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From Nessie and Piaf to Calcutta (continued)

In brief . . .

This year’s festival features 25 shorts — down from 28 in 2003 — broken up into four packages. As with every year, the entries vary considerably in subject, style, and quality. But that’s the delight of the situation: taking the good with the bad to get a sense of what filmmakers are up to in an under-celebrated genre.

Package #1 (September 10 at 7:15 p.m. and September 11 at 3 p.m.; all shorts screen at the Copley Place) is worth seeing for Andrei Aureliano Popescu’s "Dincolo/The Other Side." The premise is horror-movie cliché. A couple’s car breaks down on a Romanian back road on a stormy night; the woman goes into labor; the man needs to find help. But the tension and the ensuing horror transcend trope. Massachusetts native Nancy Stein also makes the package worthwhile with "Joey," one of its two documentaries, a wrenching look at a 13-year-old victim of gang violence in LA. Package #1 is worth avoiding, however, for Bert Klein & Teddy Newton’s animated "Boys Night Out," the slimy Freudian nightmare of a stepdad taking his too-young stepson to a strip club. In Peter Waal’s quirky "Spare Change," an unemployed grass-smoking man (well acted by Dave Nykl) estranged from his wife and kids gets an unexpected visit from a faux enlightened friend from the past. Jeff Dell’s "Dodge City" is a pastiche of war’s toll on children. Produced and directed by BU grads Kevin Nibley and Kate Barry, "Bert Prentice, CEO" depicts the ass-kissing tedium of the corporate world. And in Eyad Zahra’s "Distance from the Sun," a Muslim in the US struggles with traditions new and old.

Package #2 (September 10 at 7:30 p.m. and September 11 at 2 p.m.) is physical, with shorts about bodies in various states of motion and decay. Playing the shell of a woman ravaged by cancer, Frances McDormand is almost unrecognizable in Sean Mewshaw’s "Last Night." Her husband (a convincing Jamey Sheridan) has agreed to put her out of her misery, with a young friend to bear witness. What’s remarkable is the level of intensity and the wallop this film packs in just 22 minutes. Amy Wendel’s "The Bodies," also about a woman with cancer, is more understated but less satisfying. Dean Hargrove’s snappy but overlong "Tap Heat," on the other hand, epitomizes health, as two generations of tap dancers — urban and old-time — face off in a dialogue-less dance. Kevin Haverty’s frenetic, dystopic "Notes from the Space Time Continuum," a non-animated Jetsons gone wrong, features a young man’s routine, rebellion, and ruin in a world populated by mannequin bodies with blue-screened microwave heads. Genevieve Anderson’s visually compelling "Ola’s Box of Clovers," told with rod-manipulated puppets, is a woman’s quiet recollection of her dead grandmother. And James Ricker gives a modern, heroin-addled spin to the tale of "The Little Match Girl."

Package #3 (September 11 at 7:15 p.m. and September 12 at 1 p.m.) has three of the best shorts in the festival. Zachary Derhodge’s "Moss" gets my blue ribbon. Stunning in its shots of Canadian winter, the film follows Moss, who’s been unemployed for nine years and now spends his time with a rag-tag bowling team, and his wife, Ramona (a brilliant Jayne Eastwood), as they struggle with honor, identity, family, and friendship. Lori Hiris’s animated "The Invisible Hand" is a swirling chalk-on-chalkboard look at greed and corruption in politics and business. Kurt Kuenne’s musical "Rent-a-Person" is about a bathroom attendant looking for love who comes up with a scheme to get out of the men’s room. It gets my prize for funniest short in these programs, which are otherwise marked by the grim and the bleak. Qian Qian Sun’s "Fate," which is about missed connections, Marisol Gomez-Mouakad’s interior, psychological "Rosa," and Rachel Ann Pearl’s "The Shabbos Goy," in which an Orthodox Jewish couple have to deal with the husband’s infertility, don’t reach the same level.

Package #4 (September 11 at 5 p.m. and September 12 at 3 p.m.) is solid. Dany Saadia’s "Genesis 3:19" is a story of coincidence and how people are bound together. Josh Gosfield’s manic "The Basement Tapes" describes one man’s descent into despair and his rescue by a garrulous pal. David Marmor’s "Spin" is about a near-fatal bicycle accident and a subsequent obsession with quantum mechanics; it’s compelling in theory but grows repetitive. In Virginie Danglades’s "Sparks," a cleaning woman dances around a hospital with a vacuum and inadvertently saps patients of life. And Martin Bell documents the Twin Days Festival in "Twins," which features tender, funny, and occasionally bizarre interviews with twins young and old.

— Nina MacLaughlin



A young woman (Lisa Brenner) inherits a Maine B&B from her grandmother, but before she can sell it off for some quick cash, she makes the mistake of poking around and gets drawn into a search through the past that will no doubt justify the film’s title. Lawrence David Foldes wrote and directed; Louise Fletcher and Geneviève Bujold also star. (124 minutes) Screens tonight at 7 p.m. at the Boston Common. Lawrence David Foldes will be present.

— Peter Keough


And not a moment too soon, as the provincial German retiree of the title shifts genres after a lifetime of playing polkas on his accordion. This bittersweet comedy from first-time director Michael Schorr has Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination written all over it. In German and English with English subtitles. (114 minutes) Screens tonight at 7 and 9:30 p.m. at the Copley Place.

— Peter Keough

***A Phoenix Pick***


Nicole Kassell’s work of quiet intensity stars Kevin Bacon as Walter, a pedophile recently released from prison. Once a talented furniture craftsman, Walter barely lands a menial job at a lumber yard. He’s friendless but for his brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt), and his therapy sessions begin as monosyllabic expressions of careful boredom. Parole officer Lucas (a sharp Mos Def) shows up to harangue him; tough-talking co-worker Vicki (scrawnily delectable Kyra Sedgwick) seduces and then befriends him while the secretary he rebuffs checks into his sex-offender status. Inevitably, Walter backslides, with splashes of red smearing the blue-gray mise en scène. Kassell wrote the script with playwright Stephen Fechter, and The Woodsman is unstintingly cinematic for a theatrical adaptation, thanks to the director’s restraint and Xavier Pérez Grobet’s lean, tense photography. This film transcends histrionics as one of the planet’s finest actors makes his troubled but ultimately redeemable character come slowly, painfully alive. (87 minutes) Screens tonight at 7:45 and 10 p.m. at the Boston Common. Nicole Kassell will be present at the 7:45 p.m. show.

— Peg Aloi



Actor Rick Schroder makes his directorial debut with this inspirational tale of a young Navajo (Nathaniel Arcand) who aspires to become an Olympic champion boxer. Screens tonight at 7:15 and 9:30 p.m. at the Boston Common.

— Peter Keough



The title of the film refers to the celebration held for those leaving the Ould Sod for America, never to return again. It also refers to a book of poems by Greg Delanty, and to judge from the excerpts that are read, they inspire some of the more pretentious and sentimental moments in local director Maureen Foley’s second feature. The film does best when it sticks to the simple business of character and setting, the latter filled by one of the most luminous and authentic depictions of Cambridge you’ll see on the screen. The characters too are genuine, with co-writer Billy Smith like a Boston-accented Ray Liotta as John, a former firefighter with a troubled past who falls for Noy, a Thai immigrant with a troubled present. Less convincing is the love story between the expected Irish immigrant, a talented fiddle player, and a waitress with more problems than the rest of the characters combined. Screens tonight at 8:15 p.m. at the Boston Common. Maureen Foley will be present.

— Peter Keough


Told the world would not tolerate the murder of six million Jews, Hitler is said to have replied, "Who remembers the Armenian genocide?" J. Michael Hagopian’s documentary reveals that one reason the Turkish murder of millions remained secret was that German officers covered it up during World War I, and then many of the same officers participated in the Nazi genocide years later. Screens tonight at 6, 7:30, and 9 p.m. at the Copley Place.

— Peter Keough


Thirty years ago, the kidnapping of pretty, young newspaper heiress Patty Hearst captivated the country and symbolized the struggle between radicals and the institutions they railed against. Here Robert Stone (whose documentary Radio Bikini was nominated for an Oscar in 1987) uses archival footage of the hysteria that surrounded Hearst’s kidnapping to tell the story of her captors, the Symbionese Liberation Army. Stone doesn’t interview Hearst, and neither does he detail the specifics of her kidnapping, the 19 months she spent with her captors, or her reasons for participating in their actions. He doesn’t sympathize with the SLA or condemn its conduct. Instead, he traces the roots, the development, and the downfall of the mini-movement. Former SLA members Russell Little and Michael Bortin provide inside information and analysis to complement the news clips. Those who don’t know the story will be drawn into the drama — especially gripping is the creepy timbre of Hearst’s voice as she communicates with her parents via taped statements — but are there enough new details to re-engage people old enough to remember those 552 days in 1974 and 1975? (90 minutes) Screens tonight at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Boston Common.

— Deirdre Fulton

***A Phoenix Pick***


The Masters Championships feature athletes between the ages of 50 to 101 competing not so much against one another as against mortality. Local director Bill Haney’s unsentimental, unpretentious documentary might at first look like outtakes from Cocoon as septuagenarians pole-vault, put the shot, and run the 400 meters. As it enters the lives of five of the women participants, however, the novelty fades and the quiet nobility of their efforts takes over. Especially when two of these fiftysomething athletes boast abs that would be the envy of athletes 30 years younger. Each of the five has already overcome her share of hardships: two are refugees from post-war Germany, one is a sharecropper’s daughter, another a two-time cancer survivor. There can be only be one winner in the race against death, but the specter of the final finish line makes the running that much more beautiful. Screens tonight at 6 p.m. at the Boston Common. Bill Haney will be present.

— Peter Keough

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Issue Date: September 10 - 16, 2004
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