Saturday, April 30, 2005

IFFB Day Two: Casting About, After Innocence, and Dead Birds

The theme for Day Two was waiting. I'm not a naturally patient person, and I suppose this is just a piece of the festival experience, but when the woman came with a survey, my line about "what could be improved" was that every movie started at least fifteen minutes to a half hour late. The situation with Casting About in the morning was ridiculous, though not entirely the festival's fault - the movie got moved to a smaller theater (some sort of technical issue), and it started a half hour or forty-five minutes late. After Innocence started late, too, but the Brattle seemed to have a better handle on handling the lines (obviously easier with one screen than four).

Then I tried to get into The Hole Story. Grr. The person in line directly in front of me was a member of the director's family, and was holding a place for others. Eventually, that one person in front of me became seventeen. I don't want to sound like I should have gotten in there instead of the filmmaker's family (and I probably could have if I had bailed on the After Innocence Q&A), but it's a question of what's polite. An informal survey over the next few days had "four" as the highest number of spots in line one person should be able to claim (and everyone thought Matt was being generous).

No trouble with Dead Birds, though. And, I'll restate - getting a good midnight movie improves the festival experience immensely. Also, it goes without saying that getting stuck in the first or second row of the Brattle is roughly a million times better than the same position in the Somerville's four smaller theaters.

Casting About

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 April 2005 at the Somerville Theater #4 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

A few years ago, Barry J. Hershey was going to make a movie. This movie - "Moving Still" - would be set during World War II and have sizable parts for three actresses, playing an artist's model, a nun, and a dancer. One thing he was hoping to do was to incorporate audition footage in some manner, since the process had fascinated him all the way back to film school. That movie is as yet unproduced, but the idea of using the casting footage blossomed into a full feature

I sort of hope the original feature is never produced. If it gets made, then Casting About becomes a DVD extra, and the people watching it will inevitably focus on the actresses who did receive parts (if they're chosen from this pool; it has been a couple of years). As it stands now, the women are all on equal footing, and there's no right way or wrong way to approach a character. The downside of that is that, without callbacks and decisions made, it's not as complete as a process junkie like me might hope for. Of course, if the parts had been cast, there's a good chance the actresses don't release their footage for inclusion - who wants their failures immortalized on film?

Read the rest at HBS.

After Innocence

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 April 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Independent Film Festival of Boston) (projected video)

We all know that our justice system isn't perfect. It occasionally lets guilty people go free and puts innocent people in jail, and we accept the latter because we know that a perfect system is impossible: A system that never could find an innocent man guilty would likely never find anyone guilty. Thus, we also provide means for a wrongful guilty verdict to be overturned. As After Innocence shows, though, it's not an easy process, and doesn't come close to solving the problems of the wrongfully convicted.

Though the title is "After Innocence", much of the film's running time is spent on the process of establishing that innocence. In the past twenty years, DNA testing has made the process much more definitive - it is much stronger evidence than the eyewitness testimony that incarcerated most of the film's subjects. Many viewers will likely be shocked to discover just how unreliable eyewitness accounts are, especially upon learning that one of the exonorees was convicted based upon the testimony of multiple witnesses.

Read the rest at HBS.

Dead Birds

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 April 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Independent Film Festival of Boston: IFFB After Dark)

There's not much in Dead Birds that a savvy horror audience hasn't seen before. That is, in many ways, the nature of the genre - you isolate the protagonists, start picking them off one by one, and feed them just enough information so that maybe, just maybe, one or two of them can escape from their situation with skin still covering their bones. What sets this movie apart is not just how effectively it makes the audience jump, but the way it blends its various influences: It combines an undeniably American historical setting with the style of recent Asian horror.

The setting is Civil War-era Alabama. Two groups of Confederate soldiers arrive at a local bank, one on legitimate business, the other deserters looking to rob them blind. After a suitably splatter-iffic shootout, the outlaws are on their way to Mexico. One of their number has been shot, but not to worry - they know about an abandoned plantation house where they can sew him up. The kicker, of course, is that there are good reasons for this house to be abandoned - the sickly-looking crops are littered with the dead birds of the title, and they are immediately attacked by... Well, it has to be some sort of giant, hairless coyote, right?

Read the rest at HBS.

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