Yes, the city of Asheville took the Asheville Film Festival down to the river in a burlap bag and drowned it, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a 2010 film festival in Asheville. There is. It’s smaller, but it’s a completely homegrown, grassroots affair masterminded by David Forbes and Michael Knox — the two fellows who were responsible for recruiting many of the best entries for the 2007 and 2008 Asheville Film Festivals. With the help of Bill Banowsky and The Carolina Asheville Cinema — who are donating two screens for the weekend festival — the Ricochet Film Festival will bring us three days of movies, Sept. 17 through Sept. 19.
Forbes and Knox have put together a pretty wide array of movies. Titles range from such local fare as Rod Murphy’s recent documentary on Mickey Mahaffey, Being the Diablo (read Justin Souther’s take on it at www.mountainx.com/ae/2010/090810being-the-diablo), and David Kabler’s offbeat horror fantasy from 2009, Wanderlost (see my review at www.mountainx.com/movies/review/wanderlost), to films of a national and international flavor. There’s even a screening of George A. Romero’s 1968 zombie classic Night of the Living Dead. It really is an eclectic mix. And that’s all for the good, since that’s what a broad-based film festival should be: a celebration of movies of every kind in every form.
One of the most intriguing titles is Do It Again: One Man’s Quest to Reunite the Kinks, a new documentary that follows Boston newspaper reporter Geoff Edgers in his efforts to, well, reunite the classic rock group of the title. Is it a screwy idea? Of course it is, but that’s what makes it so interesting. It helps that this quest includes some pretty notable encounters along the way: Sting, Zooey Deschanel, Clive Davis, Robyn Hitchcock, Paul Weller and Peter Buck. Even Yoko Ono pops up in the film. The movie manages to be not just the story of an often undervalued rock band — and the friction between Kinks frontmen Ray and Dave Davies — but a search for personal validation for Edgers. Considering how heavily the Kinks have come to figure on the indie film scene in recent years — The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Juno (2007), The Savages (2007), Hot Fuzz (2007), The Bank Job (2008) — it’s the perfect time to learn more about the band.
Another film of note is the gangster thriller Charlie Valentine (2009) — a story about career criminal Charlie Valentine (Raymond J. Barry) attempting “one last job” (they never learn and the movies are grateful for it). The job goes wrong, of course, and Valentine has to hide out with his estranged son Danny (Michael Weatherly, TV’s N.C.I.S.) in Los Angeles. What follows is both a gangster film and a — not exactly pleasant — father-and-son character study.
More genial entertainment is to be had with All About Dad (2009), which can best be described as a sweet generational comedy with a slight twist, in that it centers on a Vietnamese-American family headed by a strict — and strictly Catholic — father, whose notions of what his children should be and how they should live their lives doesn’t exactly line up with their desires.
The Red Machine (2009) is an ambitious mystery/thriller set in 1935 that involves the efforts of a thief and a U.S. Navy spy to get a hold of the device that the Japanese are using to encode their secret messages — only to discover that they are themselves pawns in a bigger game. If it sounds like the film perhaps owes something to Michael Apted’s Enigma (2001), well, perhaps it does. Nevertheless, the two films are very different in tone.
Science fiction is in store with the SXSW entry Earthling (2010), a movie that takes the unusual concept of a group of people who realize that neither they nor their lives are what they have believed. In fact, they aren’t even people in the normal sense, but aliens disguised as humans. The film centers on a teacher (Rebecca Spence, Public Enemies) and her realization that her girlfriend isn’t quite who she imagined her to be. The film has been described as “a film for anyone who ever felt like they were on the wrong planet.” That would probably be just about everyone.
The festival’s gala film — the ticket gets you admission to the film and a champagne reception with Indian food courtesy of Chai Pani in the theater’s Cinema Lounge afterwards — is the wonderful Sita Sings the Blues (2008). This is a wholly self-made animated film from Nina Paley that chronicles both her own relationship with her husband and that of Sita and Lord Rama from the Indian epic The Ramayana — with Sita frequently singing the blues via 1920s and 1930s Annette Hanshaw recordings. If you didn’t catch this when it played the 2008 Asheville Film Festival — or even if you did — this is a must-see movie. It’s not merely a testament to what one committed filmmaker can accomplish with very little besides determination, it’s also a glorious fantasy and visual treat in its own right.
Lastly, I’m going to go out on a limb here and recommend — sight unseen — Eat Me: A Zombie Musical (2009). I simply can’t see how a film that’s described in the following fashion can possibly be less than excellent: “[The film follows] the path of a group of individuals who seem rather lost. Their leader is a strange, curly-haired character sporting fantastic, form-fitting tops over bras filled with newspaper. This strange man travels around the seventh circle of hell behind the wheel of his van, frequently hitting people who then get in and take part in the journey. This circle is reserved for those who have committed violent acts against art. There, they are condemned to wander towards a rave party where death awaits them, disguised as a cheese sandwich.” What’s more, the film also promises encounters with “Jesus, Satan and his women, Little Red Riding Hood (who’s grown up and not so little anymore), Hitler, Bush, Buddha, and a group of Scientologists.”