnestly trying to make it. The drug dealing and petty crime is part of their lives - their only way to survive. The film crew captures the life of the projects, where even a wounded tiger still is very deadly. At Mel's welcome home party from jail, a lisping rapper Ill-Tech spits as much venom as rhymes, while cutting off everyone else and a fight feels eminent. Guns are flashed at waistbands, blunt smoke fogs the air, motorcycles tear down streets and there is the ever-present Mr. Frosty truck tinkling in the background. This documentary should be on HBO, at least, if not a full theatrical release. It really was a polished, well-told story.

'Night…

Definitely a cab right home…and I know I won't be back for Friday's showings. I have already screened "Hotel" and "Dog", and I still have a few tapes to watch. So a bowl of popcorn, some beer and a fluffy blanket will be my company tomorrow night. If I could just stay awake the entire ride home



Click here to find out more:
http://www.wbff.org

By Melissa Ulto
©multo.com 2002




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