Little Rock Film Fest Wrapup, Part Two

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photo by Byba Sepit

Contributing writer Tim Basham spearheaded Paste’s efforts at the Little Rock Film Festival this year. Last week we brought you Part One of his wrapup. This week we bring you the second and final part of that wrapup. Enjoy!

The “Beasts” come to Little Rock
Another film that received a heap of praise at Cannes was Beasts of the Southern Wild. And its reception at LRFF was no different. Producer Casey Coleman spoke about the film, its lo-fi methods of production and its small star who’s getting big attention.

“Most of the stuff I did on this film I’d never even thought about doing. It was not my ambition to be producing. Or doing locations or casting. I had never done casting before. Whatever came up we just sort of figured out ways for people to do it. We cheated a lot. Everything was shot on location [a small rural community outside of New Orleans]. What we had to do was construct the idea of what this world was, and then most of the things we built were built onto things that existed. Or we found things that existed that fit the script. We just worked with what we had. Also, no one got paid very well. A lot of people would just volunteer. A lot of people in the community pitched in. People, where we were, like to have a good time. It wasn’t too hard to convince people to get involved.”

On the six-year-old star of the film Quvenzhané Wallis:
“As we were filming it became very clear that she was a rock. I mean, everything else went shit. But she was the least of our concerns. She actually made being on the set easier. Her energy never faulted. She’s a highly, highly intelligent person. I don’t think I can over-hyperbolize how incredible she is.”

Women in Film
Lea Thompson (Back to the Future, “Caroline in the City”) led a hugely popular panel about women in film that included Renee O’Connor (“Xena: Warrior Princess”) and Martha Stephens, whose film Pilgrim Song received this year’s Oxford American Best Southern Film award. Thompson says she believes that it is “a really amazing time for women” in filmmaking. O’Connor says that in the festival environment there’s no separation between men and women but that it’s different on larger budget films. “If you come across the glass ceiling, so to speak, of being a woman…you just make your story and you find other ways to get it out there.”

More film reviews…

Journey To Planet X
Not everyone can be Steven Spielberg. But in this documentary Eric Swain and Troy Bernier, two amateur filmmakers, think they have the right stuff to make a space wars hit like their idol. With the help of some amateur actors and C.G. effects from a couple of college kids they fill their weekends and weeknights with faux moonscapes and painting green screens, sometimes blue screens. The inspiration comes not from their talent but from their determination. The doc’s directors allow us to laugh at what the filmmakers think is quality dialogue, and at their unrealistic dreams of fame and fortune. (Eric and Troy even trademark lines from Planet X and put them on T-shirts in anticipation of sure success.) But the doc directors know what they’re doing and we eventually admire Eric and Troy for their work ethic and the guts it takes for them to follow a dream.

Beasts of The Southern Wild?
Briefly describing Beasts of the Southern Wild is like trying to explain the inner workings of an airplane to someone who’s never seen a wheel. In his feature debut, director Benh Zeitlin has stirred up a magic pot of poetry, neo-realism, surrealism, pre-historic creatures, the ice age, childhood and lost cultures. The film is a symphony of curiosity that builds toward a glorious crescendo. It’s set on an island known as “The Bathtub,” located outside the Louisiana levees. It’s a forbidden land — off-limits according to the government — but misfits still inhabit it, living in makeshift shelters and using vehicles that would be at home in a post-apocalyptic world. If Zeitlin’s sheer ambition weren’t enough, the film’s young star and narrator, Quvenzhané Wallis, was born with a magnetic screen presence. Six-year-old Wallis injects Beasts with youthful verve. The story is told through her character’s curious eyes, and she emits so much lovable hope that it’s impossible not to follow her. —Jeremy Matthews

I Am Not A Hipster
The San Diego music scene serves as a backdrop for this story of frustrated musician Brook (Dominic Bogart), who poorly handles his local fame in the wake of his mother’s death. One of the beautiful touches to this film comes when Brook’s three sisters show up with their father, who Brook has not spoken to since the funeral. The girls serve as buffers between father and son as they smooth the ragged edges of their quarrel. Also interesting is Brook’s relationship with his friend and manager Clarke, who at first comes across as just comic relief. But his character’s value becomes central in the latter half of the movie. For his first feature length film writer/director Destin Cretton creates a tense but fluid tone as Brook goes from drunken tirades to inspiringly teaching music to grade schoolers.

Bernie
Like a well-played mystery, director Richard Linklater’s excellent, darkly humorous (and true) story is interspersed with tantalizing interviews of residents of the small east Texas town of Carthage. It’s their recollections about Bernie the local mortician (Jack Black) and his relationship with a rich bitch widow (Shirley MacLaine) that balance out the performances of those two, and of Matthew McConaughey, who plays a sheriff determined to put the sweet and adored Bernie away for murder. Again, Linklater proves fearless in his directing by refusing to remain complacent and formulaic.

Wolf
Written and directed by Ya’Ke, Wolf tells the story of a teenage boy who has fallen in love with the priest who’s been molesting him since he was eleven. The discovery of this secret, brought about by the boy’s attempted suicide, sends his family and the religious community reeling. The film is a dark, depressing, downward spiral that forces viewers to come face to face with some of the terrifying realities of pedophilia. It offers no hope for resolution, or respite from the brutality, delivering one blow after the next without any real opportunity for this family to heal from what’s happened to them. A desperately sad, warped film, Wolf is deeply disturbing from start to finish. -Emily Kirkpatrick

Eating Alabama
As an introduction to how drastically agriculture has changed in relation to the food we purchase, Eating Alabama excels as we follow a young couple that has decided to eat only locally grown, unprocessed food for one year. What would have been a simple exercise 50 years ago now turns into a study in patience and diligence as these two explorers meet a disappearing figure in today’s world: the farmer. And they discover the downside in America of having to create food for a living. As the media and our culture look for healthier habits, this film’s timing is perfect.

Infinity
This short film surprised me and haunted me long after I saw it. Renee O’Connor plays a loyal wife whose husband is dealing with post-traumatic stress after his tour of duty. Their daughter receives a music box in the mail and from that innocent beginning things quickly turn to horror. It’s an “in your face” way of bringing attention to an ever-present problem for war veterans.

Tchoupitoulas
A visual and aural feast that blurs the line between documentary and drama, Tchoupitoulas is the story of 8-year old William, who spends an entire night exploring the sights and sounds of New Orleans. With his two brothers and their dog Buttercup, William takes the ferry from his neighborhood in Algiers Point to the Crescent City. For the next 12 hours, the affable boys explore the French Quarter. Brilliantly framed at a kid’s-eye level and edited with surgical precision, directors Bill and Turner Ross capture the amazement and wonder of a young boy peeking into a very adult world. William has big dreams: he wants to play football for the New York Giants, he wants to fly, he wants to be a lawyer, and he wants to learn to play the recorder. “You never know what life is gonna bring, so you gotta keep moving,” he explains early on in the film. Tchoupitoulas presents New Orleans in all its pulsing, brassy glory; aglow with tiny lights, paint peeling, misted with sweat and breathing to the beat provided by the snare drums of street-corner buskers. Strippers grind inside tiny theaters while sidewalk oyster vendors patter away to customers outside; time is kept only by the regular passing of the mule-pulled carriages filled with tourists. William drinks it all in with the unselfconscious, saucer-eyed wonder of the innocent. Fresh from the critical success of their film 45365, the Ross brothers offer this celebratory tribute to the legendary city of excess with exuberance, volume, and a startlingly fresh point of view. —Joan Radell

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