Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The True West Cinema Festival

I've been recovering from this and trying to take care of all the stuff that needed to get done while I was out of town, but I absolutely need to take mention of how much fun this was. The True West Festival in Boise, Idaho, is fairly small (10 features and two shorts programs) but it's intimate and cozy and the organizers really took care of those of us who could attend as filmmakers.

I missed several of the films, but there were definitely highlights. Four Sheets to the Wind, a drama from director Sterlin Harjo, is set in Oklahoma amidst the Native American population. It's an intimate character drama, refreshingly taking a look at the issues of Natives and rural dwellers alike. The technical aspects are a little shaky at times and the story has one suicide attempt too many, but it's heartfelt and very well-acted, especially by lead actor Cody Lightning.

Tijuana Makes Me Happy is kind of an odd film, blurring the lines between fiction and documentary as it follows the lives of a Mexican kid and his friends and family south of the border living their everyday lives, hanging out at cockfights, selling empanadas door to door, freely crossing the border back and forth with a work visa. It, too lacks technical panache but it's so nice to see such a realistic slice of life that it didn't matter.

I had never seen the 1971 classic Vanishing Point before, but it was interesting to see especially in the wake of Antonioni's death, as an elliptical blending of post-1960s despair and grindhouse action - it's great to see existential ennui in the same movie as a naked girl on a motorcycle offering uppers to the protagonist. As the virtually anonymous antihero Kowalski, Barry Newman has little to do except look pissed off for most of the movie, but he does it very well.

Finally the best short of the weekend was from a fellow USC student who was also making his festival debut, Jacob Hatley's China. This is a finely nuanced character piece about an aging cowboy in modern North Carolina feeling the passage of the age as he tracks down a rogue bull for his employer, and it's equal parts Hal Needham and Howard Hawks, shot in gorgeous anamorphic black and white.

On top of all that was the city of Boise, which was very friendly and open to a wide variety of films, not too surprising as the local hub of what appears to be the beginnings of a boom in digital indie filmmaking. Very cool to see, and I hope to visit again sometime. Thanks again to the organizers for all their work and for inviting me!

1 comment:

frankbooth said...

I saw Vanishing Point for the first time not too long ago, and while I'm a sucker for Seventies-style alienation, I was also impressed by the film's technical values: it may be the best depiction of pure speed I've ever seen in a car-chase film, and as far as I can tell, there isn't a single instance of undercranking or rear/front projection. (As much as I love Mad Max and Road Warrior, the former is painfully apparent in both films.) It must have been great to see on a big screen.

And I agree, whatshisname is perfect. The director wanted Hackman, but I like the fact that this guy is a nobody with no associations.

Speaking of existential car films, maybe one day I'll finally get my hands on Two-Lane Blacktop...