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ashveville film festival 2008 reviews graphichorizontal dashes

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Prism Superglue Us the Damned and God Himself Spielzeugland/Toyland Scaredy Cats Asphyxia Game Master The Vaudevillian Sebastian's Voodoo The Unidentified Off Off Broadway Twelve Bart Got a Room Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai RocknRolla

Prism (Short) (IMDb)
this short film examines the role addiction plays in coping with loss. The story follows a teenager dealing the loss of his sister who disapeared sometime prior to the start of the film. The realistic depiction of the effects of drug use reminded me a lot of Aranofski's Requiem for a Dream.

Superglue (Short) (IMDb) (official site)
Superglue is a short situational comedy centered around an aspiring hollywood writer, Dave, who reluctantly agrees to visit a distantly related aspiring actor, Paul. Things become awkward as Dave shortly into his visit discovers that Paul and his wife are having marital problems, especially as he unwittingly becomes a pawn in their conflict. Superglue creates a very awkward feeling, thanks especially to the bizarre behavior of the trio of characters, The sexual tension added by Paul's wife played by Erin Cardillo certainly helps. Visit the official site here.

Us the Damned and God Himself (Short) (IMDb)
The concept of this film is a little difficult to accept. It involves five individuals returning home from a funeral. The driver believes one of the passengers is responsible for killing the deceased and decides to put all their lives at stake until the killer confesses. He does so by parking his car on train tracks tossing the keys and convincing them that he's duped them into ingesting an explosive chemical which would cause a lethal explosion if they decide to abandon his car. Although a pretty far-fetched idea, the viewers ability to suspend disbelief is by clever writing. The acting felt overall poor, and otherwise would have left a very polished short film. The concept and production of this short are where it excels.

Spielzeugland/Toyland (winner Best Short) (IMDb)
Its no surprise to me that Toyland won the best short film, it was mine as well. In just a short amount of time, it touched me almost in the same way as did Schindler's List. The story is similar, but smaller in scale. It focuses on two families who have sons that are friends -- one family is Jewish, the other non-Jewish. It starts more from the perspective of the non-Jewish boy who discovers from the father of his Jewish friend that their family are going away to Toyland; he is greatly troubled and wants to go with them. The story then mostly follows his mother's perspective as she discovers he's left to go with his Jewish friends. She, of course knowing the truth, frantically searches for her lost son who may be in the hands of Nazi soldiers. Ultimately she has to make a startling decision.

Game Master (Student) (official site)
The Game Master was a clever parody of the lifestyles (or lack thereof) of on-line gamers. The story focuses on one young man who suffers an identity schism as he attempts to meet a girl he's played with on-line in the real world. As the story plays out, his desire to escape the confines of life online, is at battle with his inability to let go. We were fortunate enough to meet the director at the screening, who described herself is a player of WoW.

Scaredy Cats (Student) (IMDb)
This was one of my favorite films of the entire festival, and definitely my favorite Student film. It was simple, and provided a powerful message about the consequences for others of our decisions. The story begins with two men walking down train tracks. It becomes evident that something has broken down in society at large because these men are weary of strangers and seem on a journey to reconnect with any available form of society. One of the genious elements of this film is the lack of information it provides as to why the characters are on there own in the wilderness. It could be a result of any large scale disaster. The result is a smart and simple short story.

Asphyxia (Student)
Asphyxia examines the mundane life of a psychiatrist who himself struggles with severe depression. He copes by pretending to care, just waiting until his next chance to sleep. The film attempts to use his increasingly surreal encounters with patients to show the numbness the psychiatrist himself feels about life. This ends in his realization that his patient is aware he's not even paying attention to her distress.

The Vaudevillian (winner Best Student) (IMDb)
The winning best student film took a look at the life of a man struggling to survive in the great-depression era. The story follows a ventriloquist, who at the start of the film with several other performers is laid off, goes on the road to find a living. Caught about to steal an egg from under a chicken, he pretends to be an animal psychic. The film begins with comical approach to dire straits, but turns to a question about altruism – what do you do when faced with a decision: do you do what's right for yourself, or what's right for others? Although not my first choice for best Student, it certainly deserved considersation

Sebastian's Voodoo (Animation) (IMDb) (official site)
Its got to very hard to create a simple animated short that can tug on your emotions. That is what Sebastian's Voodoo does exactly – simply by using a Voodoo doll who wants to save the lives of his fellow Voodoo dolls. The animation is on the level of anything coming out of Pixar or DreamWorks. You can watch the entire short film here at YouTube

The Unidentified (Feature) (IMDb) (official site)
About an idealistic young aspiring journalist and his exploits with women who shape and jade his political notions. This film has great locations and a fairly big cast and the most impressive soundtrack of any of the films I watched at this years festival. I think it will definently continue to garner attention.

Off Off Broadway (Feature) (IMDb)
Off Off Broadway was my favorite feature in the festival. Its a bizarre mocumentary, similar to many of the films by Christopher Guest, focusing on a small group of individuals in an avant-garde play called All The Wild Stallions, What made this film amazing is the character interactions, which were often hilarious. And the quirks that define them as individuals.  The film focuses on developing each of the six characters including: three actors, the director, assistant director, and the documentary filmmaker. I really hope this film someday makes it way to dvd.  

Twelve (Feature) (IMDb) (official site)
The film Twelve is actually a collection of twelve short films, each one representing a month of the year. Each short allowed the director nearly total creative ability, with a few exceptions. In each feature, there had to be a shot of a tree, and in some characters would recur from other shorts. Of the feature films I watched, I think this one surely was worthy of winning. The concept was very similar to the film Paris, je t'aime (IMDb). The man with the idea behind Twelve was there to talk about his project; from the sound of it, it must have been an extraordinary challenge to manage the directors and cast involved in the project.

Bart Got a Room (winning Feature) (IMDb)
This movie is a very well polished quirky comedy, but nowhere up-there with respect to films like Juno or Little Miss Sunshine. I even thought it less impressive as the comedy Car Babes which showed two AFF's ago. It does feature some pretty great acting which is why I suppose it was chosen as the winning feature; the list includes: William H Macy, and Alia Shawkat (perhaps better known as Maeby from Arrested Development).

Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai (winning Documentary) (IMDb) (official site)
Although not quite as captivating to me as last year's wining documentary War/Child, this really was an inspiring story about a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Told with a bit of humility and moments of comedy – the Story of Maathai who should be regarded as an amazing figure in the stuggle for women's rights, and human rights in general in Kenya. Unfortunately I didn't see the film in its entirety because it was shown overlapping other winning films; so I had to leave before it ended so not to miss the winning student, animated and feature. No one seemed to understand why the AFF scheduled the winning films to overlap each other; but if you wanted to see everything you had to duck out and miss the end of the winning documentary as I did. It makes you wonder who was responsible for scheduling at the AFF, and how they could make such an illogical decision! Maathai is truly an inspiring person, and I hope before long I can see the end of the film.

RocknRolla (not in competition)
Well, RocknRolla (IMDb) wasn't playing at the Asheville Film Festival, but neither was anything else Saturday night! What gives AFF? So my friends and I decided to go see RocknRolla at a nearby theater. It was everything I was expecting from the director who created 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' and 'Snatch' – several semi-complicated story-lines about someone trying to get something someone else has involving lots of witty British gangster dialog.