"Go to a studio someday and just meet the executives," says Debra Winger, speaking a few months before the Twin Cities premiere of her new film Big Bad Love. "Then you'll understand everything. These guys change over every eight months, 14 months if they're lucky, so there's no continuity. They're all young. And they have no sense of the import of what they could do."
Winger is talking about studio movies, of course, and how they become autobiographies of the men who sell them. (The briefcase full of cash, the girl waiting in the getaway car--these are the dream symbols of fruit flies.) But her point applies just as well to the small and the enduring. Festivals of independent film tell us something about the cities that support them. And in the Twin Cities this week, we have two such tests of what we're about: the third annual Sound Unseen Film and Music Festival (September 20-27); and the inaugural edition of the Central Standard Film Festival (September 18-22), which kicks off with Big Bad Love.
Both events bear the marks of personal commitment and passion: They're packed with premieres, local collaborations, and accompanying celebrations. They look like a good time (parties, parties, parties), and they cover a lot of ground--literally. Central Standard's regional and independent features screen at the Heights Theater and the Apache 6 Theaters in Columbia Heights. Sound Unseen's films about music show at Oak Street Cinema and Walker Art Center, with additional live performances at the Soap Factory, Pizza Lucé downtown, the Historic Thorpe Building, and various clubs.
The three-night overlap between festivals indicates an embarrassment of riches, as well as an embarrassment of scheduling (for more on the latter, see "North by Northwest" September 4, 2002). To avoid further confusion, and to help you plan your week, we've decided to present capsule reviews of films and events in both festivals, organized by date. Next to each review, you'll see a CS (Central Standard) or a SU (Sound Unseen) to denote which festival is hosting the particular program. Space limitations prohibit an exhaustive survey, but hey--we weren't the ones who decided to have two giant film blowouts in one week.
For a complete list of Central Standard fare, see www.centralstandardfilmfest.com, or call 612.343.3390. For Sound Unseen events, see www.soundunseen.com, or call 612.379.0888. Festival passes for both series are cheap, and worth the investment if you want these kinds of events to stick around longer than a briefcase full of cash.
Apache 6 Theaters, Thursday at 5:30 p.m., Friday at 7:00 p.m., and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
This award-winning doc fixates on the kitschy and the trivial at the Super Bowl of spelling bees. A poor, rural geek-girl recites her non-spelling-related interests while her clueless white-trash parents drawl to the camera, a poodle lapping at Mom's varicose veins. (The directors get a kick out of holding that shot for minutes.) As in some ancient National Lampoon movie, a black woman from the ghetto bitches to the filmmakers: "I know for a fact my daughter ain't gonna get publicasized!" And a young master of proper spelling speaks in a disjointed robot voice that suggests Danny's "imaginary friend" in The Shining. Where an Errol Morris or a Robert Altman might use a national spelling bee as an opportunity to grin wryly at the diversity of American obsessives, the perpetrators of Spellbound seem hell-bent on twisting our lips into a superior sneer. --Matthew Wilder
Apache 6 Theaters, Thursday at 6:00 p.m. and Friday at 8:30 p.m.
The loss of a parent might not seem like a particularly unique subject for a movie. But documentarian Tom Curran--whose father died when the filmmaker was 12--here finds an angle that's both intriguing and universal. Growing up in Cape Cod and Alaska, he and his siblings were constantly surrounded by their larger-than-life parent's notions of competition and success. Hoping to become a big-time athlete, Curran spent much of his life trying to meet what he imagined were his father's expectations, winding up as an accomplished sports cameraman. Adrift works as both remembrance and exorcism, and its tone is understandably earnest. Still, one wonders whether the film may have benefited from an even more sober perspective. --Bilge Ebiri
CS -LIVE AND LET GO: AN AMERICAN DEATH
Apache 6 Theaters, Thursday at 6:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
On a summer day in 1998, sitting on his deck with his grown children, 76-year-old Samuel J. Niver Jr. took an overdose of pills, slipped a plastic bag over his head, and ended his life, thus beating terminal prostate cancer to the punch. This wrenching documentary, shot on video by Niver's son Jay (along with Jay Spain), is both a son's anguished record and a right-to-die screed--and so affecting as the former that the latter distinction seems unnecessary. The more we learn of Niver's extraordinary life (as a WWII vet, regional newspaperman, and indefatigable civic booster), the more harrowing his onscreen decline becomes. Albeit a bit voyeuristic, the film honors the last stand of a man who raged against the dying of the light by extinguishing it himself. --Jim Ridley