Green, Directed by Sophia Takal
The Salt Lake City Film Festival accepts films from around the globe and brings them to SLC for one weekend in August. This year’s festival was held August 18-21 at the Tower Theater, Broadway Center Theater, Post Theater and Brewvies Cinema Pub. Organized by a small crew of regular guys and gals from around our town, there’s an incredibly warm, inviting feel to the festival that visitors have found to be a contrast from festivals like Sundance. In years past, documentary films like Best Worst Movie, Cleanflix, American Jihadist, and Sons of a Gun have helped the festival to gain a reputation as an abnormally doc-heavy fest, while still bringing narrative films from newer filmmakers of the highest caliber. The SLCFF also gives directors of short films an opportunity to submit their work, and shorts were scheduled to precede each full-length screening. This year’s program kept with the themes while providing a laid-back atmosphere and plenty of after parties to mingle at.
Director: Sophia Takal
Sebastian (Lawrence Michael Levine) and Genevieve (Kate Lyn Sheil) have been together for four years when they rent a secluded country house in rural West Virginia in order to record a comedic blog about living off the land. The morning after their first night they find Robin (writer/director/editor Sophia Takal) curiously asleep on their front lawn. The former New Yorkers start a reluctant friendship with their new neighbor despite their cultural and educational differences, which sets off a chain reaction of subtle jealousies. An atmosphere of uncertainty and tension is constantly present throughout the film mostly due to Ernesto Carcamo’s score. While the moodiness is a bit inconsistent and annoying during the introductory scenes of the film, the reason for this, and the creepy transitional shots of dense forest, soon become apparent. Green is a psychological thriller about the things lurking in hidden places: insecurity, anxiety, paranoia, and as the title would suggest, envy. Though it is unlikely to receive as much recognition, it deserves accolades among some of its obvious influences such as 3 Women, The Shining and Deliverance. It’s not without a couple annoying cinematographic choices (shots taken from too far away, characters staring at things taking place out of the frame, etc.), but those things aside, Green is an impressive premiere for Takal and possibly the most perfect mumble-horror film I’ve ever seen.
The Invention of Dr. Nakamats
Director: Kaspar Astrup Schröder
Dr. Nakamats, history’s most prolific inventor, is turning 80 years old and Danish filmmaker Kaspar Astrup Schröder gets the privilege of filming it. An incredibly gifted and eccentric man, Dr. Nakamats holds 3,357 patents for different inventions ranging from golf clubs to indestructible glass to motors that run on heat and water to the first floppy disk. Schröder’s documentary acts as a biopic hosted by the subject himself. There is no voice over. There is no fact checking. There is minimal interview with anyone other than Dr. Nakamats himself. In that way, it’s different from most other documentaries. It documents the way this one man sees the world and himself, rather than striving for an objective representation. When he describes how he sleeps only four hours a night, eats one meal a day, is going to live to the age 144, and that all his best inventions come to him while holding his breath underwater, Dr. Nakamats seems like a fictional character. Imagine listening to a Japanese Steve Zissou for one hour, and you’re somewhere close. Though it is very playful and funny, Schröder’s film touches on something more serious as well. It acts as a character study of a man who has an inflated sense of a concept that runs deep in Japanese culture: use every second of your life to better yourself. Nakamats seems sincere in his objective to better not only himself, but the entire human condition. Accompanied by a charming Mark Mothersbaugh score that sticks very close to his Royal Tenenbaums contributions, The Invention of Dr. Nakamats is a hilarious look at one of the most interesting men to ever live.
Director: Jen White
Though she has an extensive history in the technical aspects of filmmaking as a camera operator, cinematographer and editor, Between Floors is a first attempt as a full-length writer/director for Jen White. Between Floors is made up of five stories of people getting caught in elevators, cut together into one very entertaining film. The challenge of making a 90-minute film with only five settings is keeping the audience captivated, which White accomplishes with clever editing and strong, realistic characters. Some of the scenes lag and feel a little sluggish, but that could be expected from a film with partially improvisational acting and characters who are either bored or nervously rambling. Also unsurprising is the varying levels of humor and social commentary from scenario to scenario. Some of the strongest moments of the film come when it is taking itself less seriously. The scene featuring Ryan Wickerham and Brent Smiga in which they play two friends, one in a tuxedo and one in a female monkey suit, who have just had a fist fight over a girl, is the most fun of the lot until it takes a turn for the dramatic. In one way or another, all of the stories explore the affect we have on other people, and who we become in the face of claustrophobia and fear.
Director: Dennis W. Ho
When you think about the most undesirable jobs you can imagine doing, door-to-door salesman is probably toward the top of the list. Imagine that the product you were soliciting was Jesus, and you have something close to the work of Brian Kelly. Kelly is the leader of a 24/7 ministry that operates in the Times Square subway station in New York City. To say that he and his followers make for interesting subject matter in Dennis Ho’s debut documentary, Subway Preacher, is an understatement. With no job other than his preaching, Kelly and his wife Rose are supported by family members and the donations of friends. Right away, Kelly’s ministerial pursuits seem lazy and self indulgent, an idea soon supported by his home life and the amount of time he leaves the ministry in the hands of his overworked assistant minister, Shawn. With tensions building among congregation members and marital problems stacking up over the three years we follow them, Subway Preacher is a tumultuous rollercoaster with the rare ability to project both the pain and sorrow of its characters onto the viewer. Its strength lies in the fact that Ho never attempts to paint Kelly in any better or worse light than his actions reveal. Unlike other films about radical religious movements, the story is less about the religion and more about people. Backed by excellent editing decisions and a score reminiscent to Jon Brion’s work on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, all performed by Ho himself, Subway Preacher is a wholly effective and entertaining documentary.
Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone
Director: Lev Anderson & Chris Mitzler
For several years I’ve been a fan of the music, but ignorant to the creation and life of the funky punk rock band Fishbone, so I was really excited to see that the documentary Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone was going to be a part of the Salt Lake City Film Festival. Everyday Sunshine does a good job of catching viewers up to speed on the band’s history with in-depth interviews, goofy animated sequences and narration by Laurence Fishburne. The America Fishbone started out in was a different one from today; where racial segregation and inequality were accepted across the board, from the neighborhoods of their native Los Angeles to the music industry. Interviews from the likes of George Clinton, ?uestLove, Flea, Mike Watt, Ice-T and Keith Morris reveal how important and influential a group of six African American boys playing loud, experimental ska/punk was at that time. Unfortunately, some parts of the film drag on while dwelling on the creative and personal differences of Norwood Fisher and Angelo Moore, the only two remaining original members of the band. It gets tiring hearing the two bicker back and forth about whether or not to keep the band together. It may have been done in the spirit of full disclosure, but the amount of this sort of footage that was left in the film leaves it with a tone closer to The Real World.
Director: Joan Sekler
On January 31, 2010, the mining giant Rio Tinto locked out more than 560 union workers at its Boron, Calif. plant due to disagreements with their union, Local 30, on pensions, sick days, overtime, drug testing, promotions and seniority. Director Joan Sekler, known for her previous documentary Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election, was immediately there to cover what would end up being a three month battle with the corporate giant. The documentary Locked Out is the culmination of that footage interspersed with horror stories of Rio Tinto’s amoral behavior in Papua New Guinea in the ‘70s. The film utilizes an interesting narrative style, relying on nearly no voice-over. Instead most of its 60 minutes in interviews with the affected families who parroted the adage “we want to work.” Everybody loves a David and Goliath story, but after showing all of the atrocities to workers and the environment that Rio Tinto has been responsible for over the decades, it only ended up looking like David’s vision of victory was to go to work for Goliath. With the story feeling only partially told, and the technical aspects of the film (i.e. editing, sound mixing, etc.) in shambles, Locked Out is at best bittersweet.
Jess + Moss
Director: Clay Jeter
Jess + Moss is an exquisitely beautiful film set in an abandoned and lonely-looking western Kentucky. Among its many themes, it explores the fleeting nature of memories through only two characters: Jess, age 18 (Sarah Hagan) and Moss, age 12 (Austin Vickers). It has been a very long time since I have see a child actor as natural and believable as Vickers. Hagan’s performance is equally impressive, as though the two of them neither rehearsed lines nor acted, just simply interacted with one another, unconscious of being filmed. Like Terrence Malick’s recent film, Tree of Life, J + M follows no particular plotline, but instead is a stream-of-consciousness-type tale cutting back and forth between emotionally significant moments. Setting aside the apparent fact that they have no one else they can relate to, the two seem to be unlikely friends. Jess has graduated high school, but is sticking around her bar-hopping father hoping the mother that abandoned her, promising to pick her up sometime in the future, will return. Moss is being raised by his grandparents following the death of his mother and father in what Jess claims was a car crash, but may or may not have been. Nothing in this story is made certain, nor does it need to be. Jess + Moss is one of those rare gems of a film that is meant to and able to mean something completely different for each person who watches it.
The Salt Lake City Film Festival will be back next summer. With the quality of films it brings to our city, it’s an event you won’t want to miss.