Friday, August 19, 2005

Microcinema Fest Updates: Saturday

I checked my stats counter today and was astounded to see that I have been getting over 250 page loads a day this week. Before Jonason Ho writes to tell me he loves my site so much he has been looking at it 250 times a day, my stats tell me that more than 100 unique visitors have been visiting the site each day. That seems crazy to me, but one supposes it reflects how much interest there was in Microcinema Fest.

So here are my quick capsule reviews of Saturday's showings.

Shades of Gray was first, and I was very eager to see this one. Director Jesse Cowell has a larger-than-life personality. He is constantly taping himself to chronicle his life for his website (and you can catch up with him here), and has attracted a seemingly sizeable following. A message board about the movie features 75 pages, and over 2,000 entries. Probably 25 fans showed up with matching t-shirts and hats and hung around a lot of the weekend. He is "playing forward" his DVD by giving away free copies everywhere.
But Jesse could also walk the walk, and I really enjoyed his corrosive comedy about a genial weasel who backstabs his friends until they plot an elaborate revenge. Very nicely shot and edited, with lots of kinetic energy, and a really well-rounded ensemble. Some real gut-busting moments as well.

I already reviewed Coming To My Senses here, and enjoyed a second look at a housewife's rebirth. One of the best-lensed projects in the fest, in my opinion. I've seen Cassandra Schomer in a handful of shorts and think she's a great actress as well. Directed by Indiana's own Chad Richards.

I think Amir Motlagh is a potential breakout star from the microcinema world, and a lot of people were talking about his very strong, emotionally powerful short Still Lover afterwards. Also reviewed it here.

Rounding out the afternoon session was Comic Book Issues from RJ Buckler, a post-modern superhero story about an average joe who gets blessed by superpowers, and his handful of friends who try to egg him on to do the right thing. The tech side (shooting, lighting, sound) was a bit of a wreck, but a really neat story kept poking through. Although it undoubtedly owes a lot to the Warren Ellis/Alan Moore school, it ends up with its own takes on things. I was wholeheartedly behind it by the end, after my initial reservations based on the technical shortcomings. I felt it was one of the better scripted projects of the Fest, much like last year's American Indian Grafitti, which was ragged production-wise but had me in tears by the end in its tale of the ravages of reservation life.

We came back after dinner to Cloud Symphony, a meditative short about two people who decide to travel to wherever the world takes them, and the bond that forms between them on the road. In Japanese (though it was shot in Oklahoma), from director Shogo, it won for Best Cinematography. And I was glad to see the shooting was good, as Shogo DP'd director Christopher Sharpe's Sex Machine that I did a rewrite over and will hopefully be screened somewhere soon.

Next was Automated Assets, another exceedingly clever short from the Dastoli Brothers, featuring two robots on a helpdesk. This won for Best Comedy Short and really showcases their ingenious ideas.

Waiting for Time: The Lives of USP Marion was a documentary from Jonathan Hayes about life in a supermax federal prison, and would make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. This doc won hands down for Best Documentary and was well shot and edited throughout.

The knockout punch of the Fest was delivered by Streets of Wonderland, a Canadian drama about a gang of junkies and thieves who terrorize tourists in the Niagra Falls area. Certainly not destined to be screened by the Niagra Falls Chamber of Commerce, this harrowing tale of one guy's attempt to break free and drag his emotionally crippled girlfriend with him floored the audience, and led to Streets bringing home a half-dozen awards, including Best of Fest, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Actress, Best Drama, and Best Screenplay. Although there are a few technical missteps, the storytelling is impeccable and the acting top-drawer. Really heart-wrenching narrative and mesmerizing acting.

Next was a nice little short from Vices director Mark Iverson, Downtown, sort of a variation of the "meet cute" idea with two teens' paths crossing and re-crossing on a day trip to downtown Chicago. I believe this was done for a high school AV class and reflects that in its production, though it is nice of its type.

Mike Losquadro's Mascara Streaks, a brief yet incisive parody of art films, was met with booming laughter from those "in the know" in the crowd, and was well-received by all. I felt it hewed a bit close to its source material, and that idea that if you look into the abyss the abyss looks back. Such a close parody that it almost became an art film itself, but still with funny bits.

The festival ended with Miguel Coyula's The Plastic Fork, a true art film, a strange improv (with musical numbers!) about the marginalized life of a serial killer. Coyula tore the roof off of last year's Fest with Red Cockroaches, to me still one of the top microcinema outings ever, and his attempt to go from heavy Shakespearean drama to an experimental, breezy comedy sits a bit uneasily on his shoulders. I think Fork is still worth a look for Coyula's signature elements, but it is not as intense as his milestone work. I still think Coyula is the first true rising star from microcinema and am glad to see him at every level of his evolution. Coyula and I split a bunk bed at Natioinal American University during the Fest in Rapid City last year, and every so often I try to remind him, "when you become famous, remember who shared your bed in South Dakota..."

And that was the Fest. Next time, what I really thought about the film festival overall. Until then, give me a shout at

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