Perhaps it’s wrong to complain about what we’re prevented from seeing when there’s been so much to see in 2012, a combination of a cascade of strong filmmaking inundating festivals and theaters since the start of January and a crumbling of the traditional distribution channels that has empowered more filmmakers to distribute their own work or seek previously unorthodox release strategies to get their films seen. This week alone, anyone can access “Open Five 2,” the latest film from Kentucker Audley on the filmmaker’s No Budge site that acts as an outlet for truly indie American films. Yet in our various festival travels this year, there’s been many great films that still haven’t found a home and deserve the spotlight. Here’s hoping that these five films from the U.S. and four from abroad make their way into theaters and all other available screens across the country soon.
“Sun Don’t Shine”
I was skeptical when I first walked in to see Amy Seimetz’s directorial debut. Why? I have no idea since as an actress, she’s had the opportunity to observe some of the best filmmakers working in film today whether it’s Megan Griffiths on “The Off Hours,” Adam Wingard on “A Horrible Way to Die” and David Robert Mitchell on “Myth of the American Sleepover.” But too often the debut films that have emerged from those who have come up through the ranks in recent years doing something other than directing at first have felt like experiments, interested in moments rather than narratives and certain textures instead of full cinematic schemes. It doesn’t take long for “Sun Don’t Shine” to erase such fears, throwing down its opening scene with the same intensity as its lead Kate Lyn Sheil does her co-star Kentucker Audley in the Florida swamplands, each literally digging their heels into the mud and never relenting. While what comes next isn’t worth spoiling for those who haven’t seen it, the comparisons to “Badlands” are apt, with Seimetz’s evocation of the sweaty, disorienting nature of the Everglades an equal to the lonely Midwestern roads traveled by the lovers on the lam in Malick’s first feature. The thrills don’t only come from the never-ending array of twists and turns Seimetz throws at the audience, but the promise she holds as a filmmaker from here on out. For those fortunate enough to be in New York next week, the film is showing on Wednesday, December 19th at Brooklyn’s reRun Theater as part of Filmmaker’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film series. For the rest of us, just pray some smart distributor discovers what’s right in front of them.
When I sat down to write about Andrew Semans’ incredibly funny first feature shortly after it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, it frightened me to discover that I was using an alarming amount of the same adjectives and turns of phrase to describe the film as the press notes did. Perhaps that means I shouldn’t be trusted since I was so clearly on the same wavelength as Semans, who finds pitch black humor in the story of a grad student (Will Rogers) who becomes obsessed with a lost copy of Charles Dickens’ “Little Dorrit” that he left at the house of a former roommate (Will Rogers) and becomes oblivious to having his world implode around him while he tries to retrieve it. For what it is, the film is virtually flawless, spinning out into an increasingly weird and wonderful tale of self-delusion that’s perfectly played by its cast. Despite seeing others embrace the film, it never seemed to gain as much traction as it deserved coming out of Tribeca and that needs to be rectified since films as expertly crafted as “Nancy, Please” don’t just deserve to be released, but to be appreciated over time as all of its quotable dialogue and scenes continue to kick around in the heads of whomever is lucky enough to see it. [The original review is here.]
I don’t know how and why films get picked for certain film festivals or what festivals filmmakers pick to play them at, but it struck me as odd that Noah Buschel’s latest film quietly snuck into the Hamptons, Woodstock and Austin Film Festivals during three consecutive weeks this fall. It wound up winning the Best Narrative Feature at the last of those, but hardly made the noise that his last film “The Missing Person” did when it debuted at Sundance and more than deserves the same amount of attention. At just 81 minutes, it may be a hard sell to some, even more so since the tap dance of a love story between an agoraphobic and a plumber she reluctantly lets into her apartment dabbles in deconstructing the facade on such onscreen romances. But just as it’s a story about opening up new possibilities for someone afraid of change, Buschel suggests there’s just as many for cinema, even within the confines of such well-trodden territory as a seemingly simple relationship drama. I fell hard for Marin Ireland and Paul Sparks’ lovers and even harder for “Sparrows Dance” as a whole, which is why I’ll be disappointed if the film isn’t picked up by someone before Valentine’s Day. [The original review is here.]
I’m legitimately worried David Nordstrom will take out a restraining order against me. After seeing his lovely directorial debut “Sawdust City,” in which he starred as one of two brothers who bum around a small Wisconsin town on a snowy night looking for their father (and also still needs a distributor), and a smoldering turn in Adele Romanski’s breakup drama “Leave Me Like You Found Me” (ditto on the distribution), my enthusiasm for his career is well documented and when I met him this summer, I greeted him as if he were Justin Bieber and I was a 13-year-old girl. Maybe my man crush would be abated if Nordstrom’s winning streak would come to an end, but I’m afraid it hasn’t with “Pincus,” a loose-limbed, lightly comic character study of a slacker unable to run from the responsibility of caring for his father with Parkinson’s and continuing his construction business. It was writer/director David Fenster’s own experience that both inspired the film and kept him away from following up his acclaimed debut Trona from 2004, but the wait was worth it for something as moving and sublimely absurd at times as what eventually becomes a spiritual journey as if by accident. Hopefully, Fenster’s nomination for a “Someone to Watch” Award at this year’s Spirit Awards will mean a higher profile for a film that indeed should be watched. [My interview with Fenster and Nordstrom is here.]
There are plenty of great documentaries still looking for a proper home from “Venus & Serena,” which may never see theaters after the famous tennis-playing siblings disagreed with the film’s depiction of their father, to “Informant,” which somehow found a way to tell a balanced story about activist-turned-FBI snitch Brandon Darby and has now racked up well-deserved prizes at DOC NYC and Austin Film Festival. However, one that hasn’t left my memory since seeing it at the Los Angeles Film Festival is Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall’s film about Ugandan gay activist David Kato, who refused to leave his country where his sexual orientation is considered a crime and instead fought for his civil rights through a cleverly waged court battle. While there are certainly twists to the case that the filmmakers would’ve wished had been prevented, they nonetheless are beneficiaries of an unbelievable story that they do well by, capturing both the importance of the system Kato has set up as a safe haven for his fellow outcasts and a fight against ignorance. [My interview with the filmmakers is here.]
“The Suicide Shop”
One of the more exciting stories this year in distribution has been the rise of GKIDS, a company wise enough to fill the need for someone in the States to release animated films from around the world and smart enough to do so on the back of savvy Oscar campaigning for Best Animated Feature, giving audiences an alternative to Disney and DreamWorks. For one of their next releases, I would plead with them to bring Patrice Leconte’s musical to America. A passion project for the director of such live-action hits as “My Best Friend” and “Girl on the Bridge,” the film is an adaptation of Jean Teule’s macabre novel about a cheery child who doesn’t necessarily want to join the rest of his family in the dour business of selling equipment to kill oneself that’s as potent as early Tim Burton, but distinctly its own thing as Leconte makes canny use of 3D to make the layers of the two-dimensional, hand-drawn cels appear as if it were a pop-up book. It’s hardly the only way things spring to life in the delightfully dark comedy. [My interview with Leconte is here.]
Even in an era where filmmakers are becoming more and more accomplished in blurring the line between fact and fiction, Christian Bonke and Andreas Koefoed’s chronicle of a comeback of former World Latin Dance Champion Slavik Kryklyvyy is pretty extraordinary in the sheer amount of “holy crap, how was somebody in the same room where this footage was being captured?” moments. (Several shots of Kryklyvyy waking up in the morning suggest Bonke and Koefoed never left his side.) Still, the remarkable fly-on-the-wall perspective and the way a compelling narrative naturally unfolds for Kryklyvyy take a backseat to what transpires between the proud but humbled ex-champ and his girlfriend Anna Melnikova, a talented dancer in her own right, but perhaps not the one who will help him restore his former glory. The film is almost uncomfortably intimate while retaining the beautiful fluidity and grace of what its subjects struggle to achieve in dance and occasionally do.
This year’s City of Lights City of Angels Festival in Los Angeles brought a wealth of mainstream crowd pleasers from France, a group of films that typically go without notice in the States since their familiarity makes them unlikely to be championed by critics and their stars aren’t familiar enough here to grab art house audiences’ attention. Standouts included “The Adopted,” the promising directorial debut of “Inglorious Basterds” star Melanie Laurent about two sisters, and the ridiculously entertaining romantic comedy “Love Lasts Three Years,” in which a cultural critic dooms his own love life with his best-selling relationship advice for others, from French man about town Frederic Beigbeder, both of which appeared to have benefitted from the production values and the broad appeal dictated by a middle class of filmmaking that’s been all but lost in America.
The likeliest and perhaps strongest candidate for an American release, however, was “Another Woman’s Life,” which not only boasts recognizable French stars Juliette Binoche and Mathieu Kassovitz as a long-married couple whose relationship has fizzled, but marks the directorial debut of Sylvie Testud, who makes a comedy as mischievous and touching as her wonderfully expressive work as an actress in such films as “Lourdes” and “The Chateau.” The film imagines Binoche as a high-powered exec who wonders how she became the person she eventually did, having her wake up from her first night of passion with her future husband to discover she’s nearing a divorce. Binoche is luminous, particularly in a lighter register than most of her films that see an American release and while that (and an occasionally grating synth-heavy score) may make it feel like an appetizer by comparison, it’s hearty comfort food for anyone who gives into its old fashioned cinematic charms.
Laurent Cantet’s followup to his Palme D’Or-winning “The Class” seemed destined to be a disappointment, more so when the source material – Joyce Carol Oates’ novel about a group of rebellious teens in the 1950s who set up their own utopian community while relying on a life of crime to subsidize it – was already adapted (albeit updated) into a forgettable Angelina Jolie drama during the ’90s and the filmmaker was trying his hand at his second English-language film (by way of Canada) after his previous experiment outside of France, “Heading South,” was a mixed bag. Indeed, “Foxfire” is a bit unwieldy with a nearly three-hour running time that will no doubt dampen its American theatrical prospects and Cantet’s approach to coaxing performances out of a cast of largely nonprofessional or first-time actors is more hit-and-miss with a more melodramatic plot at hand. Yet the film rides on a fierce turn from Raven Adamson, who seizes control of the gang and the picture as Legs, a young woman whose idealism allows for the film to directly address the changing times without getting bogged down in them. While the film I saw in Toronto could stand to lose a few minutes to get down to its fighting weight, there’s no doubt a fighter is in it.