Cinequest's sweet sixteen party has another bountiful sampling of party favors and guests. Around sixty-five narrative features, twenty documentaries, and eight short-film programs are the meat of a schedule that includes tribute events, multiple filmmaking and technology forums, two silent-film bills, and a few good parties. Edward James Olmos—currently enjoying a pop-culture resurgence as Commander Adama on Battlestar Galactica—will receive the Maverick Award in celebration of his career and activism (Sunday, March 12 at the California Theatre). Marvel Studios Chairman and CEO Avi Arad will receive the Maverick Mogul Award and participate in the "Day of the Producer" filmmaking forum "Meeting of Maverick Moguls" (Saturday, March 11 at the Camera 12). Previous tributee William H. Macy will be on hand for another career-spanning on-stage conversation to include new films Edmond (based on the David Mamet play) and Thank You for Smoking, both of which will play at the festival (film followed by conversation Saturday, March 11 at the California Theatre). Another sure-thing program is a double-bill of new Italian documentary Sergio Leone: The Way I See Things and Leone's classic 1968 western Once Upon a Time in the West (3/8 and 3/9 at the Camera 12). All this and much more will be covered here, so watch this space. For more information, complete program, and tickets, go to visit www.cinequest.org.
Andrew Jenks, Room 335 (screens 3/4 and 3/5 at the Camera 12) This doc from 19-year-old filmmaker Andrew Jenks suffers a bit from self-consciousness and underdeveloped camera and sound-juggling skills, but on the whole, Andrew Jenks, Room 335 cannot help put land its emotional blow. Jenks and two college-aged compatriots moved themselves and their equipment into a Floridian old-age home for a month. There, they befriended the residents and discovered that the invigoration they felt during those weeks was mutual. So, too, was the dread, as the residents and their guests contemplate sorrowful partings both temporary and permament. Recommended.
Asylum (screens 3/4, 3/5, and 3/6 at the Camera 12) Like Conspiracy of Silence, the UK effort Asylum is clunkily earnest. It's a tale of institutional injustice, and not terribly more revealing than that simple summation. And yet, Asylum engrosses the viewer with the plight of two Kurds whose paperwork has been lost by London authorities. In the absence of papers, the two young men face deportation and possibly fatal persecution in Iraq. A compassionate Catholic priest agrees to shelter them, tries to win over the community's support, but knows that he will eventually have to yield to pressure. In the end, Asylum boils to a melodramatic climax that avoids a simple solution but also deviates from likelihood. A toss-up.
Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon (screens 3/4 and 3/5 at the Camera 12) Filmmaker Peter Richardson documents the oddity of Philomath, Oregon, a community that has, for forty years, guaranteed college scholarships to all of its high-school graduates. Clearly, the endowment provided by the Clemens family couldn't last forever, but instead of fading away, the program explodes into a debate over school curriculum. Not wishing to endorse a politically correct" curriculum, trust-fund gatekeeper Steve Lowther threatens to pull the scholarship unless the school can satsify him as to the values it represents. A clash of conservative and liberal ideologies forever changes the progress of a once-prideful small town. Recommended.
Dare Not Walk Alone (screens 3/4 and 3/5 at the Camera 12) Documentarian Jeremy Dean shines a light on the role of St. Augustine, Florida in the pitched battle over civil rights. Dean uses newly available archival footage of Martin Luther King Jr.'s visits to the hotbed, where black citizens and activists requested entrance to selected public establishments, including a motel and a church (they were routinely denied). Dean focuses on a highly publicized incident in which overheated motel owner James Brock poured acid into the pool to forcibly eject unwelcome black protesters (surprisingly, the elderly Brock submits to an interview). In recounting the civil rights era in St. Augustine, Dean does a great job, but when he looks at the present-day depression on the same spot, he fails to exhibit the same focus. Recommended.
Little Athens (screens 3/3, 3/4, and 3/9 at the Camera 12) It's too many characters and too little satisfaction from Tom Zuber's Little Athens. Decidedly reminiscent of Go, Zuber's film doesn't lack for incident while tracing the troubled lives of disaffected young adults, many just out of high school. The cast—including Michael Peña (Crash), Shawn Hatosy, Rachel Miner, and the fat-man-and-little-boy combo of Jorge Garcia (Lost) and DJ Qualls (Hustle and Flow) buoy the picture, but can't save it from its failure to cohere into more than a depressing, limply resolved slice-of-life. A toss-up.
Metropolis (1927) (screens 3/3 at the California Theatre) Fritz Lang's Metropolis is a towering achievement in cinema: one of the most famous silent films ever made, it is also an all-time-great epic of science-fiction cinema. Lang's ambitious, over-budget, expressionistic, futuristic allegory of "thinkers" versus "workers"—and the search for the connective tissue of the heart—marked advancements in the scope of movie storytelling, special effects, and design (the highly influential images of a towering cityscape and awesome robot "Machine Man" owe in large part to art directors Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut, and Karl Vollbrecht). Presented by the Stanford Theatre Foundation; organ accompaniment by Clark Wilson. Highly recommended.
Rice Rhapsody (Hainan Ji Fan) (screens 3/2 at the California Theatre and 3/5 and 3/6 at the Camera 12) This Hong Kong romantic-comedy-fantasy plays "is he or isn't he?" with the burgeoning youngest sibling of two gay brothers. Single mother Jen has pinned her grandchild hopes on Leo, so she agrees to smitten bachelor neighbor Kim Chui's suggestion of inviting into her home a fetching French exchange student, a ringer to tease out Leo's presumed heterosexuality. Since TV chef Martin Yan (Yan Can Cook) plays Kim Chui, the picture builds to a downright bizarre double-climax resolution: a televised cooking competition and the odd spiritual hero-worship of the French girl. The goofiness is fun for a while, but writer-director Kenneth Bi seems lost as to where the picture should go. Skip it.
Sergio Leone: The Way I See Things (Sergio Leone: Il Mio Modo di Vedere le Cose) (screens 3/8 and 3/9 at the Camera 12) This terrific doc on the maestro of the spaghetti western is, in fact, the thesis project of young filmmaker Giulio Reale. He received the equivalent of an "A+" by rounding up Eli Wallach, Claudia Cardinale, cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, critic Christopher Frayling, and many others. Without editorializing, Reale manages collectively to convey enthusiasm for Leone's genius while also acknowledging the man's capacity for pettiness and sometimes maddening work habits. Well-selected film clips complement the recollections and observations of the interviewees, who explain how Leone would expertly mime his direction to American actors. Reale also pauses to consider what might have been: Leone died hours before embarking on a film shoot for the unrealized Leningrad. Paired with Leone's seminal western Once Upon a Time in the West, with Charles Bronson, Cardinale, Jason Robards, and Henry Fonda cast against type as a despicable villain. Both features highly recommended.
Seven Chances (1925) with "One Week" (1920) (screens 3/10 at the California Theatre) The basic plot of Seven Chances has been made several times on-screen, but never better than by genius comic Buster Keaton. Keaton plays Jimmy Shannon, who stands to inherit $7 million if he marries by 7pm on his 27th birthday. Seven Chances is filled with comic gems, particularly a prolonged climactic chase scene with the indelible image of dozens of brides running after Buster. "One Week" is among Keaton's best short subjects: Buster and his new bride enjoy the gift of a new house—some assembly required. Presented by the Stanford Theatre Foundation; organ accompaniment by Christian Elliott. Highly recommended.
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (screens 3/4 and 3/5 at the California Theatre) Director William Greaves effectively "punk'd" his own film crew (and die-hard art-house cultists) with this 1968 documentary of the filming of a film. With post-modern brio, Greaves serves his actors a half-baked script, double-talks his crew, and frequently disappears to let the crew argue over what the hell they're doing. Filmed mostly in NYC's Central Park, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One seems at first like a pointless exercise, but it gradually becomes more and more amusing as a satire on the self-absorption of film artistes. In 2005, Steven Soderbergh and Steve Buscemi produced Greaves' sequel (Take 2 1/2), also playing. Recommended.
Thank You for Smoking (screens 3/1 at the California Theatre, followed by Opening Night Gala party in the Paragon Restaurant & Bar at the Hotel Montgomery) In what may be the festival's best opening-night film ever, Cinequest presents the scathing satire of writer-director Jason Reitman's feature debut Thank You for Smoking, a highly amusing, take-no-prisoners adaptation of the 1994 Christopher Buckley novel. Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, hard-working Big Tobacco spin-meister. It's a job that "requires a moral flexibility that goes beyond most people," but Nick and his friends in the informal M.O.D. Squad. (fellow "Merchants of Death" represent Alcohol and Firearms) are up to their respective tasks. Maria Bello, Cameron Bright, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott, Katie Holmes, David Koechner, Rob Lowe, JK Simmons, Robert Duvall, and festival guest William H. Macy fill out the outstanding ensemble cast. Highly recommended.
Whole New Thing (screens 3/3 and 3/4 at the Camera 12) This Canadian queer-cinema outing embraces complication: gifted thirteen-year-old Emerson (Aaron Webber) resists a displacement from the comfort of home-schooling (with his eco-liberal parents) to the fearful unknown of a public high school. But as the boy warms to his gay English teacher (Daniel MacIvor), Emerson begins to act out in ways none of the adults can handle. Written by MacIvor and director Amnon Buchbinder, Whole New Thing finds its strengths in rich characterization, queasy humor, and fine performances—film fans will recognize Robert Joy (now appearing in The Hills Have Eyes) as Emerson's cuckolded father. Recommended.