Saturday, March 17, 2007

Cleveland Film Fest: One director, two writers, and a lot of DJs

As a big fan of the Three Colors trilogy, THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE, and THE DECALOGUE films that I've seen, the documentary STILL ALIVE: A FILM ABOUT KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI was a must for my festival viewing. Through Kieslowski's own words and those of friends and collaborators, director Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz traces the story of his days as a student until his untimely death in 1996.

This talking heads doc can be a bit dry, but overall it's an educational look at his roots and eventual ascendency to world cinema titan in the late 80s and early 90s. It's also a film for true believers in that it's of interest almost exclusively for those familiar with the Polish director's work, or at least the better known movies. Still, those like me, who know his last few films and haven't seen his early documentaries or BLIND CHANCE, NO END, or CAMERA BUFF, may feel on the outside looking in at times. Although this might sound like a backhanded compliment, it would be a good supplemental feature in a DVD box set of his earlier films.

I ended up bailing on the the 4:15 session. I'd penciled in the Hungarian film FRESH AIR, but I decided to take my time getting lunch/dinner and doing some writing. At Panera Bread I bumped into Rolf de Heer, who's in the director's spotlight at the festival. He must not have cared for what he saw because he left without ordering. As filmmaker spotting goes at festivals, I've seen stranger things--Bertrand Tavernier at Steak 'n Shake, John Malkovich in line at the Illini Student Union coffee shop, Todd Solondz wandering this very mall--but this sort of thing amuses me.

I set up shop at Panera, primarily because their wifi service doesn't block Blogger/Blogspot URLs. (Tower City Center's filtering program does.) I don't know if a couple hours off made the difference, but I felt reenergized for the rest of the day after taking the break.

The Norwegian film REPRISE focuses on best friends and aspiring writers Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman-Høiner). Mixing drama and comedy, director Joachim Trier fashions a character study of these two young men and those within their social circle. Phillip struggles with depression after his debut novel is published. Erik gets hung up on the gap between what he wants to be and what his life is.

REPRISE has elements of French New Wave filmmaking (the narration, story construction, themes, and editing) and would feel comfortable beside other tales of young adult uncertainty, such as the films of Noan Baumbach. It's witty without being too self-aware and buzzes with youthful energy. The exciting and exasperating quality in this time of life is anticipating big things for the future yet not quite being able to reach them. Hopefully Trier's promising first feature translates into the kind of success his characters think they can have.

Music docs are almost always a safe festival bet, assuming you like the music in them. I'm clueless when it comes to dance music, but I figured a documentary about DJs would prove to be an easier view for wrapping a full day.

Taylor Neary's documentary LIQUID VINYL includes interviews with plenty of the top DJs in the world expounding on the history of DJing and value of their work. The film's strongest aspect is showing how DJs evolved from being anonymous people in a booth to the center of attention and main attraction to the people on the dance floor. For all the talk about how being a DJ is about keeping the party going and introducing people to great music, there's more emphasis on the personalities than on how the DJs do what they do, though.

LIQUID VINYL can be self-serving at times. Any film like this tends to overstate the importance of the subject, which is to be expected when speaking to people who believe passionately in their work.

I would have liked more discussion about how technology is changing what DJs do. Anyone with a computer can make music playlists and do simple audio editing to mix it all together. That issue, more than illegal downloads and flagging dance music sales, seems to have a potentially greater impact on DJ careers. When an iPod can do your job, the big bucks the best-known DJs can command start to seem out of whack.

These quibbles aside, LIQUID VINYL does what a good DJ should: keep the music rolling, the tempo up, and the feeling positive. Like the Kieslowski doc, it's probably only for those with predisposed interest in the topic, but it serves it's niche audience well enough.

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