Sunday, December 21, 2014

AIFF 2014: Their Bests And My Bests - Features

I've had posts like this - where I compare my picks to the festival picks - because I've had real disagreements with the festival picks.  This year, I'm not too much in disagreement with the festival picks, but there are some films I'd like to focus on a bit more.

In this one I'll go on past the table of picks to talk about the features and the made in Alaska categories.

Category Festival PicksSteve's Picks
Feature* Best: The Ambassador to Bern
Runner-Up: Come To My Voice
Honorable Mention: I Believe In Unicorns 
Ambassador to Bern
Come to My Voice
Rocks in My Pocket
Documentary Best:  White Earth
Runner-Up:  Coney Island: Dreams For Sale
Honorable Mention: Seeds of Time
White Earth
Shield and Spear
Mala Mala
Barefoot Artist
Made in Alaska*
Best: Detective Detective Detective 
Runner-Up: Tracing Roots 
Honorable Mention: The Empty Chair 
The Empty Chair
Best: Till Then [Bis Gleich] 
Runner-Up: What Cheer 
Honorable Mention: How Hipólito Vázquez 
Found Magic Where He Didn’t Expect It 
Universal Language*
One Armed Man
Bis Gleich
Reaching Home
Into the Silent Sea
Super Short
Best: Four Brothers. Or Three. Wait…Three 
Runner-Up: Full-Windsor 
Honorable Mention: Enfilade 
** didn't see Four Brothers
Best: 365 
Runner-Up: Wire Cutters 
Honorable Mention: Ronald Gottlieb 
Speed Dating
Ronald Gottlieb and Moving Out


Not too much difference in our picks here.  There were not as many really good features this year as in the past.


Ambassador to Bern - Most everything worked in this intelligent drama about two Hungarian immigrants who break into the Hungarian embassy in Bern not long after the Russian invasion of Hungary and the execution of the former prime minister Nagy in 1958.  The characters are all real, three dimensional (except maybe Vermes), the light and pace and decency of everyone all reflect a different time and place.   Overall, a very satisfactory film.  All the people I talked to after the film (there's a video of audience reaction here) enjoyed it, called it intense, though they weren't all sure of the historical context.

Come To My Voice-  This Turkish film focuses on the personal burdens on Kurdish villagers in Turkey.  We see the grandmother and granddaughter as they struggle to get their son/father released from the Turkish soldiers.  The situations are very mundane yet tell a very big story with the dramatic mountain scenery almost a character in the movie.

Rocks In My Pocket - Was the wild, sardonic, extravagant, and brilliant tour of the mind of a  Latvian-American woman, exploring the history of her mental illness (depression) in her family in gorgeous animation.  Each frame is a piece of art.  The reactions I heard were all strong - people loved it or hated it. I'm in the former category.  It was a long involved story which interwove the history of Latvia in the 20th Century, the condition of women, and the migration of depression from generation to generation via the women in her family.  Was it too long as many complained?  I'm sure it could have been edited, but I couldn't tell you where.  Tying all the various threads together was one of the important parts of the film and that took time.  It just wasn't packaged like a typical Hollywood movie.  It requires people to go into a different mental and temporal space, the break loose from our cultural expectations of how a film is supposed to be paced.  Even if someone thought the story got too entangled or long (I didn't) you could just sit back and enjoy the rich imagery of the animation.

The other films I saw (all those in competition, but not all the features at the festival) were at a different level of overall quality.  To my surprise, I liked I Believe in Unicorns.  There was a certain amount of playing with the film images that could have been tacky, but worked.  The film told the story of a young girl and her first love.  The short affair was an escape from taking care of her disabled mom and her choice of boys was not the best.  It felt real and believable.
I also liked Appropriate Behavior and Listening.

One other feature I'd mention is the Mexican Consulate's offering - The Zebra.  It offered us a view of the Mexican revolution through the eyes of two young men who were headed north and looking to join one of the revolutionary groups, though their reason for joining one over the other had little to do with political ideology.   I suspect there is a lot of symbolism I missed.  Certainly the zebra of the title - not a painted horse, not a donkey with stripes, not a Yankee horse, or an African horse (as it was variously described in the film) - symbolized something about knowing what different revolutionary groups.  The theme of every man for himself also must have had more meaning than I understood.  Unfortunately I didn't think of any of these questions when the director was in Anchorage and I could ask him.

Made In Alaska

I only saw two films in this category - The Empty Chair and Kaltag, Alaska - which played together.  (I just checked and I did wee one more - WildLike which I discussed briefly elsewhere.)

So I can't judge how good the other films were.  But I can say that The Empty Chair was a very important film.  Greg Chaney, the film maker, was able to use his own interviews of still living members of the Juneau community who were around in the late 1930s and early 1940's - including some who were sent to internment camps in WWII for being Japanese-Americans - as well as archival footage and home movies from the time to capture an important historical event - the internment of Japanese-American citizens of Juneau in WW II and how the community reacted.  I've written more about what I liked about this film in an earlier post.   Without having seen more than a clip of Detective, Detective, Detective  , but having talked to people who did see it, I would wager a significant amount that in 10 years The Empty Chair will still be an important film - maybe even more so because the some of the people in it might no longer be alive - but the others will have been long forgotten.  I would rank The Empty Chair in among the best documentaries in the festival.

OK, I've gotten that off my chest.

I'll do one or two more posts like this that cover documentaries, shorts, super shorts, and animation.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.