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Diamonds in the Rough
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While Los Angeles seems to host two or three film festivals a week, Dances With Films, now in its 11th year, stands out as one of the few with a committed ideological thrust (no “name” actors, directors, writers, etc. are allowed). The highlights of this year’s festival span genre and form, with one of the strongest entries being Clint Hutchison’s horror film Conjurer (co-written with David Yarbrough). After a young, happily married young couple suffer the stillborn birth of their first child, they move to the countryside to recover, only to find that their new home was once the stomping grounds of a malevolent “conjurer woman,” whose dark spirit still haunts the place. While there are some highly effective special effects, Hutchison relies more on a masterful deployment of sound (and tension-stoking silence), lighting and crisp editing to create a thick mood of gothic dread that gives way to nightmare apparitions. Brett Mazurk’s Diamonds in the Rough fuses two currently popular documentary subjects — global hip-hop and strife in Africa — to tell the story of Silas, son of a slain Ugandan revolutionary, who returns home from Canada (where his family fled after being brutalized by the government) to bring his own message of revolution via hip-hop. Though Silas is just so-so as a rapper, his passion and the movie’s succinct but detailed refresher course on Uganda’s tortured history are riveting. Director Shohei Shiozaki and writer Alec McAulay strike a host of conflicting tones in their Japanese short film, The Errand, about a 7-year-old girl torn between the pleas of her wheezing, dying father who wants her to buy him a pack of cigarettes, and her furious mother who commands her not to. The film veers from cuteness (the young lead actress is unbearably adorable) to droll humor, and anger to tenderness a tad too quickly, but is so well crafted and acted that you long for more time with the characters. Also recommended: Buskers (documentary); I F*cking Hate You (short film). (Sunset 5; through Thurs., July 31. www.danceswithfilms.com.)