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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

SouthSide Film Festival (Part 1 of 2)

Jeez... It's been nearly a month since I've posted a MLiF blog!  For my handful of followers, I'm sorry for the delay.  Life got quite hectic, but I should be able to do weekly reviews again now that The 39 Steps closed (that is until Wedding Singer: The Musical rehearsals become every night).

However, I'm still not able to start back with a MLiF blog because I'm only halfway through Spider-Man 2 but I should hopefully get that up next week.  However, I figured I should post SOMETHING since this blog has been dead for so long, so I figured I'd give a recap of the SouthSide Film Festival.

South Side Bethlehem has apparently been presenting a Film Festival for the past eight years, however last year was the first I heard of it.  Apparently, each year there is a Cultural & Genre Highlight and 2011 focused on Africa & Folklore.  That isn't to say there aren't a bunch of other films from other cultures or genres, but a good portion of the films fall into one or both of these.

This year, I went with an All Access lanyard, and while I didn't get to use it as much as I'd have liked to (closing weekend of The 39 Steps sort of interfered), I did see more than enough films to make it worthwhile.

Opening Night
Every year, there's an opening night party and this year's was held at Home & Planet, a nice little shop on E 3rd St.  It was catered by Alando's Kenyan Cuisine and sponsored (I assume) by Samuel Adams because they had several beers available, all for free (even for non-lanyard holders!).  I ran into several theatre friends there while noshing on some tasty cuisine and listening to some African rhythms from the Lehigh Valley Drum Circle.  Even met a Yale (or was it Harvard?) grad student living in Bethlehem this summer writing her dissertation on post-industrial Bethlehem... I had hoped to run into her again later that night or some time this weekend, but sadly, that didn't happen.

After the party ended, we walked to Broughal Middle School for the opening night screenings.  Tord and Tord is a Swedish animated short about a fox named Tord who accidentally enters the apartment next to his, where he meets a rabbit also named... Tord.  It's a nice enough looking short, however it was nearly impossible not to compare this choppy animation to the slicker Fantastic Mr. Fox.  I'm not sure if I was sick or tired or just distracted, but I couldn't help but think that the audience was laughing waaaay too much at this film.  My normal star ratings are a little too large to place inline with text, so I'm going old school with some text ratings: **1/2 (out of *****)

Then, the opening night film, Africa United, started.  This tells the story of three Rwandan children who travel 3000+ miles to South Africa for one to have the chance to show his futbol skills before the World Cup audience.  The film is led by a brilliant young actor, Eriya Ndayambaje, and features some interesting animated sequences inside a decent road trip story that definitely takes an interesting and unforeseen twist at the end.  Overall, the film was maybe fifteen minutes too long (and with a running time of 88 minutes, that's bad) ***

Wednesday Night
Block 1 started with an African short, Pumzi, which chronicles the day of a scientist in a post-WWIII (the water war) world.  After receiving a mysterious package of dirt, she does some testing and realizes that the world outside her bunker might not be as radioactive and dead as everyone assumes.  This little sci-fi short has some nice cinematography and a really interesting story (if maybe a little disappointing of an ending) **** [Available on Netflix Streaming]

Der Sandmann is a Swiss romantic fantasy that tells of a man losing sand and the one ugly girl who might be able to save him.  It's such a sweet story about romance, coffee and music.  It takes the sandman mythos and puts a really interesting spin on it. ****

Your father didn't die for a flag. He died for the symbol that the flag represented, which is the freedom to burn the flag.
The highlight of the festival was definitely American: The Bill Hicks Story.  Bill Hicks was a comic whose name I had heard countless times before but whose comedy I had never sampled.  This documentary tells from his days as a teenager cutting his teeth on the Houston comedy scene to his final stand up performance.  The story surprised me because I knew he died before he should have, but had no idea why or when he died.  So, while watching him struggle with drugs and alcohol, I wasn't sure if he was going to die shortly of an overdose, later of a suicide or some other tragic method (it's not very often documentaries can have surprise endings!).  The film also cleverly avoids talking heads that are too prevalent in documentaries, but rather features a steady string of narration from his friends and family over top of picture-animation (a technique you can sort of get a feel for in the trailer) ****1/2 [Available on Netflix]

To close out Wednesday, I watched The Last Mountain, an environmental documentary detailing the way mountain top removal coal mining has destroyed and is destroying Appalachia.  Robert Kennedy Jr. shows up for the last half of the film politicking against the mining companies.  Like An Inconvenient Truth and GasLand before it, The Last Mountain makes you realize that our world might not be around for our grandchildren or great-grandchildren.  I wish there was more I could do (this film seriously made me wish I could participate in some civil disobedience). ****

Thursday Night
Missed the first half of Short Blocks 2 (because I stupidly left my lanyard at home despite being in Bethlehem around lunchtime) but I was able to catch more than half the films in this block:

  • Irasshai is a cute animated short about some pieces of sushi that try to make a break for the exit door before getting eaten. ***1/2
  • Enrique Wrecks the World is another animated short that started strong but gets a little too silly. After accidentally killing a bird with his slingshot, Enrique notices bigger and bigger destruction that eventually (SPOILER!) destroys the world.  **
  • Cigarette Candy held an extra friendly surprise as it featured several friends as extras!  Apparently shot in Allentown two years ago, this SXSW Narrative Short winner tells of a young Marine whose homecoming doesn't exactly go as his father had hoped ****
  • The Advantage of the Hitman is a Spanish short narrated by a El Salvadorian hitman living in Spain.  The ending confused me (not sure if the "twist" that was there was trying to be situational irony or dramatic) ***1/2
  • August 15th (shockingly) is based on real life events about a young Chinese woman taking a bus with her boyfriend to meet his family.  The bus is overtaken by crooks and things take the worst possible outcome ****
  • Little Horses was one of the best shorts this year and I'm really disappointed I didn't get a chance to attend a talk back with the director who was present. A divorced postal worker tries to win his family back by getting his son a pony for his 8th birthday.  A simple story wonderfully written, shot and acted. ****1/2

And because it's already after midnight and I still have about a dozen more movies to review, I figured I should split this recap into two parts... The second half should be done by Friday morning and I hope to return with a MLiF blog next Tuesday.... Thanks for your patience if you're still following me.  I hope you don't mind this detour from my MLiF project, but my life has a lot of film in it!

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