This year, you don't need to know the difference between the Next Generation Independent Film festival (a.k.a. “Indiefest”) and the Foundation for the Advancement of Independent Films festival (a.k.a. “FAIF”). For now, the distinction between the two festivals isn't so important, since they've combined forces to conquer the same venue during the same time frame. This year it's goodbye Hollywood and hello . . . Downtown Disney?
Now, jaded cinephiles are probably thinking that Disney + Independent = Miramax, or something like that. Not so. These aren't corporate indies, nor are they likely to come to your local art house any time soon. Based on the small selection available for preview, these are movies people put together for next to nothing, often shot on video (and not that fancy-pants 24P kind, either), ragged around the edges and featuring obvious actor-types wearing too much makeup and conspicuously generic costumes. But if you can roll with that, there's some fun to be had.
Stan Harrington's half-hour short El Porcanse Perfecto is a highlight—shot for $59, mostly in and around Hollywood's Stella Adler theater, where Harrington rents a room. It's a simple story of Latin-American immigrants putting on a play that they hope will be the Next Big Thing, but things spiral out of control when the erotically charged material leads one of the actresses into fiery, jealous rages. Also impressive is Adam Bolt's short Vanished Acres, in which an aging farmer deals with past regrets and a talking scarecrow who sounds a bit like 2001's HAL 9000. Not sure I quite figured out all the plot mechanics, but the art direction and casual surrealism won me over right away. Similar in tone is Tree, a Twilight Zone-style yarn about a tree that can predict the future . . . sort of.
Features are more of a mixed bag—though it's interesting to note that animated opening credit sequences seem to be almost mandatory. Never Say Macbeth, like El Porcanse Perfecto, is set in a theater, but takes a more cartoonish route, riffing on the old superstition that actors in “the Scottish play” never say the title during rehearsals for fear of bad luck. The story's serviceable enough, but it's really tough to pull off ghosts in a movie unless you have some kind of special effects budget, or really creative storytelling, and the film comes up a little short on both. Location is the key in Arizona Seaside, a crime caper in which a scam artist encounters a Kazhakstani mail-order bride, and both must elude the angry criminals on their tail. The desert locations give a sense of added value to the thing, and while the overly caricatured Cockney villain is a bit much, you have to love any flick that gives major screen time to a bearded dragon.
The Garage makes a repeat appearance from the SoCal Independent Film Fest (seriously, even I have trouble keeping all these festivals straight), and there's even a movie directed by Robin Williams—but not the famous one (alas? Or thank goodness?). It's called Mayday: Tugs of War, and is a documentary about the men who manned the rescue tugboats during World War II, many of whom appear on-camera to talk about it. Whether you're a Greatest Generation fetishist or not, their tales are compelling.
The only must-avoid I've seen so far is East of Euclid. Shot in black and white in Winnipeg, and featuring a storyline involving a kidnapped hockey player and a mechanical eye, it may sound on paper like a Guy Maddin homage, but the filmmakers should have gone one step further in that direction by making it silent, as the incessant fake Russian accents completely kill any possibility of enjoying the story's quirks.
I'll be interested to check out the following when I can: Blood Ties, an action/conspiracy movie shot in multiple countries with a hand-held DV camera; Fingerman: Dr. London and the Triangle Force, just because the title is irresistible; the documentary Judge Louis Brandeis: The People's Attorney, because it's nice to remember that the Supreme Court wasn't always full of it; Mississippi Son, which documents the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina two years on; Shipwrecked, a full-length animated feature from the team that brought the California Raisins to life; 11 Minutes Ago, a non-linear tale, shot in one day, about a time traveler who can only go back and forth 11 minutes; Exodus 20:13, in which a future America gives all its citizens permission to kill one person a year; and Loop, a surreal head-trip from Pericles Lewnes, director of Troma's infamous Redneck Zombies.
FAIF/Indiefest runs Fri. through Nov. 2 at the AMC 12 in Downtown Disney; for further information and tickets, go to www.themagicalfilmfest.com. And stay tuned to the Navel Gazing blog at ocweekly.com for further updates and festival reports.