By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Hardcore fans of truly indie work were rewarded with Miguel (Star Maps) Arteta‘s wickedly funny Chuck & Buck, a queer story of desire that’s unlike any you‘ve ever seen (the script was written by Mike White), in which a mildly retarded man sets out to reclaim his first and only true love -- a now-hetero music-biz executive who’s about to be married. Writer-director Karyn Kusama set off a well-earned bidding frenzy with her first feature, Girlfight, the tale of an angry young Latina who takes up boxing as an outlet for her rage and slowly falls in love with one of the guys who trains in her gym. Though a few who saw the film scoffed that it‘s merely a variation on Rocky, the grit and detail captured by Kusama (as well as the intense performance by newcomer Michelle Rodriguez) make the film absolutely riveting. Other standouts were Jim McKay’s Our Song, a freeform love poem to the inner lives of inner-city girls; Zeinabu Irene Davis‘ Compensation, which perfectly straddled the line between experimentation and accessibility in its depiction of black love across the centuries; Rodrigo Garcia’s intimate, lyrical Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, a female-driven, reined-in Magnolia that‘s filled with top performances by Holly Hunter, Amy Brenneman and Kathy Baker.
The true gems of the festival were in the shorts and documentaries, where race, class, history and sexuality bounced off one another to breathtaking (and frequently tear-jerking) effect. Barak Goodman and Daniel Anker’s Scottsboro: An American Tragedy, Daniel McCabe and Paul Stekler‘s George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire, Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffmann‘s Long Night’s Journey Into Day, and Tod S. Lending‘s wrenching Legacy all put their cameras right up against the issues in ways that get to the heart of bigotry and its lingering effects while grappling with its causes. Stylistically, they range from the polished, well-funded sleekness of Scottsboro, in which the 1931 trial of nine young black men accused of raping two white women is examined in painstaking detail, to the raw and stark Legacy, which tracks a black family three generations deep on welfare as it makes the wrenching journey to self-sufficiency. On the flip side, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato pile unnecessary camp and kitsch onto their subject in The Eyes of Tammy Faye (weird, distorting camera angles; heavy-handed music), yet Ms. Bakker emerges as a very cool, resilient, politically ahead-of-her-time heroine brought down less by her own greed than by the machinations of Jerry Falwell and his power-hungry Christian soldiers.
My personal favorites were Laurie Collyer’s documentary Nuyorican Dream and Peter Sollett‘s short Five Feet High and Rising. Coming fast on the heels of ”The Year of the Latino,“ these two films couldn’t be more different in achieving the same goals: restoring complexity and humanity to the latest fetishized subculture. Nuyorican Dream follows five years in the life of the Torres clan, a poor New York Puerto Rican family that battles drugs, the prison industry, and a host of illnesses and social obstacles on a daily basis. Collyer has a compassionate eye as she captures minute details and then places them in a crucial larger political context. She makes clear the connection between white supremacy and poverty, between institutionalized racism and the endurance of the ghetto. At the screening I attended, audience members wept openly at some of the more painful passages. Sollett‘s beautiful Five Feet moved me deeply with its simplicity and sly subversion. Where so many recent films use the urban milieu and its inhabitants as a metaphor for the savagery of the modern world, Sollett flips that approach on its head. He tracks two days in the life of Victor (15-year-old newcomer Victor Rasuk, a natural talent), a sweet, budding heartthrob with a crush on a neighborhood beauty. The kids in the film swear profusely, step gingerly into the ring of sexual awareness, and swagger with patented New York attitude. But Sollett catches an aching vulnerability beneath all the posturing. There’s no forced agenda, yet the film was one of the most genuinely political I saw; it simply captured everyday life. And Sollett emerged as a director I can‘t wait to see more from.
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