Dances with Films offered an incredibly strong slate of films Thursday through Sunday, the closing weekend of the festival. And our only regret is that the fest is over. Time to hang up our dancing shoes until next year.
Thursday’s Espionage Tonight was a brilliantly structured dark comedy in which a reality TV show about spies is created to win back the faith of the American public. Audiences go undercover on missions around the globe. Real spy and reality tour guide “Swamp Fox” is alternately deadly and hilarious.
Director Rob Gordon Bralver says the choice to create a reality style was done to save money, but budget doesn’t show on screen. “We had tons of locations thanks to producer Amy Child, who made little miracles happen. Music is just me listening to iTunes so I could find what fits, and keep the film in its wierd comedy pocket,” he relates. Lead actor Joe Hursley says for him, the filmmaking process and the point of the movie itself is “Trust your inner psychopath.”
The festival’s Grand Jury Winner, One Less God was a harrowing take on the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack on a tourist hotel. Deeply involving, moving, and packed with suspense, the large cast and humanitarian soul of the movie painted a picture of pain, beauty, and love. Thoroughly engrossing.
Writer/director/producer Lliam Worthington says “We knew people killed in the attacks, we just wanted to understand what was going on, the loss and the pain, and the people. I wanted to see the people. We have to continue to see people as a global society.” Worthington used some of the actual cell phone communication transcripts between handlers and operatives word for word during dialog for the terrorists; the 63-day shoot which took place off and on for a year never lacks in verisimilitude.
The strong ensemble cast and sweeping, lush cinematography of Tater Tot & Patton add to a compelling tale of a millennial who escapes her own life at her uncle’s South Dakota ranch, forcing him from his placid, if liquor-drenched, existence. A well-balanced drama that pulses with life.
Jimmy the Saint is a fresh, Los Angeles-based take on the Russian mob, true love, gambling addiction, and a street scene as authentic and involving as the film’s throbbing, vibrant heart. It’s a film that’s both violent and feel-good, a difficult feat to pull off – but it absolutely does.
Director Branden Morgan shot “really cheap” in just 13 days, averaging 9 script pages each day. The thriller deals with “identity and liberation. Everyone wants that.” The pitch-perfect cast says the fact that Morgan began his career as an actor paid off. “He constantly guided me through,” lead Zach Hursh attests. And guidance was key, through strong physical action, and the learning of Russian dialog by lead actors. What’s next for Morgan? “My partner and I sold another weird adult drama to Sony Crackle.”
Jimmy the Saint above, The Scent of Rain & Lightning below
The Scent of Rain & Lightning is packed with stunning images in a strongly performed if convoluted story of murder, lust, and revenge set in a fresh Oklahoma setting. Based on a novel, director Blake Robbins deftly visualizes images in an adaptation made by Casey Twente and, Jeff Robinson. Tweetner’s wife heard about the book while listening to NPR and tracked down the author. “I tried to treat visuals like a complicated jigsaw puzzle,” Robbins relates. The film was shot in 21 days and took full and visually stunning advantage of its location. “The 39% tax break rebate from Oklahoma is what made us move the setting of the book from Kansas,” Robbins says. Co-produced with co-star Maggie Grace, the film is moody and noir.
All I Want is an ensemble piece. A group of friends attend an anniversary party for two of their own, only to find out the couple is quasi-celebrating a divorce. The comedy-drama gives plenty of space to a large cast, exploring relationships with pleasant abandon. Writer/director/producer West Lang says he and star/co-writer Melissa Center wanted to feature a community of great actors. Center notes “We are all buddies in real life, we’re part of a lab of like-minded actors who are all about the craft.”
Until next year – Dances with Films has turned down the music.
- Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke
That’s right, unstoppable – that’s DWF20, with its wide ranging variety of films that are truly as “fiercely independent” as the fest proclaims.
The first competition feature we took in was Grief, a film written as a catharsis after the loss of an unborn baby. Director/writer/star Kevin Renwick took on the volatile subject of the death of a child, adding in suicide and of course, the titular grief, in a compellingly watchable film that took two years to complete.
Next up, Tomorrow, Maybe, a well-acted potboiler about an ex-con dad, his estranged daughter, and her abusive marriage. Jace Daniel, Roy Kirk 1st, and Robert Blanche wrote, with Blanche also starring; director Jace Daniel compelling helmed a story that grew from workshopping and table reads.
Above, director Cat Hostick on the set of The Meaning of Life.
On Tuesday, The Meaning of Life was a weepie about a teen musician and his fortuitous meeting with a 9-year-old cancer patient at the local hospital where he works. Writer director Cat Hostick expertly wrung the pathos from her script, with the music of Canadian pop celeb Tyler Shaw a standout.
Chance, a wonderful 3-D animated story about pit bulls trained to fight against their nature, was decidedly not directed at children. Still, it was a sweet story with a wonderfully modulated script; a message movie with a real heart. This was the film that brought tears for me. Writer Kenny Young and director Kenny Roy drew expert performances from their voice cast, and were inspired by a friend of a friend whose lovable dog was entered in a fight. Heartbroken, the pair worked for 7 years to get the story to screen. Terrific score, great cause, too.
I flat out loved Imitation Girl, writer/director Natasha Kermani’s deeply original story about an alien and her doppelganger earth girl “Visual motif is of yin and yang. We wanted the story of a fresh creature who comes to earth and she was welcomed.” Kermani added “I am actually a musician and filmmaker. I knew lead actress Lauren Ashley Carter and I wanted to do something about structure. About twins. I’m a Gemini,” she laughed.
A packed house gasped and shrieked over the horror film Lore, based on Native American legends. Shot on location in Idaho, the film is full of well-timed jumps and scares. The story was in part shaped by the beautiful location that the filmmakers chose; a harrowing location as it turned out with cold weather, storms, and an altitude of 8000-9000 feet haunting the crew in reality even as their characters are haunted on screen. Writer/directors Christian Larsen and Brock Manwill know how to thrill and chill, and offer a smart, ambiguous ending in the bargain.
More Dances with Films on tap tomorrow – why not join us in viewing the Thursday-Sunday slate and find filmmaking magic right in the middle of Hollywood.
- Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke