Park City, Utah--
THE ONLY MINNESOTA filmmaker to earn major festival exposure in Park City this year was Mark Carter--and he moved to Los Angeles 12 months ago. Just before leaving the Twin Cities for warmer climes and bigger prospects, Carter completed "The Ballad of Little Roger Mead," an eight-and-a-half-minute comedy of familial humiliation and artistic revenge that was selected from more than 2,500 submissions to screen in one of the free "Lounge Shorts" programs at the Slamdance Film Festival. (Even more impressively, Carter's film ended up winning the festival's Spirit of Slamdance Award, voted by fellow directors.)
Shot in Super 16mm, mostly at the Risen Christ Catholic Church in south Minneapolis (with downtown Hastings serving as the film's pointedly named "Minor, Minnesota"), "Little Roger" follows a small-town 12-year-old (Liam Kearns) whose rebellious talent-show performance culminates in a flamboyant "pitch and catch" of his own vomit. Naturally, high-tech digital technology plays a role in the rendering of this "special" effect. (Seems little Roger had been holding a goldfish in his tummy, among other things.) Still, this being Slamdance (that is, the emphatically déclassé alternative to the corporate-groomed Sundance), Carter made sure to work the grassroots angle as well, distributing promotional barf bags that listed screening times for his film in addition to its Web site (www.littlerogermead.com).
As with another made-in-Minnesota Slamdance short from 1998, Wyatt McDill's "Shortwave," what's most interesting about "Little Roger" is its reflexive allegory of artistic inspiration. To put it another way, Carter's film suggests vulgar shock as being crucial to both the artist's honesty and his potential for getting noticed in a competitive market--a fact not lost on the filmmaker at the obligatorily "edgy" Slamdance.
"In any short-film program," says Carter, "you need to say something fast, and you need it to be memorable. In many ways, a short film is a joke--which isn't to say that the format is a joke, but you're telling a joke: You set it up, you deliver the punch line, and you get out. I was very cognizant of that when I set up to do this film. I knew from the get-go that even if people hated it, they probably wouldn't be able to shake the sight of that kid vomiting ten feet in the air. The subdued, quiet work in any medium is good, obviously, and you can appreciate it. But it doesn't necessarily cut through this whole slew of other product--especially when you're someone like me, who's still trying to get noticed."
The 30-year-old Carter did get noticed, however, for his direction of the storied Jesse Ventura "Action Figure" campaign ad, made while he was working at the production company Metropolitan Hodder Group in Minneapolis. And his first short, the 20-minute "It's Not True," has screened at festivals in London and Palm Springs, and on the Independent Film Channel. Although it was a big step for Carter to move to L.A., where he has been directing promotional clips and writing his first feature, the filmmaker reports that he's just as pleased with his progression in storytelling.
"I could have easily just filmed this vomit trick by itself, or had a street musician do it," says Carter, whose early VHS work as a student at St. Paul Central High included the likes of "Bill the One-Legged Veteran" and "Popped Zit." "But there's something to be said for putting it in the context of a story, having it come out of a real character--literally and figuratively." (Rob Nelson)
"The Ballad of Little Roger Mead" can be downloaded for viewing atwww.atomfilms.com.
by Mark Peranson
The International Film Festival Rotterdam dooms the giddy cineaste to navigate an endless sea of artful cinema
Rotterdam, the Netherlands--
If God were an alternative filmmaker, and if the deity didn't like to ski or eat particularly good food, the International Film Festival Rotterdam might be where he'd come to present his latest cinematic venture. If not God, then at least film critics and programmers--three of whom have actually directed films that premiere this week. A well-programmed, unpretentious, insanely draining film marathon for The People, the IFFR understands that cool is something to be earned--not something you can buy...or that studios can buy for you. If most film festivals (including Sundance) are opportunities for journalists to catch the advance word, the hype, the whassup, then Rotterdam is where the proud, the tired, the few--the cineastes--go to keep it real.
January 24th's opening night in the Dutch port set the tone for the IFFR: Instead of a star-filled opening the festival had a simultaneous 17-screen surprise film unveiling in honor of its 30th anniversary. (Not that Rotterdam usually opens with stars; two years back the glitzless "gala" was a well-directed, somewhat dolorous Indonesian film aptly called Leaf on a Pillow.) Okay, so this year's 100-foot plumes of burping fire outside the festival center added a bit of ceremony, and warmth, to the brisk evening. The pyromaniacal touch certainly provided more thrills than the "surprise": a crappy German go-carting film that gave me the opportunity to catch up on some much-needed rest.