So many films, only two eyes. At this summer's Rhode Island International Film
Festival, 182 films and videos -- 39 of them feature-length narrative films,
including 22 world premieres and 12 US premieres -- will be screened over six
Some of them are easy choices. Keifer Sutherland, Stockard Channing, and Kyra
Sedgwick are in Matia Karrell's Behind the Red Door, a drama about a
woman's quest to uncover the circumstances surrounding her mother's murder. And
the opening night attraction stars Eli Wallach and Rebecca Pidgeon in the
comedy Advice and Dissent, directed by Leib Cohen, about a disenchanted
husband who asks a rabbi to put a curse on his wife.
But since RIIFF is built around presenting little-known indie filmmakers, some
prospects on the program are less obvious. So I viewed some promising
candidates to make a few recommendations. From date flick arm-clutcher to dark
cri de coeur, the following features are varied enough in subject matter
and execution for at least one to interest you.
R.S.V.P. -- Sunday, August 11 at 5 p.m. at the Columbus
Although it plays with the conventions and expectations of slasher flicks,
R.S.V.P. is too much into being a light-hearted send-up of the genre to
get into the gore. Yes, someone's head is plunged into a pot of boiling water,
but the reluctant victim who surfaces for a moment doesn't even look sunburned.
Homage and spoof do a little dance of death here. Straight out of Alfred
Hitchcock's Rope, we have a missing guest of honor dead in a chest, as
friends joke and party around him in a parlor. And as in Agatha Christie's
Ten Little Indians, the assembled are picked off one by one. Inspired by
the serial killers he is studying in criminal psych class, Nick Collier (Rick
Otto) is eager to prove his superiority by committing a mass murder that he
figures he can pin on someone else. As a bonus, he'll teach a lesson to pretty
Jordon (Brandi Andres), who dumped him for an ill-fated pal.
Writer/director Mark Anthony Galluzzo does right by his opportunities, dinging
and tooting all the right filmic bells and whistles. "Night on Bald Mountain"
builds tension at just the right pace. A huge, blazing neon sign atop the
apartment house provides an evocative backdrop for tense talk and a climactic
rooftop chase. No wonder R.S.V.P. got the Audience Award for Best
Feature Film at this year's Sundance-fringe Slamdunk Festival.
After the Flood/i>
After the Flood -- Friday, August 9 at 9:30 p.m. at the Castle
The reason you see more humorous takes than grim ones on grim subjects is that
getting drama to convince is a tough slog. Unlike with acting, tragedy is
harder for a filmmaker; laughter we ride like a roller coaster. Seriousness we
believe, or reject, one slap in the face at a time. After the Flood not
only takes us into the criminal street life of a young hustler, it has this
modern-day Rimbaud/Genet practically spouting poetry in his desperation to make
sense of life. The back story of Simon (Shawn Andrews) is summed up in the
grimy bandage on his hand, souvenir of a gun sale gone bad. When instead of
money he's given for payment an El Salvador illegal immigrant, Gabriela (Ola
Metwally), his first response is to set her whoring for what he is owed. But in
spite of both himself and his survivor's terror at letting her misery soften
his heart ("That was God's weakness -- compassion for man"), he starts looking
That first-time director Robert Saitzyk humanizes Simon without sentimentality
is a triumph (although a crucial death spins the guy around). The
larger-than-life street violence, which we can read about in every daily paper,
authenticates the film's melodrama. Even the stray religious symbolism -- Simon
tells of a dream Gabriela, in which she is the sun melting off his filth -- is
Get a Way -- Friday, August 9 at 7:40 p.m. at the Columbus
A charming segue from such dismal realism, while staying clear of Disney
World, is Get a Way, by French filmmaker Noah Nuer. In his dilapidated
minivan, the hapless Didier (Maxime Desmons) knocks over pretty Anne (Agnes
Roland) and bangs up her bicycle. Since it probably takes him hours to
successfully tie his shoes, she hangs out with him for a day before he manages
to fix her bike, and by that time they're fast friends. That's not to say
things get romantic, since he's of uncertain sexuality and with decided
leanings toward Y chromosomes. Nevertheless, on her prompting and to mess up
the heads of some boîte boys who were making fun of him, Anne and Didier
make Meg Ryan sound like Mary Poppins, as eventually they're both banging the
men's room walls in subtitled mock ecstasy. The story finds focus when they
discover their mutual difficulties communicating with their parents and help
each other figure out how to connect with them. Roland is a dead ringer for
Brit royal Fergie, down to the mischievous smile, and Desmons musters enough
personality to keep us from feeling sorry for him. A boy-girl buddy film
without sex for a payoff? Those French. Sometimes they like to mess with our
little Anglo minds.
Wild Flowers -- Saturday, August 10 at 7:15 p.m. at the Columbus
This Czech feature by F. A. Brabec is a smorgasbord of seven fairy tale
ballads and a visual feast to boot. They take place across the seasons, to vary
the atmosphere with twirling leaves and swirling snow and to allow some nearly
monochromatic images that boil moods down to evocative essences -- the hot
yellow of summer woods, the cold blue of a moonlit winter night. Tales we might
tire of at The Secret of Roan Inish length are succinct vignettes here.
Several deal with hasty desires and wishes. Riding through his lands, a lord on
black stallion must have a half-draped maiden he encounters at a waterfall. An
almost-bride prays for the return of her betrothed, off in a foreign land, and
is delighted, at first, when the spectral soldier appears. A busy mother
threatens to give her whining child to the "Noon-day Witch," and who should
show up? Some of these are too abrupt for those of us who don't know the full
stories, but all are darkly beautiful.
The Rhode Island International Film Festival is about so much more than
grabbing a box of popcorn and sitting down to watch a movie two or three times
a day. There are events and "sidebar" mini-festivals galore.
Back in mid-July there was even a five-day KidsEye summer camp held in
Kingston and Providence. Results of the moviemaking workshops will be screened
From August 5 through 7, there will be a series of three "Filmmaking with the
Pros" workshops, covering topics from fundraising for a film, through using the
latest high-definition digital camera, to editing the final product.
Planned for late fall or early next year, there will be a "RI Film Forum,"
designed for audience members from community leaders to regional directors to
actors. Topics include resources available in the state and the needs of
filmmakers who might be interested in working here.
There was a juried screenplay competition that drew 206 entries, with a $5000
As for the six-day film festival itself, there are several sidebar
* "Providence Film Festival" -- Originally a one-day "Homegrown" series,
this year there will be a three-day (August 9-11) festival of about 20 works by
regional filmmakers, chosen from some 75 entries. These films, all made in New
England, may be entered out of competition or simply to gauge audience
* "Women in Cinema" -- Presentations and workshops continue throughout
the year, encouraging not only female filmmakers but playwrights and short
story writers. The ongoing program culminates in the several festival films
that focus on women's issues. While indie filmmaking has largely been a male
domain in the past, this year nearly half the films shown to be at the festival
are by women directors.
* "Gay & Lesbian Issues" -- A "Providence Gay & Lesbian Film
Festival" will be a component of RIIFF. Besides screenings, it will include a
"Meet the Director" forum and a public colloquium.
* "Jewish Film Festival" -- In coordination with the National Center for
Jewish Film at Brandeis University, eight films that deal with the Jewish
experience. They range from Advise and Dissent to the documentary
Shalom, Y'all, about Jews in the American South.
* "Between Takes: Morning Coffee Talks" -- Three programs will be
presented, beginning Thursday with "Filmmaker to Filmmaker," an open-mike
discussion with visiting filmmakers. On Friday, the topic will be "How Movies
Are Really Made: What They Don't Teach in Film School," with visiting directors
and Mark Maine, head of the production company Angelic Entertainment. After a
Saturday morning talk on "The Art of Japanese Anime," an English
language-dubbed version of the Japanese animated series Gokudo: Swordsman
Extraordinaire will be screened. Programs begin at 9:30 at the Columbus
Cinématheque. Admission is $5.
* "Perspectives from Québec and France" -- The festival started
out in 1997 as a modest presentation of four French language films and one in
English. Now Francophones and Francophiles will have a week of such fare, with
15 titles screened.
* "Film and Music" -- Nightspots around Providence will hold screenings
and present live music by some of the musicians who have contributed to some of
the films, in addition to performances before some of the films.
The closing night event on August 12 will be a sing-along screening of
Grease. Participants are invited to dress up as their favorite
characters and compete for best costumes. After the Columbus Theatre screening,
the closing night party will take place at the IMAX Theater in Providence Place
If you're going to be out of town during the film fest, don't worry. Beginning
Friday, August 23, and continuing through the weekend, top films from this
year's festival will be screened at the Courthouse Center for the Arts in
Kingston. A similar program will take place in Newport at the Firehouse
Theatre, with dates to be announced. Monthly at the Courthouse Center through
the winter, screenings will feature some of the most popular films that the
festival has presented over its first five years.
Festival screenings will take place in Providence at the Columbus Theatre and
Cinématheque, the University of Rhode Island, the Feinstein IMAX, and
the Castle Cinema. Except for opening and closing night films, all tickets are
$7 and are available online at www.film-festival.org and at selected Brooks
But the festival doesn't stop there. Upcoming October 25-27 will be the RIIFF
Horror Film Festival at the Columbus Theatre. Features and documentaries,
shorts and animation are all eligible to compete for awards. A restored print
of the silent vampire classic Nosferatu will be featured.
Also in October, cinematic festivities will continue with "Rhode Island and
the Silent Era," presentations of rarely seen films from the dawn of motion
picture history, made in the Ocean State beginning in 1915. They will be
screened at Rhode Island College.
For more information, you can call 861-4445 or e-mail
RIIFF's high profile
This is year six for the annual Rhode Island International Film Festival, and
it's no longer a toddler. It's up and about on its own two feet, thank you.
From August 7 through 12, 39 full-length narrative features will be screened,
in addition to documentaries and shorts -- 182 films in all, culled from 803
submissions. That's up from fewer than 700 last year.
"There have been a surplus of great movies," crows program manager Heather
Bryant. "We've actually had trouble fitting in all these great movies. It's
wonderful. It's absolutely thrilling."
They've been pouring in from around the world. From Israel and Iran, Italy and
Armenia, Australia, and Japan.
"I then had some folks from China send us [their film on] a CD-ROM," says
George T. Marshall, the festival's executive director. "I don't know what the
hell to do with those."
More participants from out of state also signed up for the upcoming three-day
filmmaking workshop and the KidsEye summer camp sessions held in July for
embryonic filmmakers ages 9 to 15. And for the first time, the festival is
seeing submissions from film students at UCLA, that hotbed of Hollywood
auteurs, and more from the prestigious NYU film program.
Why the increased interest? A couple of reasons.
"One was the release last year of The Ultimate Film Festival Survival
Guide," Marshall explains. "That's now all over the place, it's worldwide,
and we're listed as one of the `best kept secret' festivals. `One the most
exciting festivals to come along' -- that was a quote."
This year, when submitters are asked how they heard about the RIIFF, more
often than not they cite that indie film fest Bible, which singled out only
seven other festivals to tout on for the same distinction.
The second kudos was last month's announcement that the grand jury short film
winner at the RIIFF will be eligible for Oscar nominations.
"That was another thing that's just walloped us -- in a good way," says
It wasn't a small honor: of the more than 1200 film festivals around the
world, only 47 have earned that privilege for their shorts award winners. Word
traveled fast in the film industry about Rhode Island qualifying -- Marshall
heard about it from insiders before the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts &
Sciences officially let him know.
The Academy notification stated that "the longevity and current quality of the
Rhode Island International Film Festival's award-winning selections has
persuaded this committee to add it to the prestigious international list."
"Our opening short film last year, Gregor's Greatest Invention, was
nominated for an Academy Best Short," Marshall says. "That was a critical thing
for us, because there are only four or five films that are final qualifiers,
and here we are, this small festival in Rhode Island and we're supplying
That film was eligible because it was awarded at a festival elsewhere, as was
the short The Personals, which won the 1999 Oscar for Best Short after
Marshall says that about 90 percent of the films shown at RIIFF are from
submissions rather than from a distributor. "That probably is our major
"If you look at the titles you probably won't recognize the bulk of them, and
that's good," he adds. "Because we're not showing things that have played other
festivals. Or if they have, these are films that are not doing a Sundance but
are made by folks who are just breaking into the business. And if we can
provide a platform for them, then we've done a good thing."
Issue Date: August 2- 8, 2002