Film Festival Treats Cleveland to Cinematic Delights
Just before spring break, Cleveland pulled out the big screens. The 31st annual Cleveland International Film Festival was held March 21–March 25 at Tower City Cinemas downtown. Organized by the Cleveland Film Society, this year’s festival featured 239 films, including around 100 shorts, from over 40 countries across six continents.
This year boasted many highly anticipated films and the works of several big-name filmmakers. Along with The Ten, directed by David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer) and Angel-A by Luc Besson, many Sundance submissions and popular crossovers from other festivals were shown. Many of these works have received a lot of press buzz and have already been picked up by larger companies for major distribution.
With so many high profile films in the lineup, it’s no surprise that 2007 was the most successful year in CIFF history. Not only did the festival show more films and have more filmmakers in attendance than ever, but the festival also gained more success fiscally. With a total of 52,753 moviegoers in attendance over the ten-day festival period and a whopping 7,967 people on the busiest day alone, the CIFF broke all previous records.
However, the CIFF is not just about quantity — the concentration of quality in many of the films shown is astounding. Just by looking at the award-winners of the festival, as well as the still-great losers, the CIFF’s thirst for good cinema is obvious. The big winner of the festival, and the only film to win more than one award, was Logan Smalley’s Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life. Other winners included The Melon Route, Mr. Pilipenko and his Submarine, Full Disclosure, Hibernation, Moi and West Bank Story. For the most part, though, awards went to a handful of the many touching documentaries shown.
Though the CIFF is a fairly old, mid-sized film festival, it is one of the largest in the Midwest. Its goal is to bring quality films from around the world to the people of Cleveland. Along with various film showings, this year the festival offered panels with 74 visiting filmmakers, a retrospective director highlight on Rolf de Heer, a Cultural Journeys program and a large selection of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender films. Because of its international focus, the film festival’s award categories are eclectic: there are awards for European films, documentaries, social consciousness in film, student films and best films, as well as an audience-selected award.
As I was employed by the CIFF, I became acquainted with the festival’s films. Here’s a sampling:
Five snowboarders stranded in an abandoned hotel in the Jotunheimen Mountains find a pickaxe-wielding serial killer living in the basement. Although this is a seemingly shallow slasher film formula, Cold Prey is anything but that. The film’s attention to character depth, fresh cinematography, dramatic interactions and plot twists result in an intensely gritty and suspenseful product. This movie far surpasses many, if not all, American slasher films of the last 30 years in terms of complexity and cohesiveness.
A sequel to a film festival favorite, Hal Hartley’s 1997 film Henry Fool, Fay Grim is a wry comedy about international espionage with a stellar ensemble cast comprised of Parker Posey, Jeff Goldblum, James Urbaniak and Thomas Jay Ryan. The plot centers around Grim (Posey) and her search for her exiled husband, Simon (a.k.a. Henry Fool, played by Urbaniak).
Unfortunately, she is not the only one looking for him. Various government agencies are searching for Fool and his manuscripts, which pose a threat to U.S. national security. What ensues is a tongue-in-cheek race to see who can find him first. Although the actors did well with the material given to them, the story was too fragmented and flakey to drive home any type of emotional or political message. The film lacked a driving rhythm, dragging its audience along for a boring ride.
Glue is a bittersweet story of three adolescents in Patagonia and the ways in which they cope with their harsh and often mundane realities. Through scenes of unbridled sexuality, drug use (huffing glue) and music blasted through headphones, Dos Santos creates a vivid tone of numbness that plagues both his characters and the audience. With beautifully oversaturated and occasionally jerky shots backed by a perfectly chosen soundtrack, Glue brings the viewer into the emotional world of its subjects.
Based in downtown Cleveland and directed by local filmmaker Ted Sikora, Hero Tomorrow chronicles the (mis)adventures of a struggling comic book artist, David, and his depressive, nerdy girlfriend Robyn. David is the ultimate deadbeat. His comic is unsuccessful and his relationship is rocky, forcing him to mow lawns and squat on a friend’s couch.
As David’s failures become more apparent, his comic book hero, Apama, takes over his consciousness as he attempts to bring adventure into his sub-par life. This film attempts to recreate the sleek geek-chic of The Matrix, but without successful results. A few scenes are beautifully and creatively shot, but for the most part, the production values are upsettingly low and the actors’ performances are amateur, at best. The choppy dialogue is forced out of a piecemeal plot, making the film moderately entertaining, but not worth a second viewing.
Wain’s newest out-there comedy is based on the Ten Commandments. With more star power behind him than ever, the cast includes Jessica Alba, Adam Brody, Paul Rudd, Famke Janssen, Liev Schreiber, Oliver Platt, Winona Ryder, Michael Ian Black and many more. Wain presents ten intersecting stories told by an average-Joe narrator (Rudd).
Many of the parables are irreverently hilarious. There is a story of a newlywed woman falling in love and in lust with a ventriloquist’s dummy, feuding neighbors buying more and more CAT scan machines with disastrous results, nudists, an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator attempting to play a father and prison “marriages,” just to name a few.
No subject is sacred — in fact, many taboos pushed a little too far — and many of the vignettes sardonically examine very serious concepts.
Although I was laughing throughout most of this movie, I came away unimpressed. Wain may brilliantly get his momentary laughs, but there is no purpose behind this film. As an audience, we never got an answer to the question, “Why the Ten Commandments?” Other than using the Commandments as an interesting format and structure, Wain ignores many directions in which the film could have gone; in the end, it lacks substance and an overall meaning.