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Back in the saddle again…

Thursday 4 April 2013

The 12th Annual Ashland Independent Film Festival officially opened today, and it’s been a very interesting day!

• Noon block: Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes Really good film about a girl, Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario) whose mother died during her birth, and who was raised by her father (Alfred Molina) alone until she was about 16. Enter stepmom Janice (Frances O’Connor), who doesn’t really connect with the very sharp Emanuel (her parents were hoping for a boy) who runs verbal somersaults around dad and stepmom. Enter new neighbor Linda (Jessica Biel), who needs a sitter for her infant, who is unusually still for a swaddling child. I’ll avoid direct spoilers, but say that the story could have taken a much more interesting turn around 40 minutes in during the scene with the stepmom, Emanuel, and the broken vase–instead it went into a solid chick-flick ending, good but straight for the emotional jugular instead of the more devious ice pick in the timpani. Good, yes; satisfying, yes; emotional, yes; thought-provoking, not as much as it could have been. Still, highly recommended, especially for those in the weepy set.

• 3PM block: Animation shorts. This is usually one of my favorite blocks in the Festival, as you will know from past festivals. I was thrilled when Bill Plympton was one of the featured guests a few years back.

Such a disappointment this year! Three very good films, which were the shortest of the lot; two fair films, okay stories but pedestrian animation; and three very mediocre films, which also were the longest, and made the whole slot a real slog.

Kudos to Fresh Guacamole, which did what good animation should do: tell a story that can’t be told any other way (on-screen, at least), making best use of the techniques available to the animator. In this case, it’s the hum-drum chore of preparing guacamole, but from some very bizarre ingredients and with a very unusual result, from the animator PES. Highly recommended; see it on YouTube at the link above.

Kudos to Head Over Heels, a romance that literally defies gravity to bring its principals together. Great use of stop-motion to tell a story that Disney might have used $175,000,000 to tell. Loved the chair! Oscar-nominated.

Kudos finally to Irish Folk Furniture, another stop-motion film, but with full-size, real furniture moving from place to place in the Irish countryside while the storytellers tell the stories behind them. It’s a hoot; if you liked Useless Dog from several years back, you’ll like this.

The rest shall remain nameless, and maybe fade into obscurity. Sadly, I can’t recommend the animation block this year; try to see the above three on your own, but see a different block instead at the festival.

• 6PM block: Casting By Directors direct, actors act, casting directors do…what? Watch this film, and you’ll see how the folks who get (or don’t get, but who deserve) the “Casting Director” credit in films can set the whole tone of a project before the first frame is shot. The fact that there’s no Academy Award for this invaluably important role shows just how stuck in the mud are the Academy and the Academy Award process. It will be on HBO later this summer. Highly recommended.

• 9PM block: Gideon’s Army If you’re arrested and can’t afford a lawyer, one of Gideon’s Army–an unofficial title for the public defenders of the American criminal judicial system–will be your only shield against the DA. Fascinating look into how PDs work with their clients to uphold that concept that all are innocent until proven guilty, and that the burden of proof lies with the prosecution and not the defense. Highly recommended.

Finally, big black borders around this column today, on the passing of Roger Ebert. Mr. Ebert was always good at finding the best in any film, accentuating the positive and diminuating the negative. His reviews were my first resort, and while we didn’t always agree, I could never fault his genuineness. He will be sorely missed.

That’s in until tomorrow. Save me the aisle seat!

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