The Boston Phoenix
Review from issue: September 7 - 14, 2000

[Boston Film Festival]

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Brief encounters

The short film is an odd creature, and those included in this round-up are typical of the species. Some, the good ones, went by in a flash. Others, even in their 20-minute brevity, dragged on endlessly. Some were surprising in their professional sheen. Others were barely better than the home movies I made with my friends in sixth grade.

Package I (screens this Sunday at 7:45 and 10 p.m. and this Monday at noon and 2 and 4 p.m.) starts things off on an odd note. I don't know whether it represents an intentional thematic grouping, but what a downer! First is Jeff Lester's sepia-toned "The Last Real Cowboys." Billy Bob Thornton and Micky Jones are cowpokes in the desert. Micky wonders why he doesn't skip anymore, the way he did when he was a kid. Billy Bob is incredulous, but before you know it they skip away like schoolgirls. Then they're dead. Next comes an Ambrose Bierce-based Civil War tale that takes the brother-on-brother thing to loathsome extremes (Jordan Wendkos's "The War Within"), a Native American in 1629 who has visions of every bad thing mankind will do over the next 331 years (Raymond E. Spiess's "Dreamer"), and Mitchell Levine's "Shadows," a wrenching Holocaust film. Just as dark, but more affirming, is "Stop Breakin' Down," Glenn Marzano's sultry rendering of the Robert Johnson/crossroads legend.

Package II (Tuesday at 7:40 and 10 p.m. and Wednesday at 11:45 a.m. and 1:45 and 4:15 p.m.) brings levity, with a sidewalk Michelangelo and a new take on the vengeful God (Deborah Lucke's live-action/animation, "The Creation"), Daniel Oron's forgettable head game "Roy," and Justin Schwarz's '50s Coney Island ruled by HWAs ("Hasids with Attitudes"), "Me and the Moilsies." Then there's the mescaline-addled psychobabble of Sherry Case's "Spa-Tel."

Package III (Monday at 6:30 and 8:45 p.m. and Tuesday at 1, 3, and 5 p.m.) begins with "No War," Suetlan Cvetko's harrowing documentary of native Balkans. The footage is familiar but more devastating. Ian Thompson & Karen Hanson's "Three Lives of Kate" is a gripping depiction of a woman's struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The final two shorts, Eric Simonson's "Ladies Room L.A." and Coreen Mayrs's "A Feeling Called Glory," may be the best of all. The former is a hugely funny deconstruction of self-esteem, class warfare, and social mores; the latter is a suburban fairy tale of summer friendship, life, death, levitation, mute grandmothers, and water-on-the-brain.

A more pedestrian take on adolescence, Jessica Scharzer's "Nomi's Bat Mitzvah" is just passable. It opens Package IV (Tuesday at 6:45 and 9:15 p.m. and Wednesday at 11 a.m. and 1:30 and 4 p.m.), followed by Gentry Fry's "The Lucky Ones," a drama wherein a prodigal son visits his invalid mother in the nursing home and clashes with the nurse's compassionate care. Ultimately pointless, though ostensibly meant to examine the workings of association and memory, Darlene Lim's "Little Moments" is similarly rote. In Search of Lost Time it ain't.

"Meta," Marcella Steingart's meditation on teenage love, betrayal, and alopecia, opens Package V (Monday at 6:45 and 9 p.m. and Tuesday at 12:15, 2:30, and 4:45 p.m.). It's cute, but besides a snatch of a great Wilco song, there's not much there. David Rogers's "Redshirt Blues," on the other hand, is a great Star Trek parody: two underlings bitch about that bastard Captain Kirk ("He always talks like he's having a heart attack!"). A more realistic take on alienation is "My American Grandmother," a documentary about the relationship between the Iraqi filmmaker Aysha Ghazoul and her headstrong Texas grandma. The film's cultural insights are less striking than its portraits of these dissimilar but equally intense women. Two shorter pieces are also remarkable, if for different reasons: Joe Leih's droll "Dead Battery" is a trifle that raises questions about who to trust at a late-night gas stop. And Anne Paas's music-video-length "The Greatest Show on Earth" is a churning, nightmare that does much to justify a fear of clowns.

Package VI (Monday at 7:15 and 9:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 11:15 a.m. and 1:40 and 4 p.m.) is middling. "Owling" is Jeff Boore's treacly cereal commercial of father-son bonding. ("Do you have to go to work, dad?" "Yes, I suppose I do.") Please. This is one director who lives up to his name. "Driver" is Danielle Montalbano's examination of what happens when a cabbie is too old to drive. It, too, is boring, except for a manipulative scene that's nonetheless terrifying. Azeem Robinson's "Guilty or Not" uses a similar technique to get its point across; it's an original examination of race and crime with genuine suspense, but its acting and production values are barely adequate.

Perhaps as an antidote to the gloom of Package I, VII (next Thursday at 6:45 and 9 p.m. and next Friday at 11:30 a.m. and 2 and 4:30 p.m.) is generally lighthearted. In Nick Regalbuto's "Landscape," a gardener takes advantage of his employers' hospitality. David Letterman and George Harrison might not like this one. Another Boston-area feature is Lawson Clarke's "Nantasket Roads": when a guy's attempt to take his invalid grandmother to see the fireworks on the Esplanade fails, he takes shocking measures. And Danny Greenfield's "Allerd Fishbein's in Love" gets the paean to adolescence right. Not a bad way to end things.

-- Mike Miliard

Film Festival Feature Films

Shadow of the Vampire | Songcatcher | Venus Beauty Institute | What's Cooking? | The Broken Hearts Club | Envy | Goya in Bordeaux | Human Resources | Skipped Parts | Amargosa | Henry Hill | Relative Values | The Rising Place | The Contender | Pitch People | Roof to Roof | Four Dogs Playing Poker | Reckless Indifference | Requiem for a Dream | Shadow Magic | About Adam | Charming Billy | Enemies of Laughter | Into the Arms of Strangers | Running on the Sun | A Trial in Prague | Harry, He's Here to Help | A Man is Mostly Water | Seven Girlfriends

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