36th Cleveland International Film Festival

My wife & I try to make one day of the CIFF (nine-day festival) every year, and this year we went on Friday, March 30th.  We usually manage to fit in one shorts program and maybe a feature, but this year we managed to make two features, in addition to a shorts program.

The stand-out for me was Beauty is embarrassing, a documentary about Wayne White, an artist who worked on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse as a set designer and puppeteer, who also did animation and music videos, and who is now doing ‘serious’ art, like this:

The other feature, General education, was amusing but amateurish.  It had a solid cast and they all did pretty well with the material but I got the feeling that the writing was either really rushed or there were extensive re-writes by committee. (“You know what this movie needs — more gay jokes!” “Yeah, and let’s make sure every single character ‘grows’ by the end, whether or not we have any time to make them interesting to begin with or give them real reason to change!” “Yeah, and let’s make everyone super quirky!”)  There were some decent laughs but I felt sort of embarrassed for the filmmakers, who were at the festival and obviously very proud of their work.  I’d guess they were all under 30, and I’m impressed they made a movie at all, but they either got too many ‘notes’ during filming or not enough criticism of their original screenplay — I mean someone screwed up the writing, either before or after it was green-lighted.  Maybe my standards were too high after the excellent shorts program.

The shorts included a really dark and jarring film about an honor killing (Shirin), a cute adult cartoon (Preferably blue), a very short film about Frank Oz and Jim Henson (Frank & Jim), and really great documentary about some missionaries and locals building a movie theater in Haiti (Sun City Picture House).  Sun City could have been one of those cringe-inducing ‘let’s-feel-good-about-helping-the-locals’ shorts but it was unflinching and moving in its depiction of the horrors of the aftermath of the earthquake.

It’s really cool that so many of the filmmakers were at the festival to answer questions and so on.  The only jerk among them was the guy who did Frank & Jim. Someone in the audience gushed about how great the short was and how it would make for an interesting feature-length film, are you working on one?  Answer: No, I’m not working on a feature, I thought the idea it worked best as a short, and you are a very person stupid for asking.  He didn’t say the last bit out loud but his tone certainly implied it.  I wanted to ask ‘So who were Frank and Jim supposed to be?’ but didn’t.

Overall it was good time, even if my reviews tend to go negative.  I would absolutely recommend Beauty is embarrassing and Sun City Picture House if you can find them.

Published in: on April 3, 2012 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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