By Stephen and Kate
You will, I hope, forgive us for being a little bit provincial when we saw that there was to be a film festival in our neighborhood. We were so very excited. A film festival? What with the moving pictures and all? In Montgomery? In our neighborhood?
As we noted Friday here on MML, the Second Annual Montgomery Film Festival was this weekend. And just as if our town was having an ethnic food festival or some kind of amazing live music, looking up at the marquee of The Capri and seeing the words “Montgomery Film Festival” made us feel like we were living in a big city, with real cinophiles and a local creative underground. We didn’t know how many of the entries would be local, but thrilled at the idea that there were people out there making movies about our shared geography, shining lights onto experiences we might be missing, casting the world in new and eye-opening ways. And somewhere, somebody was cool enough to assemble all of the works into a “festival” and charge a reasonable price for a memorable Saturday evening.
As film festivals go, there are still some kinks to be worked out. But even the amateurish moments added to a warm small-town feel, where most of the people in the audience seemed to know each other (or be friends of the film makers). And when the DVD froze during one of the movies, causing them to have to hit “fast forward” to skip over the glitched scene, well, that’s the sort of communal experience that makes seeing a movie in a theater different than watching it in your living room. And it was fun.
Sure, there were some stinkers in the batch. That’s also part of the fun of it. One of the good things about watching a bunch of movies that are (by requirement) under 25 minutes in length is that even the bad ones will be over soon. And half of the fun of having opinions is sharing them with others. And if some of the bad ones selected to air at the film festival actually were the cream of the submissions, well, it’s even fun to imagine the ones that didn’t make the cut.
Before talking about the specifics of the films, it is worth mentioning that the festival was put on with the help of the Alabama Film Office and corporate sponsors like The Montgomery Advertiser and local TV station WSFA. And of course, the priceless venue, The Capri, about which we have gushed many times.
Here are our reviews (and grades) of the movies that were screened at this year’s festival:
“La Barba Brutta” – This is a silent film, which is to say that there is no dialogue. But the film is far from silent, as it’s set to a soaring excerpt from The Barber of Seville, the famous opera by Rossini. It’s short, hilarious and nicely showcased the editing talents of the creator, a nice young Brazilian fellow named Davi Abreu who spoke before the screening. This did a great job of setting the tone for the festival. A solid “A,” especially for a two minute “silent” film.
“Afghan” – The high expectations set by “La Barba Brutta” were exceeded by the next short, a 11:40 long piece from Canadian Pardis Parker about xenophobia, optimism and the beautiful power of creativity and cinema. Simultaneously hilarious and poignant, this short piece managed to contain great acting and a powerful message about the universe of possible responses to fear-driven aggression. It was both a timely comment on the hateful political climate of intolerance in which we exist, but also a timeless meditation on the transformative power of art. Grade: A-plus.
“In Our Shoes” – Shot entirely in Birmingham’s lovely Five Points South district, this film was a collection of interviews with people who talked about … well … their shoes. The film maker, Jen Suran, wasn’t able to be present, but it would have been nice to hear some of her thoughts about this project. What did we learn by hearing people talk about the social implications of their footwear? Not much. We’re all humans, man, says that homeless-looking guy. Some people talk about how much money they make. Others just about how hard they work. Seemed a lot like a school project, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Grade: C.
“The Gynecologist” – This film made us cringe, and not in a good way. It is about a person who appears to be male and attempts to visit a gynecologist. Many in the audience seemed to think this “fish out of water” gimmick was hilarious. Perhaps they bought into the filmmaker’s heavy-handed attempt to make us relate to the bureaucracy-beleaguered doctor, but this flimsy premise seemed to us to disguise a much more troubling message: We’d better, if we know what is good for us, stay in our assigned gender roles. Beautifully produced but terrible. Grade: D.
“Your Casanova” – If “In Our Shoes” seemed like a school project, this seemed like something dreamed up in a basement by some high school sophomores. On the other hand, it was made locally (Jimmie Rogers and Michael Turner) and starred area high school students, many of whom were at the screening. We don’t want to spoil the “twist” of a questionably-comprehensible plot, but think of it as a mix of Face/Off, Silence of the Lambs, Vanilla Sky, and American Psycho (as made by a very drunk Roger Corman). Grade: F.
“Copper Penny” – The second-best film of the festival. Watching this movie by Jay Pulk is like reading a perfect short story by one of the masters of the genre: a Raymond Carver, a Jhumpa Lahiri. A man goes to visit a prostitute. One of history’s oldest stories plays out in a way that is unexpected, but not cheaply so. If not heart-rending, the movie is at least heart-warping. Grade: A-plus.
“Find a Way” – While “Your Casanova” was the worst film, that’s only because “Find a Way” doesn’t even count as a film. At least “Your Casanova” seemed like it would have been fun to make and involved high school students and local amateurs. Bracket for a moment whether the River Region United Way is a good charity. And bracket further the question of using the tragic circumstances of a disease-stricken child in the most overtly-exploitative way possible. The inclusion of this professionally-produced advertisement opens the doorway to next year’s festival running a 20 minute infomercial for Alabama Power or Alfa. Sure, the end product is well made. But it’s an ad. The maker of the film spoke before the screening, talking about his “client,” the United Way. No grade.
“Two Men, Two Cows, Two Guns” – Pardis Parker again. This won the organizers’ award for the best movie at the festival, but we weren’t that impressed. It’s a quirky comedy that seemed to us to be more quirk than comedy, drawing from the Little Miss Sunshine/Rocket Science well a little too deeply for our taste. But comedy’s such a matter of personal taste, and it made a lot of people in the audience laugh. A lot. Grade: B.
We did wonder what happened to “best 30 bumper” and “best trailer categories” mentioned in The Advertiser story here. Did they not get any entries in those categories? Did they do much advertising before the festival? We only learned about it by way of The Capri’s Facebook page, but didn’t see other promotional materials. Also, we’re sort of unclear on who it is exactly it is that is putting this thing on. Is it a non-profit? Do they get to keep all the money? More organizing will probably help the MFF’s third installment be even bigger and better.
When you purchased a ticket to the festival, you were given a ballot, allowing you to vote on the best film of the festival. As if it weren’t obvious from the above reviews, we voted for Afghan. And we enjoyed muttering about the selections of the festival organizers. We did think they should have had a “best Alabama-made” movie category. It’s not fair to allow movies made by some high school kids from Prattville to compete with movies bearing the seal of the Canadian federal government. All in all, we had a great time. It was affordable. We felt like we were supporting both local art and local lovers of cinema. We hope very much that things went well enough for the festival organizers that they will be having the third annual festival at this time next year. The Capri is, of course, a great venue for this sort of thing and we really, really want to go back next year. We might even make a movie ourselves and submit it.
Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.