Saturday, November 14, 2009

Asheville Film Festival: Day Two Recap

Posted By on Sat, Nov 14, 2009 at 3:04 AM

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FRIDAY, NOV. 13 – Today may have been Friday the 13th, but ill omens were nowhere to be found on the streets of Asheville. Instead, filmmakers, film critics and film buffs were all in good spirits as downtown turned into a veritable treasure trove of independent cinema.

Marching from one screening venue to the next was the order of the day, as a total of 55 films – in the categories of Features, Documentary, Short Fiction, Student and Animation – were screened at four area locations within walking distance of each other (Diana Wortham Theatre at Pack Place, Fine Arts Theatre, Asheville Community Theatre, and 35 Below). Movies were screened all the way until midnight, but because I had only gotten four hours sleep the night before (yes, hammering out the Day One Recap had a lot to do with that), I ran out of steam before the after-hours portion of the schedule. That was regretful, since there were a few evening attractions that caught my eye, notably Pier, a documentary about the Ocean Crest pier on N.C.’s Oak Island, and the world premiere of Dark Room Theater, described in the program guide as “a double feature in the vein of The Twilight Zone.”

But not to worry. Between the films I saw today and ones I had viewed previously in my capacity as a festival judge, I ended up catching 36 of the 55 efforts on display. And with so many titles under my belt, I can definitely say that this year’s crop is a strong one, with plenty of gems and very few duds. Of the 36 from today, these are my Top 10, listed in alphabetical order.

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Down in Number 5 (Student). An elderly man in Appalachia farm country wonders who will take care of his grown son, afflicted with Down Syndrome, after he’s gone. Reportedly based on a true story, this features a powerful ending that’s sure to make it one of the festival’s most controversial offerings.

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In/Significant Others (Features). Fresh from winning Best Narrative Feature at the recent Charlotte Film Festival, Charlottean John Schwert comes to town with his ambitious drama in which various characters – including a troubled Iraq War veteran, an ill-tempered comedian and a manipulative documentarian – find their lives in disarray while police investigate a local murder that ties them all together.

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Jeopardy (Short Fiction). A serial killer is on the loose, and a pretty college professor might be the next victim. What initially appears to be a standard-issue thriller offers a potent plot twist that turns the genre on its head.

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Loaf of Bread (Student). Fans of the cult fave Office Space should dig this engaging comedy in which an unsatisfied 9-to-5er is talked into committing a robbery by his two slacker buddies. To reveal their target would be to spoil an amusing surprise.

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The Mouse That Soared (Animation). Combining humor and warmth, this animated delight centers on two birds who try to teach a baby rodent how to fly. Paging Pixar.

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Nero Bloom: Private Eye (Student). A junior version of a film noir, this stylish piece offers the usual staples of the genre: a wisecracking gumshoe, a femme fatale, a corpse, a few suspects, and a satisfying denouement that wraps up the case (and the film) with a pretty bow.

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Open Your Eyes (Short Fiction). Perhaps no other festival offering has haunted me as much as this powerful short about a woman who tries to figure out her life as she copes with breast cancer. Raw, honest and unflinching.

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She’s a Fox (Student). A sixth-grade boy tries to better himself in an effort to win the hand of the most popular girl in school in this irresistible coming-of-age yarn propelled by appropriate ‘80s tunes (“I Ran,” “Walk Like an Egyptian,” etc.).

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True Beauty This Night (Short Fiction). The day after meeting the woman of his dreams, a guy tries to work up the nerve to give her a call and ask her out. This seemingly ordinary scenario becomes the springboard for a riotously clever plot pirouette as original as it is audacious.

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Zwischen Licht und Schatten (Fading Away) (Student). In the footsteps of Away from Her and Iris comes another unsettling drama about the tragedy of Alzheimer’s, this one focusing on an elderly German couple and how the husband deals with his wife’s disintegrating memory.

On tap for Saturday: Another 37 screenings, followed by “It’s a Wrap! (Winners Revealed After Party).”

(To read the Day One Recap, go here. For complete details on the 2009 Asheville Film Festival, go here.)

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