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The New England Film & Video Festival

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Peter Keough reviews the 27th Annual New England Film & Video Festival.

These are lean times, it seems, for local film festivals and filmmakers. The Boston Film Festival, coming of age in its 21st year, endured a change of management and a drastic reduction in the number of films. The New England Film & Video Festival, always a more solid if lower-profile affair, has apparently suffered similar setbacks in this era of diminished cultural investment. As the festival enters its 30th year, the offerings, at least those made available for screening, have gotten a little thin, suggesting that resources for local independent filmmakers and those who support them have declined.

Some filmmakers have been able to scratch together a decent budget, such as Jason Yee, whose Edge of Darkness — Dark Warrior (October 6, 11 pm) has a tony look and dynamic edge due in part to cinematographer Stephen T. Maing (his short Dear Hearts won the NEF&V Best of Fest Award in 2003). Too bad Yee’s script isn’t up to the production values: it’s a formulaic and predictable martial arts flick about a Bruce Lee type, played by Yee, released from Walpole and suspected by the cops of slicing up his former cohort with a sword. Yee looks like a young, Asian Sylvester Stallone, and acts like one, too.

On the other end of the spectrum is Chris Bentley’s debut feature Awake (October 9, 8:15 pm). Made for $2,000 with a crew of two, the film compensates for its threadbare budget with sly writing and fine performances. Bentley shows a talent for exposition, subtly and suspensefully disclosing the plight of Awake’s unassuming hero and first-person narrator, a pill-popping middle-aged techy in a computer firm who is either paranoid, crooked, or both. Bentley’s control of tone marks him as a talent to watch.

The strength of local filmmaking, however, has not been features but documentaries. Two shorts, Federico Muchnik’s Touching History and Elizabeth O’Brien Gardner’s Our Lady’s (both screen October 8, 3:30 pm), chronicle assaults on beloved local institutions. Muchnik’s tight-knit film explores the battle between the Tasty, the famed Harvard Square diner, and Cambridge Savings Bank. Guess who won? Gardner takes a look at another showdown, this between Cardinal Law and Father Walter Cuenin, the popular pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Newton, over the priest abuse scandal. Demanding accountability, Cuenin seemed to get it, as the film ends with Law’s resignation. Recently, though, the hierarchy dismissed Cuenin from his post. Ensconced in the Vatican, Law seems to have had the last laugh.

If Our Lady’s has a flaw, it’s lack of balance: no one from the archdiocese gets to give its side. That’s not a problem with Jeremy Levine’s Walking the Line (October 6, 9 pm) — based on what I was able to see, the Best of the Fest. At first the film seems a mockumentary as it follows the wacky members of various vigilante organizations who have taken it upon themselves to halt illegal immigration from Mexico. But other points of view are deftly raised and explored, and by the end the issues unfold with clarity and without comment. Crucial and engrossing, Walking the Line is the kind of film that demands the existence of festivals like this.

Issue Date: October 7 - 13, 2005
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