I am not a film critic
It’s Sunday morning. Back to reasonably restored. I’m sitting here in Cafe Mekka in Nevada City, California, having awakened and meditated, with a decent breakfast under my belt and caffeine in my system. Last night around 1 a.m., I was swerving into the delirious zone from lack of sleep. But now I can reflect a little bit on, what, 19 short films at the Nevada City Film Festival, plus a live presentation by Tim and Eric from Adult Swim that included some filmed bits.
I couldn’t find much on YouTube. Did find the trailer to a slightly overdone hipster film-noir number that featured David Yow from the Jesus Lizard, but that film (Sunday Punch) wasn’t one of my favorites. I did wonder if the director, Dennis Hauck, is any relation to the esoteric magician Dennis William Hauck, who once wrote a book on haunted places in America and who, when I barney googled around to figure out how to contact him around 10 years ago, turned out to live in my adopted hometown, Sacramento, and was giving a talk on local haunted houses at the Sacramento Public Library downtown that very week, which I attended and conversed with him and asked him about one of my former residences, 2307 H Street, an old Victorian whose active ghost population kept me entertained for the couple years I lived there in the early 1990s. He’d heard, but never had first-hand documentation. But I digress, and more about those ghosts some other time.
Anyway, Sunday Punch, in the context of everything I saw, wasn’t one of my favorites, but that’s because so many other entries were that wonderful. The films I saw were grouped into three sittings; of the first bunch titled “Love Is Strange,” my favorite of those was probably Thomas Leisten Schneider’s One Day, an 11-minute bit about a kid who was taking his French girlfriend out to dinner to propose to her, but he didn’t have the nerve, and then lots of things went awry. A pedestrian theme, yes, but it was done so well and the performances felt authentic, and it just hit me in that emotional sweet spot. Or maybe it was one of the first films I saw, before getting overwhelmed with images and sounds as the day rolled on. Or maybe I’m just the worst kind of stupid middle-aged romantic?
That seven-film grouping also included a poignant five-minute short called Empty House, where director Sean Christensen evoked the divorce of his parents in childhood with a montage of imagery and old films, a 15-minute film by Tom Geens titled Please, in which an English working-class couple invited a workmate of the husband’s over for supper, with the hidden agenda of satisfying wifey horizontally because hubby could not achieve or maintain tumescence, and Robert Arnold and Cynthia Mitchell’s All Animals, another 15-minute film, this one filmed in bright outdoor Tracy, San Joaquin County (thought I recognized that particular quality of alfresco light and low, grassy mountains), about a guitar-playing California hillbilly fighting with and proposing to run away with a much younger deaf woman, who turned out to be his daughter. Her performance had magic; his was something I’d seen in too many other indie films of the Texas variety, not to mention a John Sayles ensemble piece or three. (On edit, after watching All Animals again on Sunday afternoon: Dunno what I was thinking, as it’s a straight-up tale of a father telling his deaf daughter that he’s leaving her mom. That, of course, isn’t established at the beginning, but my own corrupted mind filled in the blanks — wrong.)
After a short break, and an interview segment with Arnold and Mitchell, came “Short Stories,” five more films, these in the narrative drama category. The festival winner was Grzegorz Jonkajtys’ 15-minute The 3rd Letter, a dystopian steampunk (if steampunk can be used to describe analog 1950s gear) evocation of a future when your health-care provider’s denial of care, in the form of a cancelled battery license for the cardio pacemaker everyone must wear, brings about an healthy case of angst. It was a fine little film, as was The Bridge, Philipp Wolter’s 16-minute piece about a middle-aged Asian dry-cleaning employee who gets trapped in a limbo world between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn on, I think, the Manhattan Bridge, until a homeless man breaks the spell by handing him an origami boat. But my favorite of this set was Florian Krautkrämer’s Beine Breichen (Breaking Legs), an ingenious 15-minute silent black-and-white short about a German man (in the old Deutsche Demokratische Republik?) who is ripped away from his family, interrogated and set free because he knows nothing of value, and then has to make up stories about how tough he was under pressure. The story was told using artfully placed Helvetica subtitles.
After another break, and an interview segment with Jonkajtys and Wolter, came a segment titled “Survival of the Crittest,” a grouping of seven films that came from a less narrative and more imaginary place. Sunday Punch was one of these. More amazing was Gray Espectations, an sweet little 13-minute short by musician Spencer Seim (Hella) featuring his sister Jennifer and her 10-year-old daughter Taylor, a fluffy chicken named Graybeard, some other barnyard animals, and preparations for the upcoming Nevada County Fair, where Graybeard would be entered in some kind of bantam yardbird category. The ending was disappointing, compared to the utter charm that came before it, but that didn’t matter. It was followed by Ataque de los Robotos Nebulosa (Attack of the Nebulous Robots), a six-minute black-and-white Spanish-language film about a mentally ill man who foretells an invasion by malevolent robots (note: no director was noted in the program or on the festival’s website).
My favorite of this grouping was Sven Alexander Heinrich’s El Amante del Padrino (The Lover of the Godfather), a 28-minute relative epic, in Spanish, about a hapless man who toiled in a yellow chicken suit inside an urban Mexican grocery until he was plucked for greater — and, um, gayer — things by the Godfather, a nebulous practitioner of palo mayombe, a Mexican voodoo/Yoruba or Santeria hybrid practice involving sticks and a cauldron, or nganga, into which human body parts, spiders, blood and other things are poured and stirred, with the desired result being that the criminals, for whom the palo mayombe magick is being practiced, will remain protected by dark forces, and invisible and bulletproof (sorry; my erstwhile obsession with some really dark true crime literature may be showing here). El Padrino and his entourage are working in sub-rosa behalf of a shadowy candy bar and energy drink magnate, who has the Godfather murdered, with the sensational killing pinned on poor hapless chicken-suit dude, who is imprisoned, then killed, as the candy bar magnate, the chief of police and the El Padrino Muerte’s former right-hand man and now new Godfather laugh with derision. Sorry, but I really get off on movies like that. It was the perfect mix of Hammer Films cheesiness and telenovela dark psychedelia.
Then came the awards, and then Tim and Eric. I laughed. I was tired. The bald-headed comic from Carmichael who introduced them really rubbed me the wrong way after a while. But it was fun.
Oops. I’d better post this, check out and move the car. More later. —Jackson Griffith