Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

November

Walks you out of an emotional underworld back into the light —Marty Mapes (review...)

Cox lives three times in November

" The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as the Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient. And as the philosophy of the orient expresses it, life is not important. "
— General William Westmoreland, Hearts and Minds

MRQE Top Critic

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The first Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF) has come and gone. The winners have been announced (a list is at the end of this article). And although I didn’t see all of the winners — nor even most of them — I have my own favorites of the fest.

Of the 55 films that played, I probably saw only a dozen. And while there were some disappointments (including the BIFF’s one Honorable Mention), they were usually sprinkled into a program that had better films. No whole program that I attended was a dud.

Three movies in particular took me by surprise with their honesty and artistry.

A Life to Live

the camera stays glued to the children
The camera stays glued to the children

A Life to Live, directed by Maciej Adamek, was programmed with the showier, more crowd-pleasin’ As Far as the Eye Can See, the documentary about the first blind climber to summit Everest. Clocking in at less than 30 minutes, A Life to Live was created for Polish television. It opens on a child’s hand touching a globe. “The world is smooth and rough and dark.” Soon enough, the movie reveals that the hand belongs to a blind child. Without a narrator, the movie shows us what it’s like for these children to grow up without sight. Their teachers encourage them to feel the fruit, smell the vegetables, and listen for the echoes while walking. Occasionally an adult makes it into the frame, but the camera stays glued to the children, staring at them while they look at the world through their four senses. In a way, this film is the opposite of the documentary on the blind mountain climber. It doesn’t aim for extremes or use phrases like “shattering perceptions.” Instead it is a humble, unassuming look at the day-to-day lives of blind kids learning to get along in the world.

Wasp

tell the story honestly, without flinching, judging or moralizing
Tells the story honestly, without flinching, judging or moralizing

In Telluride, one of the short film programs was called “calling cards.” I can’t think of a better name for some of these short films. They are demonstrations of what a new director is capable of. They cry “look at me! Hire me!” Although some of them feel complete as short films, many of them are clearly meant to be calling cards for producers. Wasp doesn’t quite have an ending, but it’s a very good demonstration of writing and directing.

Wasp actually showed at Telluride, although I didn’t see it there. It’s a gripping story of a poor young mother (her cupboards bare, she feeds her daughters sugar once again for breakfast) trying to get a date, even though she doesn’t have a babysitter. “I wanted to call social services!” was one response to the film, and although I agreed, I also could sympathize with the mother who seemed to have run out of options. The movie looks gritty, grainy, and almost entirely hand-held, which is an appropriate style for the story. Most importantly, though is Andrea Arnold’s ability to tell the story honestly, without flinching, judging or moralizing. I’d see anything Arnold writes and directs, although if she only does one or the other, I wouldn’t necessarily trust it — the style and the story go so well together.

Seventeen

Baffled by love
Our hero is baffled by love

Seventeen, by Hisko Hulsing, is a 12-minute Dutch animation (this year’s Dutch entry for the Academy Award). I’ve seen the visual style of figures and architecture before, but what makes the movie stand out is its dark look and tone. Our hero is a roofer, but he’s the least macho on his crew, the butt of most of the jokes. He falls for the girl across the street, who isn’t nearly as wholesome as the cliche would lead you to expect. His obsession goes horribly wrong, right from the start, and in trying to be the dashing hero, he ruins everything. The film ends with the young man (was he 17 years old to begin with?) aging his life away at the construction site, baffled by love. Many 12-minute shorts go for laughs, but Hulsing’s film seems to have found a delicious, dark, bitter flavor in a genre that’s usually more sweet.

The Winners

Award of Excellence (top award):
The Liberace of Baghdad by Sean McAllister

Best Student Film
Pee Shy by Deb Hagen and Leslie Evers

Best New Filmmaker
Neil Widener, creator of Subdivision, Colorado

Best Animated Film
Mighty Squirrel and Road Raged Rodent by Patrick and Kim Mallek

Best Short Film
Down Dog by Richard Roll and Julie Piatt

Honorable Mention for Best Short Film
Gay by Dawn by Jonathon London

Best Short Documentary
Caught in Paint by Rita and Chela Blitt

Best Adventure Film
Farther Than the Eye Can See by Michael Brown

Best Feature Film
The Real Old Testament by Curtis and Paul Hannum

Best Documentary
Seoul Train by Jim Butterworth, Aaron Lubarsky, and Lisa Sleeth