By Don Simpson | February 6, 2011
Unfortunately, Smells Like Screen Spirit could not find affordable enough airfare to get us to Oxford, Mississippi for the eighth annual Oxford Film Festival on February 10 – 13, 2011. OFF 2011 is scheduled to host 13 world premieres, three national premieres, 33 regional premieres, and ten Mississippi premieres…as well as other notable “spotlight films” — it will just have to go on without us. The festival’s special guest will be Les Blank, who will screen his 1980 short film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, on opening night. Michael Adams, author of the recently released book Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies: A Film Critic’s Year-Long Quest to Find the Worst Movie Ever Made, will also be in attendance.
Several people told me last year to keep an eye on the up and coming Oxford Film Festival, and after seeing their 2011 program I understand why. Here is a breakdown of some of the films screening at OFF 2011 (for a complete schedule check out the Oxford Film Festival website):
This is not just a documentary about taxi drivers; Beijing Taxi functions on a much higher level as well. Director Miao Wang rarely settles down for talking head interviews; instead she takes to the streets – by foot and by car – to reveal the real Beijing. We witness firsthand what modernity and Capitalism are doing to China’s capital city. It seems like everyone in Beijing smokes cigarettes. Billboards for foreign products are everywhere. Old women work on construction projects. Everywhere there is rubble and dust. Time has become a commodity; everyone is expected to move faster, yet traffic and travel restrictions keeps cars at a near standstill.
(Check out our interview with Miao Wang.)
Without a doubt, Brotherhood is a fun film to watch. Carrying with it the roller-coaster experience present in many suspense films, you find yourself waiting for the next terrible thing to happen in voyeuristic anticipation. The problem with this roller-coaster experience, is that it gives the film a “seen it before” feeling. Director Will Canon definitely knows how to command a film set and do a lot with not a lot of money, but this already ridden “roller-coaster” ride is where the aforementioned negative aspects of an indie film that feels like a big budget movie come into play. I can’t fault Canon too much though, because I don’t think he was going for any psychological masterpiece/experience. Rather, I think he was trying to make a fun, suspenseful film that led you to wonder how far its characters would actually take things. And that is precisely what Brotherhood is.
Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone
In Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler catch up with several founding members of Fishbone to discuss the band’s past, present and future. It is an amazingly intimate and expressive portrait of the long strange trip of Fishbone’s history. Some of the footage — especially the band’s arguments and debates — is absolutely priceless… Mixing cleverly animated recreations of past events with archival footage and present day interviews, Anderson and Metzler sculpt a strong tale (narrated by Laurence Fishburne) that can easily transcend the legions of Fishbone’s past and present fans.
The Happy Poet
Writer-director-actor Paul Gordon’s The Happy Poet is a perfect example of a writer-director knowing their own strengths and range as an actor. Every line is fine-tuned for Gordon’s naturally slow monotone delivery (to quote Guided by Voices: “I speak in monotone: Leave my fucking life alone”). Bill is not a man who is readily able to express emotions via his speech – something that becomes very apparent during his interactions with Agnes.
(Check out our interview with Paul Gordon, Jonny Mars, Chris Doubek and Liz Fisher.)
S&M Lawn Care
In my opinion, S&M Lawn Care is a million times funnier than The Other Guys, Get Him to the Greek or Funny People; but it is extremely rare that an independent comedy is able to beat a Hollywood comedy in the box office. Heck it is nearly impossible for independent comedies to even have an opportunity to compete at the box office.
(Check out our interview with Mark Potts, Cole Selix and Brand Rackley.)
Two Gates of Sleep
Alistar Banks Griffin’s directorial debut, Two Gates of Sleep is certainly Bressonian in its fascination with mood and environment rather than dialogue (a more contemporary comparison may also be made to Kelly Reichardt). Louis and Jack monopolize the screen for a majority of the film, and they are certainly not big on talking, but thanks to their silence, the organic sounds of the environment around them are allowed to engulf us completely (leaves crunching underfoot, water trickling over rocks, wind blowing, fire crackling)… Shot by Jody Lee Lipes (Tiny Furniture), it is difficult not to use the word meditative while discussing the images; Two Gates of Sleep is just that, an existential and expressionistic meditation on death, dying and the harshness of life.
What if Cannabis Cured Cancer
Utilizing original and archival footage, What If Cannabis Cured Cancer? presents a very convincing argument that marijuana does possess significant medicinal properties and should be decriminalized (at least for medicinal purposes). Whether this evidence will ever be accepted as scientific proof is a completely different story…
Where I Begin
Where I Begin is about rumors and accusations, truths and half-truths. When is history true and when is it in the eyes of the beholder? What did Jacob do? To quote Tyler’s sister, Kristen: “Who knows any more, but more importantly who gives a shit?!” We never learn whether or not Jacob is truly guilty; but even if he is, Jacob is able to persuade us that he really is a good person now.