Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cinequest Film Festival 2009

Life has been slightly out of whack for the last week or so while we've been attending one movie after another at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose. Out of character, we've sacrificed good health in the name of what seems like dozens of art film. In actuality we've only seen eight so far, but given that last night's film was a three-and-a-half-hour event, it's no wonder I feel feel cooked. Jeff's back is killing him, we've been eating out all week, and our workouts have ceased. But we've discovered, it's worth making sacrifices for good films.

Of all the films we've seen, two have been outstanding, most very good, two were funny, and only one one made us want to slit our wrists. Given that almost every film dealt with heavy topics like plight of the poor and exploited in the world, I'd say this is pretty good. We've traveled to every corner of the globe in these films to see a slice of life's challenges for modern day Pakistanis/Indians, Israelis/Palestinians, Nicaraguans, and American-Vietnamese and historical challenges for Canadian Eskimos, ancient Babylonians, 16th-century French, and 1920s Americans. I feel like I'm back in college cramming for my history degree--exhausted, but loving it. And, yeah, I never been much good at pacing myself.

If you're an independent film lover, find a film festival--there are hundreds of them across the country--and go. The best part is having the filmmaker and actors in the audience stand up and take questions at the end. While we waited in line for the premiere of All About Dad, we heard the guy in front of us say to his friends "Yeah, they don't have a special line for the stars." Sure enough, there he was on the big screen as the movie opened. For this film, a San Jose drama/comedy about the generation divide in Vietnamese-American families, most of the films actors were present for the Q&A after the film. Almost all were professional actors except the star--the guy who played dad. We loved the filmmaker's story about how he couldn't find a professional actor for that role (he wanted actors who could speak both English and Vietnamese and apparantently, it wasn't an easy task.). So he put up an ad for anyone to try out, and only one guy responded. He got the part. "Dad" was a hoot in the film and charmed us during the Q & A with his over-the-top excitement about his new experience as an actor.

Here's a synopsis of the movies we saw. Some of these will be readily available at other film festivals, some might make it, and for everyone, read below about Intolerance:

Dust of Words--I can't help mentioning this film even though it's last year's film. I loved it then and can't stop thinking about it. Poetic, spiritually haunting and sublime.

Ramchand Pakistani
--This may have been our favorite film. Visually beautiful and tender. I'm struck by how much was communicated in this movie with the sparest of dialogue.

Heart of Stone--I'm extremely hopeful that this documentary will inspire someone to make it into a Hollywood feature film. It has all the elements of for the making of a mainstream movie, and it's a subject near and dear to my heart. While on the surface, it looks like your typical Stand and Deliver movie, this movie has a unique angle on this genre and points the way for a radically different approach for solving one of our nation's most important issues. The timing is right for this movie, and the filmmaker has a connection that makes it highly likely Obama will see it.

All About Dad--Someone during the Q&A described this movie as a Vietnamese-American sitcom. It's a good description. It's really the story of every immigrant family who struggles with the divide between the new generation and the old. It's a San Jose made movie that feels particularly relevant with the recent Little Saigon/Nguyen recall debacle that has gotten national attention. The best part of being in the packed audience for the premiere of this movie was hearing the young Vietnamese-American audience belly laugh over parts that the filmmaker nailed culturally. Having a special affinity for Vietnamese-Americans, I enjoyed learning more about their world.

The Necessities of Life--This film was Canada's selection for the Oscar's best foreign film category. People have slammed this movie as a cliche in blog posts, but I disagree. One of the things these critics miss is a message about how much we've lost as a modern culture living our lives surrounded by concrete and driven by light switches. This film, among many things, celebrates the power of living a simple life by the rhythms of nature.

For My Father--Some people thought this was the best film at the film festival, we thought it was very good. There's a lot to say about this film, but for now, I'll keep it at that.

Intolerance--A 1916 silent film. For any serious film lover this film is a must. Watch the schedule at your local preserved old movie theater with a pipe organ. See it with a live organist. It's a hoot, and it's important message about intolerance in the world is timeless. Griffith is a lover of Jesus' message and example, but not a lover of religious intolerance.

Esther's Inheritance--Beautiful cinematography. Great acting. And, I'm sorry, I just don't get it.

El Camino--We wanted to slit our wrists at the end. This movie needed an editor. Painfully long. This was the only film we attended that the audience didn't applaud at the end.

There are two more days left.

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