Friday, March 29, 2013

Boston Underground Film Festival Opening Night: I Declare War

There's a part of me that wonders if it's right and proper for BUFF to be the relatively well-oiled machine that it is - shouldn't it be like it was the first years I went, screening things in random rooms of college campuses and community centers as much as theaters with distribution seeming extremely unlikely? That's what "underground" sounds like, but the festival grew from that, and while it later contracted from its peak of seven days on two screens, it had built the sort of reputation and network that led to it continuing to get high-quality material.

They've also got running things pretty much down pat - as much as it was a three-line process to get into I Declare War (pick up pass, pick up ticket/t-shirt, enter theater) and the Brattle's lobby is not large (I'm kind of glad I bypassed snacks), it was pretty painless. I didn't take much time to look over the merch table in the back, though I may come away with a DVD/BD or two later in the weekend. I did wind up spending a lot of that time in line between people who thought Stoker was terrible and Spring Breakers was brilliant, which is a lot of just-plain-wrong to be assaulted with, but otherwise, no trouble at all!

Anyway, got to my seat, waited for things to start the standard fifteen minutes late, as that's just how some film festivals worked, watched the movie, and got some Q&A:

I DECLARE WAR filmmakers & BUFF Staff photo IMAG0316_zps989c53a2.jpg

Left to right: I Declare War producer Patrick Cameron, co-director Robert Wilson, producer Lewin Webb; "Worlds We Created" director Nicholas Santos; and BUFF's Nicole McControversy and Bryan McKay.

Surprisingly non-horrible photography! It was a pretty decent Q&A, too, not really becoming the audience explaining the movie to the filmmakers until pretty late in the game. The movie itself is straightforward enough that, for all that it's thematically fairly rich, there's not a whole lot to talk question the filmmakers about. They had some interesting stories about shooting a movie with kids and guns, among other things. Perhaps the most interesting topic was Mackenzie Munroe's character Jess, the only girl in the film - she's a character they seemed to intend as sympathetic, and I think she is more than not. A lot of audiences seem to hate her, though, including a lot of women. I can sort of see why - she winds up playing a different game than the boys, and using feminine wiles in a game of war seems kind of like cheating. In some ways, I don't really see her as much different from the others, trying to figure out more adult emotions and still pretty charmingly naive in some ways, and I wonder how it would play if she hadn't seem to show some disgust at the suggestion she use her special girly powers on the other team before going out and doing it for her own ends. I also think that a lot of folks really hate girls who mess with a friendship pretty viscerally.

Santos's short ran just before I Declare War, and was a pretty on-the-nose companion piece to it, enough so that I think I'll hold off writing about it until a post-festival "short stuff" roundup. Pretty neat, though, and good enough that I wouldn't mind seeing it fleshed out a bit.

After the Q&A, I went across the street to pick up the week's comics; the festival options were The Manson Family and a party, with neither really being my thing. I suspect I would have done the same even if I had a press pass; my general commitment to seeing a festival through when they're letting you in for free doesn't necessarily apply to anniversary screenings of movies I wouldn't have seen ten years ago, and I did have to work the next day!

I Declare War

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

I Declare War is a terrific little coming-of-age movie that's made all the better because there are no adults and no real crises in it; it's just kids evolving into something that's not quite the same as what they were. Well, not just that; the path is tremendously funny and imaginative, even if it may be a little eyebrow-raising for some who may have forgotten some of what being a kid was like.

These kids, for instance, play elaborate games of war in the woods during their free time. The rules are simple: Two generals choose teams, and then each secretly chooses a base in which to defend their flag. Get "shot" with a toy gun, and you're down for a toy count; get hit with a paint balloon grenade, and you're out, go home. P.K. (Gage Munroe) is the undisputed champion, having never lost a war; his team includes his best friend Kwon (Siam Yu), loudmouth Joker (Spencer Howes), altar boy Wesley (Andy Reid), and silent ninja Caleb (Kolton Stewart)... Plus Caleb's dog Shadow. The other side is led by Quinn (Aidan Gouveia) and includes hothead Skinner (Michael Friend), grumpy Sikorski (Dyson Fyke), his motor-mouthed buddy Frost (Alex Cardillo), and Jess (Mackenzie Munroe), the first girl to play, and that's in part because of the crush she's got on Quinn. Today, though, the game is going to change, when Skinner takes Kwon prisoner and stages a coup against his own general.

An adult watching these kids play in real life is probably just going to see what's happening on the surface, not quite understanding how to a kid, these games are deadly serious and able to take on a whole heightened reality in their imagination. So directors Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson will sometimes show them holding real weapons instead of toys, with squibs going off around them and the sounds of combat mixed into the soundtrack. It's a kid's idea of war, and that comes through - scenes of the kids shooting at each other, no matter how augmented, don't seem nearly as violent as when they throw rocks or kick each other.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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