Favorite

Cinematic Orgy 

Shorts, documentaries and a chance to talk to filmmakers--yes, it's Arizona International Film Festival Time

Every year for the last 15 years (not counting 1991 and 1992, the so-called "freak years"), Arizona has been blessed with its own international film festival, surprisingly called the Arizona International Film Festival.

Even more surprising is that it takes place right here in Tucson, the 32nd largest American city in the world! And yet, much larger and better-known cities like Cleveland, Milwaukee and El Paso do not have their own film festivals. In your face, El Paso!

So, Tucson is incredibly lucky to have Giulo Scalinger, commandant of the Screening Room, to put this thing together. We really owe him a debt of gratitude, which you can pay via the admission price to the festival (U.S. currency, please).

What you get for that admission price is a chance to see films that will never be shown on Cinemax's Max After Dark, but which are way better than anything Shannon Tweed or Tanya Roberts ever made, except for Night Eyes II, which is a masterpiece.

The best thing to do at a film festival, besides ogle the stars (Jeff Fahey, who you may remember from Lawnmower Man and the vastly underrated Darkman III: Die, Darkman, Die, is a confirmed attendee, and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston are, at this time, unconfirmed) is watch the shorts.

Short films used to be shown before long films in real movie theaters, until enlightened cinema chains realized that American audiences would much rather watch 40 minutes of Pepsi commercials than have a chance to see great short works by the sellouts of tomorrow.

So, now you have to go to the fests to see this stuff. And, really, go see this stuff. This year's festival has some amazing shorts; of the ones I've seen, the best is probably Are You Feeling Lonely. It might be the best movie I've seen this year, and it's only 14 minutes long. I don't want to give too much away, but imagine Taxi Driver re-done as a dark comedy about a mortuary janitor who looks for romance with the families of the recently deceased. The lead character is the most interesting and disturbing thing to come out of New York City since the plunger incident, and the script is wildly inventive, creating its own dialect for the lonely and diminutive "Baddi." Do not miss!

Also top-notch in the shorts department is Scrabble, which is a real-time exploration of why you shouldn't play Scrabble with people you love in an adult manner. It's a full-length relationship condensed to less than 10 minutes, and it includes a 50-point word score for using all seven letters.

Stuff That Bear takes a whopping 19 minutes to tell the tale of the last taxidermist in Bucharest and his moral dilemma: stuff a bear, have sex with a beautiful stripper, or flee to the United Kingdom in a meat truck? As someone who's been there, I know it's a tough choice. (I picked the meat truck and still regret it.)

The best thing about these shorts is that they show in groups for a single admission price. The shorts showings are your best value, because you get lots of films, and if one or two of them suck (which, let's be honest, happens) one or two of them will probably also be great, and it's not a long wait to see the good ones.


There's a reason, though, that the films vary in quality so much at these fests: No focus groups were employed to mediocritize them. It's Nietzschean-elitist, undemocratic filmmaking at its best--the antithesis of modern Hollywood, where everything is smoothed out and all vestiges of art and integrity are removed so that everyone, everywhere, will be equally unimpressed. Instead of such sanitized pabulum, at the fest, you get to see actual visionary work by people who don't care if Joe Redstate wants them to go to hell. Joe Redstate isn't watching, and if he were, he wouldn't like what he saw.

Like, for example, the excellent documentary Paternal Instinct. It's about two men who love each other in the way that men who love other men love the men who are with them. Not only do these men have this treasonous and fulfilling attitude towards love;, they're so un-American that they go and raise a family by employing a Christian witch to beget children for them. It's a weird and very true story about a modern family that's kind of like Dick Cheney's family, only no one in the family has written a perverted novel called Sisters. (Thank you, Lynne Cheney!).

Documentaries, while we're on the topic, are another benefit of film festivals. Very few docs get much distribution, and the ones that do show at very few theaters. While Tucson is blessed with The Loft, which is courageous enough to show documentaries, one theater cannot fully cover our documentary needs. The festival, though, pretty much makes up for it, with screenings like The Watershed, about a family that raised itself when dad left for greener leg and mom decided to get real, real drunk. There's also Cine Sin Fronteras, which is a series of documentaries, features and shorts about the experience of living near, crossing and being hassled by the very concept of the border.

Beyond the docs and shorts, there are two other categories of films you can only catch at festivals: the medium-length film and the experimental film.

Most of the experimental work at this year's fest are shorts, so it's kind of a two-fer, and there are at least a couple you should try to check out. Drop follows a drop of water through a real and computer-enhanced cityscape. It's so pretty you'll want to ask it to dinner, but you can't, because it's just a movie and better-looking than you and thus out of your league.

Also cool in a pretentious and very French way is Bug, which includes a lot of computer morphing of real actresses and inhuman creatures. Basically, there's some kind of plot about Sleeping Beauty waking up in the 41st century while being protected by drag queens and chased by a modeling career. While this sort of thing is de rigueur for young French girls, it will seem novel and vachement chouette to us 'mericans.


Among the medium-length films, one of the better ones I got a look at was Veronika's Birthday (39 minutes). In it, director/writer/star/attractive-person-in-a-bikini Jessica Burstein explores why it is that you should never visit your grandmother. Horrifyingly realistic dialogue will make you wince as you watch poor Veronika (Burstein) get the Jewish granddaughter treatment while she struggles with her sexuality. The film's got the kind of cringe-worthy intensity that made Todd Solondz and Paul Thomas Anderson famous without making them into the kind of evil buttholes who'd direct a Harry Potter movie just for the money. Best of all, Burstein herself will be at the fest, and you can ask her if she really has such a pleasant family and if she'd like to come to your house for a quiet dinner and some nice, normal conversation about the weather.

Also interesting and of a length that doesn't fit in normal movie houses (about 55 minutes) is Deadline, a Russian film which starts off like a bad Twilight Zone episode and then gets all clever, just like the Russians did with that Sputnik thing. Director Pavel Ruminov is going to be around, so you can practice your Slavic language skills with him while asking him how he got that cool shot in the bathroom.

I really like the idea of the medium-length film. Often, a filmmaker only has about 45 minutes worth of story, but because theaters don't show films that are shorter than 72 minutes, they're forced to pad it out, and next thing you know, Frodo is saying goodbye to everyone in Middle Earth for, like, an hour and a half. With the fests, films that fit precisely into a 29- or 52-minute slot have a place, and you get to see them with all the plot and none of the fat.

Or maybe you just go to the festivals for stuff that's too weird for the mainstream. If so, you'll want to check out the Midnight Movies series. Strangely, due to the angle of incidence of the sun in the Sonoran desert and some state Legislature rules about daylight-saving time being against God, the midnight shows all start at 11 p.m. Don't let that dissuade you, though.

Amongst the late-night festivities are Undead, an Australian zombie movie (think of the possibilities for wise-cracks at the expense of both Australians and flesh-eating dead people!); the Sundance hit Die, Mommie, Die, which is sort of a cross between Mommie Dearest and Mourning Becomes Electra, only with drag queen Charles Busch in the lead role; and everyone's favorite midnight movie, Toxic Avenger, with special bonus appearance by writer/director/mentally-unstable-person Lloyd Kaufman.

Or, you can shoot your whole indie outsider-art wad on a late-night screening of shorts which includes experimental work, gay cinema and general weird-film. It's everything you could want in a fest plus an audience full of people who didn't feel like going to see Rocky Horror that night. The program on April 16 features Mondo Ford, which I didn't get a look at, but which festival publicist Laurel Bullington assures me is the best thing going (it's supposed to be about the Kennedy assassination and the Roswell UFO crash, and was made by an Italian and an American, so it's got to be multo bene); Ladies Room, which is a short film made up of dozens of much shorter films, some only a few seconds long, all of which take place in ladies' rooms; Duke of Goo, about the mythical Duke of Goo and his quest for donuts; and The Rules, which, I'm told, is a filmic exploration of lesbian phone sex that does not feature Condoleezza Rice.

And speaking of Dr. Rice, there'll be a screening of the tremendously controversial film 11'09"01-September 11, which looks at the events of Sept. 11 from the perspective of 11 filmmakers from 11 countries, including such notable as Ken Loach (Sweet Sixteen) from the U.K., Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) from India, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu (21 Grams) from Mexico and Sean Penn, who is from a big country somewhere south of Canada.


Of course, there's more to do at these festivals then just go to anti-American films that support free speech and the right of assembly. You can also attend receptions, parties, workshops and the popular Music Café for after-film conversations with the filmmakers. It's your one chance each year to get drunk and get picked up by the next Stephen Spielberg, so don't miss out.

Or, if you're less into drunken star-loving and more into learning, there's the "Festival in the Schools," which this year will include screenings from Chris Gaines's Raw Art Works project, featuring films by at-risk teenagers, which I think means teenagers who are at-risk of getting hired by LucasArts.

And, of course, there's a lot more: there are awards, films from more than 24 but fewer than 26 countries, movies shot just down the street from you (Day of Redemption, starring superstar Jeff Fahey, was shot in Tucson, and Orphans and Angels features music by Tucsonan musical ensemble Blind Divine), a series of Chicano/a cinema, and more than a dozen world premieres, some of which might eventually be shown on prestigious cable television networks across the nation. In fact, if it weren't for festivals like this, young filmmakers would have nowhere to get their start, and America would be a cold, movie-less place, just like Mars. So, if that's what you want, just stay home and allow cinema itself to die.

More by James DiGiovanna

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • Nun Sense

    The Loft screen’s a documentary about a Tucson nun’s experience with a hallucinogenic in the Amazon
    • Dec 10, 2015
  • Krazy Kaufman

    Charlie Kaufman delivers his mind-blowing cinema craziness in animated Anomalisa
    • Jan 28, 2016

The Range

The Weekly List: 23 Things To Do In The Next 10 Days

Cinema Clips: Loving

Cinema Clips: The Eyes of My Mother

More »

Latest in Cinema Feature

  • Dark-Hearted Heart

    Nocturnal Animals wonderfully plays on the fears of husbands and wives with no happy endings in sight
    • Dec 8, 2016
  • Loving Loving

    The movie Loving might be the best cinematic representation of marriage and what it ultimately stands for
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Dark-Hearted Heart

    Nocturnal Animals wonderfully plays on the fears of husbands and wives with no happy endings in sight
    • Dec 8, 2016
  • Loving Loving

    The movie Loving might be the best cinematic representation of marriage and what it ultimately stands for
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • More »

Facebook Activity

© 2016 Tucson Weekly | 7225 Mona Lisa Rd. Ste. 125, Tucson AZ 85741 | (520) 797-4384 | Powered by Foundation