Hope you’re still enjoying our TCFF coverage, now on our fourth day! The only Sunday of the 10-day of TCFF, we’ve got a mix of documentary, feature as well as a collection of shorts dealing with relationships. Here’s the list of the family-themed shorts in order of appearance:
A Better Life – 12 minutes
The Mediocres – 6 minutes
The Moment – 7 minutes
Dear Daddy – 8 minutes
Fighting History – 6 minutes
The Avenue – 14 minutes
Lost at the Lake – 6 minutes
Fray – 20 minutes
I was pretty impressed by most of these, but if I had to choose three favorites, it would be: A Better Life by Conor Holt, The Avenue by Alaina Lewis and Fray by Rob Walstead. Each have a very different theme, tone and style, but all deal with familial relationships or to be precise, the decline of relationships due to various issues like disease or addiction.
I like the sci-fi aspect of A Better Life with a the story that’s pretty deep and thought provoking. The Avenue looks at the tragic consequence of drug addiction through a mother and son relationship and doesn’t pull any punches in presenting its harsh reality. As for The Fray, it’s a personal story about a little girl dealing with her mother’s last days in the hospital who has to learn to be independent through it all. It’s a beautifully-filmed story with an amazing performance from the director’s own daughter.
Kudos to all the filmmakers for crafting such a rich, engaging story in such a short time!
Here are the reviews from Day 4:
Cafeteria Man: removing the tinfoil from school lunches
by Sarah Johnson
31 million. That’s approximately how many American children receive meals through school lunch programs according to the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010. This initiative, and documentaries like “Cafeteria Man,” shown for free at the Twin Cities Film Fest, shine a spotlight on the efforts to reform the midday meal in educational institutions across the United States. I remember my days in grade school unwrapping a tinfoil tray of mystery meat. In the opening scene of this film, one student wistfully remarks, “I just wish we had better lunch.”
Enter Tony Geraci, a charismatic, middle-aged man with an earring who lives on a sailboat and becomes director of food service for Baltimore’s 83,000 students. “Cafeteria Man” highlights his trials and successes in remaking their school lunches as he spearheads the beginning of school vegetable gardens, nutrition education in the classroom and student designed meals. As with anything that challenges the status quo, this audacious vision is met with a mix of support and opposition from the start. Geraci institutes meatless Mondays not as a political act (“No one loves pork more than me,” he opines) but simply as a way to begin a conversation about eating differently. It does not endear him to the meat industry.
This documentary also smashes one of the underlying myths of introducing healthy food- that kids won’t eat it. “You’ll hear that inner city kids don’t want to eat this,” says urban farming pioneer Will Allen, also featured in the food documentary “Fresh.” “That’s not true.” As to reinforce this point, director Richard Chisolm shows a junior high student burying his nose in a bunch of basil he grew.
Alas, the bureaucracy takes its toll on Geraci and we are told toward the end of the film that he has resigned his position. The short running time of 65 minutes left me a little confused about certain aspects of the movie like who was Tony Geraci and what were his qualifications to take that job? Even a couple of sentences at the beginning of the movie would have been sufficient.
The movie ends on a hopeful note, highlighting passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which authorizes funding to increase access to healthy food for federal school meal and nutrition programs. And indeed it does seem like this model can be or is being replicated across the country. (Bertrand Weber, who became Director of Culinary and Nutrition Services for Minneapolis Public Schools in January 2012, is spearheading a similar movement, including installing salad bars in each school.) As entertainment, “Cafeteria Man” was an entertaining look at one of our nation’s most pressing issues. As a documentary, it serves as a catalyst to move this conversation forward.
4 out of 5 reels
Farah Goes Bang
by Adam Wells
Farah Goes Bang is a film about a young woman of Persian decent named Farah, played by Nikohl Boosheri, and her two friends KJ (Kandis Erickson) and Roupa (Kiran Deol) as they embark on a road trip to campaign for presidential candidate John Kerry in the fall of 2004. The three of them are recent college graduates unable to find jobs so they volunteer for the Kerry campaign instead. Farah is also a virgin and her friends are very enthusiastic about her losing her virginity.
The movie uses the setting of 2004 very well. The three main characters travel the country going from very different political climates on each stop of their campaign road trip. The filmmakers didn’t shy away from how awkward it can be talking to strangers . Through many encounters we see that these girls are not that best campaigners but they are passionate about the issues John Kerry campaigns on.
The main character Farah’s storyline is an interesting take on the 20-something virgin. It seems so common in American culture for men and women to lose their virginity in their teens, that when a film focuses on someone who didn’t, they seem very weird, or to quote the character of KJ “defective.” But the film makes Farah out to be a fully functioning adult female who doesn’t seem incomplete because she’s a virgin though we do see her struggles as she interacts with men throughout the film as she feels pressured by not just her friends but society’s norms, and she challenges those norms because she’s strong enough to go against the norm.
The three main characters are very well written and acted. Through different interactions either with each other or characters outside of their group, we see they are individuals with a good amount of depth to them and don’t fall into a stereotype, though they have some cliche’ characteristics to them, it helps flesh out their characters completely and see the depth they have to them.
The film is shot well, particularly the night scenes have very little grain. The cinematography overall is good. The one thing to note on the cinematography is the handheld camera shots are a little too shaky and can take the viewer out of the movie at times, but they are only used in a few scenes in the movie.
Farah Goes Bang is a must see for those who crave movies with multiple female characters with depth to them, something film culture today seems to a huge void in. The 2004 election backdrop for this movie acts as some dreaded dramatic irony for the audience as people who will watch this know how the 2004 election turned out and will dread seeing the main characters disappointment when their candidate doesn’t win, but the film is much more about the journey and growth the characters go through their experience in the campaign.
4 out of 5 reels
Diamond on Vinyl – What’s Your Reality?
by Sarah Johnson
What happens to people who can’t accept reality? “Diamond on Vinyl,” the sophomore effort from filmmaker J.R. Hughto, centers on one such character. The movie begins as Beth (Nina Millin) is leaving her boyfriend Henry (Brian McGuire) after listening to his digital recorder and hearing, among other things, his musings about whether he actually loves her. It seems that Henry likes to rehearse conversations with the hope that it will work out how he envisions. Apparently no one ever told him life doesn’t always go according to plan. (Some would say it never does.)
As Beth is crying in her car over this revelation, she is unexpectedly comforted by Charlie (Sonja Kinski, granddaughter of German actor Klaus Kinski and daughter of actress Nastassja Kinski), a passerby who lends a sympathetic ear and volunteers to return Beth’s key to Henry. Hinting at her own voyeuristic tendencies, she seems way too interested in the situation and confronts Henry about his recordings. A bizarre series of meetings between the two begin as they start recording sessions at first focused on Henry’s attempt to win Beth back but then drift into scenarios that may be real or not. This is interestingly portrayed by Hughto by overlapping conversations with actual voices in the background as if blurring the lines between fantasy and reality.
Any thought that this may be a harmless hobby for Henry is put to rest when he visits a man who voiced “Safe and Sound,” old records featuring conversations between a man and a woman that you could turn on as you leave to make it seem like you’re still home. As Henry strives for perfection in his interactions with other people and holds these records as his ideal, he seems unwilling to accept that they are unedited even after the man shrugs saying “it is what it is” and gets kicked out of his house.
I would have liked to see the character of Charlie explored a little more as I wasn’t sure if she was exploiting Henry’s neuroses to satisfy her own voyeuristic tendencies or if he was a kindred spirit. (Or, since the movie ends rather abruptly, maybe that is the point of leaving that question unanswered.) There is also an interesting unspoken comparison of different mediums of voyeurism as she is a photographer and he uses a digital recorder. One note on the visual aspect of the movie- it’s shot as if by a handheld camera to give it a harsh, gritty feel (“The Wrestler” is another movie with similar viewing). I realize that’s by design but mostly it just gives me a headache.
2 out of 5 reels
So that about wraps up our Day 4 reviews. Any thoughts about any of these films?