ATTN FILM FESTIVAL PROGRAMMERS: 2010 Edition, Vol. 1

I thought it might be nice at this early stage in 2010 to let the world know about some brand new films that I have been lucky enough to see and that I found to be rewarding and worthwhile on a variety of levels. If these films aren’t on your radar, programmers, I recommend you seek them out. 2010 is already shaping up to be a very promising year for non-Hollywood American cinema.

AT SUNDANCE:

daddylonglegsstillDaddy Longlegs — I’m so pleased that the powers-at-be at Sundance have recognized the boundless talent of New York City wunderkinds Josh and Benny Safdie. The Safdies’ decision to cast fellow NYC filmmaker Ronnie Bronstein (Frownland) as a struggling father of two little boys turns out to be a deeply wise one, as Bronstein brings a raw severity to his performance that grounds the Safdies otherwise whimsical vision. As a result, Daddy Longlegs is a strikingly personal drama that is full of humor and yet throbs with heartache. Not to simplify, as they’re very, very different films, but I’d like to think of Daddy Longlegs as Sundance 2010’s Momma’s Man, a creative and heartfelt love letter to childhood, one’s parents, and a fading New York City spirit. (Visit the Red Bucket Films website to learn more.)

Lovers of Hate — Bryan Poyser showed an obscene amount of talent as a writer/director with 2004’s Dear Pillow, and he confirms that with Lovers of Hate, or as I jokingly call it, Sex, Lies and The Shining. Chris Doubek and Alex Karpovsky star as brothers who find themselves in a love triangle with Heather Kafka that spirals into unexpected places. Poyser swears he didn’t shoot the majority of his film—photographed by Hammer to Nail’s own David Lowery—in a Park City mansion in order to woo the Sundance committee, but it will certainly make for a sweet coming home party for him and his crew. Lovers of Hate is low-budget storytelling of the highest order. Programmers should take note, but Hollywood should take note too. (Read Poyser’s excellent blog for more insight into his creative process.)

bassackwardsstillBass Ackwards — Don’t be fooled by the description. Linas Phillips’s narrative debut is as charming, inquisitive, and creative as his nonfiction work (Walking to Werner, Great Speeches From A Dying World). The kernel of the idea was a tiny VW bus—just wait until you see this thing in action—and a drive across country. But in Phillips’s hands, it becomes an inventive addition to the coming-of-age/road movie canon. What makes Phillips’s vision so special is that there is an innocent charm to his decision-making that feels superficially familiar yet is wholly unique. It’s as if he didn’t go to film school and never absorbed the lessons of “what not to do.” Bass Ackwards is a fine lesson in the power of creative intuition. It’s a special little treat. (Visit the official website to learn more.)

My Perestroika — In Robin Hessman’s tender and revealing documentary, a group of ordinary Russians tell their own stories and shed light on their country’s dramatic past. This generation was teenagers when the Soviet Union collapsed, and has grown up amidst an ever-changing political landscape. Hessman blends stock images with intimate modern footage of these individuals living their daily lives to humanize a subject that is so often treated with distance and an emotional measure of remove. (Visit the official website to learn more.)

YET TO PREMIERE:

opusjazzstill1NY Export: Opus Jazz — This is a toughie for you programmers as NY Export: Opus Jazz is scheduled to air on PBS in mid-March, but I’m begging both you and PBS to overlook that detail as Henry Joost and Jody Lee Lipes’s adaptation of Jerome Robbins’s 1958 jazz ballet was made for the big screen. Shot in sweeping Cinemascope on location in New York City, Joost and Lipes update Robbins’s ballet for the 21st century while never sacrificing its timeless power. The best way I can describe it is West Side Story meets Elephant. If that combination sounds appealing to you, get ready to be wow-wow-wowed. For me, the most resonant aspect is that it ultimately reveals itself to be more than a series of expertly choreographed and photographed dance sequences. Without being preachy, its quietly breathtaking climax will shift your perspective and make you recognize—and appreciate—the natural choreography that is inherent to New York City streets in the summer. It’s a stellar achievement. (Visit the film’s official website to learn more and watch one amazing sequence from the film, and be sure to read Lena Dunham’s set dispatch if you haven’t already.)

Tiny Furniture — Lena Dunham’s follow-up to Creative Nonfiction isn’t just a major leap forward. It’s like a rocket launch to a bigger and brighter planet. For those of you who have been pining away for Whit Stillman’s return, Dunham—another Hammer to Nail contributor, thank you very much—is here to scratch that itch in a major way. Aspiring romantic comedy makers, please study this film. Dunham’s first brilliant stroke was to work with last year’s Silver Nail winner Jody Lee Lipes (see above), who shot this film on the Canon 7D—technically a still camera!—but has somehow made it look like The Graduate. But removing that vital element from the equation, Dunham delivers a sharply written comedy that uses pop culture references in a way that is never overly hip or gratingly snappy. This is dangerous terrain, to be sure, but Tiny Furniture is a reminder that, if done appropriately, this genre can be artistically invigorating. You heard it here first: Tiny Furniture is the very real deal. (Read an interview with Dunham and see images from the production here.)

americatownstillAmericatown — After Lightning Salad Moving Picture and now Americatown, I think I’ve found my favorite new American surrealist comedians in the team of writer/director Kenneth Price and writer/performers Cory Howard and Jonathan Guggenheim. There is a boundless creativity that spills out in every line of dialogue and every situation that these loonies find themselves in. But the best part of Americatown might not even be the movie itself, which succeeds as a dazzling display of no-budget virtuosity. The preposterously great closing credits scroll of character names is worth the price of admission alone. Dear programmers: Don’t dismiss Americatown as feature-length sketch comedy. It is much, much more than that. (Watch Lightning Salad Moving Picture for free on YouTube right now, and visit the official Americatown website to learn more.)

Kisses, Chloe — This type of movie isn’t ordinarily my cup of tea, but Stephen Padilla establishes a convincing enough atmosphere that by the end of his erotic chamber drama, I felt appropriately icky. A girl and her new boyfriend head to a beachside house to reunite with her longtime best friend Chloe, a free spirit who has been known to flirt her way into trouble. This weekend will be no exception, as the past collides with the present and all sorts of uncomfortable feelings rise to the surface. Padilla’s characters belong to that privileged white 20/30-something subset that will turn many viewers off based on their appearance alone, yet Kisses, Chloe has some genuinely probing things to say about relationship dynamics at this uncomfortable stage in one’s development. (Visit the A Family Affair Films website to learn more.)

katiwithanistillKati With An I — Robert Greene’s follow-up to his unsettling and provocative Owning the Weather is a decidedly smaller affair, as Greene and collaborator/cinematographer Sean Price Williams follow an Alabama teenager around in the days leading up to her high school graduation. Hovering somewhere between an MTV reality show and the Ross Brothers’ 45365, Kati With An I derives its power from its familiarity and its determination to never condescend to its characters. (Visit the film’s IMDB page to learn more.)

— Michael Tully

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