Saturday, April 25, 2015

IFFBoston 2015 Day #02: Slow West and (T)error

No pictures today, as I chose a couple of movies without folks in attendance. It was a scheduling thing - Slow West is already booked for the Brattle in a month, but I'll be out of town for the first half of its run and who knows what will be up for the last three days; it might be gobbled up with moving headaches. Can't very well do much looking for a new place to live while at the festival, but that's going to be what I'm spending a lot of time on after, with June dedicated to getting stuff cleared out of the house before moving it to wherever.

Scheduling must be a tremendous headache for the festival programmers, and one of the many reasons that the people who run the festival must be more clever than those of who go is that I can't imagine trying to estimate demand. I wound up seeing neither of the movies in question, but two in the 7pm slot wound up having to switch theaters - Love Between the Covers went from one of the small even-numbered rooms at the Somerville to the main auditorium, while Being Evel went the other way. Who would have thought that the romance novel industry would draw more curiosity than Evel Kneivel? It's an easy thing to realize in retrospect, especially since the one about the daredevil might have more stuff that looks cooler on the big screen.

Truth be told, I kind of marvel at how festivals are able to judge their audience sizes as well as they do; sure, BUFF has their venue fixed with the Brattle and Fantastic Fest can dynamically allocate screens based upon demand measured the previous day, but I'm always surprised at how well Fantasia, for instance, chooses the right size of auditorium and number of screenings, and IFFBoston does it well enough that having to scramble like this is relatively rare. I am pretty sure I'd screw it up all the time.

Slow West

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, DCP)

I am not sure whether John Maclean narrowly misses the tone he's going for with Slow West or hits it dead-on; even considering that westerns are relatively rare these days, this one feels a little different. I consider that no bad thing, especially since the film co-stars Michael Fassbender, who should be in westerns whenever he's got the chance.

This one starts out following Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a sixteen-year-old kid from an aristocratic family in Scotland who has journeyed to the American West in 1870 to reunite with Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius), the young woman he loves. It is something of a miracle that he has made it as far as he has, and he's probably lucky that when he encounters Silas Selleck (Fassbender) on the trail, the seasoned gunslinger opts to serve as Jay's escort rather than rob him and leave him for dead. It seems like a good arrangement, but since Silas doesn't talk much at all, it's no surprise that there's something he's hiding from Jay.

Slow West doesn't look much like what has come to feel like the typical western, and that is not just because it was shot in New Zealand rather than California. Most westerns focus on the desert landscape, an easy way to evoke the dangers and lawlessness of the frontier, but Jay is optimistic and admittedly fairly sheltered as the film starts, and to him the West is beautiful and fertile, bursting with color and wonder. It's a contrast to the flashbacks to Scotland, where even the heady moments with Rose take place in a grey and worn-down environment, and Maclean is able to use that beauty as fairly explicit camouflage, with danger hiding amid the beauty.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, DCP)

I suspect that many watching (T)error, even with plentiful assurances to the contrary, will be expecting that, by the end, a curtain will be pulled back to reveal the film as fictitious, heavy on re-enactments, or some other kind of put-on; it seems like the only way that the scenario makes sense. If it is, then the filmmakers are playing things very close to the vest, and the fact that it can exist at all can be as damming as anything it actually shows.

After all, who would believe that someone like Saeed Torres, who was active in the Black Panthers back in the 1960s and now does contact work getting close to suspected terrorists for the FBI - he prefers "citizen operative" to "informant" - would (a) reveal himself to a documentary filmmaker and (b) allow her to tag along on his next assignment? That's the set up for this movie as filmmakers Lyric R. Cabral & David Felix Sutcliffe follow him to Pittsburgh, where he (going by "Shariff") makes contact with Khalifah, a convert to Islam who had been talking big about jihad on social media.

A common complaint about documentaries is that the filmmakers don't always show both sides of the story, and while this one certainly doesn't give the full 360-degree view one might perhaps hope for, it is kind of surprising when Cabral & Sutcliffe jump from making a single-point-of-view picture to one with dual perspectives, with neither subject aware that the directors are also following the other. It's a move that feels daring as they do it, and even though the two perspectives don't remain in direct opposition for very long, it's still unusual in that the shift does not feel like a token acknowledgment of the bigger picture or a complete change in focus that makes the film feel disjointed.

Full review on EFC.

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