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The Boston Film Festival struggles
Related Links

Boston Film Festival's official Web site

The Boston Phoenix reviews the 20th Boston Film Festival.

The Boston Phoenix reviews the 19th Boston Film Festival.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang's official Web site

Bill Rodriguez reviews Cherry Arnold's Buddy.

Buddy's official Web site.

The Boston Film Festival made it to adulthood — barely. Taking over from Mark Diamond and Susan Fraine, who had kept it alive and occasionally kicking since 1993, is Robin Dawson, head of the privately operated Massachusetts Film Bureau, which used to be the state-financed Massachusetts Film Office and is now the rival of the state-run Massachusetts Sports and Entertainment Commission.

So much bureaucracy, so few films. Dawson has described this year in the festival’s history as one of "transition." One can’t help wondering whether the transition is into non-existence, as the number of feature films has declined from last year’s 37 to just 14 (all screening at the Loews Boston Common) and the festival’s length has been halved from 10 days to five. The problem, according to Dawson, is the "sluggish economy."

True, this has been a tough summer for the studios, who contributed only three films. Warner must have been glad to get rid of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (September 11 at 7:30 pm; the director will be present), the only one of the three available for preview. Writer Shane Black helped usher in the era of overpriced hack screenplays with his Lethal Weapon and helped end it with his bomb The Last Boy Scout. Now he’s back to lampoon the system with this self-indulgent and unfunny comedy. Robert Downey Jr. was better off in the joint than playing an inept New York cat burglar who through dumb art-imitating-life circumstances ends up cast as the detective in a new Hollywood movie. Misogynistic, smug, and pointless, Black’s auteur debut is an exercise in self-reflexivity, and the image that’s reflected is ugly.

If there’s a theme to this festival, it would be the film medium itself. Richard Keith’s mockumentary Wannabe (September 10 at 1 pm, with the director present) parodies the predicament of a former boy-band member who tries to make it as an actor. Although well performed, the satire is stale. More to the point is Barry J. Hershey’s unsettling and eloquent Casting About (September 11 at 5 pm, with the director present): a compilation of auditions for a part in a yet unmade film, it reveals the mystery, the vulnerability, and the power of acting.

As for the movie version of real life, a couple of dysfunctional family films make an effort. Take a pass on Adrienne Weiss’s comedy Love, Ludlow (September 10 at 6:30 pm, with the director present), in which a man woos a woman even though she lives in a quasi-incestuous co-dependent relationship with her charmless, child-man brother. (He’s a malignant cross between Mork from Ork and Carrot Top.) You’ll have better luck with Doug Sadler’s Swimmers (September 13 at 7 pm, with the director present). He keeps the tone low-key and convincing even when his characters endure critical illness, alcoholism, suicide, mental illness, adultery, and oyster fishing.

But real life itself is what’s worth watching. Don’t miss Cherry Arnold’s Buddy (September 10 at 8:30 pm and September 12 at 9:45 pm, with the director present), a chronicle of the ups and downs of Providence’s irrepressible Mayor Cianci, who’s now serving time in a federal pen while pondering his next political comeback. If they show more films like this, maybe the Boston Film Festival can come back as well.

Issue Date: September 9 - 16, 2005
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