Thursday, January 13, 2011

Film Festival Review--Queen City Cinema series at the Moxie (Ep1)

Queen City Cinema Series 

 I am slow to get this review out, but the contents of the first of the Queen City Cinema series gave me a pretty solid reason to reflect on its contents.  But first, blatant exposition.

  The Queen City Cinema series is a collaboration between the newly minted non-for-profit Moxie Cinema and the Missouri Film Alliance of  Springfield.  The purpose of the project is two-fold.  Firstly, it gives local filmmakers a venue to show their films to the public and up on the big screen (which always shows off mistakes you never noticed on your computer monitor).  Secondly, it is designed to stir up interest in the local film making community and by extension the Missouri Film Alliance, which is dedicated to helping said film community grow and better utilize the local resources (which are abundant, just unorganized).   The film series is to take place the first Tuesday from now thru May at 9:30 p.m. at the Moxie, which is located at 431 S. Jefferson Ave. 

  At this point I will be perfectly honest with you, I did not really want to go to this event.  The basic excuses: it had been a long day, it started too late, I didn't know but one of the film makers, yadda yadda yadda, whine, whine, whine.  But, being on the board of the MFAS and being the only representative available that night, there was no way I could whine and stay at home.

  I am glad I went out.  Ecstatic even. Let me give you a run down of the films and then I will explain why I left the showing so jazzed up about our local film makers.


  The first film of the series was  “This is the Orange Line,” a nine-minute black and white film by Nathan Maulorico that focuses on the Orange Line L Train in Chicago and the inherent beauty and majesty that trains posses.  Set to the backdrop of the classical work Cello Concerto in E minor by Edward William Elgar, the movie had an almost French New Wave feel to it throughout as it displayed both the minutia and vistas that a person may experience from their train seat while travelling through Chicago.  Nathan Maurolico was the only film maker of the series whose work I was familiar with and as I had seen both the trailer for the film as well as the list of festivals it had been accepted into, I knew going into the event that enjoying his work was a sure bet.


  The second film of the series was 'One Piece at a Time', a ten minute film by Max Rosen.  The film kept a balance of comedy and dramatic intensity that kept the viewer from having any idea where the final minutes of the film would take them.   Featuring an almost solo performance by Ryan Bennett, the movie was about an average man who starts receiving very unusual packages on his front porch every morning.  Within each package is a small gear or piece of metal that the viewer easily implies are parts to a much larger creation.  The accrual of the various gears and screws gives a slowly building tension to the film that, when combined with an editing style similar to Chris Dickens, gave a surprising rush when the object is put together and its purpose, as well as the most memorable sequence of the film, is revealed.  


  Next up was 'Mill Man', a 12 minute film by Chris Beckman that at first seemed to explore the disconnect between the various strata of office and production life in the workplace, but quickly turned into a very silly and incredibly enjoyable buddy movie.  The basic premise is an office worker decides to investigate to see why none of the production orders are being shipped and the head office is unreachable.  Upon his arrival at the mill, the protagonist played perfectly by Matte Stowe, finds it abandoned but for a single worker (again, Ryan Bennett) who has kept at it  in order to impress the higher-ups even though everyone else has left.  While I am sure every actor hates to be out-shined by an inanimate object, it seemed the real star of this comedy was the set, Tindle Mills, which was bulldozed and turned into a parking lot the week after this film shot there.  


  The second Chris Beckman film to be shown at the event was a 10 minute piece entitled 'oops'.  'oops' has not only won an award for experimental video with the Vimeo Awards, but has also been selected to compete in the shorts category at the 2011 Sundance film festival.  Admittedly, considering how much I had heard about a local guy having his film accepted into Sundance, I came into the beginning of this film with a slightly overly analytical eye most likely looking for reasons to make myself feel better as a film maker.  When the film started and the first sight to meet my eye was a youtube video clip the little prideful film guy in my head said 'What?!?!?!  Are you kidding me?!?!?  Youtube video fodder and it made it to Sundance!!!'

  And then the first transition happened and the little film guy went 'whoooaaaahhhh' and shut the hell up.

  The premise is simple.  Take ten minutes worth of youtube videos where people destroy their cameras in a plethora of entertaining ways and join the clips.  Not by simple cuts or fades or other such pedantic nonsense, but with an impressive audio video transition where the camera falls in one video and is picked up in another and you have absolutely no idea where one clip ended and the other began.  The transitions were incredible and inspiring, and in the case of a transition from the thunderous staccato of a locomotive into the pounding of children's feet on the playground, somewhat haunting.  


  The final film for the night was a twenty minute piece entitled 'Loose Cannon' by Brook Linder.   To get a feel for what this movie was like, go out to your garage and pick out any three cop movies that you still have on VHS staring the talents of  Willis, Gibson or Eastwood when they still had their hair and then run them through a blender.  The 80's avenging cop goodness that oozes out and makes you question how this could have possibly been shot just this past year and why you don't already know all of the catch phrases is what watching this movie felt like.  

  "Surely, you exaggerate", you say. 

  "No", I counter, "this looks like it was shot in the 80's and you are watching it on a well loved VHS tape".  

  The effect is impressive as it gives the film an undeniable sense of authenticity when viewed on the big screen, never mind that the movie itself had the perfect selection of actors, over the top gags, was well scripted and well directed. I spoke with the director afterwards to ask how they achieved the VHS look in this world of AfterEffects plug ins and got an answer far simpler than I expected.  They shot it digitally, then dumped it down onto VHS (taping over an old Brian De Palma movie as a dub to a new VHS looked too clean), then back to digital.  

  As you can tell by the reviews of these movies, I was so very happy I chose to not be an old man and go out to watch this series.  Not only were all of the films pretty incredible, the event was free and all of the filmmakers were in attendance to take questions and congratulations well earned.  Out in the lobby I overheard someone make mention of how Springfield felt like Austin did right before its big film revolution in the 90's.  Its hard not to argue with them when seeing work like this.  Its not just storytelling or messing around with a camera with friends for the fun of it, this was actual cinema innovation.  These were original works that renewed my confidence in the talent and capabilities of the film makers in this if we can only get organized and get funding.  

  Dont just take my word for it, but check out this review of the series from the fine print blog.

Again, Queen City Cinema series is taking place the first Tuesday from now thru May at 9:30 p.m. at the Moxie,  located at 431 S. Jefferson Ave.   Go see it next month, you won't be disappointed.

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