Tuesday, December 20, 2016

AIFF2016: My Picks Alongside The Festival's Picks

I don't have any serious issues with the Festival winners this year as I have had in the past.  Maybe I'm just mellowing, but I think the quality the films in competition was generally higher this year than in recent years.

But there are some films which I thought got overlooked and I'd like to point them out.  There are others that I might have added to this list had I seen them.

The films in competition* in the various categories are listed below with the festival winners bolded.

[*These are films the programmers picked as the best of the selected films and 'in competition' for a prize.]

Demimonde (Hungary) Winner
Donald Cried (USA)
First Girl I Loved (USA) First Runner Up
Heredity (Columbia)
Planet Outtakring (Austria)
Youth in Oregon (USA) Honorable Mention

I could argue why any of these films should have won the top prize.  All had strengths that made them strong contenders.  I think Demimonde was a fine pick.  Youth in Oregon was also a good movie, though it was a Hollywood film with some well known actors - less of a film festival picture.

Here are my top three,   not in any particular order.

I would have put Donald Cried in the top three.  It had a very powerful and complicated lead character who was played amazingly by the actor Kris Avedisian.  This was a powerful film about going home, but also about making amends, as an adult, for treating people badly as a teen.  Here's a post I did after seeing Donald Cried.

And Planet Ottakring was an adult fairy tale of a movie set in Ottakring, a real working class neighborhood in Vienna.  This film has clear cut good guys and bad guys, with Frau Hahn as a Cruella Deville class female villain. The good guys a little more complicated.  The story was written as a vehicle to introduce the concept of a local community currency based on historical events in Wörkl, Austria in 1932.  The writer, Mike Majzen told me via email, that he then wanted to make a more interesting screenplay in which to package that idea.  He succeeded beautifully.  Of course the director and the cast had something to do with that too.  [See more on the Wörkl financial experiment in Planet Ottakring in my post on Features in Competition.  Actually, I have more about all the features in competition at the link.]

Demimonde is like the fanciest, most decadent cake in a Budapest bakery.  It's exquisite looking, it's rich, it's got a dark story to tell.  Attila Szász deserved his second top prize at AIFF in three years.  He and his crew do beautiful and meaningful work.

But Heredity still haunts my mind as well.  This Columbian film explored the long term effects of being abandoned by one's father and the dangers of trusting the mental health professionals.  Luckily for the main character, his wife believed in him.  I need to do some more research on whether this film was based on a true story and if there are examples of cases like this one.

20 Matches  Winner
Death$ in a $mall Town
How To Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps
A Magician Honorable Mention
On Time First Runner Up

20 Matches was an excellent choice.  An original approach to telling a story that made palpable the grim story being told.   And yes, 20 matches were involved.  On Time was a powerful tale, well told,  with a punch in the gut ending.  A Magician had a good message wrapped in a quick and amusing story.  All good picks.  


Gorilla - First Runner Up
Il Campione (The Champion )
Like A Butterfly - Honorable Mention
My Mom and the Girl
Thunder Road  - Winner

I ended up seeing Thunder Road four times.  It was worth seeing once, maybe twice.  But I was waiting for the next film to start the third and fourth times.  A really good film should hold up longer.  I know people liked it because it was done in one long-shot and the actor showed a range of emotions.  But those things weren't enough for repeated viewings for me.  And his Karaoke ruined the song Thunder Road forever.  You can watch the whole movie here and decide for yourself.  It also won a major prize at Sundance, so I'm probably the odd man out here.

I only saw a part of Like a Butterfly so I don't have an opinion.  Gorilla  is a solid, satisfying film.  It might have been honorable mention in my choices.

My favorite short wasn't even in competition.  Sing For Your Supper was pulled me in from the beginning.  The basic concept - a land where you literally pay for things by singing and if you can't sing you end up begging - was brilliant, and the creation of a believable dystopian world in a short film was remarkable, as were the musical numbers and the acting.  A terrific short that, in my opinion, should have been the winner.

Another favorite was GlaswAsian Tales.  This film interwove the tales of several Asian-Scots in Glascow seamlessly connected a series of the people and stories with flashes of biting wit.  A look at the world from the view of the 'other' as signaled by the title's play on the usual word for people from Glascow.

Pay Day is a grim Hungarian short that shows the impact of a loan-shark in a small village.  Powerful.

And I want to mention Salt Man too.  A unique short about an artist living and working in a remote salt mine (collecting salt) in Iran, with his young daughter, talking about art and creativity and censorship.  He lives, emotionally, off the awards he wins from festivals around the world.  Another really strong and unique film.


Documentary Shorts
I’ll Wait Here (Austria)
Pickle (USA)  First Runner Up
Starring Austin Pendleton (USA) Winner  Winner
The BlindSide (India)  Honorable Mention

This seems to be the thinnest category. There were only four documentary shorts in competition. I didn't get to see The Blindside. [Until I was about to post this.  I found it online and you can watch it.  I think it's a more profound film than the other two and gets its message across in 3 minutes.]  I'm not sure why I'll Wait Here was in competition.  Someone shot a video of his grandparents at a Swiss spa.The editing makes it more than a family film.  One could argue that it causes us to pause and ponder what's important.  Some people see Jesus in strange places, so I guess some programmer saw something in this film that I missed. This is not an attempt to put down I'll Wait Here.  But I think there were other short docs that were probably better.  Pendleton was a film about an interesting person - a character actor who was sort of hidden in plain sight.  Pendleton's not unlike The Blindside, in subject matter.  A nice tribute, something you could show at Pendleton's funeral.  But it doesn't have the heart of the Indian film.

[After watching The Blindside online after the festival, and after the first draft of this post, I decided to see what I could find of the other short documentaries.  Mostly I could only see trailers.  I'll withhold further judgment until I can see the whole films.]

Feature-Length Documentaries
Best and Most Beautiful Things (USA) Honorable Mention  (tie)
Drokpa (China) First Runner Up
Goodbye Darling, I’m Off to Fight (Italy)
Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show (USA) Honorable Mention (tie)
The Cinema Travellers (India) Winner
The Slippers (USA)

These were all good films.  The choices were hard.   I loved The Cinema Travellers.  The other winners (I didn't get to see Dropka) were all worthy.  I did hear really good things about Walk With Me (not in competition) and it won an Audience Award.  I'm hoping to see it.

Murderous Tales (Czech Republic)
Green Light (South Korea)
A Space in Time (France) Honorable Mention
Adija (USA)
Alike (Spain)   Winner
Arrival: A Short Film by Alex Myung (USA)  First Runner Up
Hum (USA)
Just Like it Used to Be (USA)
My Life I Don't Want (Myanmar)
Pearl (United Kingdom, USA)
Red (Iran)
Under the Apple Tree (Netherlands)

The winners were all fine.  I especially liked Arrival.  But I do want to mention My Life I Don't Want.   Using simple graphics Nyan Kyal Say encapsulates the basics of being a woman world wide.  A brilliant film.  So simple, so profound.

I'm afraid I never got to any of the Made In Alaska films so I have no comment on them.

I thought this year's festival had strong films in many categories and I don't have any serious beefs with the festival's winners.  They were all good and the choices boil down to something in the films that appealed to particular judges that were different from appealed to me in some cases.

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