Monday, July 14, 2014

First Tries & Sequels

 I spent four nights this past week at the 15th Annual Real to Reel International Film Festival, an event that began the same year I moved the Shelby. I always enjoy this festival, which is still to many people a sadly undiscovered gem in my own community. It's like that old saying about a prophet having no worth in his own country - surely a film festival in little ol' Cleveland County can't attract that much talent.

Well, more popcorn for me, I say.

While distribution deals are far more likely to be found at Sundance, Toronto, and some of the larger festivals, several films first shown here have gone on to be picked up for large-scale broadcast and/or distribution. I've seen this festival grow so much - the first year, it was held in a gallery space in the Arts Council and films were sent in on clunky VHS tapes to be projected onto the sort of screen you're used to seeing in classrooms.  Now, screenings are held at the refurbished Joy Performance Center in Kings Mountain. Further, due to the widespread availability of the internet, word about the festival has gotten out and films in digital format are submitted from across the country and (quite often) outside the country. In fact, the best, most creative film I saw this go-round was Mousse, a Swedish entry (yes, there were subtitles) that won for Best Professional Short.

Over the course of four nights for the cost of one Carmike ticket and a small popcorn, I saw feature films, shorts, animated films, and documentaries. Some were produced by students and nonprofessionals, others were professional efforts. There were actors you knew and some probably making their first appearance on camera. There were earnest "feel good" films and dark "human condition" films. Quite frankly, some were deeply flawed, which reminded me of just how much hard work goes into any film. I was also reminded of just how tired I can get from working all day, then going to watch three-plus hours of movies. While the life of a critic is not as strenuous as that of a ditch digger - I was glad to sleep in on Sunday!

Having had a chance to recover, I spent Sunday afternoon at (naturally) the movies. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has just been released and I wanted to see it for this week's edition of Meet Me at the Movies.

To keep this post from getting far too long, I'll try to keep this brief. Dawn is getting incredibly positive reviews from critics and viewers alike and I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that the film belongs to that very exclusive club of sequels that are actually better than the original, when the original was already quite good on its own. (Empire Strikes Back is better than Star Wars, for instance, and wow! is Bride of Frankenstein better than Universal's telling of Frankenstein.) The effects are mind-blowing - and would someone give Andy Serkis an Oscar already? But pretty effects alone (apes on horses!) do not a fine movie make. So what makes Dawn a must see in my book?

The film does a wonderful job of positioning the two societies - humans in decline and apes in ascendance - as parallels with each other. In addition to some striking similarities in architecture in both, leaders seek a peace with the Others, families are formed, children are loved, loss is mourned, and those with a more violent streak see their way as the only one. Communication is the great barrier - more so than even DNA. How can you trust someone you can't understand when so much is at stake? Laws must be harsh in such circumstances and those who are outlaws cannot claim the protection of the law. Understanding can come with a touch as well as a speech. Fear can keep societies in line, but not for long. Knowledge must be handed down and a rough sketch of a window can evoke a long-ago home while becoming a symbol for something much larger.

In short, Dawn is an amazing film that did a great deal to remove the stench of the Film Who Shall Not Be Named from my nostrils. This is one to see on the big screen. I took a monkey with me, but that's completely optional. So far.

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