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Festival Review
4th Atlanta Underground
Film Festival (AUFF)

August 22-24, 2007

Day 2

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.

 Feature Films

Moonlight 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!

Dirty 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...

Viva (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.

 Shorts

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 amusing.

Here they are:

Carboy: 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!

Chester's Battle (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 a waiter.

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 "Bum Fights."

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.

Sex Shorts

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.

Afternoon Sweets (Dir. Anna Butwell - NY - 4 min.) Short and sweet O'Henry-like tale of a boy, his mom and phone sex. Short, but predictable.

The 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 thing.

Gary's 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 which played on opening night. And it was at this point that I decided to go home, too.

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