The 14th Annual Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival – Part One

Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second welcomes back our old friend SmallerDemon back, with with his now traditional article on Alabama’s Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, which is now in it’s 14th year.

Fourteen years! This makes me feel old because I attended the first Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival those oh so many years ago and saw such wonderful movies that first year. And now it’s eight years since the 2004 festival I attended as our return to Sidewalk that slammed it out of the park with great films.  And every year there has been something that held my interest and on some years the wealth of great movies is an embarrassment. Of course, some years there are a few more misses than hits, but every year there is at least one or two great things.

Attending this year is particularly interesting since we are considering moving back to Birmingham at some point in the near future and instead of seeing Sidewalk as something we (my wife and I) attend while on vacation we are also seeing it with a view toward it being something culturally significant in a community we may be living in soon.  Sidewalk is an oddly short but very intense festival. It has a Friday night opening film and then two long days of film usually starting at 10 AM and running until well past midnight and then ramping it up all over again on Sunday but finishing up by 10 PM at the latest on Sunday evening.

Friday Night – Opening Night Film – Supporting Characters

I must confess, I was not that thrilled with the opening movie when it was announced.  Supporting Characters is a movie making the rounds at various festivals right now from director Daniel Schechter and starring  Alex Karpovsky of HBO’s Girls fame and also starring Tarik Lowe who co-wrote the film with director Schechter. I’m not sure how to describe the movie, but I sometimes make up my own genres when I’m watching films and this one falls into the “uncomfortable to watch comedy” genre.  Uncomfortable to watch anything is, for me, well, you know…uncomfortable.  Supporting Characters is obviously setting out to do exactly that, and they knock the uncomfortable part out of the park with Alex Karpovsky’s presence.

The movie follows two film editors, Nick and Darryl, who co-edit films as a creative/technical editing pair.  They have a knack for taking films in trouble and editing them out of trouble.  Since we otherwise wouldn’t have much of a movie without it, we’re brought into the story in the middle of a job in which they are trying to edit a film that’s in trouble. They are presenting a test screening and Karpovsky’s Nick is in front of the audience while his co-editor, Lowe’s Darryl, passes out surveys.  During the screening Nick wants to talk to Darryl about his new relationship and how it’s distracting him from his work, a conversation that Darryl spends with his phone in front of him and it constantly buzzes. It’s a good setup to show that they are friends and that shows that there’s a lot of tension, while at the same time they both stop the conversation to listen for crowd reaction to beats in the movie. 

I’ll try to give the one paragraph summary: Nick and Darryl are working on a troubled film with a practical producer who wants to the project done, a moody and childish writer/director that thinks he’s the absolute final authority on the film and the star of the film Jamie who is a sort of stereotypical pretty starlet.  Amid this is Nick’s strained relationship with his girlfriend Amy and Darryl’s overenthusiastic and overcompensating relationship with his new girlfriend Liana.  The movie follows the trajectory of Nick and Darryl as they work to edit the movie and try to please the director and product and also navigate their relationships with their girlfriends.  They are pretty good at the editing, and they are pretty lousy at relationships.  Their relationship issues are basically making their editing of the film go not so well.  Nick works through ADR sessions with Jamie, the star, and starts to strain his long-standing relationship with his girlfriend Amy by flirting with Jamie and trying to hook up with her. Darryl is overtly complicit in helping Nick do this in the most juvenile way possible Darryl’s view of relationships is so superficial that he’s constantly trying to figure out his relationship with his new girlfriend in all the worst ways possible.

Supporting Characters probably will be very well liked by fans of Karpovsky who is very good at creating unlikable characters who believe their own actions to be beyond reproach and unquestionably the right actions at the moment.  Karpovsky’s Nick isn’t standing alone at this, though, as Lowe’s Darryl is easily his match at this. They both approach this from very different ends, though, with Nick being basically a cynic that uses modern influence language to try and always get his way through framing his point of view as the most correct position and Darryl’s style is simply denial through optimism, i.e. seeing the best in some things to the point of self-destruction.

It is, however, at least funny. Some parts fall flat. Other parts need cut (ironic in a film about film editors, although I did ask myself repeatedly if those parts were intentionally left in with a wink and a nod). And everyone’s actions have consequences that seem real to life. It’s not a happy ending for Nick, but perhaps a happy ending for Amy.  And not a happy ending for Darryl, but perhaps one for him in the long run.  The presentation of the characters is also nice, in that you definitely get a feel for who you like and dislike and then you are slowly brought through changes in those feelings toward the characters.

Certainly for filmmakers, editors, writers, directors and actors involved in the industry, it will be a more fun film than for those seeking out a smarter than usual romantic comedy.  It’s too dark to be a full-on romantic comedy, and it’s too funny to be a drama. My most charitable view of it I that it is a wonderful character study of both Nick and Darryl.

 

Saturday – The Fourth Dimension, My Best Day, Saturday Morning Massacre

The past few years on Saturday we’ve been there early enough to catch some kids shorts, but those this year on Saturday were somewhat beyond my daughter’s age range (she just turned four) so we visited with family before heading out to a 12:40 PM showing of a set of three vignettes called The Fourth Dimension.

 The three films in The Fourth Dimension have no real interaction or connecting tissue in the way that Jarmusch’sNight On Earth does, but in many ways it reminded me a lot of Night on Earth. The film opens with text on the screen giving an introduction to the audience of what the filmmakers were asked to do, which is to show in some way what the “fourth dimension” is like.  There were no restrictions, but the use of special effects was not employed at all, only narrative storytelling to make this statement.  I don’t think that was a mandate, I think it was just chosen by the filmmakers.

There are three segments: Lotus Community Workshop, Chronoeye, and Fawns. 

Lotus Community Workshop is probably the one that most filmgoers will focus on simply because the director is Harmony Korine (Kids) and the main protagonist (if you can so far as to call him that) is Val Kilmer playing himself as a motivational speaker.  Lotus Community Workshop takes place in a back and forth between Kilmer at a skating rink giving a motivational speech and Kilmer wandering around a neighborhood and his own home with his girlfriend. The motivational speech is a sort of glorious nonsense that people often fall into when giving motivational speeches. It devolves into such utter gibberish as to start to have a weird feeling of meaning even though there is none at all.  The moments with Kilmer and his girlfriend Rachel riding through the town at night and swimming and video gaming at home reflect mostly that Kilmer’s character has sort of spiraled into a weird sort of netherworld of sanity that keeps him just above water, and often not above water at all as he continues to dive deeper, to constantly stalk and pull the trigger when playing a video game and to try and communicate with people in the community his new higher calling given to him through the Lotus Community Workshop.  The whole thing is a sort of mess that is entertaining and a little depressing, but hey, it’s Harmony Korine, so do we expect anything less? It’s certainly worth seeing just for how amazing Kilmer is in it. He really took a great chance in playing on his own reputation for weirdness and just put on the suit of a madman of self to play someone who may or may not believe his own cotton candy fourth dimensional nonsense.

Chronoeye on the other hand is a straight narrative that’s is beautiful and touching. Great everything all around in this one with the actors, the photography, the sound design, the story and the thing that is says at the end. It follows a renowned Russian scientist who has successfully written about and possibly demonstrated theories about time travel and has even been awarded a great prize which is turned down (much to the suspicion of the tax collectors). He doesn’t care at all about the money, though. He’s obsessed with the experiment to look back in time and experience events as if he were there. His experiment works, but he can only tune in to the visual and audio from a point of view from someone in a specific place and time without any control.  He is particularly obsessed with trying to determine why his wife left him and is constantly going back to where she was the day she left. A beautiful woman that lives above him who is practicing her dancing to loud music and constantly making noise on the floor with her dancing routinely interrupts his experiments. She knows who he is and she openly calls him handsome to his face and is highly flirtatious with him. 

Chronoeye ends with the most traditional type of ending but one that is genuinely uplifting and also works the fourth dimension angle from two different perspectives. I welled up at the end a bit because I found the whole experience a little profound and completely touching.

Fawns, on the other hand, is much more apocalyptic.  For quite a while all you know is that there are some 20-something punks wandering around an abandoned town going through the houses and stores without regard or concern for anything. Every now and then under the happy sunshine you hear sirens go off.  Ultimately it’s revealed that the town is under flood evacuation and that it’s known that the town is going to shortly be flooded above every rooftop.  The kids ignore this longer and longer, and the one kid that is a bit ostracized by the others knows the jig is up sooner than later and disappears. His friends look for him without success, and a tragic struggle with a lone holdout reveals something both terribly sad about the events while also giving a lot of meaning to the kids’ lives that are going to probably be cut short. 

Fawns is the sort of thing that drives a lot of people crazy. The ending is very open and as someone who adored the ending of Broken Flowers, I also found the ending to Fawns to be very much to my liking.  The feeling of dread thatFawns successfully cast on the viewer is beautifully paced like a great horror film.  Ultimately, I thought the entirety of The Fourth Dimension was successful and I hope it can find an audience beyond the festival circuit.

 

After The Fourth Dimension there was a bit of an opening in time and I wandered around pondering my next choice.  Compliance was one of those choices, but frankly I already had experience my “uncomfortable” movie on opening night and the last thing I needed was 90 minutes plus of more of that. There were also a couple of great documentaries showing, including a Rick Springfield documentary that probably promised to be genuinely wonderful fun.  Nevertheless, when I go to Sidewalk every year I like to seek out movies that I know are probably not going to get wide releases and may not even get decent DVD or streaming releases.  Because of that I like to pick out at least one regional quirky comedy, and I think I chose well this year with my choice to see My Best Day.

My Best Day is a great little indie comedy set in and shot in rural Pennsylvania that follows one young woman’s 4thof July as she has a suspiciously chance encounter with her biological father living in a town over. It also follows her friend who is a somewhat philandering lesbian who is having trouble with adult responsibility and fidelity. 

My Best Day was part of Sidewalk’s crossover with the Birmingham LGBT film festival (Shout). It speaks to small town gay scenes pretty well and the struggle that rural gay men face in being open and honest about their sexuality. I did like that the struggle faced by the lesbian character was more of an internal struggle and that her sexuality was portrayed as much more accepted by the community than her male counterparts in the movie.  The other plot involving the main character finding her father and sister (and brother as well) is well done and never treads into any sort of weird drama or melodrama about sexuality but stays on target of it being about her finding out more about herself and her family.  There’s a great subplot with a very Hispanic looking cop who was adopted and raised in a rural Pennsylvania town and how he still is looked at with suspicion by people in the town even though he grew up there. It all works very well together and everyone is above part in acting. It’s a great little indie comedy that I hope finds an audience.

After My Best Day we saw the absolute best film of the day: Saturday Morning Massacre. Wow double wow. If you like 80s horror and some of the decent 90s horror and you like Scooby Doo and you like incredibly fun horror movies, well this movie was made just for you.

Saturday Morning Massacre is a little indie horror movie filmed in Austin, Texas and it basically follows four friends and their trusty dog in the year 1994 as they drive around the US in a minibus investigating haunted houses.  It opens up mid-investigation complete with a ceiling crawling monsters that the kids quickly figure out are simply projections. They quickly walk in on a child porn ring in progress (with children locked up in dog cages) and we cut straight away to the local investigator (played by Sonny Carl Davis with hilarious similarity to a crazy, yelling Terry Bradshaw) explaining how stupid what they did was and how it ruined their investigation.  Post-investigation they are having dinner and unable to really even pay for dinner when they receive a call by a banker to investigate a haunted mansion the bank is trying to develop.  Not only does it promise to be a fun investigation, but the bank is willing to pay quite a lot of money to them to find out what’s going on in the house.  And something IS going on since as soon as the banker hangs up his phone we see him brutally attacked. 

Cut to the next morning as they drive to the site and their minibus breaks down.  This is where we get our full-on character introductions. Nancy is the heart, soul and passion behind the whole operation.  She’s genuinely fascinated by everything they are doing and thinks they do it well.  Scooby Gang Analog: Thelma. Gwen is the ‘pretty girl’ who is a little ditzy but also loyal and unafraid. Scooby Gang Analog: Daphne. Chad is the preppy, sweater-vest wearing skeptic that is along for the ride in a lot of ways and essentially bankrolls the entire group with his van and possibly his family’s money. Scooby Gang Analog: Fred.  Floyd is the stoner and owner of Hamlet, the half Great Dane half something else dog mix. He’s there for the Nancy, basically. Scooby Gang Analogs: Shaggy and Scooby. Officer Lance is the local cop who knows all about the haunted house. No, seriously. He really does. He went to grade school there, in fact. He knows what teenagers’ bodies and their parts were found where on the premises. He’s also accepting and laid back of the fact that some weird shit has been going down there for years and that figuring it out is kind of beyond his grasp.

For every “spend a night in the haunted house” movie you’ve seen and hated, this is the one that makes up for it.  The actors hit their characters spot on as real-world analogs to the Scooby Gang.  Officer Lance is probably one the single best film cops in a horror movie ever captured on screen.  He is really amazing and I would welcome an Officer Lance horror movie sequel to this movie. (Or even a prequel would work.)

As they spend the night in the movie, things get weirder and weirder, and it turns out there are two reasons for the weirdness.  One is very logical and the other is logical but also downright horrific and terrifying.  I really don’t mind giving things away for most movies, but for this one I hate giving up the hilarious and terrifying reveals that go on.  The movie goes down the path of weird fucked up families for the ages and makes them scary and disgusting and makes you squirm in your seat to get away from them.

Every moment with the main cast is great and unlike so many indie horror films you never feel too much loss of momentum as the story moves along and the kills begin to mount.  There was a post-screening Q&A with the director Spencer Parsons and that was as much fun as the movie itself. He said this entire project from inception to last day of filming took five weeks.  Five weeks.  Literally someone thought of an idea, and five weeks later they wrapped shooting.  They wrote the script in three weeks (with horror movies playing in the background 24/7) and shot the whole thing in ten days. Edits and scoring took longer, of course, but this movie looks like a two-month shoot with $10 million dollars to play with.  The speed of turnaround is 21st Century Roger Corman levels but with the end-result looking more like an 80s or 90s studio big-budget horror movie.  The score is fantastic as well, as it’s scored with incredible heavy death-metal sounding beats across the board.

I honestly can’t recommend Saturday Morning Massacre enough to horror movie fans, to haunted house fans, and, in many ways to fans of the genre that might be called “crazy fucked up families”.

 

And that wraps up Saturday.  Last year I held out for one more movie, but this year was weird in schedule and Sunday was going to start early.  Next up will be the Sunday films, including a kids’ puppet film about a journey of self-discovery, a documentary about a late 80s US television women’s wrestling league, another documentary about the birth, death and re-birth of modern skateboarding and a narrative about something that I have yet to figure out but which almost doesn’t matter.  I can’t actually wait to write about the last one because it was so weird and so wonderful.

SmallerDemon can be found on Twitter

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