SFFF Day 2 Report – Sex and the Unruly Screen

The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s second day was unusually specific in its program, devoting itself to short films that explored “innocence being encroached upon by outside forces” and a pair of horror-thriller features set around the sex industry. It was an impressive night of screenings, but also one that certainly made demands of its audience.

The “Paradise Lost” block of shorts was long on atmosphere and scares but slim on explication. Most films chose to grab their shocks and get out rather than flesh out their worlds. Faye Jackson’s The Old Woman Who Hid Her Fear Under the Stairs (2018) recalled Bobby Miller’s The Master Cleanse (part of SFFF’s program from 2016 and now titled simply The Cleanse). The short considers the situation of its title character who extracts her sense of anxiety of herself, hides it in a tin, and faces down some dark, ominous threat that stalks her outside her home. Jackson’s film is wonderfully constructed, full of humour and dreadful tension, and its quality therefore demands more of itself, needing to unpack its conflict and its resolution before letting its credits roll. And the same could be said of other shorts in the block. Milk (Santiago Menghini, 2018) is a chilling tale of a boy trapped between two unsettling maternal figures and choses aesthetics over explanation. Wild (Morgana McKenzie,  2018) is a pastoral fantasy about a girl’s encounter with a magical, deadly, and ultimately unresolved female figure in her uncle’s cornfield. Saturn Through the Telescope (Dídac Gimeno, 2018) follows a boy’s efforts to watch a scary movie at home and is a slickly made and energetic short, while Make a Stand (Camille Aigloz, Lucy Vallin, Michiru Baudet, Simon Anding Malandin, Diane Tran Duc, and Margo Roguelaure, 2017) is a gorgeously animated film set in pre-Columbian Mexico and that seems to tease a supernatural spectacle that never arrives. Uncertainty is a great tool of the macabre, but its best used as a lacuna where meaningful questions spring forth. These shorts are uniformly affective and expertly fashioned, sure to be enjoyed by viewers. My only wish is that these films more fully met their narrative challenges as well as the aesthetic ones.

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5 Great Reasons to Attend the Buried Alive Film Festival – The November 15th Edition!

MMC! will cover the 2018 Buried Alive Film Festival by previewing each day of its programming, focusing on those wonderful films that achieve MMC!-approval!

With BAFF’s emphasis on short films and a full program of these titles playing each day the Fest, there’s hardly any limit on the number of good reasons to attend! BAFF kicks off on November 14 with a screening of the films made as part of its 3rd annual Sinema Challenge, a 13 day filmmaking challenge that sees its participants randomly select a horror genre and a subject from a deck of Cards Against Humanity cards and then make a movie based on their selections.

The Fest’s main program starts on November 15 with a feature, a supporting short film, and BAFF’s first short program: “For the Love of the Undertaker.” For those counting, that’s thirteen separate works in a single evening of film fest-ing! There’s lots to enjoy, but here are MMC!‘s five favourite reasons to BAFF next Thursday.

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I Remember You (Ali Khamraev, 1985)

Like Fellini’s Amarcord, whose title it recalls, I Remember You is a semi-autobiographical meditation on the past. Kim, a veterinarian, leaves Samarkand at the request of his seriously ill mother and heads on a voyage across Russia in search of the grave of his father who died during the war. Reflecting Ali Khamraev’s own personal history – his Ukrainian mother and Tajik father, his father’s death during World War II, his own subsequent voyage with his brother to find the grave – this poetic journey into the subconscious memory is rendered in images of extraordinary intensity and beauty and one of Khamraev’s true masterpieces.

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Socks on Fire: Uncle John and the Copper Headed Water Rattlers (Bo McGuire, 2017)

Probably the only thing that improves upon Bo McGuire’s astonishing short, Socks on Fire: Uncle John and the Copper Headed Water Rattlers (2017), is that the film is available on his website right now to see – click HERE to visit his site and watch! The 15-minute short is an experimental fantasy of some family drama that resists easy description. McGuire labels it on his site as a “lyrical meditation exploring personal family relationships, archetypes and myths through a variety of means & textures” and a rough cut to a feature-length “transgenerational docudrama,” while the Chattanooga Film Festival offered this synopsis – “A failed poet takes up cinematic arms when he returns home to Hokes Bluff, Ala. to find his aunt has locked his drag queen uncle out of the family home.” When asked about his inspiration for the short by Indie Grits, McGuire offered this:

Gail Bryant was a lady from my hometown of Hokes Bluff. She had a tick where she would snap her neck to throw her silver hair to the side. One day Gail was snapping that neck and the next day she was in the ground. That pissed me off. The same thing happened to my Nanny and Papa without the neck snaps and that really pissed me off. Then my Aunt Sharon went behind everyone’s back and tried to sell Nanny and Papa’s house, and Meryl Streep got up on the Oscars hollering, take your broken heart, make it into art.

McGuire, the self-described “queer son of a Waffle House cook and his third-shift waitress on the corner of George Wallace Drive in Gadsden, Alabama,” crafts a Southern Gothic dreamscape that is equal parts John Waters and Terrence Malick. Steeped in corner store pageantry, Socks on Fire veers from scenes of straight documentary to magical realist reveries, with McGuire appearing in oscillating roles of interested relation, impartial chronicler, co-conspirator, and mystical trickster. While often ostentatious and unabashed, McGuire never stoops to exploitation but rather preserves an air of respect and poetic gravity throughout the short. It is McGuire’s greatest success here, creating a kind of cinematic eye dialect from the iconography of slim cigarettes, pick-ups, fireworks, Crimson Tide merchandise, and nature’s damp, inevitable power. It’s a mini-masterpiece and I can’t wait to see Socks on Fire in its full, feature-length glory!

Shout out to the Chattanooga Film Festival and to Bo McGuire! I was lucky enough to spend a little time with Bo (even catch a screening of Rock Steady Row with him) and he’s as affable and charming a guy as you’re likely to find. Bo was definitely a personal and cinematic high point of my CFF experience. Thanks Bo!

HADES (Kevin Kopacka, 2015)

The packaged summary for Kevin Kopacka’s HADES (2015) reads:

A woman is caught in an endless cycle of dreams where she has to cross the 5 rivers of Hades, each representing different stages of her relationship.

The short film, based on the short story “Statusbezogen” by H.K. DeWitt, shows a young woman (Anna Heidegger) navigating in space the emotional trauma of a troubled relationship.  HADES is heavily symbolic, abstractly experimental, and colourfully metatextual, feeling like Maya Deren while looking like Dario Argento. MMC! loves its dream cinema and Kopacka provides an entry worthy to cap another spooky October.

Happy Halloween!

Manhatta (Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, 1921)

I recently watched Redes (Emilio Gómez Mariel and Fred Zinnemann, 1936), from the first Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project box set, and Kent Jones’s visual essay which makes reference to Manhatta (1921), a documentary short made by photographer and Redes-cinematographer Paul Strand and painter Charles Sheeler. The short is not included in the WCP set (although it was included on the now OOP DVD set, Unseen Cinema), and so I thought I would share it here at MMC! The short is inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem “Mannahatta” and is considered the USA’s first experimental film. Strand and Sheeler link their respective art forms (painting and photography) to cinema by preferring dynamic angles and compositions over movement, using editing and intertitles to express a monumental day in Lower Manhattan. The result is a visually engaging and invaluable document of the time.