What’s on the Menu: Sampling of Films from the Fest
Written by Chris Cooke | Posted by: Anonymous
"Dog Days," the latest from Ellie Lee (Most Promising Filmmaker), takes us to an apocalyptic near-future, focusing on one family as they cope with the domestic complications of the U.S. involvement in the next world war. The nation is under martial law, schools closed, everything shut down. Food and water are scarce, delivered periodically by the government, along with government-printed newspapers — the people’s only source of information. Everyone sticks to their local environs (no gasoline, it seems, to use for travel) with nothing to do but lounge around the house, brooding, listening to the echoing sounds of war. Bombs are constantly rumbling in the distance, planes zooming overhead, but the war never seems to arrive, nor does anyone know exactly what the war is about or who we are fighting. The people feel confined, deliberately kept in the dark, dependent completely on the whims of some unseen power, treated no better than dogs. In the midst of all this, the family makes the acquaintance of a quite unusual furry friend.
Using stark black and white, Lee, whose "Repetition Compulsion" won Best of Festival in the 1997 New England Film and Video Festival, skillfully portrays the family’s frustration as they try to keep their wits about them in the tedious yet tense circumstances. Lisa Stathoplos and Sonya Genel are particularly compelling as the mother and daughter, conveying their desperate need for contact and compassion in the spiritually barren wartime wasteland. "Dog Days" is an adaptation of a short story from the "New York Time" Notable New Book of 1998, Judy Budnitz’s "Flying Leap."
Daniel Sousa’s "Minotaur" (Honorable Mention) spins a different tale of isolation, this one with paper cut-out animation. The Minotaur, bored and alone in the labyrinth, must cope with both his loneliness and the terrible instincts that inevitably drive him to destroy his only chances of connection with others. The animated charcoal-drawn images are fitting, the repeated and fragmented patterns evoking the claustrophobic solitude that informs his condition.
On the lighter side, Kelly Riley’s documentary "Moonshine" (Best Documentary) takes us not to the labyrinths of yore nor to a war-zone future, but to a far stranger place, indeed — the backwoods of North Carolina. Here we meet the jolly figure of Jim Tom Hedrick, producer and imbiber of 140-proof corn whisky. Hedrick’s friends and a sister lend a hand in describing the ins and outs of making moonshine and the life of a moonshiner, but it is Hedrick himself who steals the show. He is an open, engaging figure, completely lacking in self-consciousness, as comfortable talking to the camera inside a Dumpster as he is from behind the wheel of a car. He lives a meager existence, but as his sister says, "As long as he has a loaf of bread and a pound of bologna and a pound of cheese, he’s fine. He don’t care which way the wind blows. And he’s happy." But he’s most content when he’s with his still, both proud of and enthralled by the quality of his brew.
Other entries in the festival include Monika Mitchell’s "Night Deposit" (Merit Award), in which a woman finds a way to merge her keen eye for business with her way with men; "Night on the Town" (Best Student Entry), James Holland’s tale of three children left to their own devices while their parents go out for the evening, with the expected ensuing mayhem (the kids do a great job, and the sound effects for the cowboys-and-Indians warfare are a nice touch); "Fruitlands 1843" (Merit Award), by Vasiliki Katsarou, about a 19th-century utopian community in rural Massachusetts; and Sandra Gibson’s "Edgeways" (Best Animation Award), a three-and-a-half-minute plunge into a montage of spliced and scratched film strips, full of fragmented images and flashing colors, set to the tune of pulsing and shifting electronica.
For times and ticket information, go to http://www.NewEnglandFilm.com/festival/.