Dances with Films 19 finished a week ago, and the festival continued to amaze even as it drew to a close. Missed the fest this year? Then put it on your calendars for next year, and do watch for the stellar films shown at the festival. While these reviews bring those screened at the event to a close, there are several we missed seeing in the theater that we’ll be catching up on shortly.
Above, cast, crew, and advisors on The Track; with microphone, star Mariah Kirstie
The Track started as a short film by director Brett Caroline Levner, and was expanded into a feature by Levner and writer Matthew McCue. “I looked out my window one day,” Levner relates, “and I saw a 15 year old girl going in and out of cars, working as a prostitute.” Drawn to tell the story of underage, exploited children, Levner, who teaches film at University of Nevada Las Vegas, tackled the tough and moving story of Barbie.
Played brilliantly by Mariah Kirstie, the girl comes into contact with a suburban woman who has just lost her daughter, played by Missy Yager. “I come from a theater background,” Kirstie reports, “but for this character I didn’t do anything formal. I was so connected to her, I just wanted to stay in the moment with my performance.” Yager says “This is a woman’s issue, these little girls get arrested. My character had a calling to help.”
The performances make the film, a true vehicle for social justice, into a compelling drama.
Above, star Joe Burke in Dependents Day
Dependents Day, a very different film, also began as a short. Director David Lynch (below) found star Joe Burke and a ribald romantic comedy was born. “I love nuance,” Lynch says, “I thought he was a firecracker and all I had to do was set him off.” The versatile Lynch was also director of a dramatic documentary screening at the festival, Victor Walk, which won the audience award in the docs category; but Dependents is pure levity.
The story of a struggling actor claimed as ‘dependent” by his more successful girlfriend, the film tackles love, LA lifestyle, and sexual mores with a witty vengence.
Star Burke says “We put so much into this, I’m so emotional to have so many people I love in one room. I feel so blessed.” Shot in just 17 days, the comedy is zany, the performances from Burke and co-star Benita Robledo pitch perfect.
Above with microphone, Kristin Wallace, co-writer/producer/star of Moments of Clarity
Moments of Clarity is a film that defies categorization. Sweet comedy, female buddy picture, road movie, witty take on independence, feminism, mental health issues – yes, all of those. A film that keeps you guessing, we loved it’s wild moments of comedy, touching sweetness, and screwball plot. Writer/producer Kristin Wallace plays lead Claire. Co-written by Wallace and Christian Lloyd, the film was directed by Stev Elam.
Claire is the daughter of a repressed agoraphobic, who teams up with a pastor’s daughter to escape their home town, fix a broken camera, and come into their own. “I wanted to create more roles for women,” says Candian-born Wallace. “I’d just moved from Toronto to LA and felt very out of place, so I kind of connected with my inner child to create this character. I just wanted to follow this character who was unabashedly herself.” Shot in 15 days, the film has the look of a much larger-budgeted feature, with bright colors, hilarious set pieces, and the edge of dark-comedy ever sharpened.
Wallace and Lloyd wrote only via email and didn’t meat Wallace and the rest of the production team until he came to the set for the last four days of shooting. “I Just sat there smiling like an idiot. It didn’t make sense that so many people came together to make such a wonderful film and have such a strong connection.”
Director Elam says “I loved that the script had so much positivity and no violence. When I read the script I thought this is like a foreign film, but they have American names. Then they said they were Canadian,” he laughs.
Whatever the origin, this is a don’t-miss. It releases in the fall of 2016, watch for it.
Rounding up the fest’s final day at the TCL Chinese was Those Left Behind, a drama that grew from the director’s involvement in a documentary about suicide.
The drama recounts a family’s struggle to come to terms with the grief over their son’s suicide 25 years earlier.
“You can live a joyous life and still struggle with depression,” says Grant Jordan, who plays the pivotal character of Jamie.
“I think a lot about loss in my own life, and how unresolved grief comes back to people, so I wanted to use that. I had an amazing cast, I asked people to be very quiet, to let the performances and the story build slowly. It was like unpeeling an onion,” director Maria Finitzo says.
Also viewed: Killing the Apologetic Girl, the fest’s audience award winner in the TV pilot category. Writers Stephanie Little, Kimberly Aboltin – the latter also directed – have created a sweet and funny story about the overly-apologetic Steph and her returned-from-Morocco decidedly unapologietic friend, Kim. Fresh and delightfully sarcastic, there’s a lot to like and much to want to see more of with these characters. Well-paced and exceptionally well-cast.
Don’t worry: Josephine Doe, Pop-Up, and fest top narrative award winner Virtual Revolution reviews are still coming up.
- Genie Davis; All photos: Jack Burke