First up, the special 50th anniversary screening of MOTHRA on glorious 35 mm. A shipwrecked crew survives on Infant Island until rescuers come. Infant Island was used for atomic testing by the "Rosilican" government. Strangely, the survivors have no signs of radiation sickness, which they chalk up to the red juice the natives drink. Wait, natives? Immediately an expedition (privately funded by entrepreneur Clark Nelson) sets out to...completely ignore the red juice and instead kidnap two fairies ("tiny beauties") who live there. Well, that pisses off the natives, who appeal to Mothra for vengeance, but at least the tiny fairy show is a big hit. Not so much of a hit after Mothra shows up (in caterpillar form) and destroys Tokyo. In fact now Nelson is a wanted man, but even though he's world famous for being a money-hungry douchebag who caused Tokyo (and wherever he brings the tiny beauties) to be destroyed he still thinks he has a profitable act. So he flees back to his home in Rosilica...but that's just going to cause Mothra to attack New Kirk City. Awesome, hilarious (maybe even intentionally), and with a moral message of peace and forgiveness in the end.
The next show started with UNICORN GIRL, a whimsical, local short about a girl who wakes up after a party where she dressed up as a unicorn. The party looks like it was somewhere up in Napa, but she needs to get back to the city, so she gets a ride and has an interesting adventure. Lots of fun.
And then the feature, ABSENTIA, probably the smartest film with the best developed characters in the festival. In fact, if you stripped away the supernatural elements, it's core is a solid, character driven drama. 7 years ago, Callie's husband Daniel just...disappeared. With the help of her recovering junkie sister and the detective covering the case, she's finally moved on. In fact, judging by her very pregnant belly, she's moved well on. And now it's time for the final step--having him officially declared dead in absentia, and getting the death certificate. But suddenly she starts having visions of him. Maybe her mind is just playing tricks, but Tricia has a coincidentally weird experience with a homeless man in a tunnel, and she starts seeing things. Well, maybe she's just back on the junk. Or maybe something horrible is going on. In any case, Daniel reappears and everyone, including the detectives can see him. He's just horribly changed. Emaciated, ashen, and paranoid, still wearing the clothes he had on when he left. Something horribly creepy is going on, and it's an effectively scary movie that relies on atmosphere and characters rather than special effects and blood. Excellently done.
Then the next show started with the short, THE KING OF ENGLAND. Technical glitches caused it to stick every few seconds, which was really distracting (they tried two discs, and the second was even worse). But the story was still pretty clear. Soldiers in the Middle Ages in England are in the woods. Bors, their pagan guide is nervous about an old warrior/spirit who he hears rustling around in the trees. But the Christian soldiers think he's a paranoid fool. Bors is right. It's really more of an isolated scene than a full story, and it was all made locally in the Bay Area as a test to build interest/investment in making a feature. They did a good job, and I would watch the feature if it gets made.
And then the feature documentary, I AM NANCY, by and about Heather Langenkamp, who played Nancy Thompson in the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. It's a comic look at the legacy of the NOES series, and her life on the road going to horror conventions all over the world. She pokes a heck of a lot of fun at the relative popularity of Nancy compared to Freddy, showing long lines for Robert Englund and a few people lined up for her autograph. She compares the incredible detail of Freddy toys vs. the dearth of Nancy toys available at all. She meets tons of fans with Freddy tattoos, and...well, I won't give it away, but far, far less with Nancy tattoos. But she takes it in stride with good humor and grace. She sits for a chat with Wes Craven, about their shared legacy. And ultimately she explores the nature of fear and the courage that comes with facing fear--the very strength of Nancy's character. It's a comedic documentary, but there's a wonderful montage in the end of fans explaining the painful experiences they've been through and how Nancy's strength and courage has kept them going. "I am Nancy" is not just a line to describe Heather Langenkamp, it's a line to describe all her fans who drew strength from her example.
Oh yeah, and Heather Langenkamp was there for a brief Q&A afterwards. And she was totally cool and engaging with the audience. Very nice.
And finally, I ended the night with the supremely indulgent film, THE BOOK. In the year 2484, humanity celebrates 200 years since an alien intelligence delivered a book that ended all wars and brought a rein of unending peace and prosperity. Underground, a group gathers to tell the story of the creation of the book. And it's a bizarre tale of a writer who goes to the country to finish his novel and the alien (from inner space) who replaces him. This bizarre story has the visuals of 50's sci-fi spiked with a heavy dose of hallucinogens. For much of it, I was simultaneously puzzled, amazed, and thought the director (who uses a symbol as his name, which you can see on the film's website) was full of himself. And then (without giving anything away), we got to the ending, and I accepted it as pure, insane genius!
Total Running Time: 386 minutes
My Total Minutes: 239,995