The element of smaller film festivals like Sidewalk in Birmingham, Alabama speaks to the essence that films that miss the big film festivals for one reason or another needs to find a place to exist and grow, At this year’s event, Oscilloscope Laboratories, a distributor who is finding the balance between theatrical and on-demand releasing, continues to test the waters with genre pushing and eccentric tastes.
Coherence This film is a true find. Introduced as directed by the guy who wrote “Rango”, the animated Johnny Depp lizard picture, the placement was understood but the logline lacked the ability of what ambition lied within it. What unfolded was much more deliberate and unsettling. Using parallel realty creation based around the close approach of a comet, the idea becomes well detailed with the use of absolute and misdirected logic that moves back and forth in time without the notion of time travel. As a result, even though the dialogue gets a little bit heavy and unreasonable at times, it never ventures farther beyond rational phsyics and the dramatic fluctuation which allows people to see different facets of themselves on different plains. What is effective is that this all takes place inside one house or different versions of the house. The motivations of different versions of the characters are not clear not need they be yet each house informs the other. The lead character lost in the misdirection her life has becomes exists in a foggy reflection turning toward her own destruction. Her actions are not unreasonable though they create a finality of paradox. The final moments have a reflection of self that is both extremely dark but telling because the notion of getting what you want always has consequences because of how you acted upon it. “Coherence” is a steadfastly precise piece of filmmaking showing that a high concept, even low budget, can be executed phenomenally with nothing more than in-camera misdirects.
Buzzard Moving in the completely opposite direction like an anti-“Napoleon Dynamite”, our protagonist Martin in this picture lacks a discretion of being. The truth is that both of these films exist in a place of existential angst: one literal and one figurative. With choices with these kinds of characters, there is nowhere to go but down. Like the drifter of “Buffalo 66”, the lead here is a victim of his own ambition. There is a bit of Alex (as played by Malcolm McDowell in “A Clockwork Orange”) in this as indicated by the slovenly consumption of spaghetti like a lost Brutus believing his own hype. But unlike either of these seminal characters, Martin doesn’t see the irony in his existence. He simply keeps offending in the way he knows how which is not fully criminal but moves closer as he goes along. Simple props like the video games or an altered controller with Freddy Kreuger claws figures into the degregation. There are moments of pity (“Requiem For A Dream” comes to mind) where you can see him grasping out before he falls back on his old wares. The compassion yet berating nature of his work colleague who lets him hide out in the basement reflects a notion of pathetic existence which is somewhere between our digital existence and a former analog world. The resolution ends with a metaphor (somehow existential again) where the soul has left us but the body still remains. “Buzzard” has an interesting psychological dilemma at heart which the character never learns from but that is part of the point.
A film festival should always be seen as a balance of education and networking. Within the auspice of the University Of Alabama, George Lindsey, best known for his role in the revered “Andy Griffith Show”, lent his name to the annual film fete to better the perspective of would-be filmmakers and students in their perception of the vision of Old Hollywood in the midstate town of Florence.
Shorts have at times become a lost art but situated within the structure of the town, the venues, rich in nostalgic history, show a diversity. “Proud Izza” has elements of David Lynch but with a hopeful and repressed anxiety as a woman searches for life. “Outsource” envisions a THX-type society that is more inundated with the isolation of an inner world where emotions can be deadly using lower grade but highly reflective and inventive effects. In the student narrative shorts, “Gaining Ground” from Germany uses subtle but effective acting to highlight the trials and tribulations of a young and conflicted couple while “The Miracle” brings into focus the dream world of a girl who is deflected by other people’s expectations.
The anticipated picture of the festival was “How To Be” starring recently fame surrounded Robert Pattinson of “Twilight”. In this film, he plays a young man conflicted on the strife of what he needs to become. He hires a famous psychologist to make him more normal but with ironic results. The narative is very didactic but shows an interesting betrayal of a youth steeped in self doubt.
The honorees at the festival definitely come with a definitive manner to their performances and a set history. For a panel discussion, Rance Howard, saddled in a white cowboy hat, talked about his initial acting days in western series such as “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza”. In the early days, he sometimes brought his young sons, Clint & Ron to the set to watch him work. Rance can be credited for writing “Andy Of Mayberry” starring his friends Andy Griffith and George Lindsey with the role of Opie, played by none other than his son Ron. As the years went on, he continued to act on such series as “The Waltons”. In the late 70s, Ron told Roger Corman that he wanted to direct a film. When told he had to make it for a budget, Ron, according to Rance, went to his father and asked him to write it with him. The film became “Grand Theft Auto”. Since then Ron has put his father in every single one of his films including the upcoming Tom Hanks’ film “Angels & Demons” which is a prequel to “The DaVinci Code”.
The other honoree Lee Majors, known to most as “The Six Million Dollar Man”, spoke at the Awards Show at UNA about the essence of filmmaking and locations in his signature style as the emcee, Steve Richarson, a local musician and filmmaker, played on.
The hangouts and haunts of the festival create a balance to the life that the area brings. Opening night was held at On The Rocks, a dual-level bar where networking and saddling up to the bar with a Bud fulfills the vision whereas Closing Night reveled in the essence of Cypress Moon Studios, a local production outfit along the Tennessee River that was formerly a recording studio where many famous musicians including Julian Lennon wrote some of their songs. This night saw The Rhythm Aces jamming out as the velvet curtains swayed and the draft of swooned the night with tales of film financing and production adventures.
The integration of the school within the structure of the festival also allowed for a centralized perception of the discussion. Serving on one of the panels deemed “The Critic’s Table” along with native Florence critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and moderated by Dr. Will Verone, film professor at UNA, the friendly volley between practical and theoretical concerns of filmmaking were debated versus the “ideal” of what should be being made. The congruence and commerce of these situated obstacles created great questions from attendees both young and old making the event a remarkably interactive public forum.
The UNA/George Lindsey Film Festival offered a balance of old and new school perceptions of filmmaking. While the shorts programs were exceptionally diverse, the feature structure, albeit with potential, has room for improvement despite a very powerful centerpiece in terms of commerce and culture in the guise of “How To Be”. Overall, the exceptional possibilities relied on within the discussions and the tributes elevated the community aspect of the event which speaks well for years to come.