Dances with Films dances with pure delight. If you have to pick one film festival to attend, pick this one. Indie films you won’t see anywhere else, some as perfectly honed and crafted as anything you’d see in the multi-plex – except more interesting; others showing a more home-made vibe. But every one worthy of watching.
I’m a veteran of Sundance, the Los Angeles Film Festival, and AFI – and I had no idea what to expect out of Dances with Films. What I got was an eclectic, lovingly curated explosion of cinematic story-telling from shorts to features, screened over eleven days. Founded eighteen years ago by filmmakers Leslee Scallon and Michael Trent, the festival more than lives up to its goals of being a prime source of great talent.
Held late May through early June at the TCL Chinese Theaters in Hollywood, there were a lot of standouts in the 2015 selections.
Echo Lake, written and directed by Jody McVeigh-Schultz, is a poignant, taut coming-of-age-late and getting in touch with your demons story about a 30-year-old functioning alcoholic, an inherited cabin, and a lost – and found – dog. It’s a vibrant, heart-filling film with a lot of laughs in with the darkness.
Benjamin Meyer’s Fools is a chance meeting love story set in Chicago about two strangers who randomly come together, live together, and fall in love. Witty, sharp, both romantic and decidedly unromantic, this is a relationship story that takes you along for the ride.
Mel Rodriguez III is the force behind In Stereo, the tale of David and Brenda, who may or may not be perfect for each other, even after they rekindle a past romance. This very New York tale dissects the human condition and gets under your skin the way the main characters get under each others.
Edd Benda’s 1969-set Superior takes a 1,300 mile bike ride around Lake Superior, two best friends, and the looming shadow of the Vietnam War, and blends them seamlessly into a moving comedy drama about hard choices and true friendship.
Bad Exorcists, filmmaker Kyle Steinbach’s horror comedy about awkward teens making a horror movie and igniting their lead actress’ own possession, is fresh, funny, and scary, too.
If I had to pick one film as a favorite, it would be the astonishing Wildlike, an unlikely and breathtaking drama about a troubled teen’s escape from an abusive uncle, her survival in the Alaskan wilderness, and her moving friendship with a recent widower. Frank Hall Green has written and directed a simply stunning film – see it in theaters and VOD this October. Star Ella Purnell is poised to be a breakout.
Also viewed: infidelity and a home-made, Pinterest-style wedding cross paths in the comedy-drama Barn Wedding; an estranged brother and sister must solve their deceased father’s annual treasure hunt to receive their inheritance in The Last Treasure Hunt; Lola’s Last Letter is a compelling micro-budgeted tale of an ex-con’s confessions on camera; Kathleen Behun’s 21 Days is the length of a nail-biting, scream-inducing paranormal challenge to stay closed in a haunted house.
The shorts program was equally compelling, with standouts including Madam Black, the surprisingly sweet and funny tale of a dead cat and true love; The Girl in the Green Dress, a Stepford-wives-esque tale of repressed feminism and sexual liberation; the buzzy Shevenge, directed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Amber Bensen, a short but hilarious comedy about women’s revenge on their men; and Selling Rosario, detailing the hard choices made by a family of migrant workers and their faith in a brighter future for their daughter.
Look for these films and these filmmakers; and get ready to dance with films yourself in 2016.
- Genie Davis; all photos Jack Burke (copyright Jack Burke)