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Business as Usual at CineQuest 2011
By Roger Rose and Ariel Raz (Special to CineSource)
Jeffrey Brandstetter (right) and Halfdan Hussey at the Cinequest Closing Night after-party a few weeks ago. photo: J. Brandstetter
As usual, Cinequest Film Festival broke records, hosting a record 91,000 films lovers and almost 200 films. And the twenty-one year old “maverick” show filled two weeks with much, much more than just great films. See
Cinequest Award Winners
Co-founder and Director Halfdan Hussey and his staff also provided great educational events like the “Maverick Spirit: Day of the Writer,” a three day presentation on the art of scriptwriting and story planning presented by UCLA’s Harold Suber, award-winning writer Paul Chitlik, and best-selling novelist James Dalessandro.
A very well attended and unique offering was the technical event “The Rough Cut Forum,” in which a panel of film professionals viewed the rough cut of a feature film (made last summer as a project by students at San Jose State) offering their advice on how to complete and improve the film.
Hundreds of filmmakers had the chance almost every night to meet and mingle with other filmmakers (as well as distributors, producer’s reps, and others) at CQ’s “Maverick Meetups,” sponsored by some of the city’s top restaurants and nightspots.
And after all the films had screened for the day, everyone with a festival pass could hit the “VIP Soirees,” great parties that often went into the wee hours. And maybe most important, Cinequest’s great staff that is always helpful, caring and knowledgeable.
CQ’s 2011 Maverick Spirit Award was presented to John Turturro for his career achievements. Turturro’s wildly messy (in the best way possible) Passione opened the fest, giving the audience a wide view of the great music of Naples and the surrounding region. Clearly a work of love, the film explored the history and current state of this rich tapestry of musical history, from the three remaining sons of the original family that started making wax cylinders of the local folk music and opera in the late 1800’s and winding up with local hiphop stars who have incorporated centuries-old strains into their bleeding-edge sonic experiments.
Culminating two weeks of a fantastic festival, Cinequest’s Closing Night film was the World Premiere of Soul Surfer, the true story of Bethany Hamilton. A Hawai’ian surfer from childhood, the teen surf champ was attacked by a shark and lost her arm in 2003. Director Sean McNamara’s big-budget film continues to spread Hamilton’s inspirational
story and helped single out Hamilton with the Cinequest 2011 Life of a Maverick Award.
Recognized as one of the world’s top 10 film fests by the “Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide,” Cinequest continues to embody the “maverick,” where true artistry and innovation in cinema is consistently appreciated and celebrated. CQ also attracts hundreds of filmmakers among more than 91,000 like-minded festival attendees each year (of whom many are industry pros hoping to discover the “Next Big Thing”). The $35 fee to enter your film is a small price to pay to mingle with a crowd like that!
Why does Cinequest matter? An interesting question, and one with a complicated answer. Our economy continues to negatively impact both our business communities and civic entities, while this great local festival with its global reach remains successful, staying ahead by using the twin engines of innovation and discovery to bring audiences films that mirror and use the same qualities: innovation and discovery.
Cinequest brings hope to filmmakers, and even more hope to San Jose residents and businesses. Bringing $3-4 million to downtown San Jose businesses, the festival is one of the Bay Area's largest events, able to continue its success in hard times partly because of growth in both its Distribution Division and its Festival Division. Maybe more important, Cinequest gives a platform to some films that might not otherwise be seen. While Copacabana and Passione and Moszart’s Sister may well be destined for international audiences, many of the films on the CQ program would not get any kind of promotion without that first small award in San Jose.
We don’t usually do reviews, but the following films are outstanding enough that we felt our recommendation might urge you to seek them out amid all the dross out there in cineplexes and watch them: you’re sure to find something here you’ll admire and enjoy.
Recommended viewing: Vuelve a la Vida (Back to Life) answers the question, “How does a poor Acapulco scuba diver wind up marrying a top New York model?”
Mexican fisherman “Long Dog,” who taught the Kennedy brothers and Hollywood stars to scuba dive, was a master fisherman who lived fearlessly, becoming famous for hunting for the great white shark in colorful 1950’s Acapulco. When a beautiful model arrives with her husband and young son, friendship turns to romance and affects the lives of everyone involved. Not only does tall redhead Robin stand out in a crowd, but young John feels outcast as the freckled gringo. Both take the lead among a group of Long Dog’s family and admirers who recount this mismatched love affair that is centered around the scuba king’s greatest feat – enlisting his entire community to catch the 16-foot shark that threatened to end tourism in Acapulco. Mexican director Carlos Hagerman’s excellent documentary presents a wonderful story, set to great music.
Recommended viewing: The Norwegian Keepern til Liverpool (The Liverpool Goalie ) is the tale of the misfit Jo, an runty youth beset with the horrors of coping with the most unnatural of institutions—junior high school. The lead roles are played effortlessly by a matched team of talented youngsters, and the playful storytelling gambols through the sweet hell of first romance, the trials of the bullied unfortunate, ridiculous examples of parental protection, and the search for the holy grail of football cards—all brought back to Earth through the realities of home ec and math class. Director Arild Andresen has constructed a film full of authentic guffaws and lovingly rendered memories of a difficult but exuberant time. Winner of the 2011 Cinequest Audience Award for Best Feature.
Recommended viewing: An exercise in edgy and cunning filmmaking, Make a Move Like Spike records the last 36 hours before two Los Angeles homies are set to deploy in Afghanistan. If this breakout film is mistaken for a gripping documentary, that's because this expertly-executed film is meant to be. The homestyle production values and visceral honesty of this emotionally effusive cinematic achievement paint a human face on a distant, impersonal war. First-time director Jamil Walker Smith is a force to watch, as he weaves his tale with wildly mixed emotions colliding in the lead up, the event, and the aftermath of the young soldiers’ ultimate realizations about life and death. Winner of the Cinequest 2011 New Visions Award.
Recommended viewing: Nannerl, Mozart’s Sister is the story of Maria Anna Mozart, a musical prodigy ahead of her time in the 18th Century, when men literally ruled society. A talented musician and composer in her own right, she gave up her own music as father Leopold dragged the family back and forth across Europe to have his young son perform in the royal courts of Europe, seeking patronage. Tired of fighting the strictures imposed on her gender, Nannerl submits to her father’s will in helping her younger brother achieve international fame (even after Leopold’s death as she strives to ensure that Wolfgang’s works lived on for posterity). French director Rene Feret explores the skewed family dynamics, as well as Nannerl’s story one chance at love with Louis XVI, then Dauphin of Paris. An ambitious and remarkable first film, Nannerl, Mozart’s Sister won the Cinequest 2011 Maverick Spirit Award for Best Feature.
Recommended viewing: Rosa Morena, a Danish production produced in Brazil, covers a huge amount of ground as it follows the hapless Thomas, a gay fortysomething in his search for a baby to adopt in the favelas of Rio. After a painful encounter with the black market, Thomas becomes entangled with charming and pregnant Maria, who he intends to back to Denmark to have the baby for him. Plans skid out of control when Thomas falls for Maria. Illuminating many social issues, Brazilian director Carlos Augusto de Oliveira’s well wrought and provocative story is one of affection. Poignant and entertaining, the film has every appearance of a documentary, giving it an immediacy that resonates long after the credits roll. Winner of the 2011 Cinequest Maverick Award for Best First Feature.
Recommended viewing: Falling Overnight, an ephemeral love story for the Facebook generation, chronicles Elliot's last night before he undergoes removal of a brain tumor. As fate would have it, at this critical moment he connects with Chloe, a lively photographer, and their love blossoms before the light of a hazy morning. This lovely character driven work quietly asserts the supremacy of human connection in a solitary world. A triumph against odds (with a ridiculously low budget that belies its production value), director Conrad Jackson's bittersweet first film won the Cinequest 2011 Maverick Special Jury Prize for Narrative Film.
Recommended viewing: Troublemaker is an exuberant and honest telling of a tough story: an excellent road movie using a young woman’s relationship with her estranged father as the fuel that keeps things moving. The aspiring writer with deficient ¬finances and a serious chip on her shoulder overhears that her father, relocated with a new family, has become a millionaire. A venture to Seattle with her ex-boyfriend soon reveals that it’s not her father’s money that she needs at all. With perfect pitch, director Geeta Malik’s poignant and headstrong coming-of-age story (which won a special commendation from CQ judges) shows us that the search for security extends far beyond ¬material things.
Recommended viewing: The various Cinequest short film programs this year were diverse and entertaining, with a sprinkling of just about everything you could hope for in the various categories (doc, animation, live action). Among the best of the fest were Captain Fork, a great little black comedy about a narcissistic single dad trying get rid of his young son that had the audience groaning around their belly laughs; Daisy Cutter, a delicate look at the hard subject of the effect of war tools on people caught in the middle of violent conflicts, especially children; Delmer Builds a Machine, a delightful gem about the magic of small boys’ ability to build weird experiments that have unexpected consequences; The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, a beautifully rendered whimsical tale about the loveliness of books (and deserving winner of the Cinequest 2001 Award for Best Animated Short); the hugely hilarious Not Your Time, a wry look at a suicidal writer trying to say goodbye to the people who’ve ignored him, only to learn the meaning of “irony”; and the beautiful audience favorite short doc from India, The Stitches Speak (Tanko Bole Chhe), which won the 2001 Cinequest Best Documentary Short Award for director Nina Sabnani.
Recommended viewing: Copacabana cleverly presents a blithe and mercurial mother who is forced to choose between her happy-go-lucky lifestyle and her disapproving daughter's shrinking respect. The jocular study of maternal maturity is underscored by more serous life issues, and true poignancy is created by an honest script. Casting a real mother-daughter pair in the lead roles only adds to the viewer’s enjoyment, and this French film is as charming effective as it is enormously funny. Director Marc Fitoussi has made a very enjoyable modern comedy that looks at the age-old questions of parental relationships, interpersonal relationships in the workplace, and self-image agreeing with reality. A gem!
Recommended viewing: The Nobel Prize Winner follows a hilarious course of events when a struggling underground writer is believed to be dead after completing a work of genius. In a series of surreal events peopled with believably eccentric characters and presented with deadpan genius, the writer’s greatest work is lifted by a famous but blocked novelist. Writer/Director Timo Veltkamp's postmodern exploration of plagiarism and coincidence blends comedy and tragedy into a truly human tale of greed, loss, love and despair.
Recommended viewing: Bardsongs is a delightful peek into the life of bards, those beloved singing story-tellers who, since the dawn of time, still exist today. This documentary reveals storytelling as a living and vital art form around the globe, one that uses ancient tales to simultaneously entertain, entrance and teach stories specific to their culture. The songs of bards tell universal truths, and this doc looks at storytellers in India’s Rajastan, in African Mali and in trans-Himalayan Ladakh. Dutch director Sander Francken has created a fascinating documentary that interweaves the musician’s skill with compelling images, showing us the ancient tales themselves, perfectly acted and brought to life with an immediacy only the cinema can render. The absolutely mesmerizing music is direct and beautiful, and the stories are wise, delightful, and involving.
And be sure to mark your calendar for Cinequest 2012!
Posted on Mar 26, 2011 - 05:56 PM