By Don Simpson | April 5, 2011
In 1992, International House produced the inaugural Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema (PFWC). TLA Entertainment took over the management duties of PFWC in 2001; in 2003, the festival was renamed the Philadelphia Film Festival. Late in 2008, the Philadelphia Cinema Alliance was formed and they produced the 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival/CineFest. There was no CineFest in 2010, but going forward, The Alliance will present Philadelphia CineFest every April and Philadelphia QFest (the long-running LGBT film festival) in July; while the Philadelphia Film Society will present the Philadelphia Film Festival every October.
After their hiatis in 2010, CineFest is back to feed the film festival hungry people of the City of Brotherly Love from April 7th through April 14th. Boasting over 60 feature films, CineFest 2011 will feature U.S. and World premieres as well as selections representing the crème de la crème of major festivals such as Sundance, SXSW and Cannes. Closing out the 8-day festival is the Philadelphia premiere of documentary director Morgan Spurlock’s (Super Size Me) new film, POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (with Spurlock in attendance).
CineFest 2011 promises to venture beyond the confines of traditional screening venues. On Saturday, April 9th, the festival will celebrate the first ever free CineFest Street Fair in front of The Ritz Five. Then, on Sunday, April 10th, there will be an all day martial arts mini-fest at The Piazza at Schmidt’s to celebrate Tony Jaa by screening all three of the Ong Bak films.
Yours truly was born and raised in Philadelphia (I even voluteered as a theater usher at the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema in 1997 and 1998). So it gives me great pleasure to present you with Smells Like Screen Spirit’s preview coverage of CineFest 2011; hopefully we will be able to cover CineFest 2012 in the flesh…
American: The Bill Hicks Story is told via interviews with ten friends and family members who knew Hicks the best: Kevin Booth, Steve Epstein, John Farneti, Lynn Hicks, Mary Hicks, Steve Hicks, Andy Huggins, David Johndrow, James Ladmirault, and Dwight Slade. We are taken on a journey though Hicks’ life, from growing up as a Southern Baptist in Texas in the 1960s, to playing small comedy clubs as a teenager in the 1970s, and then into the 1980s and 1990s when he seemed like he might be on the verge of breaking it big. There is not much in the way of family home videos of Hicks growing up; instead, Hicks’ early years are recreated via an elaborate array of cleverly animated archival photographs with voice overs by the interviewees. There is, however, ample video footage of Hicks’ stage performances (including some of his early performances at the Comedy Workshop in Houston, Texas), though I can already predict that most fans will be left wishing there was more.
Painfully discussing the highs and lows of love, as well as revealing the horrors of acting on impulse alone, writer-director Glodell utilizes some not-so-traditional cinematography techniques (thanks to cinematographer Joel Hodge), magnificently penetrating sound design, and a seemingly haphazard non-linear plot structure to convey Woodrow’s psychologically decaying perception of the uncompromising world around him. Glodell does not rely on his cinematically artful bells and whistles alone to sell Woodrow’s breakdown; he also depends on his own mad thespian skills while portraying (with ugly and brutal realism, I might add) Woodrow’s amazing transformation from nice guy to raging monster.
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. Speaking of fans — Flea, Ice-T, Gwen Stefani, Perry Farrell, Mike Watt, Les Claypool, Vernon Reid, Tim Robbins, Jason Lee and countless others gush about the sheer awesomeness of Fishbone. I too am (or at least was) a fan. I am fairly confident that I caught every single Fishbone concert in Philadelphia between 1988 and 1993. Those concerts remain to be some of the best live musical performances I have ever witnessed. I have never seen a band seem so chaotic and disorganized, yet Fishbone’s musicianship was always impeccably tight. Their stage antics were total anarchy, yet they never lost track of the song. I can say with the utmost confidence that there will never be another band quite like Fishbone; and if you have no idea what I am talking about, you really need to watch Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone and listen to their first two albums In Your Face and Truth and Soul.
Adapted by Noah Stollman from Abraham B. Jehoshua’s source novel A Woman in Jerusalem, The Human Resources Manager exemplifies Jehoshua’s quest for peace and equality amongst different cultures (Jehoshua supported the New Movement during the 2009 elections in Israel). Despite the woman’s death resulting from a suicide bomber, politics of blame and fear are cast aside. The Human Resources Manager is about people looking out for each other and everybody getting along no matter what their age, race, ethnicity or religious creed.
By never naming the Middle Eastern nation, writer-director Denis Villeneuve purposefully avoids any sense of historical specificity; he cares more about focusing on the endless cycles of violence in the Middle East. Villeneuve takes aim specifically at the religious influences on the violence. Nawal is a modern woman of Christian descent in an Arabic-speaking country. As a direct result of the fate of her baby and baby-daddy, Nawal grows to hate that the nationalist cause is being waged in the name of Christianity. The personal becomes political as Nawal joins the Muslim opposition’s militia and becomes a political assassin in the hope of retrieving her son (who has presumably been kidnapped by Muslim soldiers during a raid on the Christian orphanage in which he was held). To further signify her wavering religious identity and allegiance, Nawal alternates between wearing a Christian cross and a Muslim head scarf — depending on which religion plays to her advantage at that specific moment in time.
I will say that Ip Man 2 made a positive impression on me very early on, when the titular Ip (Donnie Yen) explains to a young prospective protégé Wong Leung (Xiaoming Huang) that violence is only to be used as a last resort. (Yes, I know that I am probably the only person on this planet who would find a film starring a pacifist martial arts teacher appealing.) Moments later they are brawling because Wong does not heed Ip’s advice and wants Ip to prove his worth as a martial arts master (which is a recurring theme in Ip Man 2); Ip is glad to oblige and Wong concedes. Actually, Wong only appears to concede; he returns later with three friends to show Ip what’s what. It is not until Ip effortlessly conquers Wong’s friends that the four young ruffians become Ip’s first students.
Project Nim addresses the ethics of raising animals as humans and/or using them as research subjects; but director James Marsh, in this follow-up to his Oscar-winning Man on Wire, purposefully stops short of giving any hard-fast answers. Marsh is not here to talk science or ethics, he merely wants to provide the audience with an intriguing and beguiling story. (Which he does in spades!) Nonetheless, Project Nim is a life-changing experience that will certainly alter many viewers’ perspectives on animal rights as well as what qualifies as scientific research.
This Norwegian found footage mockumentary comes from the same pseudo-verite, shaky-cam tradition of Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project (Øvredal also pays homage to Jurassic Park), but it opts to delve deep into the fascinating “the truth is out there” underbelly of government conspiracies. Portraying Hans as an employee of the Troll Security Service with the thankless job of dutifully abiding by the mercy of an over-authoritative government bureaucrat (Hans Morten Hansen), Øvredal sarcastically comments on the relationship between the government and the life-risking, under-paid, blue collar labor force responsible for carrying out the government’s ridiculous demands on a daily basis. It is impossible not to have sympathy for Hans as he is repeatedly being used and abused by his government employer.
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). Nature also saturates the entirety of the projected image. The minute details of the dense forest and the ever-flowing river are absolutely magnificent in their sheer simplicity. Often Louis and/or Jack appear as an infinitesimal speck on the screen with the giant environmental landscape practically devouring them; the result is an overwhelming sensation of isolation, as the characters figuratively become part of the natural pattern of the forest. 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.
Wuss is a masterful work of sound and vision, clearly exceeding the production values of most independent cinema. Liford’s uniquely desaturated, nearly monochromatic aesthetic visually binds his two features together, while clearly separating himself from most other filmmakers. I bet if Wuss was produced in Hollywood, it would certainly include bright, cheery and over-saturated cinematography and a Billboard Top 40 soundtrack, but judging solely from Earthling and Wuss, that is not how Liford sees (or hears) the world.