As a new movie reviewer, I had the privilege of attending the Dallas International Film Festival. Not going to lie, having a Press Pass was rather empowering; skipping the lines and entering first spoiled me. Honestly, I would like to have seen more movies on the list that caught my attention. The movies I saw were quite remarkable, definitely worth the trek from my small town into the city. Either way, I enjoyed the experience. The lines were not too long, does this maybe mean fewer people attended this year? The volunteers were quick to answer questions, were attentive to guests, and kept every screening running smoothly. The best part of DIFF was gaining insight on the movies with the Q&A’s after many of the screenings. I also enjoyed the Short Films I was able to see, a large variety in a couple of hours. I do hope to attend this film festival next year and would recommend to any movie connoisseur.
All of the films I screened were at the Angelika in Dallas. While this is neither the prettiest or most comfortable theater, the Angelika serves exceptional coffee on the bottom floor, which puts them at the top of my list. Forget Starbucks; I want the Intelligentsia coffee topped with some caramel!
The first movie I saw set the bar for all the other films. “Wakefield,” starring Brian Cranston and Jennifer Garner, was nothing less than amazing. Howard, a wealthy man living in the suburbs and working in the city, chases a raccoon up to his attic over the garage. Once up there, Howard finds viewing his wife and twin teenage daughters through the window in the attic to the windows in the house, more satisfying than the life he currently lives. When he reaches the point of no return, Howard decides to move into the attic unbeknownst to his wife and children. He spends the better part of the year enacting his nervous breakdown alone as a wilderness man.
What a treat a Q&A with Mr. Cranston and Ms. Garner would have been, or even the director. Sadly, this did not happen. Either way, the movie speaks for itself. If you get the chance, look for interviews on the DVD when the movie is out. 5 Stars.
“Gook” fell far below the bar. Two Korean-American brothers, Eli and Daniel, live in a neighborhood ruled by the African Americans and Hispanics back in 1992 in Compton, California. Trying to maintain their father’s shoe store, the brothers struggle to make ends meet and not get beaten up on a daily base. If that’s not enough, they find themselves the unwilling babysitters of Kamilla, an African American girl who refuses to go to school. When the Rodney King verdict is released, the town goes nuts. Eli and Daniel try to avoid the chaos and keep Kamilla safe while debating their futures. Unfortunately, if you take the F-word out of the cast’s vocabulary, you only have a one-third of the script left. The ending is as heart-wrenching and unsatisfying as the movie being in black and white while trying to show the gray areas in life.
The audience was able to ask questions of James (one of the directors) after the showing. Found out some interesting tidbits, such as Justin (director, writer, and who played Eli), was still a student during filming and Mr. Kim, from the film, is Justin’s real-life dad. Keith (Kamilla’s brother played by Curtiss Cook Jr.) was the hardest part to cast because of the sheer amount of hatred. The overriding theme is to slow down; life is too short for so much hatred. Distribution will close in the middle of April. By fall, the movie will be available in theaters in ten to fifteen cities across the country. 2 Stars.
The Shorts Program 1 features nine short films:
- “Pet-Friendly” captures the turmoil a couple faces when their cat disappears while at a motel on their move across the country. The camera is quite awkward and amateur in use, causing more tension than is necessary for this film where husband and wife are at each other’s throats. The cat is just a conduit for their previous arguments to come into the limelight. 2 Stars.
- “Emma” is filmed in black and white to document a young teenage girl’s fight with Alopecia. As patches of her hair disappear and treatments prove to be ineffective, Emma copes with her loss and the identity crisis her loss brings. 4 Stars.
- “Irregulars” use mannequins as the backdrop for one voice out of the many who flee war, poverty, and persecution from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East to Europe. The odd visuals conflicted with the narration as if brain and heart were at odds with each other. I was lost in the rhetorical devices. 1 Star.
- “End of Earth” shows a small boy caring for his sick mother while searching for his astronaut father. The visuals were engaging, but the plot holes left too much information out; the short film had almost no dialogue. The meaning is lost in the translation to film. Director Caleb Michael Johnson answered a couple of questions after the show. His son Justin played the lead. The six-minute film was seven years in the making. 2 Stars.
- “Hairat” is lyrical and visual in the documentation of one man’s nightly ritual of feeding hyenas in Ethiopia. While interesting to watch, the narration does not give insight to the purpose of the film or the man’s relationship with the animals. 2 Stars.
- “Proxy” shows a teenage boy’s crush on a girl visiting his family’s motel. The young girl is plagued by an overbearing mother suffering from Munchausen Syndrome. The interactions between the two young adults are realistic in expectation while focusing on the girls tortured life. Producer Eric Schuman shared some details about his short film which was shot in five days because of the restrictions for the two youths. The Q&A was where we learned the girl was a victim of her sick mother and did not to cancer (my original guess) which her bald head indicated. 3 1/2 stars.
- “Legal Smuggling with Christine Choy” is the hilarious story of one woman’s attempt to buy cigarettes duty-free and bring them back home. Shown in shifting pencil drawings, the narration is amusing, you find yourself rooting for Christine’s successful purchase of several cartons of cigarettes and smuggling them home. 5 Stars.
- “Bill’s Record” documents a large privately owned record store in Dallas. With thousands upon thousands of records in his store, Bill gave up living life for his obsession of vintage vinyls. His verbose personality, a penchant for spinning records, and introverted tendencies make me wonder if he is part of the spectrum. His obsession leads to extreme work weeks and dedication to his business, while he neglects his personal life. During the Q&A Bill spent a lot of time talking showing how he chatted so naturally on screen. His director (Chuck Przybyl) stated Bill had been hit by a talking bug. 4 Stars.
- “I Know You From Somewhere” is a funny short showing how fast the internet and narrow viewpoints can quickly spiral into a personal mess. Katherene (yes this is the correct spelling) accidentally becomes a viral sensation and copes with the opinions and fury of her viewers. Told in humorous narration by Katherene, this short wins on all levels. 5 Stars.
Full-length film “Relationtrip” takes an amusing spin on a whirlwind relationship. Beck and Liam bond over their disinterest in relationships and take a “friend” trip for a long weekend. Over the course of a few days, they go through all the usual steps of discovering the other person on the way to love. With some exciting and over the top visuals, the couple experience the highs and the lows of a year long relationship practically overnight. Beck’s body image insecurities and Liam’s attachment issues become paramount with the help of an ornery muppet hell bent on displaying the couple’s inner turmoil. While the visuals are at some point excessive in showing each person’s inner issues, the tone of the film is light and amusing. If while watching this movie you keep in mind the lighthearted journey intended by the writers, you will come away with a better understanding of the stages of relationships. I found myself connecting with the characters and script, having experienced the whirlwind of a fast relationship. Those without similar experiences may find themselves lost in the uncanny illustrations used to display the couples learning about each other. I would have preferred the film without the puppet, even though I understand the reason for the furry puppet. 4 Stars.
“Unrest” is a documentary about one woman’s life with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). After a high fever of 104.7 degrees, Jennifer Brea experiences a life complicated by extreme fatigue. Her film documents not just her and her husband’s half lives, but those of hundreds of people around the world who suffer from an untreatable illness which affects every aspect of their lives. Most doctors have no formal training on CFS and most doctors believe CFS to be a myth or psychosomatic. Jennifer hopes her documentary will help the world to recognize the truth of CFS and fight for funding to not only find a cure but also bring the illness into the spotlight for funding. The more important agenda of the film is to show this hidden world of suffering people and proving their numbers are too high for CFS not to be real. 4 Stars.
“Rememory” focuses on Sam Bloom coping with the death of his brother Dash. He has a chance meeting with an inventor, Gordon Oliver Dunn, who invented a memory recording device still in the preproduction stage. The machine records memories but not without issue; memories can be warped by the recording. Worse, people are figuring out reliving their memories isn’t as enjoyable as they thought. When Gordon dies under mysterious conditions, Sam sets out to find Gordon’s murderer with the help of the memory machine. He follows the memories of others to figure out the last day of Gordon’s life. Along the way, we find Sam and Gordon’s paths have crossed before, as Sam becomes more tangled in the life Gordon left behind.
Director and writer Mark Palansky was kind enough to answer questions after the screening. The movie was written with Peter Dinklage in mind; he was the movie. The entire film, including over two hundred memories, was filmed in just twenty-one days. Mark’s goal was to keep the audience engaged without knowing the purpose of following Sam Bloom. Instead, he wants the audience to put the purpose on the back burner while engaging with the journey. Rememory will be in theater in August with the help of Sundance. 4 1/2 Stars.
While screening “Gifted” (not a part of DIFF), I had the opportunity to meet Chester Maple, founder, and CEO of Stage 32 (https://www.stage32.com/profile/190467) a network for creatives. Chester had a role “Bomb City,” which was featured at the Dallas International Film Festival, as a security guard and allowed me to question his experience acting on the set. What I found amusing is Chester has yet to see the finished product despite his part in the film. He enjoyed the experience which was only moderately stressful. The hurry up and wait mentality was frustrating otherwise, acting is his passion and Chester was happy to add this experience to his collection, which includes commercials, screenwriting, and filmmaking. He is naturally humble, as he even seemed surprised someone in the press would want to interview him about his acting career.
Please feel free to share your DIFF experience in the comments below.