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Ashland Is Not Just For Shakespeare

Friday 9 April 2010

Point in fact: we are on day two of the Ninth Annual Ashland Independent Film Festival. 5 days, 6 theaters, somewhere north of 80 films (out of thousands submitted). What we’ve seen so far:

The Four-Faced Liar: Boy travels to Big City to be with college sweetheart, they meet odd friends who also live in The Village, relationships ensue. Really well-done not-a-coming-of-age movie that reminds us why we are with who we are with (or not). Highly recommended; best film of this festival (best feature of many festivals).

The River Why: New film of the book of the same name. The language is from the text, so it has that very literary feel. The boy is appropriately gawky, the girl is sweet and enlivened, and the parents (played  by William Hurt and Kathleen Quinlan) are just the right level of  quirky, and really give the “how did they ever get/stay together” vibe just right. We got to see the first ever viewing of the final cut, fresh off the editing deck in L.A. Really good, expected later this year in wider distribution.

Crimes of the Past: A not-a-thriller about spies, parents, loss, and betrayal. Fine performances all around, certainly could go into mainstream distribution. I would have liked an edgier ending, but Herself pronounced it Good as-is.

Salt: Short doc about a guy who bikes out to the middle of the Australian desert over several years to photograph the intersection of land and sky. Most of the film is about the creative process–getting out there and back, his thoughts on what to shoot and why. The last few minutes is the result of his shoots, and it is well worth the time to see it. Highly recommended for the large screen.

Passengers: Definitely an indie-circuit full-length feature. Intense look at a couple’s relationship during a real-time drive through L.A. Disturbing, but one of the most honest fictional looks inside a marriage. Dialogue sounds little like movie dialogue and more like real life, if one is honest about how people talk to each other in real life instead of how they talk in movies that purport to be realistic. Recommended, but be ready to drink after.

Sister/Wife: If your sister asked you to join her and her husband in a polygamous marriage, how would you handle it? This short doc gets a one-sided deep-in-the-guts view that is not pro- or con-, it’s just what one woman’s experience has been. Exceptionally moving, extreme emotions.

Born Sweet: Interesting short doc. No real villains, just well-intentioned doofuses who didn’t do their jobs right while trying to solve a problem, creating another. All you can do is laugh at the sadness of one of life’s disasters.

The Solitary Life of Cranes: No, it’s not about birds. It’s mostly a narrative by construction crane operators in London, talking about what it’s like to work dozens of stories above ground level. The images are very interesting, but I was hoping for more of a technical treatment.

Easier with Practice: This was an odd one. A pair of brothers are on the road, trying to sell one’s book at roll-your-own book signings. The author-brother gets a call one night from a woman who want phone sex. He gets more calls from her as the movie develops. More conventional relationships are damaged by his obsession–although she always initiates the calls. The ending was good, but lost momentum after the denouement. Still, a solid work.

Throne of Blood: The classic Kurosawa work. If you’ve never seen it on a big screen (this one is at least 30 feet wide), tracking it down at a local festival is definitely worth it. Interesting tie-in with OSF this year, which is staging the world premiere of an adaptation of the film for the stage.

Mount St. Elias: Feature doc about a team of Alpinist skiers who tried to climb Mount Saint Elias (in Alaska), a mountain which features the longest possible downhill ski run, from its summit at 18,000′ to Icy Bay at sea level. Re-creation footage of an earlier attempt that failed with two dead was creepy, but the startling footage from the climbers makes it visually heart-stopping. Not for the vertiginous.

That’s it so far.  Keep the aisle seat open for me.

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