The big first weekend begins! I wasn’t at the VIP lounge quite at opening time (10:00 am) because I actually have a day job for which I’m working remotely on nights and mornings. But I was still there in time to get a beer or two (or three) before running off to the first movie, ABOVE DARK WATERS (TUMMAN VEDEN PÄÄLLÄ.) It’s a Finnish dark drama through a child’s eyes, written and directed by Peter Franzen, the star of HEART OF A LION. Little Pete seems to have a happy childhood--family, friends, a birthday party, cool grandparents, and a beautiful imagination. Wait, let’s go back to that first one, family. Usually his family is loving, except when his stepdad has a few drinks. Or when his biological dad shows up and tries to reconnect, throwing a little tension in there. Actually, his biological dad is pretty cool, it’s his stepdad and his drinking that’s the problem, especially when he gets abusive. And he gets abusive far too often. And, to complicate matters further, he’s a cop so maybe it’s no good to call the cops for help (or maybe there is, but he at least threatens as if it isn’t.) This is a wonderful slice-of-life drama of one year in Pete’s life (specifically, his seventh year) that’s full of whimsy and wonder as well as darkness and turmoil. And yet, through deft direction and some excellent performances, it all holds together well and even the magical glowing friend who appears whenever he needs it makes good sense.
Oh yeah, and while the villain of ABOVE DARK WATERS is alcoholism and abusiveness, I should remind everyone at Cinequest that if you see me drinking all you have to fear is an enthusiastic hug!
And then I saw my favorite film of the festival so far, HEAVENLY SHIFT, a bloody comedy set in a night shift ambulance in Budapest. Milan is a Croat soldier who has gone AWOL and fled Sarajevo. He simply walks up to the border, throws a stone at the sign to confirm the guard is asleep, and continues on his way. And when a wacky late night incident in a market shows himself as a skilled paramedic, he is hired on the spot. His colleagues are a cynical doctor who can predict time of death to the minute (and doesn’t put in any more effort than necessary) and a crazy guy who carries around a ninja sword because he’s a huge fan of the movie AMERICAN NINJA (any movie that can pull off an AMERICAN NINJA reference already has me hooked.) He also meets the shifty undertaker who has a scheme to smuggle people out of the Balkans using spare coffins. So just raise enough money and he can bring his girlfriend—a nurse in a Sarajevo hospital—to live with him. All he has to do is starve himself on rice with no meat and eventually he’ll have what he needs. But instead, what he needs is many nights of insanity that give him a new perspective. Absolutely hilarious, and if saying so makes me kind of a sick bastard, then I’m a sick bastard.
Then I ran out right when the credits started so I could run over to Shorts 6: Docu-nation and tell everyone in the theater how awesome HEAVENLY SHIFT is! Oh, and also watch some short documentaries.
AMERICAN LAWN: The love affair with neatly manicured grass in front of your house—and its pros and cons—are explored in multiple interviews. Is it a sign of status? Is it wasteful and ruining the environment? Is moving a chore? Is it relaxing? Is it “work” you can do while drinking a beer? Heck yeah it is!
DISARMING FALCON: Travel to Qatar, where we meet a charming group of falconers training and then hunting with them.
ETCHED IN SKIN: A look at tattooing as art. In particular, whether it has become too popular and ubiquitous. And whether the artists are paid to make exactly what the customer wants or if they can really pursue their own vision (in collaboration with their canvases.)
FABIAN DEBORA, A LIFE IN ART: Some really cool looking art. That is all. And…actually I kind of dozed off in this one. But I was at least awake enough to see some of the art.
HERD IN ICELAND: A look at native Icelandic horses, and the people who take care of them. There’s not much more to say, except that this movie was beautiful and really captured these people’s love for their horses.
MARGO: A hospice worker who has seen many people through their final days—including succumbing to cancer—now finds herself facing her own death from cancer. No matter how often you see death, you’re never ready for it.
STICKY: A partially animated film about the discovery and captive breeding of the phasmid a New Zealand invertebrate that was thought extinct but was discovered on one shrub on one tiny, craggy island. And about the scientists who nursed it back from the brink and will hopefully introduce it back into the wild some day.
Then I had time for just the briefest of stops at the VIP Soiree at Scott’s Seafood. Two drinks, lots of filmmakers, and then ran out to the California Theatre for my next film.
And that film was SOLD, the narrative version of LIFE IS LOVE set in India. Lakshmi is a little Nepali girl, and when tragedy strikes her family she is sold to an Indian madam on the pretense that she will work for her by cleaning and cooking. Then when she pays off her debt she can go back home a hero. Of course, that’s not how this works. She is trapped in a brothel now, and there’s not much she can do about it. The “work” scenes are unflinching while still being tasteful, and the camaraderie of the girls is…strange. They can all sympathize with each other, but nobody can trust anyone else. There’s even a rumor that Americans show up to “rescue” them just so they can steal your kidneys and leave your body to rot in the street. Which makes the job of the Americans who really are trying to help them (Gillian Anderson as a photographer and David Arquette as an investigator) a little more difficult. But Lakshmi is clever, strong, and determined and…well, I don’t want to give away spoilers but with all the horror she experiences she needed a happy ending. And with the help of Hope House she eventually does get a happier ending than most girls in her predicament.
Then I was off to the San Jose Repertory Theater for A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO A SPECTACULAR SUICIDE, one of the best titles of the festival (right up there with KISS ME YOU FUCKING MORON.) A Scottish comedy shot on an unbelievably small budget (note to the filmmakers, never reveal how small your budget was. At most say, “under $1 million.” That’s low enough to impress people and doesn’t give away enough for them to lowball you on a distribution deal.) Tom Collins has…an awesome name, in my opinion (but what do I know, my name is slang for penis.) And apparently he’s got not much else going for him, at least judging by how often he tries to off himself. And by how often he fails, maybe dying isn’t what he was put on Earth to do. But he’s determined, and neither his court-ordered shrink (named Dr. Watson,) nor the grumpy old man he’s assigned to work for, nor the cute fellow patient he strikes up a friendship with can deter him from his goal. Well, heck, the fellow patient doesn’t even want to stop him, she just wants to help make it spectacular, always with fireworks. Lest you think it’s all just an excuse to make a bunch of jokes about killing yourself, it’s got some smarts, too. It’s probably the smartest slapstick comedy about suicide I’ve seen since…ever, maybe? I’m a little sleep deprived, but I can’t actually think of another one. Oh yeah, I think there was a Danish film called WILBUR WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF, that one might be competition but there’s not much more.
Then I had just enough time for one drink at the Maverick Meetup at South First Billiards, where I managed to meet lots more filmmakers, and then I was back to the Camera 12 for the midnight showing of BLOOD PUNCH. Milton wakes up with a hangover in a cabin. He throws up, finds a video screen with a message imploring him to watch, and sees a video of himself cutting two of his fingers off. This is especially odd because his fingers are completely intact this morning. Flashback to one day previous (give or take) and we learn that he’s a meth cook. And we meet the wild woman who breaks him out of rehab for one epic cook that will leave him set for life. They just have to beware of the third in their trio, her psychotic boyfriend. A little drinking, a little peyote-laced meth, a wild night…and that’s where Milton wakes up. Kinda. I’m dancing around the huge spoiler here, and everyone ends up describing the film as ‘XXXXXXXXX XXX crossed with…something violent and insane.’ Needless to say, the classic noir triangle of bad girl, worse ex, and good guy gets spun super-hard here, with a near-exhaustive list of kills (you know the old adage that if a gun is seen in act 1 it must be used by act 3? Well, what if a cabin full of weapons is seen in act 1?) despite a surprisingly small cast list. This was just one beautiful, bloody mind-fuck.
Then I was back at my luxury suite at the Fairmont for a little nightcap with some friends. No filmmakers showed up, but you’re all invited over tonight (Saturday night) and next weekend (Friday and Saturday.) Just find me and hit me up for my room number. Or decipher the magical code I left on Twitter/Facebook.
Drinking with filmmakers added the following films on my schedule: A IS FOR ALEX, ACTING LIKE ADULTS, ETERNITY: THE MOVIE, Shorts 3: HUMOR ME. Well done people, this is how it’s done! Oh, and I finally met the director of DESERT FISH and we enjoyed the glory of our epic hair for a moment, but I haven’t drunk with him yet.
Total Running Time: 609 minutes
My Total Minutes: 354,748