DALLAS INTL FILM FEST Announces Texas Avery Honoree & 12 Official Selections

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on March 5, 2010

The DALLAS International Film Festival Honors Pete Docter

with Texas Avery Animation Award

12 Official Selections Announced Includes 3 World Premieres

Southwest Airlines Announced as the Film Festival’s Official Air Carrier

Dallas, TX, March 3, 2010—The DALLAS International Film Festival (April 8-18) announces Pete Docter, director and writer of Academy Award® Best Picture nominee UP as the recipient of the 2010 Texas Avery Animation Award presented by REEL FX ENTERTAINMENT. 12 official selections were also announced, including 3 films (A SURPRISE IN TEXAS, THE RIVER WHY and WE ARE THE SEA) that will be making their world premieres at the film festival. DALLAS IFF also announced that Southwest Airlines would be taking a major sponsorship position, serving as the film festival’s official airline.

Docter will receive the 2010 Texas Avery Animation Award presented by REEL FX ENTERTAINMENT, which honors lifetime achievement in animation filmmaking. Docter is the director and writer of the five-time Academy Award nominated film UP (Best Picture, Best Animated Feature, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing). Previously, Docter also garnered Academy Award nominations for his work on WALL-E (2008 – Best Original Screenplay), MIKE’S NEW CAR (2002 – Best Short Film – Animated), MONSTERS, INC. (2001 – Best Animated Feature), and TOY STORY (1995 – Best Original Screenplay).

REEL FX CREATIVE STUDIOS CEO and Dallas Film Society board member Ed Jones said, “As an animator, screenwriter, and director, Pete Docter has been integral to the success of some of the most memorable animated movies of all time. The industry has watched his talent and career grow at PIXAR, and is not surprised by what he has achieved. Pete is deserving of this honor and we are thrilled that he will accept this year’s Texas Avery Animation Award. “

Making their world premieres at the DALLAS International Film Festival will be Peter Rosen’s A SURPRISE IN TEXAS, Matthew Leuwyler’s THE RIVER WHY and Neil Truglio’s WE ARE THE SEA.

Directed by Peter Rosen, A SURPRISE IN TEXAS is a documentary focusing its camera lens on the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth Texas, where 29 young contestants come from all over the world to compete for the most prestigious prize in the music world. The film highlights the story of one of them, a 20 year old from Tokyo, Nobuyuki Tsujii, blind from birth.

Directed by Matthew Leutwyler, THE RIVER WHY is a drama based on the novel by David James Duncan about a man known as “the Mozart of fly fishing” who leaves his big city home in rebellion from his family. In the process he comes in contact with an assortment of eccentric characters who help him in his journey to adulthood. The film stars Zach Gilford, Amber Heard, William Hurt, Kathleen Quinlan and William Devane. DALLAS IFF will also screen the film GREENLIT, Miranda Bailey’s documentary about the efforts of THE RIVER WHY’s filmmakers to maintain a “green” shoot throughout their production.

Directed by Neil Truglio, WE ARE THE SEA stars Jeff Childress and Allison Savoy in a drama about a young English teacher returning from the brink of tragedy to find his life exactly where he left it — in shambles. Turning cautiously to his friends, family, and even his students for guidance, he explores the possibilities for forging a future from a history of mistakes. The film features the music of Iron & Wine.

The list also features several selections from the recently concluded Sundance Film Festival, including award winners WINTER’S BONE (Grand Jury Prize Winner, U.S. Dramatic and Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award) and OBSELIDIA (Excellence in Cinematography Award, U.S. Dramatic and Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize). Other films included THE DRY LAND, JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD and SKATELAND.

“James Faust, Sarah Harris and the DIFF10 programming team have spent the year crossing boundaries both geographically and metaphorically in search of new discoveries. Traveling the globe continues to be key to the high level of programming found at the DALLAS International Film Festival. We are thrilled to bring this mix of exhilarating and emotive filmmakers to Dallas where they will tell you there are no more appreciative audiences,” said Dallas Film Society Chairman, Michael Cain.

DALLAS IFF Founder and Chairman Emeritus Liener Temerlin was proud to announce that Southwest Airlines would be making its debut as the official airline for the DALLAS International Film Festival. “From the beginning of this film festival, a hallmark has been the exceptional group of talented filmmakers and stars that we have been able to deliver to the city of Dallas. Southwest Airlines will allow us to continue what I see as a grand tradition.”

Southwest Airlines issued a statement saying, “We are honored to support the DALLAS International Film Festival where vision, inspiration, and passion are celebrated. The airline salutes the filmmakers who seek new horizons and embrace possibilities.”

The twelve official selections announced include:


Director: Peter Rosen

Directed by Peter Rosen, A SURPRISE IN TEXAS is a documentary focusing its camera lens on the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth Texas, where 29 young contestants come from all over the world to compete for the most prestigious prize in the music world. The film highlights the story of one of them, a 20 year old from Tokyo, Nobuyuki Tsujii, blind from birth.


Director: Ryan Piers Williams

Cast: America Ferrera, Jason Ritter, Wilmer Valderrama, Ethan Suplee, Melissa Leo

Directed by Ryan Piers Williams, THE DRY LAND follows a young U.S. soldier, James (Ryan O’Nan), as he returns home from duty in Iraq. Having not found the direction and purpose he sought from the service, James hurls himself back into his old life and finds it no longer fits. He tries to reconcile his experiences abroad with his life in rural Texas, but despite the support of his wife (America Ferrera), his mother (Melissa Leo), and friend (Jason Ritter) he is unable to settle in.  James turns to an Army buddy (Wilmer Vaderrama) for help and together they travel the country in search of redemption. Thinking that the war was behind him, James comes to realize that the fight for his life has only begun.


Director: Clay Liford

Cast: Rebecca Spence, Peter Greene, William Katt, Jennifer Sipes

Directed by Clay Liford, EARTHLING is a sci-fi drama following the events that occur after a mysterious atmospheric event aboard the international space station causes a small group of people to wake up and realize that their entire lives have been a lie. Now they have to make a choice. Live amongst men, or try to find a way back home.


Director: Miranda Bailey

Directed by Miranda Bailey (Executive Producer on THE SQUID AND THE WHALE), GREENLIT follows the production of THE RIVER WHY as the filmmakers attempt to keep an environmentally friendly set thanks to the supervision of a “green” consultant. What starts off with great enthusiasm quickly devolves in this insightful and hilarious film about the difficulties of living up to good intentions.


Director: Tamra Davis

A documentary by Tamra Davis, JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD is about the artist and phenomenon who became notorious for his graffiti art under the moniker Samo in the late 1970s on the Lower East Side scene, sold his first painting to Deborah Harry for $200, and became best friends with Andy Warhol. Appreciated by both the art cognoscenti and the public, Basquiat was launched into international stardom. However, soon his cult status began to override the art that had made him famous in the first place.


Director: Fatima Geza Abdollahyan

A documentary by Fatima Geza Abdollahyan, KICK IN IRAN profiles Sarah Khoshjamal, a 20-year-old Taekwondo superstar and the first female professional athlete from Iran to qualify for the Olympics. This skillful vérité portrait follows the unassuming Khoshjamal in the nine months leading up to the 2008 Beijing games. Living in an Islamic country, she is required to wear a hijab at all times and, unlike her fellow competitors around the world, cannot train with men; however, the power in her fighting resoundingly breaks down stereotypical barriers.


Director: Diane Bell

Cast: Michael Piccirilli, Gaynor Howe
Directed by Diane Bell, OBSELIDIA is a romantic drama about a man writing an encyclopedia of obsolete things. In his quest to capture people, technologies, and ideas that are disappearing, he meets a free spirited cinema projectionist. Together they go on a road trip to Death Valley to interview a scientist who is predicting the eminent end of the world, and on their strange journey, they discover perhaps love is not obsolete after all.


Director: Matthew Leutwyler

Cast: Zach Gilford, Amber Heard, William Hurt, Kathleen Quinlan and William Devane

Directed by Matthew Leutwyler, THE RIVER WHY is a drama about a man known as “the Mozart of fly fishing” who leaves his big city home in rebellion from his family. In the process he comes in contact with an assortment of eccentric characters who help him in his journey to adulthood. 


Director: Anthony Burns

Cast: Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Greene, Heath Freeman

Directed by Anthony Burns, SKATELAND is a coming-of-age film set in 1983 centering on ‘Ritchie’, a worker at Skateland, the roller rink and local hangout of a small town. With Skateland due to close, the party scene getting stale, and his romantic life as cloudy as his future, Ritchie struggles to make sense of it all. When tragedy strikes his friends and family, Ritchie must face the music—and make the biggest decision of his life.


Director: Don Hahn

Directed by Don Hahn, WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY takes a look at the “rebirth” of the fabled animation studios of Walt Disney in the mid-1980s. The studio had fallen on hard times with artists polarized between newcomers hungry to innovate and old timers not yet ready to relinquish control. The conditions produced a series of box office flops and many believed the best days of animation were over. The film shines a light on an influx of new leadership and talent helped Disney regain its magic with a staggering output of hits—LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ALADDIN, THE LION KING and more—over the next ten years.


Director: Neil Truglio

Cast: Jeff Childress, Allison Savoy

Directed by Neil Truglio, WE ARE THE SEA stars Jeff Childress and Allison Savoy in a drama about a young English teacher returning from the brink of tragedy to find his life exactly where he left it — in shambles. Turning cautiously to his friends, family, and even his students for guidance, he explores the possibilities for forging a future from a history of mistakes. The film features the music of Iron & Wine.


Director: Debra Granik

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser

A drama set deep in the Ozark Mountains, Debra Granik’s WINTER’S BONE follows the daring struggle of a teenage girl, ‘Ree’, who must go in search of her crystal-meth-making father, after he skips bail and goes missing. Unless she is able to find him, she and her young siblings and disabled mother will face destitution. In a heroic quest, Ree traverses the county to confront her kin, break their silent collusion, and bring her father home.

The DALLAS International Film festival will run April 8 – 18, 2010. Passes are currently on sale and tickets go on sale March 18. Passes and tickets will be made available via online (), and phone (214.720.0555).www.dallasfilm.org


Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on April 1, 2009

Tze Chun’s CHILDREN OF INVENTION is a timely film. The story of a Chinese immigrant mother desperately trying to make enough money to support her two kids with little to no help and a wandering eye toward one dubious entrepreneurial opportunity after another is familiar. Too familiar. And that’s why it will last and still resonate long after our country rights itself toward the next period of prosperity. Because that elusive dream of instant wealth and relief from the struggle and embarrassment of not being able to pay rent or properly feed your kids will always be here – for someone. And the fear of that happening to all of us and the curiosity of how we would respond to that bleak situation – remains with everyone. But the magic of the film is that Chun illustrates the other hopeful side effect of that struggle in the persons of the mother’s young son and daughter – and that is the spirit of innovation to survive.

1          There is a strong autobiographical inspiration behind this film. Why was it so important for you to make this film?
It’s always hard to say why a certain script will inspire you while you’ll lose interest in another.  I will say that as we were making the film, the cast (Cindy, Michael, and Crystal) continued to inspire me and kept the material fresh.

When I wrote the film, I was writing a personal story about the world I grew up in – a subculture of Americans trying to get-rich-quick in order to get themselves out of a financial hole. I didn’t foresee the current crisis. But with the economy tanking now and foreclosures going through the roof, it seems like everyone’s living through some version of what the Chengs go through in the film.

I hope this film can be a reminder that we’ve had bad times before, individually and as a country, but we’ve always made it out fine.

2            At this point in your life, are you comfortable with people who exhibit that get-rich-quick mentality or does your experiences growing up make you recoil from that?
The only thing that disturbs me is the get-rich-quick mentality without regard for hurting or exploiting others. But there are tons of harmless and brilliant get-rich-quick schemes that I’m very envious that I didn’t come up with — the Million Dollar Homepage, for example.

3            What is the best thing about having your film at AFI DALLAS?

Being eligible for the 25k prize! Also, hanging out with (programmers) James Faust and Sarah Harris.

4            Be honest here – Did you invest any money with Bernie Madoff?

Independent filmmakers generally have little to no money to invest in anything other than their own films, so luckily, no.

5            What should a director do that they never think of until it’s too late?

Wear layers when you go on set.  Directing a movie is stressful, and your body temperature fluctuates a lot!

6            What’s the most underappreciated job on the set?

Hmm… The most underappreciated job on set has got to be the first Assistant Director, who keeps the crew on schedule. People always complain that the first AD isn’t giving their department enough time to get everything perfect before the shot is taken, but no one thanks them when they get to go home on time.

7             What kind of responsibility comes with being one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film last year?
The main responsibility that came with that article was having to buy a dozen copies of the magazine and mailing them to various aunts and uncles in Asia.

8             Do you still have one of those spinning spaghetti fork inventions the kids make in the film? And if so have you ever used it?
Haha, they kept on breaking on set.  We went through a bunch of them. They work well for ramen, but spaghetti will break it in two.

9            What was the last film that made you cry? Laugh out loud?

Last film that made me cry was Spike Lee’s WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE. I hardly ever cry at narrative films, but I will cry at almost any documentary about any serious subject.  Also at E.T.  The last film that made me laugh out loud was H.P. Mendoza’s FRUIT FLY, which I just saw at the San Francisco Int’l Asian American Film Festival.

10    Popcorn or candy?

As I get older, I can’t bring myself to eat anything in the theater… I just don’t need those calories.


You and Anna Boden seem to keep trading off on each other’s skills: She edited WINDOWBREAKER so you painted the poster for HALF NELSON. Now she has edited CHILDREN OF INVENTION. So, what do you owe her now?
God, I think I may be all out of skills to trade. We edited the movie at Anna’s apartment, so I also owe Ryan Fleck for kicking him out of his own place for an entire month. Maybe I’ll clean their bathroom or something.

Don’t expect me to just kiss its Palme d’Or-winning ass.

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 22, 2009

So the new D Magazine (March issue) just came out. D Magazine is the equivalent to Los Angeles Magazine (for those of you in L.A). Thematic pieces about the city it hails from, trends, social press with pictures of what happened the previous month and tons of restaurant ads, lawyer listings, and other essential stuff from their editors and publishes point of view about the city.

Anyway, in the front of the magazine there is a big’ol feature with full-page photo of James Faust and Sarah Harris. Now, I knew it was happening because I helped coordinate it, but….nice. Sometimes, the results of what we’re trying to do live up to the hopes you had for it in the first place. And while it felt like it kinda landed in my lap, there was still some pursuit and romancing of that magazine for a good couple of years to do this particular piece.

Fortunately, the editors and writers (in this case, Eric Celeste), while having to defend themselves against countless e-mails and pitches, etc. still manage to take the time to put stuff into context and respond and write accordingly. And it all worked out this time. Of course, you’re thinking, “Well, duh – they did an AFI DALLAS feature. Of course, you’re all about D Magazine now.”

Well, maybe you should slow down a little and not get ahead of me. See – here’s the deal: Originally, they were going to just do the feature on James. Which mind you, still would have been great except for this: We already had another feature due out on James in another magazine. And when you factor in the fact that the Texas Black Film Festival just honored him and he recently made a trip to the White House on behalf of AFI DALLAS, 2009 has already been showing Faust-About-Town a lot of well-deserved love.

And the truth is – those two are a true team. Yes, James is the Director of Programming and is clearly the leader, but if Sarah went down in a hail of crossfire at the hands of some rogue filmmaking storm troopers, then so would his protective programming force field. (and that imagery was all for James’ benefit, just so you know).

And to Eric’s credit, he understood that and decided to adjust his approach on the story. But here is the point I took so long to get to: I believe they are a great programming team because they argue with each other about the films they are considering and you can argue with them. They have opinions about the films they like and program and they’ll let each other and you know about it.

But here’s the best part – they don’t freak out if you disagree. And they’ll debate. Real debate. They won’t pull that crap about you having to love every damn film they program just because you’re one of the AFI DALLAS family. Because they’re bright enough and self-aware enough to know that will never happen. Certainly not with me. Now – to put this in the proper context – I absolutely can appreciate every film they program. Just as I can for AFI FEST, IFFLA, Lone Star and the Feel Good Film Festival. I can understand the merits of the filmmaker’s work, I can get behind the reasoning for the spot it is taking in the schedule, the politics that are sometimes involved, and how it all comes together as a greater whole.

But love everything? It’s bad enough nudging up against that “flak” description with this job; if I start edging toward “shill” then I descend into loathsome ‘Peter Keating’ territory from The Fountainhead. I think being tough on that is vital to me having any kind of authority to deliver the message on why people should come to the film festival or see the films I’m singing the praises of. Because, you have to be able to trust what I’m saying. Not that you’ll necessarily agree with me – but you will at the least be able to respect where it is coming from. Otherwise I’m another asshole flak just pushing product.

And that would be gross.

Two years ago, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the critically acclaimed 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS. I understood where the praise was coming from, and it certainly was no mystery why it was a great film for us to have at AFI FEST that year. But it didn’t “do it” for me. Appreciating isn’t the same as liking. But, let’s just say there was a lot of “concern” that I didn’t want to automatically give the film a big wet smacker on its Palme d’Or-winning ass. And my response at the time was to challenge someone to justify it beyond a rubber stamp of what Cannes had done. Eventually, that did happen, but not until a month after the festival was over – during a conversation with Artistic Director Rose Kuo and her husband, screenwriter and scary-smart cinephile Larry Gross. And it was that compelling argument on behalf of the film and response to what hadn’t worked for me that put the film and my expectations as an audience member in a more appreciative perspective.

The inspiration for this thought is the fact that I have been particularly relentless about one of the films Sarah and James programmed for this year. And rather than give me a “just because” or use another festival as a not-to-be debated-with seal of approval, Sarah stood her ground and got the best of me in the deliberations. The jury would have easily ruled in her favor. And I would’ve had to pay the court fees too. AND I will be much better equipped to argue on behalf of that film myself now because of it.

And that filmmaker is lucky to have her on their side.

AFI DALLAS – Cool Ass Short Films (Round One)

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 18, 2009

AFI DALLAS – Cool Ass Short Films (Round One)

From the first moment I began doing film festival PR, I wanted to figure out a way to get some attention for the shorts and the filmmakers who made them. Some of my favorite films regardless of length have been the shorts that have played at AFI FEST and AFI DALLAS.

Among the films that have stuck with me are Moon Molson’s searing and tragic drama, POP FOUL; Leo Ricagni’s ethereal ode to the positive power of education, FEATHERS TO THE SKY; Alexandre Franchi’s brilliant vision of twisted romanticism TROLL CONCERTO and Lilah Vandenburgh’s almost perfect treatment of bitter romance in glorious black and white, BITCH. In fact, if in some wonderful world of my dreams, I was the a member of The Medici Family during the Renaissance I would sponsor anything Lilah Vandenburgh wanted to do – wouldn’t even have to be art – anything. If Lilah wanted to do a filmed still life treatment of an old pizza box next to an empty can of Mountain Dew, I’d write the check because somehow she’d figure out a way to make that pizza box rueful and surly and the soda can its distrustful partner-in-crime. I think she’s that good.

Anyway, the point is, I have seen it as a particular mission of mine to do things for our shorts filmmakers that no other film festivals do (or certainly not to extent that we do) whether it be putting them on the same red carpets as everyone else, including them in the daily interview junkets, placing them on panels, scoring radio interviews, weaving the subjects of their films in stories about the themes playing out in feature films within the same festivals, to doing features on the directors themselves (even if I have to write the bulk of those stories myself).

Because let’s face it – it will be a cold day at a major publication before someone will do a feature or any kind of significant story on a shorts filmmaker. Can’t hold that against them – as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, it’s all about movie stars or at least what passes for that these days. They literally have bigger fish with longer running times to fry.

So here’s another way for me to get the word out. This blog. I’m going to tell you about some really cool ass short films that Sarah Harris, the patron programming saint of shorts and James Faust have chosen for the schedule this year. And by the way, why aren’t the single male directors romancing the shit out of Sarah Harris? And I don’t mean in a cynical “maybe she’ll program my short if I fork over dinner and a movie AND open the car door for her”… I mean, she’s got the in-the-know smart and funny goods, can hang socially with the indefatigable Faust-about-town, and is the kind of unassuming cute that saves those guys from their worst tongue-tied nature. I know, I’ve seen that scenario play out right in front of me.

I’m just sayin’.

Where was I? The shorts… Okay, these films haven’t been announced yet. It’s the first you’re hearing about them, reading about them, getting the scoop…

That’s right – these are official selections and they haven’t been announced! Holy crap, start twittering! E-mail your friends! Look ‘em up on IMDB, and if they’ve got a site then check it out and tell someone who already got their pass they should check them out! If you know them, tell them it’s safe to get their laurel wreath on because the PR guy went nuts and he’s gone on a leak the info bender!

Okay, if you haven’t got the point by now you’re slow. And good luck with that “Palin in 2012” thing. Let’s start, shall we?

Speaking of politics, yet not really is Sukwon Shin’s animated film, UNBELIEVABLE4. Okay, let’s pretend that George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfield and Condi Rice were members of an elite squad on a super cool mission to uhmm, do something cool to stop something bad (like you know, racing around in sports cars and motorbikes and stuff) AND they were also members of a rockin’ 80s band in their own music video playing their own theme music which happens to be….wait for it…”The Final Countdown.”

It’s too perfect. I just heard a quote that you can never really know your country until you view it from another country. Well, Sukwon just saved you the trip.

How many shorts pursue the elusive pristine snapshot of a the male/female dynamic in a relationship? I won’t make you guess. The answer is lots. Too many would be an acceptable answer too – if you’re just angry by nature or someone of the opposite sex hurt you along the way. Well, Todd Luoto’s OIL CHANGE gives you a developing Polaroid of a relationship that is not just “wrong” in the first place, it steadily descends into an uncomfortable rock and a hard place with no room for polite escape. Simply, a mismatched couple go on a needlessly tension-filled first double date with another couple that gradually ratchets up the bad moments until it all reaches a point of no return.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I will say that a monologue is involved that is one of the best be-all/end-it-all out-on-a-point-of-no-return limb moments that I have seen in quite awhile.

Sometimes with a short – for me, it’s all about style. And that’s why I love both Denis Villeneuve’s NEXT FLOOR and Pedro Pires’ DANSE MACABRE. NEXT FLOOR lets us watch a decadent feast in progress that is a dual portrait in gluttony and the grotesque as channeled through Terry Gilliam. Attentive servants keep serving and dishing up the food until the entire table of people crashes through to…the next floor. The servants follow, dust off their charges and start serving it up again. Until happens again. And again. And so on…

Pires’ DANSE MACABRE is literally a dance of death – precisely executed and exquisitely choreographed. The film is so artfully done that a corpse can achieve a beauty in its movement and placement and a body in a morgue can be visually manipulated with the snap shot imagery of the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE’s title sequence to effectively intertwine beauty and horror.

I’ll finish with silliness. And silliness that leaves no stone unturned in the playing out of its title idea. And that film is Richard Gale’s THE HORRIBLY SLOW MURDERER WITH THE EXTREMELY INEFFICIENT WEAPON. It’s simple: The film delivers what that title promises. In sequence after sequence, Gale gleefully plays with what we have already guessed might happen once a stock movie trailer voice over presents the idea that someone has made a movie about the ultimate slowburn torment of an ordinary man being terrorized by the character of ‘Death’ as he would be presented in VH-1’s version of Bergman’s THE SEVENTH SEAL. Oh, and I almost forgot -‘Death’ is armed with a spoon. That’s right. Voice over guy promises (and I quote) “20,000 spoonfuls of terror!”

Hard to top that…

“My life’s been a party and a joke and a tragedy.”

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on January 22, 2009

Back at Sundance – Day #3

So I’m getting ready to go out and face the Sundance today and at a certain point I look in the mirror and realize that my turtleneck and sweater layering strategy combined with a new haircut had made me look like ‘Greg Marmalard’ or ‘Niedermeyer’ from ANIMAL HOUSE. I started accosting myself in the mirror, “Where’s your pledge pin!”

Moving on from that, I had a lot of needless internal debate on which film was going to be first on the list for today. The winner was 211: ANNA. The loser was me. And AFI DALLAS programmer Sarah Harris – who also went to the screening. The documentary looks at the assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya who had been a strident voice of journalistic dissent against the Russian government’s war and actions of cruelty in Chechnya. A worthy subject to be sure. And potentially riveting along with being informative. Unfortunately, in execution the only thing it truly succeeds in is making you very sleepy tired.

A film we’re trying hard to give a one-way ticket from Sundance to AFI DALLAS is HUMPDAY. And that was a very happy movie number two for me today. The premise is a one line pitch winner: Two former college buddies decide for various reasons of heterosexual one-upmanship to make a gay porn art film with each other. It’s the kind of idea that gets someone a big check to write a script and then comes out of the other side of studio development morphed into a lame toothless comedy (and I’m being generous using that last word) by the numbers starring…oh, let’s say for arguments sake… hmmm…Adam Sandler and Kevin James. Fortunately, this one had Lynn Shelton at the helm and Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard at her service. It’s funny, it feels real, it hits all of the necessary notes and clears all of the hurdles you hope for, all the while genuinely keeping you wondering if we’re going to get the promised “climax”. And whether or not we want to see it in the first place as well. I think one of the age-old clichéd ideas of what a Sundance movie is goes something like this: Two or more people sit in a room talking about their feelings. And the camera never moves. And the truth is, a lot of HUMPDAY is exactly that – only here, those people are talking about the idea of two straight guys having to have sex with one another – and they’re all freaking out about it. Great stuff.

The third film on the day’s schedule was WHITE LIGHTNIN’. The animated short film I LIVE IN THE WOODS (directed by Max Winston) started things off appropriately enough with its candy coated ultra-violence courtesy of a mad hillbilly muppet guy who goes on an unbridled homicidal and graphic rampage. Delightful. Well, to me. Maybe not so much for the two horrified old ladies sitting behind me.

But back to WHITE LIGHTNIN’. Inspired by the life of Jesco White, a tap dancing ex-con hillbilly whose life’s exploits were fueled by his thoughts of gaining revenge on the men that killed his father, the film may be the most vivid portrait of crazy that I’ve seen in recent memory. Jesco says at one point, “My life’s been a party and a joke and a tragedy.” And filmed in extra crispy black and white, director Dominic Murphy shows us all of that and more. He is clearly a man with a plan to push our visceral buttons and loiter in the head of Jesco’s bat-shit crazy. There are certain actors that are “blessed” with that wild-eyed thing that keeps them off of planes and several feet away from children, and Edward Hogg’s got it. And bonus points go to Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of the love of his life. Now – let me be clear – I’m not recommending this one for everyone. I don’t think you can acquire this taste. You’ve either got it or you don’t. And the old ladies sitting behind me would back me up on that thought. In fact, their constant carping about the black and white flourishes of gore and crazy reminded me to specify that.

I don’t think they’re sleeping too well tonight.

But I am.

“I haven’t fallen in love yet, but I would sleep with PAPER HEART”

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on January 20, 2009

Back at Sundance – Day #1

After two years away due to the initial AFI DALLAS launch and scheduling issues the second year, I’m back in Park City to get a head start working on the films we’ll be picking up, get some face time with the journalists in town and possibly help Artistic Director Michael Cain and the programming dynamic Dallas duo of James Faust and Sarah Harris maybe find a couple more must haves that they somehow didn’t catch in their exhaustive non-stop movie search. Oh – and I’m also doing a Sundance story for Envy Magazine as they continue to stretch the boundaries of the “local social/ entertainment” magazine.

First impression – the reminder that you can’t park a car in Park City. Unless of course, you have a roll of bills like a mobster at hand to pay or you won the parking lottery. Point is – they don’t want you to park here. They don’t want you to have even owned a car. Ever. It’s understandable why. I mean, of course, I get it. And the public transpo is great. But there’s kind of an angry aggressiveness about the parking moratorium. And the tow trucks? Like sharks. Trolling for cars left behind by the weak-willed and desperate to make a movie or a meeting.

Scary. If you happen to have a car here – like me.

Anyway, if you’ve been here before then you know the drill and if you haven’t, you’ll learn fast. And ultimately, you won’t care because it’s all about the movies. Because if you’re here, even if it is for work, you likely view movies a little differently than the general public. At my first press screening, I asked a guy what he had seen that he had loved. He said, “I haven’t fallen in love yet, but I would sleep with PAPER HEART.” He also said he would have a one-night stand with LYMELIFE. Which leads me to think he would also buy PAPER HEART dinner a couple times as well.

The first film I saw was BIG FAN. The film follows a sad sack parking lot attendant who loves his New York Football Giants like no other. Until a disastrous incident occurs during a flukish meeting with his all-time favorite player, that is. I’m interviewing Patton Oswalt, the star of the film, tomorrow – AND I had insider info that it was gonna be a good one so I was looking forward to it. And it didn’t disappoint. It’s funny in a “real” way and it’s not afraid to go to some serious places you wouldn’t expect of Mr. Oswalt. But not earnest Oscar grab kind of going to those places. Probably because that sort of play would never enter Patton’s head in the first place. Written and directed by Robert Siegel with the same unflinching look at both the humor and you have to say it – pathos, that he brought to the script for THE WRESTLER. There’s also a nice understated turn by Kevin Corrigan as Oswalt’s character’s partner in fandom. The film draws conclusions that may not be the best on paper for all concerned, but (and I’m going to hate myself as I write this) that’s why they play the game. Finally, BIG FAN has, hands down, one of the best payoffs I have seen in a very long time.

Nice start, huh?

Film number two was THE COVE. Again, I was looking forward to this one from the moment I heard about it. The film is an expose’ on the dolphin industry and in particular the wholesale slaughter of dolphins that takes place in a little cove in Taiji, Japan. And it is as riveting as it gets as we follow a group of activists who hatch and execute an elaborate OCEAN’S 11-type operation for the express purpose of filming and documenting what goes on there. Led by Ric O’Barry who has been on a crusade for some 35 years to thwart an industry he feels greatly responsible for inspiring due to his work as a dolphin trainer on the original FLIPPER TV series, the group and the film work toward unmasking the many wrongs – animal cruelty to the nth degree and the willful spread of mercury poisoning to the entire country (with an emphasis on their children) among them. THE COVE invites immediate comparisons to SHARKWATER, which we had at AFI DALLAS in 2007 and which won the prize for Best HD Feature. And that comparison weighs very heavily in THE COVE’s favor. While SHARKWATER’s campaign against the illegal shark finning industry was easily just as genuine, it was burdened by the weighty ego of its filmmaker and “star.” O’Barry and the principals involved with THE COVE never waver on where their focus and concern lies –with a species with an intelligence and self awareness that could possibly exceed our own. And our kind’s typical bent to destroy that. Don’t miss this film when you get the chance to see it.

Number three? Chris Rock’s documentary, GOOD HAIR. This was an eye opener. Black women’s (and some men’s) love affair with relaxer (or “creamy crack”) and weaves is equal parts hilarious and frightening. Not surprising, mind you. Not when, as Nia Long describes the desire for “white hair” – there has long been a steady drumbeat for generations of black women to seek “the lighter, the brighter, the better,” as she says. To see what the principal chemical component in relaxer can do to a coke can in 3 or 4 hours is bad enough. Realizing that same stuff is being put on the heads of children after hearing the horror stories of the scalp burn from people like Ice T (yes, that Ice T), places it in a whole other arena. And then there are the secret societies of women with weaves, descriptions of how they pay thousands upon thousands of dollars for those weaves and how women in India literally have their hair “stolen” – cut off while they’re asleep or watching a movie in a theater – to fulfill that demand/obsession. It’s a lot to take in. And while I laughed throughout, I actually have gained much empathy for the men who must negotiate their way around their woman’s weave. Because, Rock makes it very clear – she may be worth it, but that’s some heavy lifting.

Finally, it was off to Slamdance to see a film we are romancing to bring to AFI DALLAS – ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD. First off, there was a gift bag on the seat for everyone attending the premiere with a poster, fangs, t-shirt, etc. Thoughtful. Vampire thoughtful. And the film was proceeded by a short film – bonus, right? Entitled HORSEFINGERS 3: STARFUCKER, it was everything you would hope from a twisted bizzaro little short about romance and tough it is already to date without also having to work around having two giant hooves (or “horsefingers”) on your hands.
While describing the film, the director (Kirsten Kearse) had the second best quote of the day, “People are boring. But put them in animal outfit…”

As far as the feature presentation is concerned, what can you say about a film that follows a theater director’s struggles as he finds himself caught in the middle of a two thousand year out conspiracy involving Shakespeare, the Holy Grail and vampires? It was funny, it was silly, it was inventive. That’s what you can say. You can also say it starred Jake Hoffman (displaying some natural dead pan talent), Devon Aoki, Ralph Macchio and Jeremy Sisto among an eclectic cast. And music by Sean Lennon. Mind you, I saw the film during its world premiere which might have doubled as a cast and crew screening so it was a mad house and a very happy, giddy mad house. But Jordan Galland’s dead little valentine would have held its own regardless and brought the funny. This will be a fun movie to have in Dallas and a great cast to have on a red carpet.