DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Days 6 and 7, Wednesday and Thursday April 15 and 16
Below is a recap of the four movies I saw over these two days. I am counting the six Documentary Shorts as one movie since it was one block on the festival programming:
DOCUMENTARY SHORTS – DIFF 2015
The Dallas International Film Festival is a great place to catch up with those hard to find short films. It’s not unusual for short films to be later developed into feature films, but regardless, the short film format requires a unique skill set for writers, directors and actors. A connection must be made immediately with the viewer because there is no time for gradual acceptance or interest.
Short films come in three flavors: live action, animated, and documentary. Below is a recap of the six documentary short films at this year’s DIFF.
Crooked Candy (USA)
Directed by Andrew Rodgers. Kinder eggs are illegal in the United States as they are considered a choking hazard for kids. However, this collector has hundreds of the miniature figures/toys thanks to decades of pursuing the eggs through his global travels.
(The And) Marcella & Rock (USA)
Directed by Topaz Adizes. A couple face off against each other with some extremely personal questions. In a matter of minutes, the audience is as uncomfortable listening as the participants are in revealing very private thoughts.
Directed by Adam Ruffman, Luke Poling. The story of Gene Morris who successfully fought to get spearhunting approved as an acceptable form of hunting in Alabama. Guns and bows lacked the challenge that Morris desired. We even visit his legacy – a Spearhunting museum that houses some of the trophies from his 592 kills. His ex-wife labels the late Mr. Morris a serial animal killer.
Master Hoa’s Requiem (USA)
Directed by Scott Edwards. Master Hoa was one of the hundreds of thousands who fled South Vietnam by boat in 1975. In the process, he lost his family. We see how he re-established a new life, and we go with him on a heart-breaking search for the graves of his family.
Cast in India (India/USA)
Directed by Natasha Reheja. Have you ever noticed that the manhole covers in NYC are stamped “Made in India”? Ms. Reheja noticed and thus began her journey to foundry where the bronze plates are crafted. It turns out these are highly skilled workers who take great pride in their work, face labor union issues, and sacrifice their hands, feet and backs for the manually intensive manufacturing process.
The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul (Australia)
Directed by Kitty Green. We see a stream of auditions from girls of various ages wanting the highly coveted role of the Ukrainian legendary figure skater Oksana Baiul – former World Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist.
That’s it for the documentary shorts. Below are the three features I watched in addition to the previous doc shorts.
ECHOES OF WAR
Greetings again from the darkness. The fallout from war goes beyond the violence and massive loss of life. Returning soldiers often struggle to regain a sense of normalcy, and are often labeled as PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And what of the families … those left behind with a gaping hole in their heart from the loss of a loved one, and those having to adjust to the “affected” surviving soldiers? This is the heart-breaking story of two families at the convergence of all of the above.
With the Civil War ending, Wade (James Badge Dale, “The Pacific”) returns home in search of “peace”. He shows up at the house of his brother-in-law Seamus (Ethan Embrey) and is greeted with open arms by his niece Abigail (Maika Monroe, It Follows) and nephew Samuel (Owen Teague), who clearly worship him as their favorite Uncle.
Though it’s not a Hatfield and McCoys extreme, it doesn’t take long for Wade to figure out the awkward and mostly silent unbalanced relationship between Seamus’ family and the McCluskey neighbors. Randolph McCluskey (William Forsythe) is a bitter man who lost a son in the war, has an unresponsive wife (Beth Broderick) due to that loss, and two sons: Dillard (Ryan O’Nan) who is a bit slow-witted, and Marcus (Rhys Wakefield) who is far too sensitive to be accepted by his crusty old father.
Wade’s best intentions of protecting his family turn a barely tolerable arrangement into an all-out war. On top of that, we get a bit of Romeo and Juliet to go along with Wade’s slow-drip meltdown as he is simply unable to handle what the war has made him. The connection between Abigail and Marcus is exciting to watch, though we all recognize a romance facing a heavily stacked deck. Wakefield was previously seen in The Purge, and Ms. Monroe was stunning in It Follows. Both are young actors to keep an eye on.
It’s almost unbelievable to accept that this is the first feature film from director Kane Senes and his co-writer John Chriss. There is so much going on here with multiple layers of conflict and personalities … plus the movie is beautifully shot with an air of artistic flair that lightens a mood when necessary, or makes an analogy of nature and man either through plants, critters or the sky. Religious overtures play a role, and it’s fascinating to watch the various interactions … each more complex than the previous, culminating with Wade and Seamus who seemingly couldn’t be more different.
The film explores the comparison of bravery versus cowardice and it challenges our beliefs. There is also a theme of survival – just what makes a life worth living? The acting here is something to behold. All eight are exceptional and contribute to the film’s ultra-serious approach, broken by brief moments of pure joy. With a terrific and complex story, stellar acting, and a talented director, this is one that serious film goers should seek out and embrace.
NOWITZKI: THE PERFECT SHOT (documentary)
Greetings again from the darkness. Dallas loves Dirk. The reasons why become obvious during this biopic that takes us from Dirk’s youth basketball league in Germany through his NBA Finals, while including significantly more information on his family and personal life than we have previously seen. Interviews come courtesy of such well known faces as Kobe Bryant, Don Nelson, Michael Finley, Mark Cuban, Yao Ming, Jason Kidd and former NBA commissioner David Stern.
Contrary to many sports documentaries, this is no shrine to its subject. Of course, we can’t help but be charmed by the “great guy” superstar, but it’s through his life challenges that we come to truly respect Dirk as a man. Director Sebastian Denhardt is one of the most prolific documentarians and filmmakers in Germany, but this look at Germany’s most popular and successful athlete is his best and most accessible work to date.
The most interesting segments involve Dirk’s long time personal coach Holger Geschwindner, plus insight from Dirk’s father, mother, sister, and childhood friend. It’s during these times that we realize Dirk’s “posse” is made of the people who he has always trusted – family and friends. The only two newcomers to his group of “insiders” are Lisa Tyner and Dirk’s wife Jessica. Ms. Tyner is the Mavericks staffer who took Dirk under her wing when he was a youngster transitioning to life in the United States.
While the film drills home the importance of Dirk’s work ethic and commitment to excellence, the most entertaining moments include: Dirk’s first meeting with Steve Nash, Dirk as a stick figure on Holger’s software, Dirk in a tennis skirt (for Halloween), Dirk dominating on the court as a teenager, Dirk’s mother discussing his move to the U.S., and best of all, Dirk stretching the truth a bit while meeting with former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt … and then admitting it!
These days, disappointment seems to be the most common reaction when the curtain gets pulled back on celebrities and heroes. It’s refreshing to look into the life and see that the biggest scandals were when Dirk was the one cheated by a former girlfriend, and he stood by in full support of a friend going through an investigation for tax evasion. Dirk shows he is as impressive as a human being as he is a basketball player. What he definitely isn’t? A singer … we re-live his “We are the Champions” rendition from the parade. Dirk rocks!
DARE TO DRUM (documentary)
Greetings again from the darkness. D’Drum. Stewart Copeland. Gamelan. Most viewers might be familiar with one of these – Stewart Copeland is the world famous Rock drummer and co-founder (with Sting) of The Police. D’Drum is a Dallas area based ensemble of percussionists who have been playing together for two decades. Gamelan is the traditional percussion based music so important to Java and Bali in Indonesia.
If you are curious how these three pieces might fit together, let’s make it more challenging and unlikely by blending in world class conductor Maestro Jaap Van Zweden and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Yes, this really happened and the result was a show-stopping 2011 performance of “Gamelan D’Drum”, a symphony composed by Copeland, conducted by the Maestro, and performed by the D’Drum fellows and the musicians of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
John Bryant is one of the drumming members of D’Drum, and in very impressive fashion, he also directed, edited and produced the film. He perfectly captures the process of these passionate musicians (insert drummer joke here) and their never-ending quest for new percussion instruments, no matter the part of the world. Their multi-cultural approach led to a stage filled with dozens of instruments, including those custom-made for the performance.
Inspirational seems to fall short in describing what unfolds on screen. Mr. Copeland’s enthusiasm towards the project was obvious in the post-screening Q&A as he energetically answered any question even remotely directed his way. See, he is what one would call a courageous musician – one not intimidated by the traditions of the world of symphonies and orchestras. He understands that the foundation of art is creating something new, and he brilliantly manages this without losing the audience.
While Copeland’s creativity and D’Drums eagerness are commendable and a joy to watch, none of this happens without the (risky) support of Maestro Jaap Van Zweden. So many conductors are tied to the traditions, and hesitant at best, to take risks with music that has been played the same basic way for sometimes hundreds of years. Instead, his positive attitude and willingness to push boundaries delivered one of the most exciting evenings ever for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra … not to mention Stewart Copeland and the members of D’Drum. Should you have the opportunity to see this one, take it. And afterwards … “Do it again, man”!