Sunday 12 June 2016

Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival - Day Four

I'm posting daily coverage of the Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival at Apocalypse Later Now! this year. Here are some rough notes for Sunday 12th (Day 4) to help guide what you might want to look out for once they're widely released.

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.

Forbidden Films

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.

Exit Thread

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.

Home, James

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!

Saturday 11 June 2016

Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival - Day Three

I'm posting daily coverage of the Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival at Apocalypse Later Now! this year. Here are some rough notes for Saturday 11th (Day 3) to help guide what you might want to look out for once they're widely released.

Jerome is a quirky affair and what we saw today highlights that well.

Faye's Redemption (2016)

We kicked off with an early screening of Faye's Redemption in the Clark Memorial Clubhouse in Clarkdale. It's the new feature from George O'Barts, creator of the legendary Pizza Shop: The Movie. I couldn't help but watch with that in mind, even though it's a completely different film. The good news is that the former is certainly a better film than the latter. The bad news is that it's a heck of a lot less fun.

For all the faults that Pizza Shop: The Movie has, it's packed full of grossout humour and it's worthy of repeat viewings with the right drunken reprobate friends. Sure, they need to be into John Waters and Troma but all the best friends are.

Faye's Redemption has a better story and actually features some good acting (though not in the more histrionic scenes). However it's a drama not a comedy and it's a dark one whose tone just keeps getting darker. Don't expect a traditional story arc, this one throws everything at poor Faye until she understandably almost dies of alcohol abuse. And that's just the beginning! It gets more depressing from there as a collection of flashbacks flesh out her trial of a life. The title is a spoiler in itself, so I can get away with saying that there's a happy ending but it was really welcome!

There are other problems like inconsistent acting, inconsistent sound and flagrant use of stereotypes, but they're all better than Pizza Shop: The Movie, which survived mostly on where it chose to go. I applaud George's ambition to make a serious drama and he's certainly improving as a filmmaker, but I'm still more likely to go back to Pizza Shop than this.

Films on the Verde Valley Railroad

No, that's not a movie, it's an actual railroad which runs from Clarkdale to a ghost ranch called Perkinsville through amazing countryside. The Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival booked a carriage, as it did last year. We chatted away the journey out, networking with filmmakers and listening to Threefold Fate playing an acoustic set in the open air, and watched movies all the way back.

Threefold Fate rocking the Verde Valley Railroad
photo credit: Countess Chaos Creations

Sadly, the train's tour commentary couldn't be switched off again this year, even though they'd promised that it could be done. That was really annoying, as were a couple of kids screaming at the back of the carriage, but hopefully those problems can be addressed before next year's event.

Here are the films that screened on the train:

Grand Canyon is a music video by Jerome's own Puscifer. It's a better song than the other one of theirs in the festival and it's accompanied by a set of drone photography of the title landmark and what appears to be other scenic parts of Arizona. I wasn't sold on some of the staccato editing but the footage is magnificent and it's timed to the song well.

Move Me is a textbook short film, taking a single conceit and building on it throughout its running time until a surprise ending that folk should see coming but often don't. A young couple find what appears to be a mannequin in the desert, only to realise that he's a human being who only lives while being touched by another; without human contact he's motionless, apparently dead. I was really happy to see Katie Parker from Absentia in another film (and watch out for a review soon of her new feature, The Binding). She does a great job as the traditional lead and Danny Jacobs is just as good as her screen husband, but Aidan Bristow steals the show as a thoroughly believable mannequin with intermittent moments of life and a purpose we ache to discover.

Thanks for the Drugs is another music video, this time by Lundon Crow. It's animated and as trippy as the title might suggest, though I haven't figured out precisely what's happening yet. I enjoyed it but would enjoy it more if I knew what it meant.

Blood Run is a post-apocalyptic western by Michael Freeman that gets better each time I see it because of some good decision making on his part. He doesn't explain what apocalypse took us down because he doesn't care, happy to show us the detritus of civilisation and tell us that the Dead Zone on the other side of a wall is a dangerous place. He doesn't give us any background to our hero, whom he also plays, content to have him recover from an attack by raiders, realise that they stole something from him and promptly chase after them to get it back. He's believably stubborn and single-minded and it gets him into as much trouble as it gets him on the right track, but that just makes him a real hero rather than a Hollywood one. Real heroes don't kick thirty shades of ass without blinking; they just accept how hurt they're going to get doing what has to be done and do it anyway. If there's a downside, it's that it's not too surprising what was stolen from him, but that's hardly a good reason not to watch this. Fingers crossed that Freeman can finance a feature length version.

Kevin's Story was an odd choice of film to screen on the train, after half the audience had happily partaken of the bar in our carriage. It's a true story narrated to us by Kevin's father because Kevin himself can't do it himself, because he died too young, of alcohol poisoning after a housewarming party. It's well done and it hits all the right emotional notes, but it's a radio presentation with unnecessary visuals and it should have been screened at a different time.

Bingo is an animated short from the Netherlands, a much better choice for the train ride. It was odd to realise that it was actually in unsubtitled Dutch but that it really didn't matter. We could tell exactly what was going on and enjoy it all the way to the final inevitable word.

Baits & Hooks I won't comment on because it was a Russian film with tiny English subtitles that I couldn't read on the screen at hand. I think I got the drift of what was happening but ought to see it properly to comment. Note to the festival organisers: no subtitled films on the train ride!

A Western is a pointlessly generic title for a decent short film that follows a pair of outlaw brothers who have different thoughts about the status that they've found themselves in. It's a quality piece of work, well acted and well shot, especially the final few visuals, but it had a tough time closing out a set that featured shorts as strong as Move Me and Blood Run. It was trying to tell its story as the train pulled into Clarkdale but had trouble competing with the railroad's canned music and screaming kids. Those still on the train by the end should watch it again in the appropriate set to realise how capable it is in the proper surroundings.

Snow White

After dinner in Old Town Cottonwood (a place I've really come to appreciate over the last few days), we headed back to the Old Town Center for the Arts to see something truly special that I'm really happy Toni and her crew managed to put together for this year's festival.

It was a screening of the 1916 Famous Players adaptation of Snow White, the first film Walt Disney ever saw, with Marguerite Clark in the lead and Dorothy Cumming as her screen mother, Queen Brangomar. It was given live accompaniment by the amazing RPM Orchestra, who I've seen a number of times before and always appreciate. To highlight how special this was, one of the young kids right behind us proclaimed to one and all about ten seconds into the movie that, 'This is boring!', only to settle down and enjoy the rest of the movie in silence.

RPM Orchestra were as enjoyable as ever, to the degree that I often forgot that I was listening to a live accompaniment, so well did they draw me into the film. As to the film itself, it wasn't a good print (it was the Alpha Video DVD rather than the copy in Treasures from American Film Archives), but it's a quirky telling, with character designs reminiscent of early 'Wizard of Oz' shorts: the seven dwarves look like they're played by children in beards and wigs, while Witch Hex's familiar is another one inside a pantomime cat suit.

The RPM Orchestra getting ready for Snow White
photo credit: Countess Chaos Creations

Friday 10 June 2016

Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival - Day Two

I'm posting daily coverage of the Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival at Apocalypse Later Now! this year. Here are some rough notes for Friday 10th (Day 2) to help guide what you might want to look out for once they're widely released.

Firstly, some key notes to help you understand the event. This is year four for Toni Ross and her crew and since it began, it's expanded further into the surrounding area. Jerome is still the most awesome venue for a film festival I've yet encountered (and I've screened movies on the stage of the Saloon at Old Tucson Studios). I've been to screenings under stores, above the fire station and even in the parking lot next to a haunted mine more than a mile up in the hills. It's impossible to keep that sort of atmosphere down the hill in Clarkdale or a little further away in Cottonwood, but Old Town does have its charms and the primary venue this year is certainly not without its own character. This year also marks a return to the Verde Valley Railroad, which is a joyous place to spend four hours, chatting, drinking and watching movies.

Day one was yesterday, Thursday, but that didn't involve screenings, just the opening night's event at Four Eight Wineworks in Clarkdale. Films began this morning and we were only a few minutes late into the one I wanted to see most today, a documentary called The Hollywood Shorties.

The Hollywood Shorties (2016)

This was everything I want from a documentary. Its only obvious downside was that it loses its way a little at the very end and could have been edited maybe ten minutes shorter. I still enjoyed those ten minutes but I'm not convinced they shouldn't have been extras on the DVD. Maybe I'll reevaluate when I re-watch because I want to see the beginning of the film.

I knew a little about the subject, but not a lot, just enough to pique my interest when I realised that Ryan Steven Green had made this documentary. The Hollywood Shorties were actors, stuntmen, little people who made a living from the inside of cheesy monster suits in cheap sci-fi movies. This isn't a documentary about that angle of their lives, though I'd happily watch one. I didn't even recognise all the films used here in montages, though many brought back good memories! What this is about is the other life many of them built as professional basketball players, touring around to challenge high school teams in battles that were half real sports and half comedy routines. Think the Harlem Globetrotters without players over five feet tall.

I learned a lot, because Green had the right access to the right people, asked the right questions of them and did his homework to back up his interview footage. I especially appreciated how much work he and his crew put in to track down archive videos and other ephemera to illustrate the film. It brought this overlooked era home wonderfully. The editing shone too, even when used to manipulate our emotions because it was done so well.

It's also a real story, unlike the fluff that's used as subject matter for some documentaries nowadays. It's a story of great depth that speaks to more than its heroes, the Hollywood Shorties themselves, to a time and an attitude that isn't here any more. Times have changed and this is fascinating insight to a history that's not long passed but feels like a different era entirely.

Naomi from Intellexual Entertainment conducting a Q&A with the gentleman
from Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements whose name isn't on his card!
photo credit: Countess Chaos Creations

Industry Mixer

This was a great way for us to kick off our Jerome viewing pleasure. We took care of other business during the day before attending Industry Night, but we'll be watching a lot more on Saturday and especially Sunday. Watch this space!

The Industry Mixer at Cellar 433 in Jerome
photo credit: Countess Chaos Creations

They even let international cult megastars into the Industry Mixer!
photo credit: Countess Chaos Creations