Oh yes I had me a blast at the Sidewalk. We started with a batch of Alabama Shorts. Watching the home-grown is always one of the main Sidewalk attractions for me, and thanks to the Festival and the Scrambles there's a pretty exciting local scene; maybe not so exciting if you're looking to work in film for a living, but pretty cool if you see filmmaking as a groovy hobby. So, this batch of shorts started with Sewing a River, directed by Sidewalk celeb Alan Hunter from the script that won the Sidewrite competition last year. (My entry, a spoof of the bonus features on the Lord of the Rings DVDs, was not the one. I keep telling myself it's because of formatting errors...) I thought the script (as refracted through the production) was fine, a story about how legends and real life can intertwine, with unified complexity and clarity. I was frustrated by the production; the look of it (production design, lighting and all) was lovely and rich, if a bit diabetic at times with its easter egg colorfulness, and some of the performers did themselves proud. (A dignified priest and the lovely young woman who played the bride at the center of the story (who sat next to me at the screening! Along with her boyfriend, natch) can put their perfomances in this on their demo reels.) But much of the acting was hammy, okay for the stage but too much for tight medium shots. A lot of little things, line readings and such, seemed like inadequate first takes that they printed and used when they should have shaped the performances better. I know one of the actresses and know she can light the stage up, but I wish she had been scaled back a bit. I have also been really impressed with Alan Hunter's direction on a few other projects, so I was quite disappointed. There was also an eye-popping CGI-heavy opening relating the legend that underlies the story, and I loved it until two things happened right on top of each other. First, as the narrator was rhapsodizing about how the river loved the magical girl and she was perfectly attuned to it, we saw her reach toward a lily pad and the pad scooted away as if it were fleeing. It was funny for the wrong reason, almost like a Marienbadian ironic counterpoint except it was unintentional. Then there's a shot of a CGI fish leaping out of the water which looked great until they went in for an open-mouthed leaping fish money shot that just looked a little too contrived; it was the kind of awkward CGI fakery that makes one long for Harryhausen or George Pal.
There were two animated shorts that I enjoyed: cozmic Cola blended old-school Fleischer Bros. designs and animation with more modern graphics. It's a great aesthetic, but for their next project they need a unifying concept, a story of some kind, to take it beyond a mere demo reel of bits and pieces. The other one, The Fanciful Gentleman, is a well-told joke from the auteur of several wonderful animated Scramble Shorts. Simple flash animation, good voice work, perfect timing. Yay!
The Birthday Midget, about a midget who decides to become a holiday icon, had a good premise, good cast, decent film values... it was just padded out too long for its slender premise. The core story could have been a sharp and funny four-minute film, and a prologue interview with the protaganist's mother is a cute performance, but the interview show in the middle is way too extended.
Phone A Clone is an ad for a company that ships an exact replica of you in to handle your boring or unpleasant tasks. Unfortunately it's barely developed beyond the premise's most obvious possibilities, and is also at least three times as long as it needs to be. I liked the pitchman though.
The Music That Is Changing The World is a faux newsreel about a jazz legend; cute period recreation and a funny gag that could have been punched a bit harder. Basically the band plays really sweet jazz but the star clarinet player starts doing a repetitive, unswinging toodling that drives the crowd wild and earns raves from the narrator but irks his more tuneful cohorts. It's exactly the right length, has cute dancing girls in flapper costumes, and the guy with the afro looks cool. A promising short.
!2 miles to Einstien and Who Killed Tangerine had audio problems, so we didn't see them.
A Modest Proposal! My local film debut is a better film than I feared it would be, although I'm hardly able to evaluate it with a fresh perspective. I sure am bald, and too hammy for film! Now that I know what I look like (mirrors don't give you the third-person perspective) I understand why women won't date me. The director was very nice to me later that day, and told me that one of the two cinematographers complemented my work, which made me feel a lot better.
Later I saw DeRailroaded, a full-legth documentary about Wild Man Fisher. It was amazing. There but for the grace of God, but what a wild ride! His duet with Rosemary Clooney (no I ain't kidding) bowled me over.
Then another block of home-grown shorts.
Mindwalk was a groovy little dollop of slick MTV pop surrealism.
Something (that's the title) was a music video with an okay but overlong and repetitive song. The greytoned visuals of two lovely young women, one white, one black, emoting in an old house were often striking; trim the song and cut the more OTT visuals (smashing a bowl on the floor like a David Mallet video) and I'd be delighted! The director was a young woman with a cute frilly granny dress, a refreshing change from all the too-cool-for-school guy directors.
Murder Inn and Gratuitious both star Brad, a guy I know. I've never really seen him act, and he's got an obvious sense of how to scale his performance for the lens; underplayed but not wooden. I loved watching him and hope to achieve something of the same quality ni future film work (if any.). Murder Inn is an EC comic type story with a poor performance by the cranky wife and a little too underlit and murky for my tastes, even given the dark and gloomy story; Gratuitious is better; I'm sure cool-but-confused-hitmen stories are now officially the least favorite thing for a festival judge to sit through, but the pace never falters and it looks great for homegrown. Both films were basically auditions for drive-in movies, but the second at least promised good drive-in.
The 3 R's was a mock educational film about how to hide a body. The basic idea may be a bit hackneyed but the short rises about it with funny performances, witty writing and the perfect rich-voiced but friendly narrator. Maybe just a little too long, but charming and fun. I actually laughed several times, which can't be said about many local comedy shorts. More please!
The Girlfriend from Scramble favorites Team Bloodjet was an extended reworking of some favorite Bloodjet motifs; Kubrickian pacing, slowly building tension, innocents caught up in a creepy situation that erupts in horror. The photography is stunning, suitable for framing, and director Adam Wingard obviously knows more about directing actors than most other local filmmakers all put together. My friend Debbie Smith gets to show her graceful and well-calibrated acting in a supporting role; she's one of the most underappreciated performers in town, and it's a credit to Bloodjet's eye for talent that they saw fit to cast her. The story is teasingly ambiguous but the storytelling is clear and compelling. My favorite short of the festival.
We also got to see 12 Miles To Einstein after all, and it was a nicely filmed and skillfully acted but predictable ghost story, played lightly but not for laughs. I want to see more from all involved, only with a less pat story.
I also bumped into Sarah El Kouni, an old college chum, as well as a bunch of local rapscallions, and the weekend was a joy for the company alone!