The Big Bearl Lake International Film Festival

I just got back from my first film festival and it was a blast.  I was more than just an audience member, I was a screener (meaning I watched submissions to help decide if they belonged in the festival), I worked on the data base with the programming coordinator and I worked the festival as a Q & A moderator.  I think the most rewarding part of all of this was being able to meet the film makers of the films I liked and tell them how much I loved their movie.  I promise you, I only did this when it was true and I didn’t get to do it for all of the ones I liked either. 

Independent film is such an interesting gray area.  The big wigs in Hollywood always want to be the ones who discover the next Diablo Cody, or whoever, but often don’t take risks on good independants without named stars.  Which is odd, because the very definition of an idependant film usually means that it was made without big named stars.  There seems to be an every diminishing middle ground between big budget Hollywood pictures and undistributed independent films. 

The motto of the organization Film Independent is “Story Matters”, because it does.  That is what independent films without people you recognize are all about, the story.  This is one of the reasons going to a film festival can be so fun, you get to see wonderful films that you otherwise may never have the chance to see.  The short movies can be the most fun at a festival because there really are very few places to see them otherwise.  Film Festival movies are not of a lower quality than what you might see in a regular theater, as you might fear.  Many of the films you see in the theater started out at a film festival.  If you like to be entertained by good stories, both long and short, a film festival is something you should attend because they need audiences just as much as they need film makers. 

I would like to mention some of my favorites if I may.

Limbo Lounge directed and written by Tom Pankratz
Stuck in Limbo after a fatal acciendent, a charming conman attempts to earn his horns, by corrupting an innocent soul on Earth.

An original idea well executed, what more could a movie ask for?  Distribution.  This is a fun and poinient story with the tag line: “How Low Will You Go?”  Such a fun double meaning.  All of the elements came together in this movie, nothing felt forced.  This was Pankratz first feature film, although you would never guess that watching it.  If you can catch a screening of Limbo Lounge anywhere, do and if you know any distributors, this film deserves a shot.  Only drawback? The Limbo Rock song will be stuck in your head for days.

Solitary written by Greg Derochie and Charles Scalfani, directed by Greg Derochie
An agoraphobic woman is trapped inside her house and thinks that her husband and psychiatrist are trying to drive her insane.

Billed as a thriller/mystery that has you hooked from the beginning trying to figure out what is really going on.  Nothing is what it seems, an illusion that is sometimes hard to create without losing your audience, but is done elegantly by Derochie and company.  Well paced and just the right length, another movie that needs to be seen.

Cast Me If You Can written by Atshushi Ogata and Akane Shiratori, directed by Atsushi Ogata
trailer: (in Japanese without subtitles, but you can get the idea of the tone and look of the film)
Hiroshi, an actor who always plays supporting roles and lives in the shadow of his famous playwright father, struggles daily to climb out of his marginalized existence.  One day Hiroshi’s luck changes.  He meets his muse Aya, falls in love and learns to play the lead in his own life.

Although my trailer above doesn’t have subtitltes, the movie does.  This is a fun, lighthearted story that keeps you smiling.  In the Q&A after the film festival viewing, Atshushi Ogata, the director, told us of a little casting joke that those of us not familiar with Japanese cinema wouldn’t have gotten without his explaining.  The actor playing the lead Hiroshi, the eternal supporting actor, really is famous as a supporting actor in Japan.  His supporting cast in this movie are mostly actors known for playing leads in Japan.  Ogata’s playful spirit comes through on the screen and it is a really fun movie.

Earthwork written and directed by Chris Ordal
Earthwork is the true story of real life crop artist Stan Herd who plants his unique, rural art in New York City with the help of a group of homeless characters on a plot of land owned by Donald Trump.

This was one of the first features that I screened and I was really blown away by how visually uplifting it was from the opening credits to the end.  It stars John Hawkes, one of the most genuine indepentent movie actors around.  Though this film does have some recognizable actors in it, (Hawkes and James McDaniel of NYPD Blue) it is still an independent film.  Earthwork is a good uplifting story and a very well made film.

Next blog entry: documentaries.


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