Searching for Wooden Watermelons
Of the three narrative features in competition at the GPFF,Searching for Wooden Watermelonsfeels the most independent. (The Rose TechniqueandThe Slaughter Rule, which won in this category, are the other two.)
Watermelonstells the story of an overeducated Texas girl (she uses school to postpone reality), who really wants to write sitcoms in L.A., but cannot bring herself to leave her mother, her grandmother, and her roots. But Jude has run out of schools, and now her boyfriend and her relatives expect her to settle down and raise a family like everyone else in this small town.
The movie features good performances all around — except for one or two minor characters, and except for one or two scenes. Wendy English brings to life the character of Jude, who loves her family even as she makes fun of their shortcomings in voiceover. Riley (played by a charismatic Chad Safar) is her hip friend who encourages her to follow her dreams.
When the dialogue is light and full of banter, it is excellent. The actors seem to sparkle with the opportunity to be funny. Jude has a dry, ironic wit; her mother is flaky; and her grandmother is set in her ways, and with good, sharp dialogue, they made my audience laugh.
But there are also some arguments in the movie, and they are neither written nor acted as well as the light-hearted scenes. The actors only seem to have one tone of voice during the arguments, and there aren’t any transitions from conversation to fight. Maybe I haven’t quite put my finger on it, but something odd about the scenes of conflict rings false.
A final complaint is that the script, while careful to incorporate metaphors and meaning, becomes heavyhanded at the end. It beats the audience over its collective head with the message “follow your dreams!”
Still, the script shows great promise, and English will make a fine director, actress, or comedienne, depending on which dream she chooses to follow.
The Rose Technique
The Rose Techniqueis one of the best-looking, best-produced films at the GPFF (it was shotandprojected on film), but perhaps that’s the all that can be said for it.
The movie is a black comedy about a delusional self-help psychiatrist so bent on having her technique succeed that she’s willing to maim anyone who stands in her way.
It’s a story thatcouldwork. But the movie never explainswhyanything happens, or why people behave the way they do. For example, although some people do swallow psychobabble, The Rose Technique is so shallow and ill-formed that it’s inconceivable why anyone, including fictional characters in this movie, would buy it.
The director and actors seem to sense this. The actors deliver their lines as though they actually make sense, using all the right emotions. But the words don’t seem to hold any meaning to the speakers. A Chinese Woody Allen could overdub a completely different script and achieve better results.
The movie feels as though the screenplay never quite gelled, and the producers hoped good acting would save it. But a bad script can’t be saved by amount of on-camera talent, asThe Rose Techniqueproves.
Nik Fackler garnered the attention of festival organizer Danny Lee Ladely. Ladely was quoted in the Lincoln Star-Journal as saying “He’s way beyond being a kid filmmaker. His work shows a lot of promise.”
C.O.D.is one of three films by Fackler at the GPFF, and it shows its student-film roots — parts are cast with actors who are too young for them, and something as grand as life or death is crammed into a 7-minute movie.
C.O.D.is about the armed robbery of a diner. The robber spends a few minutes psyching himself up for the robbery, telling us in voiceover about his decision. But a hostess at the diner stands up to the thug and calls his bluff. The film doesn’t pay off with its twist until after the screen has gone black, which is probably one scene too late. Fackler shows great skill with cameras and lighting, and is a better storyteller than many other competitors at this year’s GPFF.
Sinless, which won one of the three Youth Media prizes at GPFF, is also made by Fackler. In it, a scrawny Christ figure is tormented in his apartment. The movie then shows us why. He walks out of his room, down the street, and around town. Each time he passes a person, he sees the sin they will be committing shortly. One girl poisons her baby, others merely swear at loved ones. Gluttony, murder, and lust are all portrayed. And so we come to understand the man’s torment. And then Fackler twists the story at the end.
Sinlesslooks like it was shot on video, but Fackler makes up for it with energy and creativity. Using relatively primitive equipment, they emulate the hip filmmaking styles of today. They speed and slow time at the drop of a hat, they fly in and out of their subjects, always looking stylish, never cheesy.
Perhaps Ladely’s praise has predisposed me to find only the good in Fackler’s work, but it’s just as likely that he’s earned it himself.
Who Owns the Past?
AlthoughWho Owns the Pasthas one of the more interesting subjects at this year’s GPFF, the made-for-TV documentary suffers from its mandated length. To fill up the hour, tangential material is introduced and the movie loses its focus and purpose.
The film’s inspiration comes from three issues ripped out of the headlines in recent years. One involves the Smithsonian’s collection of Native American skulls that were gathered from battlegrounds and massacre sites in the 1800s. Another involves an Indian burial mound turned into an Illinois museum. The final issue involves the remains of the so-called Kennewick Man, who died over 9,000 years ago and whose remains are being examined by archaeologists.
In each case, the movie pits Native American activists against white institutions in control of the remains, even if there aren’t always two clear sides to these issues.
Although the documentary itself is too rambling, it is a great example of the power of activism and film to re-frame a debate. The middle segment introduces us to Dr. Dickson’s discovery of a burial mound on his property. He made a partial excavation of the site and invited schoolchildren to visit, using it as a launchpad to teach them about Native American cultures. The site later became a museum and a new teacher, who shared Dickson’s passion, gave tours and taught classes.
It’s not until Indian activists came that popular opinion began to change. The footage of activists reverently sprinkling dirt over the bones, while state troopers angrily push them away, is incredibly moving, and at once can change one’s perspective from that of a curious “respectful” onlooker to that of a shamefaced, unwanted intruder.