Sunday, November 23, 2008

Closing thoughts

Looking back on the Lone Star International Film Festival, I think the movies on offer were at about the same level as last year's fare, which was pretty good. The Russian movies got a bit heavy, even the supposedly lighter entries like '12' and 'Nirvana,' but it's always good to see the state of filmmaking in an active country like Russia. That's one thing festivals can accomplish; it's much easier to see a bunch of foreign films from the same country at a festival than it is to track down all those specialty DVDs.

That said, I think 'Let the Right One In' is the one thing most likely to make people come away saying, "Wow, I saw something cool at the Lone Star Film Festival!" It's all very well to use a festival to conduct an academic exploration of foreign cinema, but I don't think LSIFF can afford to overlook the "cool" factor when it comes to programming. Yes, it's easier for me to sit here and say "we should have cool movies" than it is for other people to find them and book them, but that's what will create buzz around this event more than anything else.

Organizationally, this festival was more efficient than last year's, probably because they had the advantage of running their operation out of the nearby Norris Conference Center downtown instead of the West Side office they were in last year. It made a noticeable difference.

The change in management meant that the Lone Star Film Festival didn't get a chance to firmly establish an aesthetic identity in its second year, but the same people figure to be in charge next year, and they'll have more time to organize. We'll need to monitor the event to see what sort of movies festivalgoers can expect, and how LSIFF will set itself apart from AFI Dallas or South by Southwest.

The big-ticket items like 'Sunshine Cleaning' and 'Last Chance Harvey' -- the films that are assured of a wider release in the future -- were the biggest draws, so they probably won't be going away in the festival's future editions. I'm not arguing that they should, either. In fact, since Christopher Kelly's stimulating annual series at the Modern (Great Films You Haven't Heard of Yet) went dead this year, LSIFF can fill the niche and give us a sneak peek at the movies that the smaller studios are touting as Oscar contenders.

What about the rest of the festival? Will it concentrate on locally made films, American indie features, documentaries, or looks at other countries' cinema like the Russian series? Where is this all headed? That'll be something for us to keep tabs on.

One thing's for sure: Fort Worth needs a film festival in some shape or form. Our city's too big and too cultural to be without one. If you liked the work the festival did this year, they need your time and your money, and you can find out how to help by clicking on their website. If you didn't like this year's fest, then they'll probably still welcome your input as to how to improve next year's event. If that fails, you can always set up your own. It'll be a lot of hard work, but Fort Worth can definitely use it. Thanks for reading, everyone. See you back here next November. -- Kristian Lin

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Brief Words on Parties, Celebritydom

For reasons I’m still not sure of, press people were allowed into some LSIFF parties but only as civilians, not as, y’know, press people. Which was understandable. Totally. Most film fests set aside celebrity reserves, areas where star actors, directors, and best boy grips can hang loose and just be their beautiful, fabulous, smart, famous, gripping selves without fear of turning up in compromising positions in the next day’s newspaper. Why LSIFF had a similar protocol in place is understandable, but … there weren’t any bona fide celebrities there.

Not that I was complaining! As I always say, I wouldn’t pay a dime to watch Jesus wrestle Buddha on my neighbor’s lawn. I could care less about famous people. Anyway, at almost every party I went to, I had the same convo, a variation on, “Yeah, a lot of the movies were great, but the Lone Star people need to get some celebrities here.”

Now, I understand that not everyone is as blasse about celebs as I am. I also know that having celebs appear on panels after screenings is one of the best, most enlightening aspects of any film fest, and also that with A-listers like past LSIFF guests of honor Martin Sheen and Fort Worthians Bill Paxton and Janine Turner typically comes national press coverage and that with national press coverage comes more film submissions and with more films submissions comes better quality and so on.

But isn’t there always a third way? To everything? To any “problem” of sorts that needs solving? I think there is, and I think a third way for the LSIFF to maintain its stellar level of programming while getting more butts in the seats, as the old saying goes, is to focus on longevity, to acquiesce to the thought that the first years may be tough going but that perpetuating high-quality programming will attract attention. In other words, let the national press – and celebs -- come to you by doing what you do best.

ANYWAY, the parties. Briefly: Missed the one on opening night but made the happy-hour one the following night at V Lounge, Vault’s downstairs club. Funny, but the only faces I recognized were a couple of Star-T staffers who happened to be there. (Wonder what film fests’ policies are toward “celebrity journalists”?) And the crowd at the one on Friday night at the Longhorn Saloon in the Stockyards comprised mostly people I know from rock shows, which stands to reason, considering that three great bands were on the bill: The Lifters, Telegraph Canyon, and the Rivercrest Yacht Club. Also on Friday, a couple of storefronts down from the Longhorn at the partially opened Lola’s Stockyards Saloon, was an invite-only party, with Texas Music rocker Josh Davis onstage. Again, didn’t notice anyone famous or infamous there, but Davis was great, and the vibe was appropriately celebratory.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Awards and stuff

I got up early, got dressed up, and went downtown to the Renaissance Worthington for a free brunch and the chance to watch the festival's awards ceremony. Turns out the honors are a great way of framing my description of my day on the last day of the festival, so that's what I'm going to use.

The award for Best Short Subject went to Clay Liford's "My Mom Smokes Weed," a humorous bit filmed in Dallas about a young guy whose aged mother goes to buy pot from a group of intimidating black guys. I saw it yesterday and didn't find it as funny as the rest of the crowd did, though I suppose it was as deserving of the award as anything else. (If Liford's name sounds familiar to Weekly readers, it's because I profiled him a while back.) None of the shorts at this year's fest overwhelmed me. I caught one of the shorts packages as my last viewing act of this festival, which included Eva Webber's 'City of Cranes,' which juxtaposed lyrical shots of cranes over the London skyline and audio interviews with British crane operators discussing the solitary, high-up nature of their job. If you'd turned the sound off, it would've been dull, but the disembodied interviews made it interesting. I was also struck by "Spider", Nash Edgerton's Australian comic short about a guy who plays a practical joke on his girlfriend while she's driving, with horrible consequences for both of them. (You can actually watch the entire short here.) Some shorts use the duration just to tell a glib joke or score a bit of cheap irony. This one does that, but I have to say the cheap irony can be very funny.

The winner of the Best Foreign Film was 'The Banishment,' which I discussed in an earlier post. The winner of Best Documentary was 'Visual Acoustics,' Eric Bricker's profile of Julius Shulman, an architectural photographer who became famous for taking pictures of iconic modernist buildings. The 98-year-old subject is a marvelously energetic subject, and the film looks gorgeous. I don't know that it's any better than 'They Came to Play,' which I mentioned earlier, but the two films are so different that it's difficult to compare. I saw 'Visual Acoustics' at the Kimbell Art Museum this afternoon. None of the festival's buzzing atmosphere was at this screening, probably because the venue is so far away from the other theaters showing LSIFF's movies. In fact, much of the museum was closed to the public because it was changing over from its recent Impressionist exhibit, so the museum was downright sleepy. Too bad -- it's a great place to show a movie. The screen and digital projection are quite clear, and the screen is easy to see despite the auditorium's odd dimensions (long and narrow).

The last award for Best Narrative Feature went to 'Nirvana,' Igor Voloshin's thoroughly strange Russian film about two young female roommates who wind up owing money to a drug dealer and have to work frantically to pay it back. That doesn't sound strange, but the characters wear weird costumes: Venetian masks, body glitter, fake eyelashes, and makeup you wouldn't see outside of one of Paris' wilder fashion shows. It's as if Baz Luhrmann directed '4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.' I watched the film in the late afternoon after getting back from the Kimbell, and found it growing on me.

So the festival is at an end, and it's now time for us to render some final judgments. I ask my fellow bloggers: Did you have any issues with the award winners? Were there other films in competition that should have been recognized? Do we all agree that 'Let the Right One In' was the hit of the festival? Did anybody get out to see 'Wendy and Lucy'? At the risk of sounding like an ophthalmologist, was this year's fest better, worse, or about the same as last year's? And what would you like to see next year?

Teen A Go-Go

Al Pruitt introduces Teen A Go-Go at the Norris Conference Center.

Teen A Go-Go

Crowds file into the Norris Conference Center for the screening of Teen A Go-Go.

Director of Programming

Lone Star International Film Festival Director of Programming Alec Jhangiani checking out the official program to the festival.


Fort Worth Weekly staff writer Kristian Lin playing a video game while waiting for the doors to open for the screening of Nirvana. photo by: vishal malhotra

Catching Up: Let the Right One In, Vexille, and Sunday night

Cole here again. Well I'm ashamed I didn't post sooner about 'Let the Right One In', but better late than never. I think its a great movie, not just for the atmosphere and the way the movie doesn't explicitly show Eli's vampire powers, but for the sweet romantic nature of the story. One of my favorite things in any story are unique relationships, and they don't get much more unique than the one between weird little Oskar and vampirishly sweet Eli. The scene when she comes into his room and into his bed is crammed with so much stuff: burgeoning adolescence, innocence, losing innocence, creepiness, and is very touching. And the climax...hoo boy! Any movie that has the guts to go where this movie went in regards to kids gets a big thumbs up in my book, namely in showing how the idea that kids are all innocent little perfect beings who don't start being corrupt until they become teenagers is a load of bs.

I also loved how neither Oskar nor Eli are simple cypher characters, there for the audience to put themselves into the story. If anything, I found that human Oskar is creepier than vampire Eli. But its that neither character is normal that makes their relationship that much more investing and heartwarming, for a weird geek like me anyway.

But unfortunately before that I had to sit through 'Vexville', which told me exactly what it was from the first ten minutes: the average anime set in the not-too-distant future that is just cel shaded. For those who don't know, cel-shading is where something is modeled in 3D and the colored and lighted to resemble traditional animation, somewhat similar to rotoscoping and most famously, or infamously, used in the video game 'The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker'. From what the presenter said, its on the cutting edge of animation. Too bad the story is more than 15 years stale.

Seriously, there's no way I can over-emphasize how derivative and boring the movie was. Wow, a futuristic city! Amazing, futuristic techno-armor! Holy cow, green-lit metal corridors! Not only that, but after two somewhat exciting if unoriginal action scenes in the beginning, about 20 minutes in the main character finds herself in Japan. And while the set up for the future of Japan is unique, as are the "Jags", giant 'Dune sandworm-like' monsters made of swirling metal and debris, these are about the only two cool things in the movie, and even with the future of Tokyo its just all slums. The main character has no character and sits on her ass most of the movie, there's maybe on single drop of humor near the end, rendering the whole movie flat, the drama that's there is melodramatic, and a good chunk of the movie is spent with the characters sitting on their asses in the slums of futuristic Tokyo.

Can you imagine someone thought it was a good idea to use amazing computer generated animation and use it to render boring sheet metal and plywood slums? I'll never understand why people take advanced animation technology and use it to render the most boring things imaginable, be it rooms resembling an industrial buildings in the video game 'Doom 3' to the glut of CGI talking animal movies.

In case I haven't gotten the point across, DON'T SEE VEXILLE! If you want to experience the wonders of japanese animation, rent "Akira", rent any of the "Ghost in the Shell" movies or TV shows, and hell rent some Miyazaki anyway ("Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" and "Princess Mononoke" are two enthralling starters). But at least if 'Vexville' got you interested in anime, then that's a good thing.

Also, tried attending the Weekly's wrap up part at Club Embargo Saturday night. Great thing about a press pass is where it can get you in. Bad thing is getting out. Walking into a club packed full of people for someone who loathes crowds was a bad idea. In and out in 2 minutes, tops.

Well, tonight's the last night. I'm looking forward to seeing 'Network' and some of the shorts. Hope to see some of y'all there!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Not Closing Night

The turn in the weather meant that many visitors to our city found out what the downtown Fort Worthers already know: The sidewalk in front of the AMC Palace turns into a wind tunnel on even moderately breezy days. With all the running I did between downtown venues, I had plenty of opportunities to get my hair mussed.

I started off with 'Trinidad' at the Four Day Weekend Theater. The film was insightful, but I was even more impressed by the improvements in projection quality at that venue. Dennis Bishop was on hand to explain that the theater has a new screen and some parts from the now-defunct AMC Sundance theater (which apparently still has all the old projectors). Now we get a decent video picture here. The Four Day Weekend guys have always been happy to provide a venue for the local festivals, but this is a fair-sized step up.

Speaking of the old AMC Sundance, it's now been replaced by a Norris Conference Center, which is now officially open for business and serving as the festival's headquarters. The building looks much nicer with new lighting and carpets, and there's a nicely decked out Festival Lounge with divans and throw pillows. (Weirdly, I've never seen more than a few people in there at any time.) The staff is very nice, and the place is good to visit for either visitor information or just to check out the new digs. Interestingly, there are four large Warhol-influenced paintings of John Lennon, John Wayne, Al Pacino, and Frank Sinatra decorating the main lobby. These aren't here for the festival -- Norris actually owns them. It's an odd touch for a center for business meetings, but maybe they're hoping to attract cool, creative businesses.

Anyway, the festival organizers were heavily hyping this afternoon's screening of 'The Banishment', not least because the film's writer-director Andrei Zvyagintsev was due to make a personal appearance. Unfortunately, it didn't go so well. The crowd was reasonably sized (about two-thirds full in the small auditorium), but the 35mm print got lost between London and Fort Worth (they showed the film on DVD instead), the director was held up by Customs at the airport (apparently a Russian guy flying in to Dallas from Costa Rica raises questions), and the sound cut out about half an hour into the film, so the audience was treated to about five minutes of silent movie, followed by a rewind and then those same five minutes with the sound.

On top of it all, the film proved to be tough sledding. It played at Cannes last year to wildly mixed reviews, and though the film's star Konstantin Lavronenko won the acting prize for his work, lots of people there found the movie boring. So did some of the people here -- there were a few walkouts -- and with its deliberate pace, lack of dramatic fireworks, and 159-minute running time, it's no wonder that the film hasn't yet found a distribution deal in this country. Zvyagintsev (whom the staffers called "Mr. Z" because they had trouble pronouncing his name) made an eye-catching debut a few years ago with his prize-winning debut film 'The Return', and he's often been compared with the 1960s Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky. 'The Banishment' had the same effect on me as much of Tarkovsky's stuff -- I see the director's enormous talent in terms of composition, timing, and color (even in a DVD projection), but it just doesn't cast that hypnotic spell on me that it does on other moviegoers. Clearly the festival organizers believe passionately in this movie. They even distributed bound copies of an essay by Evgeny Vasiliev detailing the movie's intricate patterns of religious symbolism and artistic allusions. I get all that. It just didn't do much for me.

By the way, Zvyagintsev did eventually show up to take questions from the audience at the end of the film. However, I'm afraid I missed that because the various delays left me with only half an hour to grab dinner before the next screening. Forgive me, gentle readers. Perhaps some of you who were there can fill us in on what he said.

'Last Chance Harvey' was dubbed as the Closing Night screening, which is bizarre given that the festival doesn't actually close until tomorrow. There was a full house for this movie, no doubt drawn by the star power of Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, whom you may remember appeared in 'Stranger Than Fiction' a couple of years back. 'Harvey' is being released at the end of this year -- I think the studio is looking to make this into a hit among older viewers like 'The Bucket List' last year. This movie is better, but it's still something that'll blow away in a stiff breeze. The whole plot is basically Hoffman and Thompson meeting each other and falling in love during a 24-hour period when he's stranded in London while attending his daughter's wedding. I like the concept (think 'Before Sunrise' for older people) and these are two great actors. It doesn't deserve to get lost amid the Oscar contenders, but neither does it deserve to draw bigger audiences than them. Something tells me I'll be unhappy either way.

I ended the evening back at the Norris, where I saw 'Night Crawlers', a horror flick filmed partially in Burleson and Cleburne. It was no 'Let the Right One In,' but it was still way more watchable than I expected. It starred Lee Trull and Gabriel Horn as two loser best friends who find the population of their small Texas town turning into vampires. The fight scenes were really inept, but some of the comic interludes worked pretty well, and I liked the fact that the two heroes were total weenies who'd scream like girls when the vamps attacked them. The movie maintains a consistently light tone and doesn't take itself too seriously. You'd be surprised how rare that is in a micro-budget horror flick.

Well, tomorrow truly is the last day. Any picks on which movies might or should win the festival's awards? -- Kristian Lin

Q & A with "Teen A Go-Go" director Melissa Kirkendall

Several years go, veteran music promoter Melissa Kirkendall transitioned from the rawk world to work as a production coordinator on locally shot TV movies and series, including “Prison Break” and “Walker, Texas Ranger.” She makes her debut as a documentary director with “Teen A Go-Go,” a feature-length exploration of 1960’s “teen scenes” around the country—with a special emphasis on North Texas. These “scenes” were adult-run nightspots where teenagers driven into a hormonal frenzy by British Invaders like The Beatles and Herman’s Hermits could dance to the latest national pop hits as well as to live original music by their peers. Local garage bands recorded their own “one-take” tunes, pressed them onto vinyl, and sold them at the gigs where they performed

LSIFF’s 5pm Sunday screening of “Teen A Go-Go” has sold out, prompting Kirkendall and her producer Mark Nobles to sked a second LSIFF screening at 7:30pm. Kirkendall spoke briefly to “Fort Worth Weekly” about her doc.—Jimmy Fowler

FWW: What prompted you to make “Teen A Go-Go”?

Kirkendall: I’d been discussing ideas for music documentaries for a while. Then Mark (Nobles) heard the “Fort Worth Teen Scene” CDs and gave them to me. I was like, “Wow, how could I have not known about this part of the music scene?” I knew about Johnny Reno and John Nitzinger and Bloodrock, but a lot of the garage bands had passed me by. Also, honestly, I was shocked at how good the music was. Bands like The Elites and Larry and The Bluenotes were not business-savvy, they didn’t get the industry advice that today’s teen musicians get, but their songs really hook you.

FWW: Where was the original “Teen A Go-Go” club located in Fort Worth?

Kirkendall: In the mid-‘60s, there were three or four “A Go-Go” clubs in Tarrant County that could attract as many as a thousand kids on a weekend night. There were different venues with names like “Candy Stick A Go-Go” and “Action A Go-Go.” But the original “Teen A Go-Go” that we talk about was in Will Rogers Coliseum, in what’s now called the Roundup Inn. The peak of popularity was probably Friday nights from 1965 to 1966. These scenes were happening all over the country at the same time, with no MySpace to connect what everyone was doing.

FWW: Can you name any “one-take” songs by 1960s Fort Worth bands that’ve become internet collectibles?

Kirkendall: What comes to mind is “One Potato” by The Elites, a song that was covered by the all-girl Japanese punk band The’s. “Night of the Sadist” and “In and Out” (by Larry and the Bluenotes) have been covered by different musicians. These were bands that played more than forty years ago, and they only discovered their records were selling on eBay a couple of years ago.

Last Chance Harvey

Lone Star Film volunteers check tickets for the sold-out shoe of Last Chance Harvey. photo by: vishal malhotra

How To Be

The line for How To Be extended all the way outside for this UK film. photo by: vishal malhotra

Melonie Diaz

Melonie Diaz at the red carpet event at the AMC Palace. Diaz is the recipient of the 2008 Lone Star Rising Star Award. photo by: vishal malhotra

The Banishment

Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev talks about his camera work during a question / answer forum after his film, The Banishment, was viewed at the AMC Palace. photo by: vishal malhotra

Alternative Distribution & Marketing - Panel

James M. Johnston (far left) talks about marketing his films with other filmmakers. photo by: vishal malhotra

Reflections on Acting - Panel

Lauren Velez and Julio Cesar Cedillo discuss acting. photo by:vishal malhotra

Cold-blooded fun

You're right, Jimmy, the adults in 'Let the Right One In' are pretty awful. (I was tempted to say that they suck, but then I remembered all the hacks who hurl that word at bad vampire flicks, and I held back.) I'm intrigued by your description of the movie's apartment complex setting as "Polanski-esque". I'm assuming you're referring to the apartment that Catherine Deneuve got trapped in in Polanski's 'Repulsion'? I do see the resemblance, but I've also seen apartments like that in other Swedish movies that have nothing to do with vampires. Maybe that's just how they live in Stockholm and the surrounding areas.

I love the creativity in this movie; director Tomas Alfredson and writer John Ajvide Lindqvist came up with a chilling answer to the question of what happens when a vampire enters one's house without an invitation. Jimmy, you characterize the movie as mean-spirited, but on my second viewing I was struck by the sweetness of that central romance. Then again, I was also struck by how much laughter came from the crowd (which packed the screening room at the AMC Palace and gave the movie a rapturous reception) during the climactic sequence when those school bullies got all manner of comeuppance. Now I'm interested to read Lindqvist's novel, which this movie is based on. Apparently it's available in English translations here in America.

The film did leave me with a few questions: Was Lina Leandersson (who superbly played the vampire girl) really walking around in short sleeves in the middle of a Swedish winter? That idea just amazes me. Also, I'm trying to find out what the two kids said to each other in Morse code at the very end. I don't know Morse, and even if I did, I'd still have to translate the messages from Swedish. Readers?

Before that movie, I caught '12', a Russian-language remake of '12 Angry Men' by the Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov, who created a stir in the mid-1990s with his drama 'Burnt by the Sun.' '12' was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar this past spring, but it's not being released in America until 2009. (And I'll say it again: The eligibility rules for the Best Foreign Film Oscar are screwed up.) I found this 150-minute film to be very Russian; many of the characters make a point by telling a story as a parable (something you see a lot in Dostoyevsky novels), and many of the characters have a unique comic tic (like the ones you see in Chekhov plays). The film didn't blow me away, but I was impressed by its intelligent writing and sturdy construction.

The showing of '12' was prefaced by remarks by festival director Dennis Bishop, who urged us to support tax incentives to encourage filmmaking in Texas, saying that "the Texas film industry is dying like Pittsburgh's steel business and Detroit's automakers." The comparisons smack of hyperbole, but I wonder if Texas filmmaking is indeed in that much trouble. I have noticed an uptick of recent movies filmed in New Mexico, including 'Swing Vote,' the festival-opening 'Sunshine Cleaning,' and 'Hamlet 2,' which was supposedly set in Arizona. Is Texas losing movie business at such a rate that we should be worrying?

Bishop also paid tribute to J. Mitchell Johnson, who's responsible for bringing so many Russian films to this year's festival. I profiled Johnson a few years ago for the Weekly, and it's good to see that his Russian connections are being put to good use. I still have a few more Russian movies to see, though, so I'll let you know exactly how good those connections have panned out. -- Kristian Lin

Friday, November 14, 2008

Got them Swedish bloodsucker blues

Hey, everyone. I’m usually suspicious when the film punditocracy raves about The First Really Scary Movie in a Long Time. But I have to say that the Swedish vampire chiller “Let the Right One In” fulfilled most of the freaky-ass promises that its pre-publicity made. It is visually beautiful, emotionally confounding, and deeply off-putting all at once. The director unleashes all kinds of effects—howling cats, spontaneous flames, blood stains on snow banks—to rattle the subconscious.

The funny thing about this elegant, mean-spirited little horror movie is that classic vampirism (a.k.a. the fangs-in-the-flesh variety) is pretty much kept on the down-low. Center-stage is a chaste but hardly innocent adolescent love story between blonde mortal Oskar and brunette bloodsucker Eli. They share a compulsive fascination with bloodshed—and a residential proximity in the same Polanski-esque apartment building. Their relationship is abetted by the movie’s freakiest conceit—that all adult authority figures are drunken, undependable, or absent, so let the kids be ruled by their worst id-inspired nightmares and fantasies.

Kristian, you’re exactly right that this wintry, brutal vampire love story probably offers a sober counterpoint to the upcoming film version of Stephanie Meyer’s "Twilight.” (Which I haven’t seen). If you missed it at LSIFF tonight, “Let the Right One In” has just opened a run at the Angelika in Dallas. It’s worth a trip across I-30 for lovers of extreme art-house macabre.—Jimmy Fowler.

Friday night!

Jimmy, I have to agree with you that 'Trinidad'was very fascinating and emotional, though I felt it ran about 10 minutes too long with what felt like too many false endings. I was particularly touched by the commitment made by Sabrina and I think it was Laura's children. I also found the part religion and small town life plays in the film to be interesting. I asked the director P.J. Raval about it and he said that he's not religious but he put all the talk about religion in there because Sabrina is Catholic as is most of the town.

Another funny thing was I asked him if there were ever any hate crimes committed while he was filming. And aside from a group of churches and pastors railing against the sex-change operations in the local newspaper, the biggest thing was Fred Phelps himself showed up in town after filming was completed, and the townspeople asked him to leave! Awesome. Apparently director Raval said that the references to religion and the lack of hate crimes in the small town were put in to not only reflect Sabrina's religious nature but to go against the stereotype of close-minded small towns.

Interestingly, the talk of Fred Phelps invading their town after filming reminds me of something that happened last year. I had just seen the movie 'The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam', a well meaning if mediocre movie about the ancient Muslim astronomer Omar Khayyam and his quest for tolerance and understanding amidst the rise of intolerant zealotry, and was asking director Kayvan Mashayekh some questions when the audience was told that someone outside was passing out comic strip pamphlet by hardcore conservative Christian nutjob 'Jack Chick' (he who wrote that Dungeons & Dragons leads to Satan worship and not abstinence and geek status, and I say that lovingly). Oh the irony.

I'm dying to see 'Let the Right One In'. I've heard nothing but great things about it and can't wait. I also want to see 'Vexville', being a fan of more out there anime (the works of Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, etc).

Though Kristian I have to disagree about 'Sunshine Cleaning', of course that may be because indie dramas like it are absolutely not my thing at all. In fact the movie gave me a new rule: if a movie's soundtrack is more than 75% made up of acoustic guitar and it isn't a western, I will not see it. Man I can barely stand those plodding, self important, dreary cry fests. I can get drama like that for free on Thanksgiving; don't feel like paying for it at the movies.

I'm also looking forward to what the Weekly's latest after party is like tonight at the Longhorn is like. Hopefully I'll see more actual people from the Weekly there (*wink wink*).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Two hours of shorts

Jimmy, I'll have to check out 'Trinidad' when it screens again. I got back in time to catch one of the festival's packages of short films. There are only four of them at this series, which is convenient, but this program ran almost two hours. Maybe it's because I'm used to shorts programs that run 70-90 minutes, and maybe it's because this was running late at night, but I felt wiped out when it was over, and I heard a couple of other moviegoers express similar sentiments at the end. The best in this one was a brutal, horrifying, wordless four-minute animated piece called "Sebastian's Voodoo", about a guy stabbing voodoo dolls in his basement. The thing is, the dolls are living things, and they die in excruciating pain when they're stabbed. One of the dolls stabs back. Gnarly, imaginative stuff.

The small auditorium at the AMC Palace was about two-thirds full for the shorts program. There was a steady stream of walkouts, which isn't uncommon at these festivals. Often filmmakers, actors, or crew members involved with one of these short films will come to see their own work and then take off after it's shown. It's rude, but it's also counterproductive -- filmmakers can always learn from their colleagues' work (even if it's which mistakes to avoid), and actors and crew members can find opportunities for roles and jobs with other filmmakers whose work interests them.

If you're wondering about what to see tomorrow, I can highly recommend 'They Came to Play', which I saw about a month ago and found worth blogging about. I also caught a press screening of 'Let the Right One In' this past Monday. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say it's very insinuating and creepy, as opposed to the sort of horror flick that makes you jump. This Swedish vampire movie flips the conventional genders; here it's a boy who falls in love with a girl who's a vampire. Nice that they're releasing this around the same time as 'Twilight.' I can't wait to hear your reactions to it. -- Kristian Lin

A truly "trans"-formational flick

Having just seen P.J. Raval and Jay Hodges’s documentary “Trinidad,” I have to say: “Wow!” This doc did as perfect a job as I’ve seen of balancing the stories of transgendered people with those of their families and communities—and I’ve seen a lot of film-fest fare about the tricky lives of those who feel to the bottom of their souls that they were born into the wrong gender.

It helps, of course, that the filmmakers had a petri dish of fascinating conflict in the town of Trinidad, Colorado—population 9,000, and unofficially known as “the sex change capitol of America.” This once uber-macho mining and ranching center has become, over the last four decades, a scenic getaway where transsexuals can quietly have their life-changing surgeries. The late Dr. Stanley Biber, a sympathetic surgeon, helped turn Trinidad into a gender-bending mecca with his pioneering 1960s work in the field of the “penile-scrotal flap” technique. (And, yes, the filmmakers include some textbook photos of gender reassignment that are, um, intimate but non-sensationalistic). In one of the movie’s strangest revelations, Dr. Biber reveals that his first trans-operation was in a Catholic hospital—and that it occurred with the permission of the Vatican, which deemed as a condition that the doctor “do no harm” to the patient.

“Trinidad” dispenses with the “please tolerate me” platitudes and focuses on the nitty-gritty details of men who’ve had gender-reassignment surgery to become women. The film’s subjects include Dr. Marci Bowers, a former male OB-GYN from Seattle who resettled to Trinidad to become a female surgeon for transsexuals; and Dr. Laura Ellis, a post-op male-to-female who moved to the town and became a family physician for the general population. Watching her gently encourage a life-long Trinidadian to stop his smoking habit is priceless.

You better believe the children and grandchildren of Trinidad’s founders are not happy about their burg’s reputation. Snarled comments like “Disgusting!” and “That’s not how God made men and women!” appear early on in the movie. But “Trinidad” accomplishes a humane and endlessly watchable feat: It allows the old Trinidad blood—car mechanics, beauty and dress shop owners, firemen, mailmen—to slowly work their way toward their own versions of compassion. “I don’t get it,” said a woman, “but we all bleed the same blood.” “I was standing behind one, and I thought she was real, and she was pretty hot,” said a man gallantly.

The beauty of this doc is that there are no easy solutions and every emotion is messy and universal. Just as the townspeople intentionally and unintentionally cause pain for their transgendered neighbors, so do the gender-reassigned face the pain their decisions have brought to spouses and children. Sympathetic but unsentimental, “Trinidad” explores a most unusual small town in America that is “frontier” in every sense of the word. If you missed it Thursday night, it’s being rescreened Saturday at 11:30am at the Four Day Weekend Theater.--Jimmy Fowler

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another op'nin', another show

Just got back from seeing 'Sunshine Cleaning,' the opening night selection for LSIFF. Nice, enjoyable movie, though not something I would have picked for the opening night of a festival -- it's a bit too low-key for the occasion. Amy Adams plays a single mom in New Mexico who starts a business cleaning up crime scenes after the cops are done with them. Emily Blunt plays the screw-up of a younger sister who gets in on the business. The story needed a bit of tidying up, but you can't fault the performances of the two leads, who both give the movie comic punch where it's needed. The crowd filled the big auditorium at the AMC Palace about three-quarters full, and they certainly liked the movie.

Did anybody make it to the post-movie Opening Night Reception at Fort Worth Club? I skipped it in favor of the Fort Worth Weekly party at Scat Jazz Lounge, and I think that might have been a tactical error. Also, did anyone else think Emily Blunt's character in the movie was a lesbian, or at least bi? We did see her having sex with that one guy, but she didn't seem very involved, and there's definite erotic subtext in the scenes with her and Mary Lynn Rajskub as the dead woman's daughter.

I'll be off at a screening of 'Bolt' tomorrow, so I won't catch the prime-time fare on the program. The rest of you will have to pick up the slack. I'm particularly bummed to miss out on 'Wendy and Lucy' -- the director Kelly Reichardt has a cult following, and even though I wasn't as big a fan of her last film 'Old Joy' as some people were, I'm still interested to see what she does now. I'll be back in time to catch some of the late showings. -- Kristian Lin

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hey all; freelancer Cole Williams here. This will be my second time to cover the Lone Star International Film Festival, and I'm really excited to do so. Last year I got to see a lot of movies and short films I normally would never see, either because of my taste or a film's availability. Among my favorites from last were a documentary about the disappearance and murder of atheist activist Madelyn Murray O'hair and my first Bollywood film, the enthralling "Paint It Yellow".

This year I'm probably most looking forward to anime "Vexville" and Swedish vampire/coming of age story "Let the Right One In", which I've been hearing nothing but great things about since it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and the plot of "Sunshine Cleaning" sounds right up my alley, dark humor wise. I'm also looking forward to the shorts packages, a bevy of surprises for me last year, especially "Stars and Suns", "Sebastian's Voodoo" and "Glory At Sea".

One movie I really wish was playing is "The Good the Bad the Weird", a Korean semi-remake of Spaghetti Western classic "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", which I also heard about from the Toronoto Film Festival, and am dying to see after rewatching the exciting trailer several times. But aside from that, I'm betting I'll be surprised and entertained again this year by what looks like an interesting slate of films from around the world.

T-minus one day

Hello, and welcome to Fort Worth Weekly's new blog created especially for the Lone Star International Film Festival. Here you can read our reactions to the movies on offer and the happenings going on outside the theaters. Along with me, fellow Weekly staffers Anthony Mariani, Jimmy Fowler, Steve Steward, and Cole Williams will be buzzing around the festival and chiming in with their views on what's going on. So have a look, have a pop at us in the comments section. Most of all, have fun. We'll be here through next weekend. -- Kristian Lin