24 March 2003

Florida Film Fest Diary - Entry #10

So we made up for Saturday with Sunday, making it a day of full-immersion film festival to-ing and fro-ing. A nice finale.

The day started at 2pm with Machinima, a bag-o-tricks (and sadly not much else) of live-video-digital-manipulation things. Cute for an opening act, bad as the main course. Most of the digital manipulation was crude to put it mildly. Your TV weatherman does superior reality-altering tricks every night on the news. I suppose the big news here is that you can now do such things on your home computer. Yippee.

Most of the presentation revolved around the idea that you can take a game engine (the core programming and APIs that make things like Quake II create it's textures/landscapes "on the fly") and use it to do things other than strictly games. Well duh, the nerd in me thinks to himself, but the general public seems amused.

It's not that the core idea here is a bad one -- you are in effect creating "live films" by using live action to direct or interact with the instantly-generated backgrounds, sort of a living cartoon if you will. With sufficient computing power and software, you can point a video camera at a person and his movements will be fed into the computer with the output being that a computer-generated character moves and talks like a mirror image. Maybe this is big news out in the sticks, but I remember seeing this done back in the earliest days of TechTV, some five years ago. By talking to a blue screen, the host could "interact" with a computer-generated character a la Max Headroom. Yes, it probably took a $50,000 computer system to do it then, and today you can do it for about 10% of that cost.

This could set precedents for animated films, naturally, but I can't see it making much of an impact outside of that. Perhaps in a decade or so when the quality of the output rivals that of Pixar's rendered present-day stuff, okay.

From there we went quickly on to a real treat, The Sweatbox. My review of this film will be on Film Moi very shortly, but suffice to say that I attended it with a Disney contractor and he was vigourously nodding his head throughout.

Next up was a program of "International Shorts" and this year I'm glad to say the selection was outstanding. While not every film was a hit with me, the collection of them represented wide ranges of style, viewpoint and cultural background -- which is exactly what they should do.

We kicked off the program with some animated efforts, beginning with a couple of Angry Kid shorts (this festival will come up with any excuse to show more Angry Kid films!), Dolly and Swollen. They were ... well, Angry Kid films are becoming a commodity, they were typical of the bunch. I can't wait for the day when I can get like 50 of these little hit-n-run films on one DVD. Yeah.

This was followed by the slam-dunk favourite (and award winner for best int'l short) How Democracy Really Works. It was almost painful, particularly in Florida, to see how votes turn into electricity for the men's washroom at the Parliament building. More than a few in the audience clearly think as much of the voting process (and what effect it has on our leaders) as the filmmaker.

Then there was the Little Cow in yet another episode, A Small Christmas Problem! Oh this made us soooo happy, even though we didn't understand a word of it. Some kind soul had thoughtfully translated the Hungarian cow's lyrics into English, but printed it very small on a light blue piece of paper, which we were somehow supposed to read in the dark. Duh. Oh well, it was still hilarious. I predict Little Cow will soon be the next Net Star. You read it here first.

After these sure-fire hits came the "experimental" portion of the program. A Canadian film Flux, done in the style of Ralph Steadman's drug-addled drawings, brought us the cyclical nature of life; festival darling Signe Baumane from Latvia brought us her dream-interpretation piece Woman, which absolutely nobody understood but was nonetheless well received for it's breathtaking quantity of imagination; then we had Just A Little Bit of Love, a semi-animated semi-live-action piece where a lonely woman creates a life-size doll of her singing idol who comes to life -- in her mind.

The final part of the program was meant to be the "art as mirror" portion of the show, but was cut short by the omission of about 35 minutes worth of the program as two of the scheduled films did not make it in time. The Enzian, in a classy move, made up for this by leaving free passes for everyone to come back and take in a regular (non-festival) feature at a later date. Kudos to Enzian for this imaginative and crowd-pleasing idea.

The other shorts we did see included a Spanish film called Dos Mas, about two lovers, one's mother and the absent husband, and the dream made real (unfortunately). The motif, that of a educational tourist film of New York, actually ties everything together much better than I thought it would. A surprising if slow-moving piece.

The last short was Shadow Man, which definitely made the audience extremely edgy. A little girl gets lured inside a house where a couple of squatters reside. No harm comes to her, but was any intended? Were the men genuinely befriending the girl or preparing a great evil? The teenage sister didn't seem to mind ... what exactly happened there? You leave this film with more questions than answers, and maybe a little challenged. Good art.

Now all that would be enough for one day for most people, but not us! Oh no! We went straight over to the Park 11 Theatre (the unsung hero of the festival, helping out with a second screen and doing a mighty fine job overall) to see Tom Dowd and the Language of Music. I love documentaries about colourful characters and they don't get much more colourful than this guy. He recently passed away (just after the film was finally completed) and I had seen parts of this as a "work in progress" a couple of years ago. It's a marvellous tale both of Dowd's amazing life (started out as an intern at the Manhattan Project, moved into the music biz, almost single-handedly invented 8-track recording, Atlantic Records' soul repertoire and the Southern Music craze of the 70s) and the soundtrack of our lives ... the soulful music of the Motown acts (later Atlantic acts), the maturation of jazz, the evolution of rock-n-roll into "rock music" (his work with Cream and Eric Clapton being just one example) and later his promotion of Southern rock (yes that was him behind all those classic Southern hits). Everything this guy touched turned to gold, and the testimonials to him are unusually effusive even for a tribute film. You'll be amazed that one person could pack in this much livin'.

The evening ended not with the awards ceremony (I never go to these; they are dreadfully boring to be at in real life, and the winners are listed on an email or piece of paper just minutes after the ceremony ends anyway), but with Fritz Lang's 1953 noir classic, The Big Heat. By this point in his career, Lang's reputation as an innovator was fading away, but he still turned a more-or-less typical crime drama into a stylish, shocking symphony of violence and moody camera angles. The sudden and punctuated ugly moments in this film are not easily forgotten, and extremely well-played by the cast (Glenn Ford as Good, Lee Marvin as Evil, and the smoldering Gloria Grahame who shines above all of them as The Moll). I wasn't as impressed with the "recently struck 35mm print" as I should have been for a 50th anniversary release, but again seeing such movies on the big screen and in a group is a wholly different experience than seeing the same film on TV. The nuances of the performances and screenwork really come out. Well-shot, well-acted films really shine more on the theatre screen where they were intended to be seen, and The Big Heat does both its genre and its director proud showcased this way.

Now you might think this is where the diary ends -- the festival is over, right? Ah, but surprise! There's another entry coming. Stay tuned.

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