We had aimed to spend a full morning on Sunday watching movies but events made that impossible and we didnt make it over to the Clark Memorial Clubhouse in Clarkdale until twenty minutes or so into the Skin Crawler Shorts set.
I have seen a few of the films that Bill Pierce programmed for his annual Forbidden Films set so I'll kick off with those and look forward to tracking down the others.
Four Millimeters is the story of a tough decision and it walks a firm line right down the middle with each side beckoning. Emily is a young figure skater following in the footsteps of (and perhaps living the dreams of) her mother and coach, Diana. A competition is coming up and it's important but Emily discovers that she's a mother to be and she's stuck deciding between family and career, boyfriend and mother. It's a powerful film, all the more so for not poking us in the forehead and telling us how powerful it is.
The Wishing Skull is one of my favourite Arizona shorts, which is one reason why I've screened it myself more than any other title in my mini-film festival sets, including at Jerome in 2014. It's part steampunk, part dieselpunk, part somethingelsepunk unique to Dirt Capsule Films, and it does a lot with a little. A fantastic antique skull beckons a young man into an enticing past to learn its history the hard way. I think I've run out of audiences to screen this for but if I'm asked to put a set together for a new one, this may get hauled out yet again with a grin on my part.
Malparido was an IFP Beat the Clock 48 hour challenge film last year and it won Best Picture and Best Director, among other awards. As an unashamed art film, it stood out from its peers and still comes back to mind on occasion almost a year later. It's about addiction, but that's about as far as plot synopsis goes, because it's phrased in metaphor rather than story. It's delicious visually and the actors and mix of languages back up the eye candy with agreeable style.
Skin Crawler Shorts
I missed Market St and Awakenings, so I won't comment on those.
Sacramentum is less a short film and more of an introduction to a potential feature. It casts Bill Connor so well as a cultist so set on summoning Nyarlathotep through human sacrifice that I can forgive him reading hieroglyphics in Latin. It doesn't do much as a short film but it does capably set a tone for a wider story that I'd very much like to see.
I'm really not sure what The Babbit House really aimed to be, beyond the director's comments during the Q&A that he was just happy to be a part of things. Little more than a good choice of location, I think it wants to capture a creepy tone by moving a phone around a room full of doll houses. It does that, I guess, but nothing more.
I was really taken by Whisper, an Irish ghost story that bathes in texture and tone. It follows a young lady as she retreats to a cabin by the sea to get away from something (perhaps a habit or a relationship or both). However she finds that she takes a lot more with her than she thinks and the horrific consequences are shot beautifully. I'd very much like to see this one again.
Yotlungerdal deservedly won the award for Best Horror Short in Jerome because it's an ambitious attempt not only to make a new silent film but to make it appear as if it was shot in Germany in the expressionist era. Starting out like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and adding Häxan into the mix partway, it feels very authentic, right down to the costumes, casting choices and even the text in the intertitles. I adored this European folk tale of creatures stealing the children of townsfolk and can't wait to see more by writer/director Wesley Gunn.
Time to Eat is predictable but no less fun for that, especially as it unfolds well without needing dialogue to explain itself. A young boy plays with a ball which ends up bouncing into the basement and he goes to retrieve it even though we have a good idea what else might be down there. This is the sort of horror short that makes everyone happy: short and sweet, well produced and with a neat little twist.
Blurred Vision was a competitor in Jerome's horror film short challenge last year and it's still a lot of fun in completely different ways to Time to Eat. Unashamedly torture porn, we're in the lair of a serial killer torturing his blonde victim with relish until a knock at the door interrupts his enjoyment. The effects are much of the point but there's a twist in the tale that is as enjoyable as it is unlikely. And it's yet another role for actor J Lyle, who was all over this festival in wildly different performances in wildly different films.
We stuck around talking to various filmmakers represented in the Skin Crawler Shorts and ran out of time to head back to Old Town Cottonwood to see Intersection, so we stayed to watch Exit Thread instead, our original intention.
It's a Canadian thriller set in Nova Scotia with a minimalist approach that applies to both its core cast, which is very small, and its pace, which is slow and sure with long takes and a lean script that eschews distractions to focus in on the key details and how the characters react to them. On the basis of this film and its approach, I'd be interested in seeing some of director Paul Kimball's previous features, like Eternal Kiss, which wears its influences overtly in its cast of characters.
The story initially appears to be a routine love triangle with its happy couple and an inevitably batshit crazy ex-girlfriend, complicated by Thomas Decker's profession as priest. However, it soon turns out to be a little more twisted than that in ways I'm not willing to spoil.
I'm still puzzling as to the actual mechanics of what proceeds to unfold, especially if it allows the characters to look like soap opera stars, but I liked the gradual turning of the screw, mostly courtesy not of the third wheel but of another clergyman who has returned to town and does a great job of looking sinister whilst manipulating everyone else cleverly. Robert G Slade is far from the lead, but he's the visual that abides after his work is done.
A good feature was a good way to wrap up our Jerome screenings for this year and we headed back to Old Town Cottonwood for the awards ceremony, various congratulatory handshakes with old and new friends alike and goodbyes all around.
Founder and organiser Toni Ross at the awards ceremony
photo credit: Countess Chaos Creations
The Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival has changed considerably over the four years of its run and I'm intrigued to see how it will continue to change in the future.
On its first year, it was a condensed event that flowed through Jerome, populated by most of the filmmakers we've met in Arizona. It was a sort of reunion weekend, accompanied by screenings of films in unique venues. As it moved on, it moved progressively out, down the hill to Clarkdale and now also to Cottonwood. It's no longer a Jerome event, hence the 89A that founder and organiser Toni Ross has added into her graphics.
The make up of both the schedule and the audience has changed too, with less and less of an Arizona focus and more of a wider scope. This year, we hardly recognised any of the filmmakers as the locals didn't show, replaced by filmmakers from California, Colorado, New York, Toronto and even further afield. Everyone seemed to get a kick out of the small town vibe of the event, whose lack of slickness adds to its charm (I still don't know how the folk putting the award screens together managed to spell 'Yotlungerdal' correctly but not 'Wheels' or 'Lazy'). Many friendships were formed on the Verde Valley Railroad and at other events over the weekend.
The quality of material on the screen has changed too. I've seen this festival as press, as a submission screener, as a judge and as the programmer of sets in various combinations, so I have an insight into what gets shown and what doesn't. I was especially impressed by the quality of films this year, even if it made the job of judging particularly tough. The Narrative Shorts and Music Videos were of especially consistent quality and I wish I could have picked more than one winner for each. I left with the surety that some of the films that didn't win will surely win elsewhere. I also left with a list of films I didn't see that I need to track down soon, like Intersection and Eccentric Eclectic. That's a good feeling to have!
And so that's it for this year. See you back on the 89A in 2017!