The annual Twin Rivers Media Festival runs this weekend at Courtyard Gallery. As usual, the winning feature takes the place of the 8 p.m. Friday weekly World Cinema screening. And, as usual, the festival offers some high-quality works, including the winning feature.
This year’s winner is a slightly odd—or at least offbeat—offering from Brooklyn filmmaker Elias Plagianos called The Crimson Mask. It tells the story of two men—a washed-up fighter (Robert Clohessy, whom you may recognize as Jim Sturgess’ father from Across the Universe) and an unscrupulous stockbroker (TV actor Joshua Burrow)—who are both backed into corners that have, it seems, only one possible out, which involves engaging the other in a kind of ritual gladitorial combat. That may not sound like much, and in itself it wouldn’t be, but what Plagianos does with the premise is something else again.
The film’s structure is fragmented and moves around to various points in the narrative, weaving its way to both the death match and the beginning of the film. This might have been a cheesy conceit used to dress up an otherwise uninteresting narrative. Here, however, it’s an integral part of the film—not merely a stunt—and a good deal of what keeps the film interesting. It was also probably the best way to tell what are essentially two different stories that finally intersect and prove to be intriguingly related on a couple of other levels. I won’t go into detail on these connections, because it would do the film a disservice. Let’s just say that they are both surprising and apt.
The Crimson Mask is, however, far from a perfect film—but that’s something you really have to expect with this level of production. We’re not looking at something with a Hollywood budget here. We’re looking at a committed filmmaker doing the best he can with limited resources, and while his best is very good indeed, the limitations of resources are apparent—as are some of the expected faults of a filmmaker doing his first feature. On the latter, there’s some sense that even at only 85 minutes, the film feels padded. On the former, this is something that can actually be a plus.
The budgetary restrictions of a film like this often result in some fascinating choices—simply because you’re watching a filmmaker work around those restrictions. From a viewer’s standpoint, this is probably of more or less academic interest, though it’s never unrewarding to see creative lighting or a keen eye for framing a shot. However, from the standpoint of a burgeoning filmmaker—and Asheville has a few—it can be a useful lesson in how to make a film that costs very little look like it cost a great deal more. In this regard, I’d certainly urge anyone who is interested in making a film to take a look at this one.
The two runner-up features—The Businness of Story and Fuel—will show at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 30, and Sunday, May 31, respectively.
In addition to the feature films, Twin Rivers has a wide array of short films that are being screened on Saturday and Sunday starting at 1 p.m. I didn’t have a chance to watch many of these, but the two I did see were very strong. That’s not all that surprising since short films are very often the best things at a film festival—something that filmmakers often forget because they’re understandably dazzled by the prospect of a marketable feature film. Shorts are simply not a saleable item these days except at film festivals.
The Gynaecologist—subtitled “an absurd tragedy”—is a 10-minute Spanish entry that details the story of a female gynecologist who balks at giving an examination to an obviously male patient. Its absurdity is very good—especially since it takes in both bureaucracy and the strange acceptance of some things by the media—though I’m less sure that its shock value is quite as shocking as the filmmakers obviously believe.
The French short Surprise! is an 18-minute delight of pure French farce. It’s a film that doesn’t set out to reinvent cinema. It isn’t going to dazzle anyone with its technical accomplishments—though there’s nothing at all wrong with it on that level. Rather, Surprise contents itself with a nuts-and-bolts approach to making a well-crafted, genuinely funny—and even surprising—comedy. It’s definitely worth catching, and it could definitely be used as another learning tool for aspiring filmmakers.
For more information on the Twin Rivers Media Festival, visit www.twinriversmediafestival.com or call 273-3332. The festival will be held at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St., in downtown Asheville.