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Cinemania!
The 8th Annual Rhode Island International Film Festival
BY BILL RODRIGUEZ


RELATED STORY

Andrew’s News: Ex-Brat Packer moves into the director's chair. By Bill Rodriguez.

A record 1328 entries were submitted for the 8th Annual Rhode Island International Film Festival, which will run August 10 through 15 in venues around the state. The 265 films — 40 narrative features, 40 documentary features, and 160 short films — were submitted from 42 countries and will include 35 world premieres, 20 US premieres, and 45 East Coast premieres, also a new record for RIIFF.

"What I’m really tickled about is that this is the first time we’re actually making this a statewide festival," said director George Marshall. "I think this is the only state that’s small enough that we can do that sort of thing."

In addition to Providence, films will be shown in Pawtucket, Newport, Woonsocket, Kingston, and Westerly. "Sidebars" include mini-festivals of gay and lesbian, Jewish, Japanese, and kids’ films. (For details, see the insert in the News section and the RIIFF Web site, film-festival.org.)

The proceeds from ticket sales at satellite sites will go to the local sponsoring organizations. "For the Pawtucket Visitors Center, all the money is going to be used for Slater Mill to buy new equipment, " Marshall said. "At the Museum of Working Culture [in Woonsocket], it’s going toward the veterans exhibit that will open in November."

RIIFF has made its reputation with its shorts programming, becoming one of only 47 qualifying festivals among more than 1400 worldwide for that category of Academy Awards. This year RIIFF also became an Oscar-nominating festival for Best Score through its affiliation with the Grammy Awards.

Here is a sampling of what’s coming to screens around the state, with an emphasis on RIIFF’s vaunted shorts.

Shorts

Blue (23 min.) Friday, August 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Tazza Caffé in Providence, and on Saturday, August 14 at 8:30 p.m. at the Providence Chamber of Commerce

When computer-generated special effects in films started catching our attention in the ’90s, it wasn’t with snarling T-Rexes. Early on, CG films could accomplish awesome realism only with slick surfaces — like the animated desk lamps that Pixar blew minds with at the Siggraph convention in 1986, which even by 1995 couldn’t be improved on much in Toy Story.

Created by Christopher Mullins, Blue came out of his animation studio in Birmingham, Alabama, and is delightful as well as visually compelling. On an unmanned space station, a robot is accidentally switched on by a power surge. While R2-D2 had to impress the Oscar voters through gleeps and shudders, this little guy also gets to have LCD eyes widen in alarm and antenna ears fold back in fear. That’s the mood range as he whirs through menacing rooms and down corridors. His adventure takes off when he encounters an infrared-eyed guard bot that looks like an over-designed tripod and pursues like a velociraptor. The most impressive feat here is that this short sustains interest for twice the length you’d expect from such a one-sentence story line.

Suddenly It Rained (Faga Emtarit) (11 min.) Friday, August 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Tazza Caffé, and on Saturday, August 14 at 8:30 p.m. at the Providence Chamber of Commerce

Directed by Texas filmmaker Tim Wilkerson and written by Baha Taher, this is also an animation. And not. That’s to say, this was filmed with an Egyptian cast, with Austin standing in for Cairo, and then filtered to simulate hand-painted animation cels. The effect is a fascinatingly pleasant cognitive disconnect of animation characters engaging as vividly as flesh-and-blood actors.

The vignette follows an amusing but poignant conversation along the banks of the Nile, minarets prominent in a skyline. At first a young woman (Rahab El Ewaly) is protesting to her boyfriend (Sharif Mansour) that, no, she is not involved with someone else. He accepts that but protests that he loves her and doesn’t know what to do about that. Her suggestion that they settle for being like brother and sister doesn’t go down well with the moonstruck young man. Even with subtitles, their maddening cultural cross-purposes come across.

Chamaco (11 min.) Wednesday, August 11 at 7:40 p.m. at the Columbus Theatre

This hard-eyed yet amusing short doesn’t fall for the temptation to sentimentalize rather than just sympathize. Chamaco means "kid," and director Tim Parsa follows an 11-year-old nameless street orphan (Michael Fabian Sierra-Armenta) through a Mexico City day. We first see him huffing from a paper bag in the city’s mountainous dump. But while other street people are wiping windshields at an intersection, he is reciting a Neruda poem about how the sea is formed from raindrops falling on city streets. His world is hardly that ethereal, though, as we watch him witness how he came into the world, through sex between a prostitute and a customer in an alley. By sticking to the boy’s unblinking point of view, Parsa earns the tale’s concluding, in-character affirmation.

Sara Goes to Lunch (20 min.) Saturday, August 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Columbus Theatre

Broadly comedic, probably more so than is good for it, this film develops into what has become a genre among shorts: the "what if?" fantasy. What if a lonely young woman came upon a miraculous way to know whether that handsome, equally shy man at the diner were interested in her? (Don’t ask. Enjoy the surprise.) Director Dean Kapsalis does waste some time getting there as he has this generic, though female, nebbish passively taking guff from hyper-obnoxious bosses. Marching in place is no small matter in a story told in about the time a sitcom has to pack in an episode and a subplot. But when we slip into Twilight Zone mode, we’re all happy to be there.

Narrative features

Burning Annie (95 min.) Friday, August 13 at 3:30 p.m. at the Columbus Cinemathèque

Films by first-timers about youthful romantic angst are a dime a dozen, which makes Burning Annie glint like a brand-new silver dollar. This may be the feature debut of director Van Flesher, carved out of a tome-thick first screenplay by Zack Ordynans, but it hilariously pays homage to Woody Allen like it owes a blood debt.

Newcomer Gary Lundy plays Max, an Ivy college student so obsessed with the movie Annie Hall that he’s given up on getting a relationship to work. Two, actually. There has always been the reliable Beth (Kim Murphy Zandell), his former best friend, and now there is free spirit Julie (Sara Downing). Lundy has the wiseass, nerdy charisma to pull off lines like: "Of course I’m being honest. This is a fantasy extrapolated from a flashback — how could I lie to you?" Downing matches him in conveying the smarts of a character whose mistakes we care about and tops that off with scintillating screen presence. The wisecracking amorous trio could carry a big-budget Hollywood movie without breaking a sweat, so we’ll certainly be seeing this terrific little film around.

Pulling (113 min.) Friday, August 13 at 6:20 p.m. at the Providence Chamber of Commerce

And then there’s Pulling, which is going for David Mamet. Oh so very much not a chick flick. It’s the wee hours, and four bartenders are in the basement of the nightspot that they’ve been scamming for years. The tension is immediate and builds, as they worry about why the coked-up owner wants to speak to one of them, Mickey (Paul Jones), before he leaves. The scheme they have for "pulling" money without ringing it up will fall apart if Mickey’s high tally for the night (when he was being watched) can’t be explained away — or if his conscience whispers too loudly. The owner has hired his latest girlfriend (Amanda Loncar) for behind the bar, which can only end badly.

Over nearly two hours, these characters unfold like grim flowers, revealing their true colors. The film has some compelling exchanges and scenes, but writer/director/producer Jay Frisch isn’t the first first-time filmmaker to have a hard time translating a play — his own, in this case — for the screen. Even Robert Altman ruined Fool for Love by just sticking a camera in a room. Frisch does open things up now and then with a few bursts of flash-forward — the murder of an unspecified one of them hangs like a sword over their heads — and, after all, claustrophobia is appropriate for the mental state of this crew. What diminishes the momentum most, though, are occasional repetitious, wheel-spinning discussions that get these guys nowhere and us not much farther.


Issue Date: August 6 - 12, 2004
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