Feisty Festival

Step Aside, Cannes, Arizona Takes A Shot At Film Frenzy.

By Stacey Richter

IT'S BEEN WONDERFUL watching the evolution of the Arizona Film Festival. Each year has brought a wider variety of films to Tucson from Arizona and around the world. This year's festival, running from April 16 through 26, has more movies, fewer repeat showings, more personal appearances by filmmakers (more than 40 are scheduled) and an expanded roster of venues. In fact, there are so many tempting offerings, at so many different locations, in such a compressed period of time, that the choices can seem overwhelming. But there's an order to the madness: Just keep an eye on the category listings in the program; and remember, the Arizona Film Festival, like most festivals, is full of exotic movies. You can expect to see some of the best and worst films of the year here. Be adventurous and buy a pass.

Cinema This year's festival initiates two new categories: a showcase of national cinema (New Irish Cinema), and a competition category called The Reel Frontier. The Reel Frontier has five sections: Best narrative, best feature-length documentary, best short documentary, best short narrative, and best videoscape. All the entries will be shown throughout the festival, with a special screening for the winners at the end of the festival.

Some of the more interesting films among the finalists are from Arizona filmmakers. Robert Loomis' feature Dog Years is a goofy quest-story about a tough-looking skinhead with a good heart, trying to rescue his adored Dalmatian, Neechee, from drug dealers. Reviews have compared Loomis' style to that of an early Tarantino, so you can expect a lot of tough talk and waving guns. The sheer exuberance of Dog Years is winning, and it's always a pleasure to see Tucson locations represented on film. Other Arizona entries include Elephants & Grass, by Lisa Wise and Jeff Imig, a documentary that examines the human cost of the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba; Number 13, by Michael Toubassi, a short film about a Paletero having a bad day in the barrio; and Mommie Queerest, by Beverly Seckinger, a short video about a girl's personal journey, fueled by a lack of "closet space."

The New Irish Cinema program brings a sampling of Irish movies to Tucson, including The McCourts of Limerick, which marks the directorial debut of Conor McCourt, the nephew of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt. This documentary brings together the four McCourt brothers to reminisce about growing up in Limerick, and will be introduced by the director, who should be a good talker, if he's anything like his uncles. Also showing is Draiocht, the story of an 11-year-old boy growing up in Ireland in the 1960s, from a screenplay by actor Gabriel Byrne. Brood, an evocative short film heralded as "the first Irish poem to be adapted for the big screen," is based on a poem by Ian Kilroy--a sort of Irish version of Howl. The Very Stuff, from director Lisa Mulcahy (who will be present to introduce the film), is about a young girl trying to make sense of her mother's suicide, and has some of the wit and spirit of Jane Campion's early films. More than a dozen other Irish films round out the series.

Perhaps the most promising series of all is the Premiere Showcase, which brings otherwise overlooked feature-length films by acclaimed directors to town. We can look forward to finally seeing Happy Together, by beloved Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai, who won the Best Director award at Cannes in 1997 for this film. Wong's lushy visual, idiosyncratic storytelling style is brought to bear upon this story about a gay couple who are in fact miserable together, and incapable of doing much about it.

Also showing is Conspirators of Pleasure, by the Czech surrealist master Jan Svankmajer. Svankmajer's spooky, layered animation style has been wildly influential, inspiring filmmakers like The Brothers Quay and Tim Burton. Conspirators of Pleasure is an almost wordless, live-action animated film, featuring human actors, about a variety of people in Prague preparing for their personal, sexual, autoerotic "feasts" with the aid of a variety of eclectic objects. Hmmm.

Other notable films to be shown in the Premiere Showcase include Frozen, by Wu Ming, which translates "No Name." This film was too controversial in China, apparently, for the director to feel comfortable using his own name. Frozen is about a depressed performance artist who stages four faux-suicidal pieces, one for each season of the year. The final involves the artist melting a block of ice with his own body heat. He dies of hypothermia. Also showing is For Ever Mozart, by legendary French director Jean-Luc Godard. In what has been called a "ravishingly beautiful" film, Godard's cast quixotically sets out to war-torn Sarajevo to stage a play. Godard weaves in references to other movies and to his own work in this film about a world in which themes seem to compulsively repeat themselves. On a lighter note, there's the film O Amor Natural, by Brazilian director Heddy Honigmann. Honigmann gave elderly Rio de Janerians erotic verse by Carlos Drummond de Andrade (poems published after his death, as he feared they would be declared pornographic) to read aloud. Rather than being offended by the poems, the elderly readers were delighted, and used them as an opportunity to talk a little about their own sexual histories.

And this is just the beginning. There are also films from the archives, a program of videos to be broadcast on TCI cable (channel 64), a series of workshops for producers on everything from securing funding for an independent film to documenting different cultures with sensitivity. All of this, packed into 10 days, because it's a festival. TW

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