Saturday, October 24, 2020

Brief word on Compulsion (2017) hits VOD Tuesday


A young woman thinks her boyfriend is cheating on her.  Trying to get to the bottom of it she finds something much darker.

Small scale thriller, ratchets things up once we find out what is going on. I'm not going to tell what that is but you're going to want to see how this plays out because the twits are not your typical ones.

Running a breezy 75 minutes COMPULSION moves like the wind. It is perfect for a night on the couch.

Keith Haring: Street Art Boy (2020) New Fest (2020)

 


American Masters portrait of the influential artist is a loving look by the people who knew and loved him.

While I like Harring's art I was never a huge fan. At the same time I realized that I knew very little about the man and I felt that I should since he is still a major force in our culture still.

The film is a breezy telling of the story. The film beautifully explains who he was and how he changed not only the art world but the larger one as well.  Its a joyous celebration of a guy from small town in Pennsylvania who made good and then some.

I really liked this film a great deal. It opened my eyes to someone I barely knew about. It also made me misty towards the end when the story of his passing was recounted.  Its so good I want to see it again

Recommended.

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Reception (2019) San Jose Short Film Festival

 


Skip Sudduth and Richard Kind give two of the best performances you'll see all decade in THE RECEPTION, a stunning film that needs to be in the Oscar mix.

Set in a future time when the US is in the middle of a civil war two fathers lock themselves in the basement of a church after the wedding reception of their sons is attacked by militia. They know their time is limited before the militia comes in and kills them and they spend their final moments pondering their lives, their children and life in general.

I have very little to say other than filmmaking doesn't get better than this. This is a perfect film that delights you, makes you smile and brings you to the point of tears. It is a glorious celebration of life, even as it is running out.

I would like to say that all filmmakers need to study the world building of this film. Set in another America the whole world is set out in four of five carefully chosen lines of dialog which tell us everything we need to know without over explaining or killing momentum. This is the way films should be set up.

As for Sudduth and Kind their performances are ones for the ages. acting of any sort doesn't get better than this. If it can I will be really surprised. They nail it from first frame to the last with the result that we laugh and cry with with them, and even feel a sense of hope as they live in the moment.

This is an absolute must see.

It is playing at San Jose Short Film Fest Sunday in the Alternate Universe section. (Get tickets here)

After Class (2020)


 Bleak short film about poverty in China and the inability of some parents to afford their children school fees. Min doesn't go to school but she wishes she could. Her mother barely makes ends meet and needs Min to help earn money to keep the house going. When tragedy strikes Min's mother tries to get her daughter into school any way she can.

Incredibly sad short film will break your heart. I didn't see the ending coming and it made me gasp. I was kind of hoping for feature film version until the ending and no I never want to see it again.

That's a kind of a rave since this is a beautifully made, perfectly acted film. It is a wonderful little gem with one hell of a down beat ending


Thursday, October 22, 2020

A repost of my piece on Skeptics, the silence of God and teapots in honor of the passing of James Randi

I have a complicated relationship with the man who was James Randi. There was much that I liked, much that I didn't, but he always challenged me to look beyond the curtain. 

An atheist, he always insisted that there was nothing out there and that anything paranormal was bunk. While I  admired his debunking of charlatans I have always had trouble with his tendency, as with most skeptics, to insist that if he could explain it one way it couldn't be something else. For a man who loved science there a few too many times when he seemed to dismiss things out of hand without really looking, and a couple of times where he fudged things to prove his point.

On the other hand he was a great talker and if you heard him you'd fall under his spell.

What follows was piece I wrote a few years back, not so much on Randi but on belief, skeptics and our right to believe what the things we experience tell us are true. That last bit is one of the the things that annoys the piss out of me regarding skeptics and true believers which is their insistence that they have all the facts when that isn't always the case. 

Since Randi insisted that we question everything - I am reposting my piece on questioning everything except the things we have experienced. 
---- 

 The piece that follows here has been kicking around since Tribeca. It started as a long piece on the Amazing Randi that came out of AN HONEST LIAR and which I decided to abandon for reasons I won’t go into. The piece grew when I saw NOAH and was intrigued at the way the people who god talked to saw the world and those he didn’t saw the world. I linked them because Randi is a devote atheist. I then bridged the pieces with a discussion of Bertrand Russell.

I think it’s a start to something but not a fully formed piece. I’m presenting it here because it’s something related to movies and because I’m so sick of the damn thing I want it out there so I don’t have to revisit it.

The public doesn't listen when they are being told straight forward facts. They would rather accept what some charismatic character tells them then think about what the truth means. They'd rather have the romance and the lies.- James Randi

I’m bumping things around for this week’s Nightcap. I’m going to ramble, briefly, about skeptics, the silence of god and teapots. This rambling is the result of a couple of films and reading some Bertrand Russell.

Before we start I have to state that I’m agnostic when it comes to pretty much everything. I’d like to believe, or even disbelieve but I really need a bit more proof from every side before I sign on to anything.

The idea for the piece was kicked up while seeing the film on James Randi AN HONEST LIAR. Watching the film I was again drawn into pondering skepticism. I’ve been a follower of Randi’s for decades, ever since his battles with Uri Gellar and Peter Popoff brought him into the forefront. I once  hung on his every word in the TV bits and loved what he was doing.

I fell out of love with him when I started reading some of his books and found that he was cooking some material himself (The one thing that hung with me was in Flimflam his presentation of charts in the Betty and Barney Hill UFO case and he spread it across several pages and in differing sizes making any real comparison impossible.) He was kind of cooking the data to prove his point (and even bits Liar seems cooked).

While I applaud Randi and his efforts to find the truth I’m less enraptured by some of his brethren, who take the position that if they can duplicate or explain something it must not be a real and is a trick. Randi at least makes an effort to try and get some sort of scientific control in what he investigates, but there are others I’ve run across who simply make pronouncements that things aren’t so or are the result of some explanation without investigating it. UFO skeptic Philip Glass frequently didn’t do his homework with some of his pronouncements like a sighting being a lighthouse not being possible because of the terrain. He may have been right, but many times it was for the wrong reason.

My feelings toward skeptics is suspect in that many feel that they don’t actually have to back up their pronouncements. These things can’t be so they are not. This has never happened before so it can't happen now.

This week I was reading a bit on Bertrand’s Russell’s Teapot. The teapot thing is Russell’s argument is that if you claim that there is a small teapot in orbit around the sun I don’t have to believe it unless you provide proof. Fair enough.

Actually I think the piece from Russell says that if you put a teapot in orbit around the sun that he doesn’t have to believe it’s there without proof. And I’m good with that but at the same time just because you don’t believe that I did something doesn’t make it not so. The whole teapot thing ultimately should make you question what anyone says or does since we can ultimately know if anything we tell each other is true unless we experience it. We don’t have to believe anything anyone says not just about tea pots or god.

The lack of proof or silence of God is a key point in Darren Aronofsky’s NOAH. Within the frame work of the story mankind is divided into two sections, the sons of Cain and the sons of Abel. The Sons of Cain are forced to deal with the indifference of god. Its their sins and arrogance that god is trying to wipe off the face of the earth. Noah and his clan are in god’s good graces and he speaks to them.

The point that I’m reaching for here is that within the context of the film Tubal-cain and his clan view the universe as being one way because god is silent and doesn’t speak to them. Since he doesn’t speak to them he doesn’t exist. Since he doesn’t tell them how the world is they have created their own way of looking at the world. While it isn’t wrong for them to think that way within the parameters of their world and their knowledge it still doesn’t mean they are right, it just means, within the context of the film that they are operating without all of the facts or possibilities. Or in the real world, like someone coming to a conclusion without all of the facts.

I have no problem with anyone believing in gods or teapots or not believing in them. I firmly support your right to feel either way. But at the same time I have a problem with you forcing your beliefs on me or anything else. Your view isn’t my view. And considering that science is constantly revising what the truth is as more facts come in I find it highly questionable to state that one thing or isn’t possible- especially teapots which are outside of our ability to see orbiting the sun.

The point of this rambling piece is that like James Randi says, we should question what we are told, especially when it's something fantastical like a teapot orbiting the sun. On the other hand just because we don't have evidence (of said teapot) doesn't mean things aren't there...since someday we may find out otherwise (science revises)

Question everything. However be careful when you dismiss for lack of evidence, because one never knows when one might find something unexpected down the road. Besides when you get down to it, we can't tell what's going on in the house next door to ours and you're going to tell me for certainty what's floating out in space or how the universe works?

Synchronic (2019) hits theaters tomorrow


 Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's follow up to their film THE ENDLESS is a trippy time travel film that you are either going to buy or not.

The film has two paramedics Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan running across some weird occurances. All of them seem to be tied to a new designer drug called Synchronic. When Dornan's teenage daughter disappears after using the drug Mackie tries to buy up as much as he can. He is then informed that the drug can be used to time travel and that the missing girl maybe somewhere in time. He then begins a frantic search for her before the drug or the tumor in his head kills him.

I find Bendon and Moorhead's films a mixed bag. Some like THE ENDLESS I like despite it's flaws and others, like SYNCHRONIC I think get overwhelmed by the strangeness. The sometimes want to make us think at the cost of an sort of internal logic.

SYNCHRONIC for all it's narrative mess, is a beautifully acted film with a lot to say about what it means to be alive and what is important. There is a good many thematic elements that really shine and I tried to hold on to them as best I could in the hope that they would tide me over until the plot came together. It never happened.

Sadly the plot doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense. Assuming we accept that there could be a pill that bends time what spins out from it isn't always logical and it left me scratching my head. For example the inventor of the pill sets up rules that the film seems to ignore. Mackie's trips don't always make logical sense (I can't say what since it will give plot twists away). Forgive me I will go along with plot twists as long as they are internally logical, but as with the director's other films, things are often bent to do what they want them to do. When confronted with a film which keeps changing things up I am reminded of Raymond Chandler's warning that an audience will by one illogical thing, maybe two, but never more than that. If you do that the audience will be lost.

I was lost.

As much as I don't like the film as a whole I do like pieces and as such recommend it for anyone who wants to see an interesting misfire.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Bullets of Justice (2019)


I have no idea what to think of BULLETS OF JUSTICE an out there (no, even further out there) film about a world where pig/human hybrids have taken over the world and now farm people. Mixing wild action, a bent world view, some seeming hardcore sex and WTF plot the film is unlike anything you've run across.

I love the action, I love the look, the script needs work because things seem to just jump to the next thing.

Not making a hell of a lot sense and swing from pillar to post, BULLETS holds your attention because it is just so weird. Things just seem to happen because they can. Characters come and go and its all punctuated with some crazy ass action sequences that deserve to be in a more coherent film. I marveled at the action every damn time.

While I'm not a prude I'm not sure that the graphic quality of some of this is really needed. Do we need multiple shots of the pig men soiling themselves? Do we need the sex scenes (forget that some of the shots suggest its not simulated), they really don't serve a purpose except to bring in a certain audience.

Reservations aside this is a film that is a cult film in the making. There is enough weirdness and off the beaten trail appeal that I have n doubt that this film is going to gain a following now that it is out on home video. This is the the sort of weird cinematic confection Unseen FIlms was set up to highlight.

Recommended for anyone who wants something completely out of the cinematic mainstream

Assassination of Western Civilization (2020) hits VOD November 1


 In the aftermath of the assassination of a senator Mark,a journalist, finds himself under scrutiny by the FBI and others.

If you are willing to go along with this single take  thriller you will find yourself rewarded by having yourself caught up in an intriguing mystery as people come to call and our hero has to try and dig himself out of a hole.

The key to really enjoying this film is to understand that much of the first 15 minutes of the film is set up. People come into the room and talk to or at Mark, who says very little. It is only as some FBI agents come in that things heat up. (Actually they heat up just before that but I can't tell you why). From that point on the film becomes a cat and mouse game all the way to the end.

I likes ASSASSINATION OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION a great deal. It was a nice change of pace from all the big and loud thrillers we are seeing these days and it is so nice to simply see a film where the characters carry the film. 

While I could quibble with the one take nature of the film (I think it highlights the fact this was a stage play too much), the film kept me watching once it's all set in motion. Once the drama really kicks in you really won't notice that there are no cuts.

Worth a look for anyone tired of your typical Hollywood thrillers

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

NightStream Shorts: ANNIVERSARY PARTY. HAND IN HAND,LE JET, BEACH DAY. OH SEES- GHOLU, PETER THE PENGUIN, and RAINBOW IN THE DARK

 ANNIVERSARY PARTY
For their anniversary a couple decides to take a drug used by shaman...
Chilling film about the dangers of drug use-

HAND IN HAND
A handshakes goes horribly, terribly wrong
Surreal WTF film is both funny and scary in equal measures.

LE JET(STREAM)
A woman hides in a mens room to watch men pee. 
This is a button pushing film that kind of never pulls it together

BEACH DAY
A man with a camera films his trip to the beach...and guy just trying to swim
Creepy found footage sort of film that both kind of doesn't work and also does, leaving a bad taste in your mouth thanks to the lack of titles

OH SEES-GHOLU'
Animated music video of a serial killer at work.
Gross and troubling heavy metal nightmare

PETER THE PENGUIN
A man goes to meet his partner's daughter in a nightmarish comedy that will catch in your throat. Disturbing.

RAINBOW IN THE DARK
Stunning visuals in hat appears to be an apocalyptic tale of creation. I have no clue what it is about but it looks cool and is hypnotic

After So Many Days (2020)

 


Jim Hanft and Samantha Yonack who make up the group Jim and Sam have been struggling to get by in the music business. Desperate to make things happen the decide that for one year they will travel the world and play one show everyday. The result is an adventure they never could have imagined as they go from playing in theaters to bars to laundromats to living rooms and even a field full of cows. 

Very good documentary about the real grind of being on the road. It's a you are there portrait of two people spending a lot of time together across the globe trying to make their dream come true. Its a lovely portrait of lovely people who are truly trying to make it all work even if it means that night's show is in a gas station.

THe best part of the film is it gives us a ton of great music Jim and Sam are constantly playing something with the result you really get a wonderful sense of what they can do musically. The result is that anyone going into the film is going to come out as a huge fan.

Highly recommended AFTER SO MANY DAYS releases today.

Monday, October 19, 2020

NightStream Shorts: A STRANGE CALM, ANIMALS, ABRACITOS, WHENCE COME BUSSEL SPROUTS and WAFFLE

 A STRANGE CALM 
To kids take a ride they never should have.
Uncomfortable story of why you should be wary of strangers

ANIMALS
This animated tale of people being trapped on the subway and turning into animals, is both funny and disturbing.

ABRACITOS
Completely disturbing tale that sent shivers down my spine... and to hell with it I just don't want to talk about it.

WHENCE COME BRUSSEL SPROUTS
As fucked up a film as they come, this is a hellish nightmare that is just wrong. Recommended

WAFFLE
Two friends argue over waffles with dire consequences. An amusing little film.

First thoughts on Shiva Baby (2020) NewFest 2020


 Danielle meets her family to attend a post Shiva gathering. If having to deal with the prying eyes of family and friends wasn't bad enough, her ex-girlfriend shows up...and so does her boyfriend...and his wife...and their baby.

Wickedly funny and on target story of a family gathering will have you laughing and squirming. This is film version of a gathering of family that we;ve all been at. Sure not everyone is Jewish, but the complications are something we've all experienced.  I've been to gatherings like this and I know of what this film speaks.

I loved this film.  It was put solidly on my radar by Danielle Solzman who had first tweeted good things about the film and then wrote a wonderful review that made me want to see it more. I want to do for you what Danielle dis for me which is put the film on your radar. I want you to search it out and find its wonders.

Certain to be on my end of the year lists- SHIVA BABY is highly recommended.

And now if you don't mind I'm going to go watch the film again


Sunday, October 18, 2020

The State Of Texas vs Melissa (2020) hits VOD on October 20

This is the story of Melissa Lucio who was convicted of abusing her daughter to death. As a result she has been on death row for the last 12 years. The trouble is that there are all sorts of problems with the case, witnesses came forward to say she didn't do it but were ignored; her defense attorney may have railroaded her in order to get a high paying job with the DA; and on top of it all the DA was convicted of corruption not long after and the federal prosecutor on that case said all the death row cases the DA handled need to be re-investigated. Of course that doesn't include the fact that science maybe on her side when a doctor revealed the bruising from abuse may have been due to the brain injury. If there was ever a case where there was reasonable doubt, this is it and then some.

An absolutely riveting case and horrifying miscarriage of justice is a warning to everyone about what happens when public officials do evil. While some may argue that some of it isn't conclusive proof of innocence there is more than enough here to throw out her conviction because the optics of the case are so bad it's more than likely it's all tainted. Watching the film you are going to find that things are so WTF that you will be glued to the edge of your seat.

And that's a good thing because as compelling as the story is, the telling takes a while to get up to speed. Too much time is given over to telling Lucio's story early on. Yes, it makes Melissa more of a person than just someone on the screen, but at the same time it feels like we are being delayed in why we are watching the film. I would love to see the material slightly reordered.

Quibble aside, once the film finds its footing it tears on straight to the end. The film will leave you sick to your stomach and talking to the screen- with the final notes at the end will making you groan at the possible future for Lucio and the case.

Recommended.

Mothman Legacy (2020)


Unexpectedly good documentary on the whole legend of the Mothman. The giant red eyed creature was first sighted in Point Pleasant Virginia in the 1960’s right before the Silver Bridge collapsed killing 47. The mystery was chronicled in  the book the Mothman Prophecies by John Keel, who was then haunted by the mystery for the rest of his life.

Focusing on the town, the legend, the life and times of John Keel who was the guy on the subject (even though he didn’t want to be) as well as Jeff Wamsley and his Mothman Museum in the town of Point Pleasant the film is everything you wanted to know about the mystery and then some. Actually it’s the then some, particularly the sociological musings and history which raise The Mothman Legacy up from many other similar documentaries. Yes the film covers the scary stuff but the film tries to explore what that means for the people it touched. What did it mean for John Keel, or the witnesses or even the town of Point Pleasant itself. The film seeks to answer that question and as a result the film makes it greater.

Watching the film I was shocked and pleased at what I was seeing, even to the point where I was stopping the film even if I had to get up for a second.

Is the film perfect? No. It’s efforts at talking about scary stuff with a puffy opening where a young woman goes out painting and sees the creature and a few similar moments inside the film are not needed and a bit disposable. Regardless of that the over all film is solid reporting and highly recommended

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Cured (2020) NewFest 2020

 


CURED wrecked me. Several times in the film I found myself sobbing and had to stop the film. I am not entirely sure why, I knew how it comes out, but at the same time heart broke time and again as these heroes of our times related the stories of their lives and struggles.

CURED is the story of the fight to get homosexuality off the list of mental diseases in the American Psychiatric Association's list of illnesses, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is a battle that a group of activists fought for almost two decades, taking small victories where they could. They knew that the small victories would eventually lead to a greater victory, and they were right. It was because of their determination that minds changed and suddenly several million people who were once mentally ill were now cured.

Full of interviews with the surviving activists as well as with lots of historical footage, CURED is a glorious, often heartbreaking, look at the fight to simply be viewed as a normal human. This film will touch you repeatedly. As I said at the top the film brought me to tears several times and I have no doubt that it will do the same for you.

Forgive me if I don't say a great deal about the film but I really don't know what to say. This is a story we all need to hear and see.

One of the most important films of the year.

See it at New Fest

Forgotten Roads (2020) aka (LA NAVE DEL OLVIDO) NewFest2020

 


Covid has me seeing a lot of films I never intended to see and discovering films that make me feel stupidly wonderful. I don’t think that was something that whom ever created the virus intended.

The latest ball of pure joy is Forgotten Roads which is playing at NewFest. This wonderful little film is about Claudina who is dealing with the death of her husband. Forced to leave her house she moves in with her daughter and grandson. She then quickly meets ELsa who lives next door with her husband who goes away on trips frequently. The friendship between the two women becomes something more and eventually Claudina begins to see possibilities in life .

Wow and Wow.

This film  absolutely delighted me. I fell head over heels for everyone, so much so I want to know where this place in Chile is so I can go down and meet them all. More to the point I want to break social distancing protocols and give everyone a big bear hug.

I was moved to tears, and the ending had me going – “Yes Yes Yes” out loud. Sure that finale could be considered being a tad cliché- but the  moment, the marriage of images and the song is so damn perfect I had to not only talk to the screen but clap and bounce in my seat. (I was  watching this during an extended lunch at work and my reaction made the people around me go- what are you watching- to which all I could say was “Something wonderful”)

That the film works as well as it does is entirely due to the cast who sell it and especially the two ladies at the center Rosa Ramirez and Romana Salt. They make this a magnificent film that should be playing everywhere. Ramirez in particular gives a performance that has burned itself in my heart. When she smiled  my hard exterior shell cracked and let the sunlight in.  If there was a god she would be in the running for all of the year end awards.

I can’t recommend this film enough.

See it at NewFest or wherever you can.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Sinbad:The Fifth Voyage Ultimate Directors Cut (2020)


 Sinbad returns in a film that acts an homage to the films of Ray Harryhausen and makes you feel like a kid again.

The plot of the film has Sinbad returning from a voyage to with a magic amulet. It is a gift for the Princess who has won his heart. However when he arrives he finds the city frozen and the princess stolen by an evil wizard who wants to make her his own. It is up to Sinbad and his crew to get her back.

Mixing CGI and stop motion this film is full of familiar monsters from cyclops, to dragons, to skeletons to multi-armed deities, that would do Harryhausen proud. All hail director Shahin Solimon, a great fan of the Harryhausen, who has intentionally made a film that brings back all the things he loved in the films he grew up on. You will delight, as I did, at all the references to  your favorite moments. While I was hooked by the film itself, another part of me also desperately wanted to see what the next riff was going to be.

The best part about the film is it works on it's own terms. This is a great adventure that grabs you and pulls you along. Yes, some of the use of flashback early on is a tad clunky, but it moves the plot along so we know what is what.

This film is an absolute joy.

Get some popcorn and go to to Amazon Prime and watch this old school winner.

A Ghost Waits (2020)


A handyman is hired to repair a rental property that has gone u for rent. He is also asked to find out  why the property is constantly having it's tenants leave mid-lease. What he discovers is the property is haunted by a beautiful ghost. Soon romance is in the air.

Cutesy romcom ponders whether a ghost and a human (who is kind of a ghost himself) can find a middle ground to be in love. This is an amusing little film that has it's charms. It's hell acted and heart felt which adds a great deal of likability to the proceedings. 

I was amused by the film.

Worth a look if cute romances between the living and the dead are up your alley.

The Old Ways (2020) Stiges

 


The Old Ways is a film I admire more than I like. The story of a woman from Veracruz in Mexico who long ago left and grew up in the US she returns as a reporter with the aim of focusing on the local myths and legends. She finds herself taken prisoner as the people in her home town insist there is a demon inside her.

Beautifully made the film has images and moments that are going to stay with me forever. For example one of the final shots in the film sent chills down my spine. It also has a chilly sound design that keeps the film chugging away.

The trouble for me is that all of the good bits don’t quite come together. I thought it was a little too abrupt getting into the film and I didn’t connect until a good way in. I also thought things were a little too bright to be scary. There wasn’t the proper creep factor for my tastes. I also have grown weary with any film that relies on jump scares.

But if I am quibbling with this film it is because while I like the film I wanted to love the film like I love the pieces. There is so much great here I wanted it all to be great. Regardless of it all there are some wondrous things that lovers of horror films should see.

Recommended

Thursday, October 15, 2020

CUCALORUS FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES COMPLETE FILM SLATE WITH TICKETS AND PASSES ON SALE (November 11-25)

 “Racism, and pandemic boredom under attack at Cucalorus, I dare you!!”  

Drive-ins, Special Live Online Events, and a streaming library with lots of options every day 

Opening night sports a double feature of Mo Scarpelli’s EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF and

Sabrina Mertens’ TIME OF MOULTING

Wilmington, NC (October 15, 2020) – The 26th Annual Cucalorus Film Festival has announced that passes and tickets are now on sale, along with the full schedule of screenings and events for this year’s hybrid event with both online and drive-in screenings. The celebration brings together film and performance and will be held November 11-25 with a slate of challenging new films availave in three formats: at the Curbside Cinema at UNCW, Live Online, and Streaming On-demand. Opening night will feature a one-two punch of Mo Scapelli’s EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF and Sabrina Mertens’ TIME OF MOULTING, and Curbside Cinema at UNCW screenings will include festival must-see titles like Danny Madden’s BEAST BEAST, and Mario Furloni and Kate McLean’s FREELAND, starring Krisha Fairchild. 

A lineup of live performances will be led by infamous performance artist Kristina Wong, Wilmington’s own Julie-Ann Scott-Pollock, and legendary art pop band, Sparks! Cucalorus Connect uses film as a catalyst for discussions about undoing racism and community transformation. Special guests will include author Damon Young, whose book What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker was released in 2019 by HarperCollins. 

Cucalorus Film Festival Chief Instigating Officer Dan Brawley said, “I don’t think anyone was really ready for the strange and challenging energy of the past six months. But we’ve really seized this as a chance to focus in on what we do best: to surprise people, to challenge people, and to bring people together. In some ways, the wacky, off-the-wall energy at Cucalorus is perfect for difficult situations. We’re adaptable and flexible and always looking for a good reason to try something new. This year’s festival aims to continue making that vital connection for filmmakers and performers but we’ve been forced to examine what matters most. So we’ve made a bigger commitment to equity, to sharing more stories centered on Black, Brown and Indigenous people. But also sharing power and making sure those stories are accountable. I see this year’s festival as the beginning of a new era for Cucalorus and for storytellers. The most exciting part is that we have no idea what will actually happen. So tune in, and find out!” 

Opening Night will feature two films, Mo Scarpelli’s EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF, and Sabrina Mertens’ TIME OF MOULTING. EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF is about a young director who is inspired to make a film based on his father’s life in the Amazon jungle, starring his father as himself. That decision – made as an act of love and ambition — takes the film and his relationship to a place he wasn’t prepared to go. TIME OF MOULTING will be the first of four “Convulsions” presentations hosted by film raconteur Aaron Hillis. Set in 1970s Germany, the film focuses on a lively child who enjoys board games and playdates with neighbors, until she becomes increasingly emotionally isolated from her parents. Unfolding as a beautiful series of intricate tableaux vivants of creeping dread, we witness an equally sublime and crushing portrait of trauma.

 Additional online feature film highlights include; Heather Young’s multiple award-winning drama MURMUR, about a woman ordered to perform community service at the local animal shelter, who begins to fil the loneliness in her life by taking more and more animals home until she gets in over her head; Graham Mason’s INSPECTOR IKE, a “lost 70s TV movie” which follows New York City’s greatest police detective, who finds himself in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse after the conniving understudy of an avant-garde theater group knocks off the star actor; Jennifer Sharp’s documentary THE CHASING OF A GREAT MOVIE, looks at the experience of an African American woman who fearlessly travels alone to Mexico to accomplish her 17-year dream of making a movie there; and George King’s THUMBS UP FOR MOTHER UNIVERSE: STORIES FROM THE LIFE OF LONNIE HOLLEY, another award-winner, that looks at the remarkable life of the enigmatic and prolific artist and musician Lonnie Holley. There will also be three “Secret Convulsions” presentations hosted by Aaron Hillis. These secret screenings will likely involve film rarities, unexpected gems, and films not for the faint of heart. 

Twelve shorts film blocks, named after mushrooms (“Dewdrop Dapperling,” “Gassy Webcap,”, “Purple Jellydisc,” etc.) range from three sections showcasing new documentaries about race, land, immigration, and gender to a hefty selection of experimental work and comedies. Following the festival’s tradition of showcasing choreography on film and in front of film, the “Witches Butter” shorts block features the World Premiere of Tuixén Benet’s mesmerizing featurette ALOMA & MILA, shot on the coast of Spain. 

CUCALORUS GOES TO THE DRIVE-IN

Cucalorus’ Curbside Cinema at UNCW will include; Michael Parks Randa, and Lauren Smitelli’s BEST SUMMER EVER, about a couple facing the drama of high school after falling in love at a dance camp over the summer. The film features a cast and crew of people with and without disabilities; Danny Madden’s BEAST BEAST follows ratchets up the tension via three interwoven stories of youth navigating identity, first love, petty crime, and gun violence in a Southern, American town; Jonathan Wysocki’s DRAMARAMA is about a group of conservative drama teens in the mid 90s who throw their final murder mystery party before heading off to college. However, an unexpected visit by a rebel upends everything including the plans of one member who wants to come out as gay to his best friends before they leave – but is terrified of the changes that may bring; and Mario Furloni and Kate McLean’s FREELAND, about an aging pot farmer who suddenly finds her world shattered as she fights against the threat of eviction at the same time the impact of the legalization of the cannabis industry looms.

CUCALORUS STAGE

The Stage program kicks off and closes with two one-woman shows— Reality Television, Political Theater, and Social Change by Kristina Wong, and Gazed At: Stories of a Mortal Body, by Julie-Ann Scott-Pollock. Visual/Sound/Walls returns featuring Sparks!, one of the greatest cult bands of all time for a special Friday the 13th retrospective of their wildly inventive music videos, along with live chats throughout the evening! The middle of the festival is full of get-togethers, including a meet-up with CultureHub to learn about LiveLab, their browser-based media-router for collaborative performance. And in sticking with tradition, Emcees will introduce all programs, bringing living room theatrics to the screen. 

 CUCALORUS CONNECT

This year’s Cucalorus Connect workshops build on the format of the Community Conversations series using film as a catalyst for discussion about undoing racism. Six events will explore the relationship between storytelling and action as we tackle the nation’s most pressing issues and seek a path to real action and change. Sessions will be facilitated by Damon Young (Author, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker), Rebecca Trammel (Author, Enforcing the Convict Code: Violence and Prison Culture), Working Films, Ebony Golden (Founder, Betty’s Daughter Arts Collaborative), Kim Pevia (Founder and CEO, K.A.P. Knowledge. Application. Practice of the human dynamic), and Kevin Maurer (Author, No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden).

 Cucalorus is sponsored by the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County, University of North Carolina Wilmington, and over 45 local businesses.  The Cucalorus Film Foundation is funded, in part, by grants from grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the North Carolina Arts Council, and South Arts with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

 For information on purchasing passes, tickets, and additional details on the Cucalorus Film festival, please go to: cucalorus.org.

 Cucalorus Film Festival 2020 film descriptions: