The Irvine International Film Festival Shows Off Its Good Eye

Cinephiles routinely hit local movieplexes to make sure they've seen all the Academy Award Best Picture nominees before the ceremonies, which fall on Feb. 24 this year. Hardcore cinephiles expand the must-see viewing to films included in the foreign, acting, writing and directing categories.

Those iron-eyeballed souls who take in Oscar nominees in the short, animated and documentary categories should hit the second annual Irvine International Film Festival (IIFF), which opens Thursday, Jan. 17, and continues through Monday at Edwards Westpark 8. It's one-stop shopping, as the IIFF lineup includes nine films in the Best Documentary Short, Best Live Action Short and Best Animated Short categories of the Academy Awards.

Someone obviously has a good film eye at IIFF; the nominated titles, as well as the unnominated, were booked before the award nominations were announced on Jan. 10.

Nearly the entire Oscar Best Documentary Short category is composed of films rolling at IIFF. Cynthia Wade's Mondays At Racine is about two sisters who once a month open their Long Island hair salon to women diagnosed with cancer. Open Heart, which was directed by Kief Davidson, follows eight Rwandan children who leave their families behind to embark on a life-or-death journey to Sudan for high-risk heart surgery. Sari Gilman examines self-reliance vs. community living through the stories of five seniors at a retirement village in Kings Point. Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine's Inocente, which made its Orange County premiere at last August's OC Film Fiesta in Santa Ana, profiles Inocente Izucar, who emerged from San Diego's homeless, immigrant community to inspire fellow young artists. The only Best Doc Short nominee not playing at IIFF is Redemption, John Alpert and Matthew O'Neill's look at four recyclers fighting to survive and get off the streets of West Oakland.

Davidson is expected to attend Friday's Open Heart screening at IIFF. That's also the night Mondays At Racine rolls. Seats are being saved for the Fines of Inocente on Sunday, which is also the day Kings Point is shown.

The Best Live Action Short category of the Academy Awards includes these films coming to the IIFF: Bryan Buckley's Asad, which is about a boy in Somalia having to choose between a life of piracy or honest fishing; Pesaran-e-Buzkashi (Buzkashi Boys), a coming-of-age story from director Sam French about two best friends that's set against war-torn Afghanistan and a brutal national sport that involves polo players on horseback and dead goats; and, from Belgium, there's Tom Van Avermaet's Dood van een shaduw (Death of a Shadow), about a deceased soldier who collects shadows of dying men and women to buy a second chance at life so he can pursue a girl he met the moment before he died.

Pesaran-e-Buzkashi and Dood van een shaduw screen Saturday. Buckley is expected at Monday's closing-night showing of Asad.

Recipients of Oscar nominations for Best Animated Short were Timothy Reckart's Head Over Heels, which is about a husband and wife who have grown so far apart that he lives on the floor and she lives on the ceiling, and Fresh Guacamole, which has director PES going tableside to follow up on his lauded Western Spaghetti. Head Over Heels opens IIFF on Thursday, Jan. 17, and Fresh Guacamole crushes it Sunday.

The other opener is the feature-length documentary The Iran Job, which The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg and's Steve Pond had singled out as a possible Oscar nominee before the awards were announced. It's about American basketball player Kevin Sheppard's experiences on a team in one of the world's most-feared countries. Director Till Shauder, who is expected the attend the IIFF showing, had his cameras rolling against the backdrop of Iran's reformist Green Movement rising, falling and inspiring the Arab Spring.

Paraiso, Nadav Kurtz's 10-minute documentary on three immigrant window cleaners who risk their lives daily by rappelling down some of Chicago's tallest sky-scrapers, actually made Oscar's shortlist of potential nominees, but, alas, the early-morning call never came. You can help cry in Kurtz's beer as the director is expected at Sunday's IIFF screening.

These are just a handful of the short and feature-length films that will roll in Irvine. You want rambunctious? Here are just three films randomly pulled from Sunday's schedule: Uprising, Fredrik Stanton's documentary that gives an inside look at Egypt's revolution; a David Nerman-directed doc with a title that says it all, Overlooked Suspect: What If O.J. Simpson Didn't Do It?; and Michele Fiascaris' Fat Cat, a dark comedy pitting a revenge-filled, Italian nightclub owner against a flamboyant, psycho gangster boss known as Mosca, who lives in a castle and whose best friend is a bronze sculpture of a cat named Renato. Sneak peaks are available thanks to trailers on IIFF's Youtube channel.

Besides opening- and closing-night parties, the festival includes Saturday's “An Evening With Mark Rydell,” the director of The Rose, On Golden Pond and John Wayne's The Cowboys. On Sunday, for the second year, movies made by K-12 filmmakers will be presented. The IIFF has partnered with the International Cinematographers Guild to screen the Emerging Cinematographers Awards films followed by a panel discussion Monday afternoon. That evening, over at the Embassy Suites Irvine, a Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to veteran actor Martin Landau.

OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.

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