Archive for April, 2012

Shorts 4 – Day 6 FFF 2012

April 19, 2012


A wonderful short exploring sibling relationships amidst disappointment and despair. Well written, well acted, excellently paced. Several patrons, including our own SunnyStefani, identified this as their favorite of all these shorts.

Red (The Slide Series)
Cute, very short piece about the power of suggestive advertising. 

A refreshingly perceptive take on the concept of bullies. Another excellent film. Ironically, I thought several scenes in this film looked eerily familiar–only to discover it was filmed a short distance from where I grew up.

Deerskin Lake
Quirky story of a support group that goes horribly wrong. Weak production values–from writing to acting to filming–keep this creative concept from coming close to its full potential.

First Match
a muscular, black athlete finally gets a shot at wrestling varsity–just like dad. Perhaps the family will see another champion trophy? Will dad be proud of her? Yes, I said, her!

I Am Not a Moose
Are you an actor or a moose? Probably better to be a moose. Amusing.

Next time you check into the front desk of a hotel, you’ll remember this film–and wish you didn’t!

Historically, Atlantis is a mythological, advanced civilization that disappeared into the sea a long time ago. That’s not mentioned in this film What’s in this film is the final flight of the space shuttle Atlantis, because America didn’t need a natural disaster to eliminate one of the most civilizing aspect of our current culture. Like the movie Titanic, this film was a combination of historical accuracy interspersed with a love story.

Doug Joseph

At the end of the program, there was a Q&A with the Curfew and Atlantis filmmakers. Also in the audience was Doug Joseph, who appeared in Atlantis.

31 years ago, Doug finished high school and took a “three month job” with NASA where he worked on the Atlantis space shuttle “flow management group.” He stayed in that “3 month job” until last year. In the movie, tears came to his eyes as he speaks about the end of the shuttle program.

It was that scene that gave me the inspiration to compare the final flight of Atlantis with the mythical story.

And that makes tears come to my eyes.


SunnyStefani Gets Pulled Over – Day 6 FFF 2012

April 19, 2012

State Statute 316.0895(1)

You would think my life’s a movie. I leave my job at Florida Dream Homes and jump on I-4 for the hour long commute to the FFF. I’m on the highway for roughly ten miles and pull up behind a motorcycle cop. Obviously I don’t speed past the cop because clearly that wouldn’t be smart. Traffic is merging onto the highway near The Mall of Millennia, so instead of speeding up, I hit my brakes to allow an oncoming vehicle to merge. The cop slows down, pulls behind me, and then pulls me over. You, like myself, may be thinking, “what did SunnyStefani get pulled over for?” I ask the cop that same question. He says, “State Statute 316.0895(1).” I give him a blank stare. “Following too closely,” he says. It would have been better if he reached inside my passenger side window and smacked me across the face. Who gets pulled over for ‘following too closely,’ really!

$164 later, I arrive at the FFF. I don’t know why I plan to see specific movies because my plans always change and I never see what I intended to. Tonight I planned on seeing Bert Stern: Original Madman. My little run in with the police officer who was saving the world from drivers ‘following too closely’ made me miss my show time of 3:30 pm so I decided to see Shorts #4: “Can I Get a Witness?” This is my first set of short programs I’ve seen both years at the festival.

Here goes nothing.

This was my absolute favorite short of the series because it suits my dark sense of humor. This 19 minute short was about a junkie who tries to kill himself until he receives a call from his sister who he hasn’t spoken to in years. She needs him to watch her 9 year old daughter, Sophia. This film had a great score, an amazing dance number and outstanding actors. I loved it and couldn’t wait for the Q & A session after with director, Shawn Christensen.

You would think spending $100 million on advertising would work, right? This film is about someone looking to ‘own’ the color ‘red.’ When it didn’t work, the client slit his wrist. As the bathtub filled with blood, seeing red, the client is reminded of a red colored soft drink can. He thinks, “Why didn’t I work for Coca-Cola?” Short, to the point. Overall, okay. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it.

Benny the Bunny was stolen from his home. When his owner, a young boy, goes looking for him through the slums, he finds him. Turns out, the school bully stole him. The film shows kids trying to do a good deed, and in that aspect, I liked the film. 

Deerskin Lake
This sick comedy was about a therapy session in which Dan expresses the trauma he experienced as a child. At first it was serious, then funny, then predictable.

First Match
This sad yet motivational film was about a female wrestler, Monique, who wants to prove to her father and classmates she has what it takes. I felt happy and sad numerous times throughout this film but overall there was no resolution.

I Am Not a Moose
This was my second favorite short of the night probably because the main character got pulled over by a cop for going 21 mph in a 40 mph minimum speed zone. This film featured Monty the Moose who is an actor who performs at kids’ birthday parties, singing and playing the guitar. Cute concept, good music and I was pleased to see that it was directed by a female. It’s great that the film industry is becoming more accessible to us females!

This creepy short is about a lonely old man, Mobius, who works as a hotel receptionist. He writes down all the guests’ information and lives vicariously through them. He’s excited to get fired because that means that someone noticed him. I’m not a fan of the voice over this film used or the fact that is seemed like Mobius was stalking guests. Creepy.

I wanted to like this film, but it was my least favorite of all the shorts I saw tonight. This film was about the space shuttle launch of Atlantis on July 8, 2011 that ended the shuttle program. It was a documentary with a love twist, that just didn’t do much for me. Matthew Ornstein, the director, was present for the Q & A session as well.

Shawn Christensen, Director of Curfew

Interview with Shawn Christensen
I was excited to get to talk to Shawn since Curfew was my favorite short of the night. During the group Q & A, Shawn stated he has “a really dark sense of humor,” which I can relate to. The film had a wide range of emotions with stemmed from Shawn’s “intimate relationship to depression.” After the film, I stayed to talk to Shawn. I asked him what his inspiration for the film was in which he replied “after a massive depression and breaking up with my girlfriend.” I guess directors and singers both get their inspiration from life experiences. Shawn said this is the “second short film anyone has seen;” however, he has another short hidden away that he wasn’t happy with after editing.

Audience Reaction
After my interview with Shawn, I ran into Christine Hoefing. She is from Atlanta, GA, here to visit her brother and attend the FFF. When I asked if I could interview her, she was quick to say, “You don’t want to interview me, I tend to be hyper critical.” Christine said Bunny had “such an impact and moral statement in a kind way” and that they expressed “maturity even through children.” She said, “I think I got the message about advertising in Red” and that you’re “drawn into advertising sublimity.” “Mobius was very dark to me,” said Christine. “It was the most depressing one I saw.” “Curfew was very good” and “I loved Atlantis,” she continued. “My dad worked on the space program.” She was shocked they discontinued the space program and compared it to taking down the Statue of Liberty.

Clearly everyone has different taste as the film Christine liked the most was my least favorite. Overall, I was quite impressed with Shorts #4: “Can I Get a Witness?” I’m glad I got the see them.

And remember…don’t follow too closely!

Brothers Know Best – Day 5 FFF 2012

April 18, 2012

The Salt of Life

The Salt of Life is about a lonely man. Gianni, retired and middle-aged, is transparent to woman, not that it should matter because he’s married. His friend convinces him he can still have a romantic relationship with other woman and he becomes somewhat obsessed to find a girlfriend or lover. This film had some funny parts but overall I agree with the comments I heard from the audience after the film which was it was a very “slow movie” and “I was bored 90% of the time.” I wish I could write more, but the movie was really just okay.

The line of people waiting for The Brookyln Brothers

After The Salt of Life, I planned on seeing Shorts #1: “It Takes Two.” When I got outside the theatre, I looked at the line that was forming for The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best and I switched my gears. This was the first film, besides opening night, that I saw the line wrapped around and people waiting to get in. Despite an extremely annoying man chewing on his ice in front of me the whole movie, this was the best film I’ve seen at this year’s FFF. The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best was brilliant and funny. The only thing I didn’t like about the film was the one editing error I saw towards the beginning of the film when Alex, the main character, destroyed his phone.

Ryan O'Nan, Director, Writer, and Actor

After the film we had a Q & A session with Ryan O’Nan, the director, writer, and star of the film. He was extremely down to earth and funny; he even dropped the f*bomb three times. The film was sponsored through private equity, filmed solely in Maryland, cost a total of $625,000 and took just 18 days to film. Ryan said “I wrote it [the film] for myself.” When it came down to casting, “a lot of people said ‘no,’ which is always hard.” He went on to say “everything I’ve ever done, I learned through books.” He believes if you’re passionate about something just “push your way through it. Go after it and live; put your life into it.”

Ryan was in a band for 4½ years that toured the country. Because of the movie, he’s proud to say “we’re a band now and got a record deal through Warner Brothers Music.” This probably had to do with the fact that he wrote a majority of the songs for the film.

I couldn’t have been happier to see this film and it’s rated #1 on my 2012 FFF list. Unfortunately, tonight was the second showing of the film, so if you missed it, you missed a great film.

Doc Shorts – Day 5 FFF 2012

April 17, 2012

King's Point

The Olympian
In the late 1800’s Thomas Edison filmed a man who is considered the father of modern bodybuilding. This film is a simple juxtaposition of that film and a modern bodybuilder of today. Short. Fascinating. Well conceived.

Kings Point
If we’re lucky, one day we’ll be old. Ever wonder what life will be like then? This film gives a glimpse of life in a retirement community in Florida. Stark. Realistic. Beautifully filmed. Informative.

Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest
This short features the true story of Ingrid Pitt’s escaped from a Nazi concentration camp. Ingrid went on to become a famous actor. This was her last project. It was made in collaboration with famous shorts animator Bill Plympton. Most impressively, it was animated by a 10 year old.

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom
This film shows heart wrenching, live footage of the March 2011 tsunami in Japan. Then the survivors are interviewed. After which, the filmmaker explores the powerful symbolism of the cherry blossom to the Japanese culture. Many ancient cherry trees survived the tsunami and their “rebirth” is held up as the epitome of the Japanese struggle to survive and overcome this horrendous disaster. NumberOneSon said this was his favorite of the four shorts.

Audience Response
“I cried three times and smiled at the same time,” reported Jessica Gasparolo. 

“I Loved the cherry blossom one–kinda showed the worst of nature and the best of human nature,” Said Harriett.

“I would say that the shorts have been just outstanding this year. We liked a lot of them,” claimed Helen and John Steele. They went on to discuss several of the shorts programs. They agreed with me that Shorts 1 was absolutely fantastic. While I loved The Other Side, they were more fond of High Maintenance.

It’s a testament to the diversity of the FFF that the one they liked the most, was the one that I thought was the least of all the Shorts 1. Don’t get me wrong–I really enjoyed High Maintenance–it’s just that I liked the other six even better.

But isn’t that what the FFF is all about–Different people, different opinions, thoughtful and provocative films for everyone to enjoy, analyze and review.

I love it!

Is Paul Williams Dead? – Day 4 FFF 2012

April 17, 2012

Do You Know if Paul Williams is still Alive?

I have fond childhood memories of sitting with my father and watching classic 70s TV shows, like the comedy/variety show Laugh-In. I remember Paul Williams. A short, charismatic character who always made my dad laugh.

A documentarian considers making a movie about this iconic personality of the 1970’s. Paul is most noted for writing mega song hits such as Evergreen, We’ve Only Just Begun and my personal favorite (sung by none other than Kermit the Frog) The Rainbow Connection. The filmmaker knows that Paul battled alcohol and drug addiction. Then he just disappeared. “He died too young,” the filmmaker laments. 

Problem is, Paul’s not dead yet. So the filmmaker tracks him down and spends over two years filming him for his documentary.

This is touted as one of the better films at this year’s FFF, so I’m surprised to see such a small crowd. Not surprisingly, the crowd appears to be slightly older than usual. Is this because the subject was popular back in the 70s? Does anyone younger than 40 even know who Paul Williams was?, uh, is?

I ask an older gentleman if he would like to be interviewed for the blog. He curtly tells me, “No I don’t.” Normally, I can engage a few people as they enter and exit the theatre. For this show, very few of them even make eye contact with me.

The movie is good.  Just good. Paul Williams makes for a great subject. But on some level the movie does not work. As I watch it, I find myself getting drawn in and drawn…then, the filmmaker puts himself in the movie and…Poof…I’m out of the movie now. Then there’s more about Paul and again I’m drawn in, drawn in and…Poof…the filmmaker gets into the film again.

This is not working. 

I think about Michael Moore. He puts himself into his documentaries all the time. But I don’t have the same experience. Why is this not working?

I never do figure it out. But the film, at least everything about Paul, is so fascinating that I can easily recommend this documentary. And as patrons exit the theatre, I hear a lot of positive comments.

 “That was good,” says one guy. “It was interesting,” says another. Still one more is overheard saying, “I really liked it.”

Scott Abrahams takes a moment to give this review, “Good, I got a little bored here and there. It was a little more about the filmmaker than about him. I would like to have seen more about the songwriting process.” He goes on to tell how he was disappointed that the movie was scheduled for 9pm but the chalkboard outside the theatre said 9:15 so he missed the first seven minutes of the movie.

Another member in the audience was discussing the directorial decisions of Stephen Kessler, the filmmaker, with three others who saw the movie. The conversation gets pretty animated—a sign that the film succeeded in eliciting a response, which is usually a good sign. One woman says, “Because it’s Paul Williams, I want to give it a 4+, but because of the filmmaker, I want to give him a 3.”

I stop one of the audience members on his way out of the theatre. I discover he’s also a documentarian who has a film at this year’s FFF. I ask for more feedback on the movie. “Let me just say, I don’t appear anywhere in my documentary.” He’s reluctant to say more because he doesn’t want to disparage a fellow filmmaker. I ask him what he thinks of Michael Moore. That gives him pause. “With him, it works,” he concludes.  “But for this movie it didn’t work.”

However, he insists on ending the interview on a positive note about a fellow filmmaker, “After seeing this movie, I want to know more about Paul Williams.” “So you liked it?” I inquire in an overly obvious attempt to illicit a negative response I can attribute to him. He pauses, smiles, and tactfully retorts, “I liked Paul.”

And that, in a nutshell, is this movie.

Girl Model – Day 4 FFF 2012

April 17, 2012
Some of the Girl Models Waiting to Audition

One night as I lay in bed listening to the snoring of my dog, I start flipping through the nothingness of cable TV at 2 am. I stop on ‘Dance Moms.’ I watch reality TV occasionally, but mostly shows on MTV that involve challenges and crazy drunk people. I really wasn’t interested in this show. But it was like a train wreck and I couldn’t turn it off. After about three plus hours I was hooked. So when I saw the preview for Girls Models and First Position, I just had to see them.

I needed to know if all dancers and models were just as obsessed and crazy as in the reality TV show. Within minutes of the film starting, the model agency stated a good model starts between 5 to 10 years of age. I immediately thought, “what 5 year old should be modeling and watching what they eat?” It seemed extremely crazy to me.

The film focused around Nadya Vall, a 13 year old from Siberia, who wanted to be a model and help her family from the financial hole they were in. Missah, the owner of Switch Models, believes he’s saving these young girls. He believes the younger the better because ‘youth is beautiful.’ He promises these girls a life of luxury and wealth for their families, and they end up in more debt than before they left.

Girl Model

Ashley Arbaugh is an ex-model who now selects the ‘right’ models for jobs in Tokyo, Japan. She believes the business of modeling has no weight because it changes minute to minute. She also said most girls turn to prostitution because it’s easier than modeling and not considered a terrible thing in a lot of countries.

Both myself and the audience were in complete shock after the film ended. Once the lights in the theatre turned back on, there was a lot of talking behind me. Some of the general comments where “that was a pick me up, huh,” and “I couldn’t even imagine being 12 or 13 in Japan not knowing where to go.” These girls were promised something, and given something completely different. They weren’t with their parents, didn’t speak the language, and didn’t even get paid for the modeling work they did. Their contract could be changed on a day to day basis. If they gained more than 1 inch on their waist, their contract was voided. I have no idea what parent in their right mind would exposure their child to such extreme measures. The girls would cry, talking to their parents, asking to come home.

Before the film I was speaking to some of the volunteers. Doris said she read the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and said the majority of the people said this film was “sad and depressing.” After seeing this film, I would have to agree. No part of what Noah Models was putting the girls through would I ever subject my child to. The company talked about how they always get their girls work and they never leave in debt; yet we didn’t see any girl happy or making money. It’s all just a lie and I have no idea why Missah believes he’s saving these girls lives.

The opening short The Odysseus Gambit was just as sad. Saravuth Inn was one of the babies from Cambodia that was air lifted to the U.S. He has no home and plays chess for money. When I got to the end of the film, I asked myself, ‘what was the point?’ The only conclusion I came to was life is a game of chess. Again, not one of my favorite shorts.

If you’re looking for some sad, depressing movies, be sure to catch Girl Models and The Odysseus Gambit. Instead, take some advice from Doris and see Mamitas to watch someone “grow into adulthood right before your eyes.” She believes the film opens up to you and you “start believing something and end up believing something else.”

Overall, the two movies I saw tonight were nowhere near my favorite films at this year’s festival. Disappointing.

Three For The Family – Day 3 FFF 2012

April 16, 2012

Beware the Big Bad Mouse! A Film for Children of All Ages

My lucky number is 3.

And, today, I went to see 3 movies. Coincidence? I think not!

The Gruffalo’s Child, was the most adorable short film I’ve ever seen! It made me smile most of the time, and cry the other few times; just as all good stories should. The voiceover in the movie was effective and beautifully put together. I absolutely loved it! It seems they did the right thing when turning this children’s book into an animated film. It only makes me wonder where these animators were when things went wildly wrong with certain things regarding a certain children’s book I cared about that was turned into a certain movie a few years back which was absolutely horrible.

A Film For Older Children and Up

The film that followed was The Cat in Paris. This animated film was certainly meant to be a movie for young children. Yet, I loved this one too! However, there are some violent scenes with thieves kidnapping a child and threatening her as well as some strong language. Even still, I think that any child over ten would really enjoy the interesting hand-drawn animation and action.

A Film For Teens

The final movie of the day was Magic Valley. This is definitely not a movie for the kiddies. However, it’s perfect for an angsty teen like me. While, I have no idea what the director had against fish, this was incredibly well put together for a first film. (There were a LOT of dead fish in this movie–including fish being chopped up by lawn mowers and fish being blown up by firecrackers!) I loved how the movie left you guessing. This who-dunnit film was something that I enjoyed and I’d recommend it if you’re into murder mysteries.

When the movies were over, LanceAround and I had a great opportunity to speak with an intern who had helped work on Magic Valley. He told us stories about how it was around 16 degrees during the filming of one of the scenes! I feel awful for the child actors who had to go into the freezing river water during the filming!

This intern was lucky to work on such a great film. It was wonderful to get behind the scenes detail on what happened during production. It reminds me why I love to go to the FFF. You get the opportunity to meet the people who create such art.

All in all, this was probably one of the best days I’ve had at the festival so far. I hope to enjoy more days like this. Still, it was my lucky day 3. So, who knows?

Final Thoughts From Day 2 FFF 2012

April 15, 2012

Mohamed Fellag as Monsieur Lazhar

As Day 2 comes to a close, I realize my misgivings about this year’s festival were unfounded. It has turned out to be one of the best days I have ever had at the FFF. I decide to see one last film and interview a few more festival patrons.

Doris says Mamitas was great. I agree. Jason says he is with a great date. I’m not sure if that means he has paid any attention to the films or if he is just trying to impress her. Whatever, it’s time to go into the theatre for my last movie of the day.

Monsieur Lazhar
The theatre is almost at capacity. It’s been so busy this year that most films are getting started incredibly late. This is very unusual at the FFF. But I don’t see how it could be avoided. Just exiting the theatre from Mamitas took about 10 minutes because the patrons couldn’t push past the crowds outside the theatre waiting to enter to see Monsieur Lazhar. As I look over the auditorium, I see something unique in a movie theatre. Every seat across each row is completely filled. None of them are empty. Usually, at a normal movie, there are gaps between parties. Not at the FFF. Is it the common bond of love for film that allows us to feel comfortable sitting closer to one another?

The lights dim and Monsieur Lazhar begins. This film was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film last year so it’s very popular. A hush falls over the theatre…

The movie is very well done. The title role requires just the right touch of subtlety and depth. Mohamed Fellag provides a sublime performance that is a joy to watch. It’s a good film. I didn’t think it lived up to all the accolades that preceded it. The story was somewhat simplistic yet very moving. Others in the theatre were even more impressed.

“It was great.” “Very moving,” said Kasey and Colleen.

“I thought it was excellent, I liked it,” noted Dawson. “It was a very touching story.”

“Films like this should go beyond best foreign language and into best picture,” said Ken.

A trio of women approach me as I’m conducting my interviews. “It was touching,” said Flora Torra. Her friend, Therese Murphy, confirmed that was her real name and went on to say, “it was beautiful.” “It was moving,” chimed in Rosario. Then, turning away from the film Flora blurts out, “These are great names for a blog,” referring to Flora, Therese and Rosario. “No one’s ever heard of these names.”

“It was beautiful. It was peaceful. And it had a fabulous message,” said Kerry. Her friend Sandy replied, “You said it all. I loved it.”

For me, I loved this day at the FFF and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

Monsieur Lazhar – Day 2 FFF 2012

April 15, 2012

From NumberOneEmber
Everyone seems to love Monsieur Lazhar. Well, I must have missed a major component of it. While the story was touching, there didn’t seem to be any other point, besides having to say “goodbye” even when you never want to go–or let go. It’s possible that this is just what everyone else loved about the film, but I, being a person who’s had to say goodbye far too many times, didn’t react nearly as emotionally as many other audience members. After a second viewing, I’m sure I can more accurately explain my reaction, or non-reaction, to this Oscar-nominated foreign film.

From ThatGuyRoberto
Monsieur Lazhar made me feel like I’ve been stabbed in the heart. The heaviness, overall, made me feel empty. Yet at the same time, it made me realize that every moment of every day with everyone is priceless. I can’t say any specific part made me feel this way, just the movie overall. It was powerful–extremely powerful. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone I know simply for the message of it.

Kumare & Mamitas – Day 2 FFF 2012

April 15, 2012

I think it will be a long time before this film finds its rightful place within my heart and my mind. It’s a simple documentary by an Indian, Hindu man—Born and raised in New Jersey—Who has come to believe his religious family’s beliefs are totally bogus. To prove it, he “becomes” a guru of a made up religion and plants himself in Arizona where he entices 14 different people to become his disciples.

Then, he tells them who he truly is. At least, he tries to. In his own way. But, in my opinion, he does so in a way that is significantly more dishonest than honest.

I won’t say any more about what happens in the film. You really should see it. But I will talk about how it continues to affect me. Because it does.

At the heart of this documentary is the reality that Vickram Gandhi, the swindler who created the character of Kumare, is a fraud-pure and simple. In fact, he’s so good at being a fraud, he appears to even con himself into believing he has done some good by perpetrating this fraud.

L. Ron Hubbard is famous for saying, “If you want to get rich, start a religion.”  Apparently, he said that some time before he founded the “religion” of Scientology and then went on to become extremely wealthy.

In a similar vein, Vickram seems unable to face his own duplicity. When it comes time to “expose” his falsehood, he does so in a way that clearly allows both himself and his followers to latch on to “the truth” behind the lie–a convoluted concept which attempts to portray him, not as the perpetrator of a fraud, but as a bearer of the truth that if he can become a guru, then everyone has it within themselves to become a guru.

Suddenly, not only are both he and his followers embracing this concept, some people who watch this documentary seem to fall for it as well.

Personally, I try to detach myself from the hype. Being as objective as I can be, I observe this phenomenon. Are we, as humans, so desperate to find meaning in our lives that we’re willing to toss out reason and common sense and fall for something like this?

These are the thoughts I have as I watch both the movie and the reactions to it. I would love to hear your thoughts.

I can never figure out why a movie like this doesn’t make it into wide release, while movies like American Pie make a ton a money. Is it because this movie is too real? Too True?  Are most movie watchers like Kumare’s students—too eager for an escaped from reality that they are willing to see…or believe..the most ridiculous tripe?

I just don’t know. But I do know this. If you love good film. If an intelligent story appeals to you. If you’re the kind of person who is open to discovering truth about humanity, then a movie like Mamitas is worth a look.