Monday, August 13, 2007

Film Festival Time!

Three of the best things about summer in Providence: (usually) great weather, Crazy Burger, and the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

This year's festival was pretty typical in quality, so I approached it as usual. Once it begins, I go into a trance-like state of absolute concentration. The festival sells six-packs of session passes, which is just about as much as a human can consume anyway. This year, over four days, I made it to seven sessions featuring a total of thirty-six movies. Don't let that last number scare you: some were an hour-and-a-half long and some as little as two minutes. That, of course, is the beauty of the festival.

The typical festival movie is just what you'd expect of independent film: pretentious, self-indulgent, and too long (yes, there are five minute movies that are too long). But you could level an equally long litany against traditional movies, too. What stands out in independent film is passion, gutsiness, a realism forced by underproduction, an urgency imposed by tight budgets, and talent forced to stand in the spotlight in all its human, unvarnished glory. It's usually the case that the two-minute shorts are the very best movies: it's no surprise that they are invariably comedies, because they draw directly on the skill embodied in the perfect set-up of a stand-up comedian; though, because they transport this skill into a new dimension, the ones that make a social or political statement are even better. And the visual and production effects of some of these movies entirely belie their film school and other such origins.

As always, the festival had some suprises and some disappointments. My picks from the animated shorts were Fish, but No Cigar; Nasuh; Par Avion (a haiku of a movie: within the first three seconds, the animation succeeded in placing you on the banks of the Seine in Paris); Perpetuum Mobile (Leonardo da Vinci rightly credited as a props designer); and Voodoo Bayou. Of the movies, Entry Level was pleasant and refreshing. Amongst documentaries, Across the Plateau (Chuan Yue Gao Yuan) was a delight, while wordlessly emphasizing the growing Chinese presence in Tibet in two capacities: construction and the military (those two not being entirely independent). And finally, the movie that stole my heart was the short, Rocketboy.

We caught our first festival the week we moved to Providence in 2000, not having known of its existence before. Since then, we've screwed up only one summer, when we accidentally made travel plans for that same weekend. That so traumatized us that we start checking the festival calendar months in advance, so as to not repeat that mistake. The festival continues to grow in size and depth. Like a comet, it invades our life every summer, sprinkling a host of meteors about us, and satiates my entire year's need for movies in a week. Summer, and life, wouldn't be the same without it.

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