Filler Fest of the West

The Arizona International Film Festival Promises The Good, Bad and Ugly Of Cinematic Excursions.
By Stacey Richter

FILM FESTIVALS ARE sort of like flea markets--if you're willing to wade through the junk you can usually find a prize. This year's Arizona International Film Festival, a 10-day, jam-packed schedule of features, documentaries, videos and shorts from around the world, is no exception. In past years the festival has brought Tucson some of the hippest, most original movies around as well as some of the worst examples of amateurism. Many of the films have smaller budgets and are independently produced; once you're in that world, anything can happen. Here are some worth checking out:

Cinema Fun, a feature directed by Rafael Zelinsky, is the tale of two out-of-control teenage girls who kill an old woman for...well...the fun of it. The story is told in an elliptical style, with flashbacks in color in a black-and-white present. It's kind of like an MTV-style Heavenly Creatures, with a teen suburban wasteland thrown in for good measure. The acting by teens Renee Humphrey and Alicia Witt is terrific. Witt, in particular (who also plays the daughter on the TV show Cybil), is entrancing as a bouncy Sarah Jessica Parker-type with a knife.

Another film that deals with the problems of young people is Follow the Bitch, a feature by Julian Stone. Though the production values and acting are at times flat, the story of an all-boy card game invaded by a woman is surprisingly warm, smart and well-written. This movie embraces the tired old battle of the sexes and actually gives it a new twist. The characters occasionally stray into annoying territory where they say stuff like "men are so..." and "women are all so...," but in the end, all redeem themselves gracefully.

A calmer film, Cold Fever, is the strained but endearing story of a Japanese yuppie who foregoes a vacation in Hawaii to perform a memorial service for his parents in Iceland. Some of the actors and crew here have split off from director Jim Jarmusch's camp, and Cold Fever blithely borrows the Jarmusch aesthetic of quiet quirkiness. Though marred by irritating performances by Lili Taylor and Fisher Stevens, the charm of Masatoshi Nagase, who plays the son, and the strange juxtaposition of Japanese and Icelandic cultures, make this film interesting.

Image A Great Day in Harlem, by Jean Bach, is a fine documentary nominated for an Academy Award. The film tells the story of a photograph taken in 1958 by Art Kane for Esquire magazine. Against all odds he managed to assemble an incredible number of jazz greats at an early hour on a Harlem street corner. The film includes archival footage as well as modern-day interviews of mumbling icons like Dizzy Gillespie. A Great Day is worth seeing for the sheer coolness cats like Thelonius Monk exude; the witty, jazz-style editing is an extra treat. Another documentary worth checking out is A Gringo in Mañanaland, a video collage of archival footage of past and present Latin stereotypes that took years of research to compile. Also noteworthy is Miss Sarajevo, an intentionally messy, gritty look at the surreal quality of life in Sarajevo during the war, featuring the toughest little street urchins ever captured on videotape.

The festival is also a great place to check out short films, which are generally impossible to see any place else. The Hardly Boys in Hardly Gold is a short, clever film by William Wegman, the guy who photographs his Weimaraners dressed up and splayed out in various poses. In this he costumes his dogs as sleuths and has them, in true Hardy Boys style, solve an insipid mystery. For pure entertainment value, you can't beat dogs dressed in human clothing. Other shorts worth checking out are Lick of Fury, Matthew Sidle's semi-musical about Skunk Boy, a put-upon creature who changes the world with his magical lick; and Dinner, a theatrical, surreal nightmare of family life with really cool sets, by Phoenix filmmaker Penelope Price.

Some interesting films from the archives include Arizona Dream, a 1992 French production never before released in this country, shot here in Southern Arizona and starring anguished heartthrob Johnny Depp; and Highway Patrolman, a film in Spanish by Alex Cox--director of Repo Man and Sid and Nancy--about a Mexican cop.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a whole lot more movies out there, some great, some bad. So there's a question you have to ask yourself--do you feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?

The Arizona International Film Festival runs April 18 through 28 at Crossroads Festival, Gallagher Theater and The Screening Room. Call 628-1737 or 622-2262 for more information. TW

Visit the official Arizona International Film Festival web site for additional information.

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