Sunday, April 3, 2016

Media Film Festival brings great films, nostalgia back to borough

Photo Courtesy of Media Arts Council
Beloved film critic Roger Ebert had a great saying about the length of a film: “No good movie is too long, and no bad movie is short enough."

That was the statement I thought about before the start of the ninth Media Film Festival.

The way Ebert’s wonderful quote applies to the films shown at this year’s festival went like this: can a short film be too long, or not long enough?

Comprised of over 40 short films ranging in length from two minutes to 30, could it be possible that even at such a minute length compared to a feature, do some stories overstay their welcome, and others not stay long enough?

It turns out, yes.

That’s not to say that the artists, from Media to India, did not show off their good craftsmanship, but even on a small canvas, some work cannot fill the entirety of their space with enough substance to keep you intrigued.

Short films have the distinction of generating snapshots of greatness, from the obscure to the hilarity. Similar to what Ebert said, no bland short film is too short, and no great one is too long.

Cinephiles filled the Media Theater on a dreary Friday to experience stories from all over the world, including animated tales about sushi, to an Eastern European who made a name for himself covering disco hits on his balalaika,all told by expert craftsman and local high school students alike.

Hosted by the Media Arts Council, the festival kicked off its two-day short film marathons with projects from their Media Youth Film Initiative students (MyFi). Starting with the haunting and well-crafted “Welcome Home” and followed up by “Dream Big”, there is strong hope in the youngest of filmmakers to have a firm understanding of the language of film.

It gives me hope that not every young person is obsessed with the loud, overly simplistic noise that plugs the theaters nowadays. With a combined 18 minutes of runtime, there was probably more thought and implementation of idea by the two MyFI students than any movie in the Marvel superhero world.

“Dream Big”, however, was the weakest film of the Friday night slate. The story of a young musician
being pushed to greatness by an overbearing father isn’t new, yet the play on sound and images was pretty good for a young director. I could see his potential to be playful with sight and sound as he improves studying the craft.

The other 13 shorts were a pretty solid bunch and a great representation of comedy, drama and the “what the fuck?”

Of the best selections that night was a comedy called “Oh Crappy Day,” about a man named Jared who has to control his OCD in a “contaminated” world while on a blind date.

This film was a prime example of excellence in filmmaking.

At a very brisk 18 minutes, I felt the exact level of anxiety Jared felt when asked to touch a restaurant menu, or forced to shake someone’s hands. His hand trembles as he tries to control the urge to constantly get up and wash it. By God did I feel glitchy when Jared had to touch something.

In only a few minutes I felt his OCD tendencies. But why? I’ve never felt the need to compulsively stay germ free. The directing and awkwardly honest and charming acting is why.  And right up until the very end, I was completely enamored by the young daters because they were so sweet.

The trouble with a great short like “Oh Crappy Day” is you don’t want it to end, but how effective would it be if it were longer?

“Put Down” and “(Im)moral” were the other great laffers of the night. The former is a dark comedy about a man who kills people’s pets, and the latter is about a struggling actor who pretends to have a disability to get an acting job. It takes the right sense of humor to make deplorable acts funny, and these two prove it.

The mostly silent “The End of Blessings” and “Disco Zal” were other favorites.

The most interesting and otherworldly was “Ferdinand Knapp,” an official selection at the 2014 Venice Film Festival starring acclaimed French actor Dominique Pinon as an actor preparing for a new role, but severely blurring the lines between reality, the surreal, and everything in between.

This had to be the least favorite considering it got the lowest amount of applause from the crowd, but this was one of my top picks. It’s a crazy jumble of space and time and without a strong focus of what exactly is going on and how to keep the story in sync. It provided the least bit of explanation of all of the narratives, but it makes you think about our past and our triumphs before we know the end is near. A top notch production.

Saturday’s matinee slate was also very strong, and featured the first documentary of the festival: “Artspeak”. This was the most self-indulgent and contradictive film I’ve seen all year.

Artist Bill Claps has a problem with the use of words to describe art, the artspeak, shall we say, so he asks people to describe what contemporary art is. “Artspeak” seems like a project fueled by negative press Claps may have received for his own work, people either looking too much, or too little, into his pieces.

Art is subjective, and people can project onto it what they want. I didn’t like “Artspeak”, but who’s to say everyone else in the theater didn’t love it?

The highlight of the fest was “I’ve Just had a Dream,” a Spanish-language short that shows two young girls of different race having the same dream, but for one it’s an idea of hell, and to the other an idealic fantasy land of happiness. It was the same dreamed shown twice, but with the film flipped to be a mirror image of each other.

It was so beautiful to show that one idea can mean two different things to people, children or otherwise. Hopeful, political and socially confident, “I’ve Just had a Dream” was perfection.
When seeing movies at a festival, one usually bobs from theater to theater waiting in long lines and just leave the stories on the screen, but the Media Film Festival was different for me.

In the end, I was left with a sense of nostalgia, which was brought on by “Ferdinand Knapp”. It provided for me a perception of a by-gone era of small town movie theaters, and I don’t think that was the film’s purpose.

The black and white short played with elements about scandal and old fashion film noir, and I thought about what it must have been like to see movies in the theater in its heyday.

My mother used to tell me how she could go to the movies all day and grab snacks for one dollar, if that, and it made me realize the charm of old movie houses. Let’s not even mention the news reels, cartoon and serials they would show before the main feature.

As I watched the light pour onto the screen and show two characters chase each other on winding streets in a city, I thought of films like “The Third Man” and “Kiss Me Deadly”, noir icons. Then I saw, in my mind, those features playing at the Media Theater with billows of smoke from the patrons filling the auditorium, and handsomely-dressed ushers taking the tickets. 

Then, a beautiful naked woman in the film guides the main character through a tunnel and I thought about when sex began to be prominent in film, like “I am Curious (Yellow)” from 1968.

How would a film like “I am Curious (Yellow)” have played in Media back in the late-‘60s? Would it have been as controversial here as it was in Boston - where it was deemed pornographic and seized by the police?  At the time, musicals were still popular, although dwindling as top box office earners, and sex and violence took over. Not to mention the flower power liberation of such fare as “Easy Rider”.

Could sex and violence have been the end of the Media Theater, and its town’s wholesome values?
But there were sweeter gestures of those simpler times that I encountered at the fest.

Two rows ahead of me on Friday night were local TV personalities and film festival supporters Sue Serio and her husband Bill Vargus. His arm draped over her shoulders as her head rests on his shoulder. What happened to those harmless acts of affection at the movies?

Perhaps my mind wondered too much about what film and the Media Theater used to be, but that’s what the power of film it about. It removes us from reality and reason and let’s us think of times that made us happy, sad, angry and anything else.

The ninth Media Film Festival not only invited the community to see great films, it shows us what small, enriching communities are all about.

No comments:

Post a Comment