August 22-24, 2007
by Jay Blodgett
The 4th Atlanta Underground Film Festival continued its exhibitor
expansion by beginning its next two days at The
Plaza Theatre on Ponce de Leon. It was my first time here and
upon entering, I found myself back at the
Balboa Theatre in San Francisco. I found HOME! The AUFF staff
continue to be impressively welcoming, as well. I'm having all sorts
of SFIndie Fest flashbacks and have finally (ok, so it's only been
SIX MONTHS!) feel like I am finding 'my place' here in Atlanta!
The festival also expanded to another pair of pubs: The
Drunken Unicorn and MJQ,
which both reside next to the COOLEST internet cafe EVER!! (Now,
if I could remember its name...!)
However, I digress... It was a rich and full day at the AUFF! Two
features and a dozen short subjects. First the features.
and Magic (Dir. Timothy Spanos - Australia - 90 min.)
I hate reducing plots to a pitch, but there is no better way I can
think of to describe this other than to compare it to a punked out
version of "Doctor Who." Tim Burns and Maxine Klibingaitis play
a homeless couple who inexplicably survive through the means of
intimidation and theft as they wander about Australia.
(Now, I am not intimating that Doctor Who is a thief, but just
HOW does he survive?) The wide-eyed innocence and overall joy that
Tim Burns displays was captivating. The large cast of people crossing
their paths are all well drawn and portrayed. The script is filled
with gems! So much so, that as I was watching and trying to make
a mental note as each clever line went past me, I overloaded and
can't seem to quote one now. The script's humor and philosophy are
nearly overwhelming. Apparently, this is a prequel to a film called
"Nancy, Nancy", which I will promptly hunt down!
Habit (Dir. Bryan Root - CA - 81 min.) I was intrigued
by the premise of trapping a nun and a prostitute in a stuck elevator.
That was only the tip of a mind-tripping iceberg! This is one hell
of a psychological thriller! As it began, I felt this was no more
than a filmed play. However, as the film opens up into the psyches
of the two characters, it explored cinematic depths that took me
completely by surprise.
That said, it is not an easy ride, as far as keeping oneself with
the plot. The apparent contradictions and discontinuities can be
overly distracting. However, they do resolve themselves with the
climax. The performances by Kirsty Hinchcliffe (the prostitute)
and particularly Reagan Dale Neis as the nun, are appropriately
complicated and harrowingly in tune with the ever evolving script.
Reagan Dale Neis has an uncanny resemblance to Sally Field during
her Flying Nun years, which I presume was intentional.
Bryan Root's direction of the two women throughout his complicated
script is flawless. As for the production elements, the cinematography
by Goran Pavicevic handles the 'lifeboat syndrome' with amazing
aplomb. And when the story breaks out into the characters' past,
he and production designer Richard B. Lewis create even creepier
settings outside of the elevator. The sound design and score is
so subliminal as to be forgotten. Oh! And I forgot to mention the
talking handbag... hee hee hee...
(Dir. Anna Biller - CA - 120 min.) I saw this in San Francisco at
the SFIndieFest, yet never wrote of it, as I was literally moving
to Atlanta that week. Unless director Anna Biller has done any cutting
(which I think it needs), I think I can speak to the piece as it
screened last night. Biller has an uncanny eye for the pastiche
(1972) that she has meticulously created here. As a piece of visual
art (the field Biller is most noted for), she creates a world nearly
extinct of any natural fiber! Within her production design, even
the hair is synthetic! I don't remember a single character that
was NOT wearing a wig!
Her statement as to the artifice of that period is carried through
the characterizations. Aye, here is the rub. I appreciated the commitment
and extent to which Biller's production revels in the artificiality
of consumerism and sexual roles. However, at 120 minutes, that is
a LOT of satire and the plastic cynicism that the film is consumed
with (even in the performances) became tiresome. Now, that might
have been part of the point, too. Biller is too important of an
artist to be dismissed. I just wish the production felt more 'joyful'
than as much work as it seems. But perhaps THAT is part of its point,
too? Regardless, it is well worth seeing, though with the caveat
that it will be a long screening.
Now, onto the shorts. Due to a logistical mix-up (The Drunken
Unicorn and MJQ share the same building), there was a group of us
in the wrong space for the Comedy Shorts. Therefore, I missed the
first couple. Unfortunately, I can only hope that those were the
BEST of the lot, as the five shorts I did see were just less than
Here they are:
The Five-Seater with a Heart of Gold (Dir.
Jamie Gaar, Amber Dixon, Julian Modugno - GA - 5 min.) This was
the only one of the five that gave me a good guffaw! As ridiculous
as the concept is (carboy is a boy who is actually a car), there
were some great stunts and sight gags! And at only five minutes,
the joke did not outlast its stay!
(Dir. Matthew Heinze - IL - 16 min.) I walked in on the middle of
this, and even at that, it was too long. Produced as "A silent comedy
about a man who strives to better his future by reliving his past
with a dash of old-school break-dancing", it just didn't make sense.
In fact, I thought he was just daydreaming because he hated being
The Chronicles of Impeccable
Sportsmanship (Dir. Erika Tasini - NY - 7 min.)
I didn't exactly 'get' this one either. It involves a little girl,
her parents and a ball. They won't let her play for the reward of
sitting in a rocking chair. Therefore she destroys the rocking chair.
The end. No. No chuckles from me, either.
Hobo Man (Dir. Johnny
Dingleberry - FL - 13 min.) This was the final piece of the program
and either that or its subject matter prompted walk outs. It is
a take-off on Herzog's "Grizzly Man", where our 'hero' is living
among the hobos. The term 'hobo' itself is a bit condescending in
its reference to the homeless to begin with. The homeless in the
film are real and so the film does tread the line of exploitation
to begin with. It then CROSSES that line by involving them in the
filmmakers stunts. I don't know if the premise has any promise,
but as presented here, it was just about as offensive as watching
I Stepped In Some Poo
(Dir. Tristan Orchard - Canada - 7 min.) The title alone filled
me with gleeful, sophomoric anticipation! The film itself was just
OK. Yes, he steps in dog poo and spends the rest of the day with
people wincing at him. Nearly mirthful, but... eh.
Pets As Partners (Dir.
Rebecca Adler & Margaret Salzer - TX - 15 min.) This started off
promisingly enough, yet the DVD was having HORRIBLE sound problems
and it was stopped.
I dashed back to The Plaza for the final set of shorts for the
day: the AUFF Sex Shorts, which was hosted by a local burlesque
troop. Here is where your faithful reporter was not so faithful.
The program started at approximately 11:00 p.m. By midnight, I found
myself dozing off and decided it would be best to depart. This was
in mid-program. I managed to stay awake for four of the seven pieces.
(Dir. Anna Butwell - NY - 4 min.) Short and sweet O'Henry-like
tale of a boy, his mom and phone sex. Short, but predictable.
Boy Princes: A Tragedie Most Monstrous (Dir. Darren
Herczeg - CA - 28 min.) I don't know if this was trying to be campy
or a homophobic slam. Described as "A shock-comedy about a delicate
trio of Boy Princes," the film itself was a tiresome 28 minutes
of mincing about by three men playing young boys who are competing
for "the most boyish of boys," so they can ride the motorcycle of
their "most manly of men" uncle. I have always prided myself on
my ability to recap a film without giving spoilers. But in this
case, I will tell you that everyone ends up dead, which is a good
Touch (Dir. Ken Takahashi - Canada - 25 min.) Oh
my. The program says, "We warn you! Prepare to be disturbed - deeply
disturbed." Disturbed? Yes!! DEEPLY? Maybe not, but awfully close.
It's climax is a really, gnarly sex romp with a homeless woman.
I think she was an actress. I hope she was an actress. I kept saying
to myself, "She's just an actress. She's just an actress." It was
ugly, gnarly sex. Shudd-dd-dd-er...
Kill John Wayne (Dir.
Vivian Wong - NY - 7 min.) This was an encore screening of the short
on opening night. And it was at this point that I decided to
go home, too.
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