Films In competition
This year, the Asheville Film Festival has 13 feature films in competition, and, as usual, it’s a decidedly eclectic assortment. Even though I’m one of the judges — along with filmmaker Tim Kirkman (Loggerheads) — I have no idea which entry will win. In fact, I haven’t been able to view all of the films yet in their entirety, though I have seen at least part of everything. (Don’t worry, I’ll have seen them all before sitting down with Tim to hash out the plusses and minuses of each work.) But, for the moment, here’s a peek at some of the films:
• The Actress is an unusual film from Australia about a Melbourne actress, Emma (Caitlin Higgins), who moves in as the fourth housemate in an already not-exactly-stable household consisting of supermarket manager Tom (Matt Hardie), office administrator Kevin (Steve McCall) and student Claire (Jodie Passmore). It’s not long before Emma has seduced each of them and caused a rift in their tenuous menage. The film suffers a bit from its own hipness and a nonexistent budget, but the characters are cleverly realized and there’s a freshness to it that’s undeniably engaging.
• Apart from That is an ambitious and challenging (maybe too ambitious and challenging) work that interconnects the stories of three characters living in the Pacific Northwest. The feel is definitely inspired by Robert Altman’s ensemble films, but the newcomer writing/directing team of Jennifer Shainin and Randy Walker has assimilated the Altman approach into something more personal. Apart from That lacks a certain sense of discipline and sometimes seems a little too pleased with its own artsy flavor, but it’s always intriguing and one of the more unusual festival entries.
• Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven’s Disappearances is easily the most professional looking of the entries — and it boasts a cast of name actors, including Kris Kristofferson, Luis Guzman, Genevieve Bujold and William Sanderson — but its odd and not fully realized mix of “magical realism” and vaguely defined symbolism can be frustrating. However, the period setting (1930s) is well achieved and the lush widescreen imagery is striking. If you give yourself over to the mystical aspects of the film, it works on its own terms.
• What Eric Maconaghie Rogers’ Elizabeth Gunness lacks in professional polish is more than made up for in black comic and sociological chutzpah. Title character Elizabeth (played by Wendy Overly) is a good, upright, religious right-winger who forms all her views by listening to uber-conservative talk radio (which is playing almost nonstop in the background). Outwardly the picture of sweetness and loving charity, Elizabeth is anything but, since she takes the messages she hears too much to heart, viewing everything in strictly black-and-white terms. Moreover, she’s quite ready to take a hand in helping to create the perfect world of her imagining. The results are a kind of cross between Arsenic and Old Lace and the modern horrors of Tobe Hooper. Sharp and to the point (but with a little meandering in its last third), it’s thematically striking.
• Hiding Victoria from writer-director Dan Chinander is a slick work that’s given a little extra impetus from the casting of character actress Anita Gillette (Shall We Dance?) as the elderly woman who takes in and befriends the emotionally damaged Victoria Walker (TV actress Margo Harshman). The film is possibly a little too much on the “noble intentions and uplifting” side for its own good, but it’s certainly well done, engaging and very good at doing what it sets out to do.
• The Stone House is this year’s horror thriller entry (what festival is complete without one?), and it’s probably the best horror film submitted in the history of the Asheville Film Festival. (Viewers of The Devil’s Courthouse may well question if that actually means anything.) What John Wattenberger and Terri Lottman’s film lacks in acting (some of the performances are, well, spotty) and technique (many shots are way too much of the long, single-take variety), it makes up for in sheer atmosphere. The titular “Stone House” (the long-abandoned and supposedly haunted Stone insane asylum) is truly the stuff of nightmares and rural legend — something the film nails with creepy precision.
• Ten ‘Til Noon from Scott Storm is far and away the most unusually structured film in the festival. It’s a crime thriller that works on the basis of showing the same 10 minutes that lead up to the crime in question from different vantage points involving the different characters involved in or affected by the crime. That probably sounds more complicated than it is, but the reason it works is that Storm — a somewhat obvious fan of Tarantino — manages to keep the various threads coherent and yet quirky and interesting. It might be a little on the terminally hip side, but it has an edge and a freshness often lacking in indies.
• Films that are also in competition, but have yet to be screened in their entirety are Car Babes, Instant Dads,
— Ken Hanke
While there’s no shortage of official Asheville Film Festival events, a number of locals are putting their mark on the weekend’s festivities. Ranging from semi-exclusive VIP parties to local film meet-and-greets, a surprising range of unofficial events ensure that the film gossip will continue well after the screening rooms have emptied.
• Moon Europa Film Festival Party: Earlier this year, Xpress readers voted soon-to-be finished sci-fi flick Moon Europa the “Best Locally Produced Film.” To show a little love to their supporters, the cast and crew are hosting a late-night, multi-venue party on Friday, Nov. 10. Starting with a VIP-heavy meet-and-greet and trailer-screening at Cafe on the Square (1 Biltmore Ave.) at 8 p.m., the action moves to a new (and secret) location for the Djinntana FirePlay featuring fire spinning, pirates and “modern primitives.” A VIP After Party (or is it an After, After Party?) takes place from 11:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. at Mela Indian Restaurant. Admission for non-VIPs is $20 (or $10 for the Mela party). For more information, visit www.mooneuropa.com.
• Blue Ridge Motion Pictures: Asheville’s noted local movie studio recently announced plans to launch its own film festival in the summer of 2007, but that doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned the AFF. The studio will host an After Party for the festival on Saturday, Nov. 11, in its massive Stage B sound stage from 9 p.m. to midnight. BRMP will also be holding several non-AFF film screenings during the weekend, including the Bright Light Studios release The Tillamook Treasure and the Lion’s Gate film The Peaceful Warrior. For more information and directions, visit www.blueridgemotionpictures.com.
• A Celebration of Local Film: With so many big names in town during the Film Festival, it’s easy for local filmmakers to feel overlooked. That’s why the folks over at 6;14 films (who will be screening parts of their documentary Wander Down at the festival) decided to host a party just for the locals. A number of local filmmakers and actors will be on hand for the event, with music provided by the Jazz Impostors. The party will be held downstairs at Broadway’s (107 N. Lexington Ave.) on Saturday, Nov. 11, from 7 p.m. until late. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.614films.com.
• Asheville Film Festival Rejects: Each year, a number of local filmmakers submit their films to their hometown film fest hoping for a screening alongside the national releases. Each year, many of these same films are rejected, leaving some of their creators jaded about the festival. This year, they decided to fight back. Asheville locals Agency Films and Orbit DVD will host a festival of AFF “Rejects” on Saturday, Nov. 11, upstairs at Broadway’s (107 N. Lexington Ave.) starting at 9 p.m. In addition to a “special tribute” to Jennifer Tilly, the anti-festival will have its own awards ceremony and screenings. Films to be screened include the comedy short Podunk! and the feature film Who is Bozo Texino?, as well as many others. The event is free. For additional information, visit www.theagentheadquarters.com.
• Revoluticon 2006: While not officially part of the film festival, this local sci-fi and fantasy convention will be holding several film-related events over the weekend. In addition to an “All Day Horror Movie Room,” the convention will be hosting panel discussions such as “Moon Europa: Behind The Scenes” (with local filmmakers Chris Bower and G. Craig Hobbs), “Science Fiction on a Budget,” “Science Fiction Mini-Series for URTV,” and a Q&A with Xpress movie guru Ken Hanke. Revoluticon takes place Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11 and 12, at the Best Western (22 Woodfin St.). Admission is $25. For more information, visit www.revoluticon.com.
— Steve Shanafelt