Crossroads Film Festival 2006: Everybody Has A Story | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Crossroads Film Festival 2006: Everybody Has A Story

If there's anything a true Mississippian loves, it's a good story. This weekend, we get to enjoy many stories on film during the 7th Annual Crossroads Film Festival, taking place mostly at the Parkway Place Theater in Flowood. And a healthy number of the 60-odd films are told by and about Mississippians.

Every year, we are blessed the first weekend of April to see films that we just don't get to see much of the year (although the Crossroads Film Series is changing that, too). But Crossroads is more than a celebration of great independent film about topics from religion to homosexuality, suburbia to masculinity, breakdancing to the blues; it is a four-day celebration of the crossroads of Mississippi culture that is Jackson, Miss.

In addition to the films, Crossroads presents workshops for adults and children—and some of the finest musical entertainment you'll find in any long weekend of the year, booked by festival director (and JFP music editor) Herman Snell. You'll find a full schedule of events on page 20.

Meantime, the JFP reviewed about every film we could get our hands on (not including the two well-known feature films—"Capote" and "Shopgirl"—figuring you know about those already). And we didn't bother with the ode to Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic version of the Bible, being that we prefer our biblical forays without a Hollywood middleman.

So, dig into our reviews, buy your tickets, mark up your schedule and join us this weekend for what has become one of the biggest social and cultural events of the year—the Crossroads Film Festival. And don't forget to kick off the festivities with the Jackson Free Press and St. Dominic's at the opening party Thursday on the roof of Fondren Corner.

"Walter Anderson: Realizations of an Artist"
Winston Riley, Documentary, 60 minutes
Sat., Parkway Place Theatre, 1 p.m.

"Walter Anderson: Realizations of an Artist" is a full hour of serenity and inspiration documenting the life and art of Mississippi's greatest visual artist, Walter Anderson (1903-1965). Completed shortly before Hurricane Katrina wiped the Andersons' Ocean Springs Shearwater compound off the map, this long-overdue documentary is all the more important now, preserving images of places that no longer exist and giving new life to masterworks of Walter Anderson, which were damaged or destroyed.

I've long been an admirer of Walter Anderson's work. Some of the loveliest moments of my life have been spent in Ocean Springs absorbing the magical world of Walter Anderson, marveling at his art, listening to stories about him and enjoying the company of those who loved him and knew him best. I don't claim to be an expert, but I know well the challenges faced by filmmakers attempting to reduce the complexities of the man and the prolific outpourings of his art to a single hour of viewing. And I'm awed and enthralled by their achievement.

The film opens with never-before-seen film footage of Anderson rowing his boat to Horn Island, the barrier island in the Mississippi Gulf where he spent much of the last 20 years of his life creating hundreds—no, thousands—of watercolor masterpieces of plants and animals, landscapes and seascapes.

On Horn Island, Anderson finally realized through his art the calming oneness with nature he had spent most of his life frenetically seeking. That realization sets the tone for unhurried unfolding of his story.

The filmmakers, Winston Riley and David Wolfe from New Orleans, wrote, produced and filmed the documentary—their first—to introduce the artist to those unfamiliar with his work, but even seasoned Anderson fans can find new information and see the works in new ways. (The film recently won best documentary feature at the Fargo Film Festival in North Dakota.)

Riley and Wolfe touch all the major issues of Anderson's life and art, presenting them in relation—his formal art training and his uninhibited, defiant work; his genius and his mental illness; his own inability to be a family man and the devotion of his family, especially his wife Sissy, who brought up four children to see their often-absent father as a very special person.

The film weaves together archival and contemporary footage and commentary by the most knowledgeable Anderson experts. For the first time, we see and hear all four of Anderson's children. Daughters Mary and Leif, whose insights here, as always, give us new ways of understanding Anderson, as well as sons Bill and John, who have rarely spoken publicly about their father. In fact, John, whose resemblance to his father is striking, appears in several Horn Island shots recreating Anderson's activities there.

But it is the work itself—the line drawings and block prints and pottery and murals and the radiant, shimmering watercolors—viewed in graceful and penetrating closeness over the haunting strains of Beethoven's Concerto No. 5, that makes this film an exhilarating feast for the senses.
— JoAnne Prichard Morris

"New Orleans Music in Exile"
Robert Mugge, Documentary, 117 minutes
Fri., Parkway Place Theatre, 7 p.m.

What Bob Mugge, Diana Zelman and Starz Entertainment have done with "New Orleans Music in Exile" lets us witness the specific stories of a handful of New Orleans' musicians whose lives changed forever when Katrina blew through the Crescent City.

Mugge mixes the music of those in exile with hurricane footage and recent interviews to weave a virtual tapestry that represents the toughness of these people.

In any weaving, the warp—the lengthwise threads—creates the underlying structure of the piece. In the film, the warp consists of supporters of New Orleans' musicians. People like Jan Ramsey, publisher of Off Beat magazine in New Orleans for 20 years; David Freedman, general manager of the New Orleans' community radio station, WWOZ, 90.7 FM; Mark Samuels, president of Basin Street Records; Adam Shipley and Bill Taylor of the Tipitina's Foundation who spoke eloquently of Oct. 29 when 1000 people turned out for Tipitanas' reopening. And many others across the South.

Of course, you cannot weave without the weft, those threads that crisscross, filling in the design. Here the weft is the musicians in all their creative splendor. Seated in the theater, you go with Irma Thomas to The Lion's Den, now in moldy ruins. You hear the joy in Ramsey's voice because Irma told her that she'll be back. You go with Eddie Bo to his club Check Your Bucket, a chaotic scene of tumbled chairs. You go to Grantstreet Dancehall in Lafayette for Marcia Ball's version of "Louisiana 1927" and have your heart torn apart as she sings, "Louisiana, they're tryin' to wash us away."

Cyril Neville ended up at Threadgill's in Austin; on Tuesday's Neville's wife cooks red beans and gumbo and his band Tribe 13 plays New Orleans music. "We call it New Orleans' cookin' and jukin'," Neville says. The Iquanas are out in Austin, too, playing at The Continental Club, hoping for the return of the the city they love.

From a stage on Beale Street, Neville puts it this way: "There won't be no New Orleans without the second line clubs, without the Mardi Gras Indians … you can't have no New Orleans without the Ninth Ward. Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Wards is the heart, the roux of that gumbo they call New Orleans and without that roux, you know they ain't no gumbo, y'all. It don't make no difference what they do, we, the people of New Orleans, is survivors!"

Amen and hallelujah.
— Lynette Hanson

"Four Corners"
Elizabeth Puccini, Feature, 104 minutes
Sat., Parkway Place Theatre, 7 p.m.

This debut film from Elizabeth Puccini centers around a group of young adults. There is Walt Samson, played with brooding passion by Paul Blackthorne, and his wife Rachel, played by Mädchen Amick. The scene is a cottage home with a stunning view the ocean on a New England island. Walt's childhood friend Benjamin (Alec Newman) visits, with unsatisfied wanderlust and a broken heart. Rachel's college friend Susan (Alice Evans) and her boyfriend soon join the three for late-night drinks, and the confessions ensue.

The film plays like an existential Bergman bedroom drama, with every character in search of essential, personal meaning. Walt was seduced by pity into his tepid marriage with Rachel and has begun a platonic affair. Benjamin is intelligent but melancholy. Susan is beautiful and crippled by how her beauty distorts every relationship she has.

"Four Corners" is evenly paced, but it suffers from being confined to a single night. By the last reel, the unending confessions and epiphanic monologues become exhausting. The dialogue is sometimes ponderous if not ridiculous, as when Benjamin expounds on how he read nothing but Rilke for two years. What it meant to him, God help us. And I pray I never have to endure another flaccid angel metaphor, in this case, Walt's childhood belief that angels' wings make the wind that moves the leaves.

Despite these excesses, "Four Corners" is a powerful debut. It is superbly shot, with both technical sophistication and artistic vision. At its best, "Four Corners" achieves a lyrical grace spiked with the majesty of emotional failure, when its characters finally relent from their prevarications. That honesty is searingly painful but also vividly real. This is not catharsis. This is renewal.
— Brian Johnson

"Bringing Balanchine Back"
Richard Blanshard, Documentary, 52 minutes
Sun., Parkway Place Theatre, 3:15 p.m.

For those who think that ballet is for the faint of heart because it appears to be delicate and graceful, you are in for a rude awakening. Hours upon hours of rehearsal and jetlag define the life of a New York City Ballet dancer as seen in Richard Blanshard's "Bringing Balanchine Back."

In 2003, the New York City Ballet was invited to Russia to participate in the "White Nights Festival," commemorating St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary. The Ballet had a very special guest accompany them to Russia—George Balanchine via his repertoire. Balanchine, born in St. Petersburg, founded the Ballet in 1948. Balanchine had not visited the Marinsky Theater where he began his career for many years before his death. The Ballet's performing Balanchine's work in St. Petersburg was a way to renew ties with the St. Petersburg Ballet and to give his Russian audience the opportunity to see Balanchine's work performed by his company.

While a trip to Russia to dance may seem like a vacation, the dancers worked tirelessly to perfect their choreography in order to impress an audience that is well acquainted with astounding ballet. In fact, immediately upon arrival in St. Petersburg, the dancers were ushered to the Marinsky Theater to practice for that night's performance.

With the emotions of the dancers running high as teachers who knew Balanchine wanted to do his work justice and some ballerinas debuted as solo dancers, "Bringing Balanchine Back" has equal moments of glory as defeat, joy as heartbreak.

You do not have to be a ballet enthusiast or master to enjoy "Bringing Balanchine Back"—it captures humans in their most basic and shared emotions.
— Catherine Schmidt

"Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea"
Chris Metzler/Jeff Springer, Documentary,
70 min., Sat., Parkway Place Theatre, 3 p.m.

Eminent vulgarian and filmmaker John Waters must have jumped at the chance to provide narration for this documentary. Yet, for all their differences, Baltimore and the Salton Sea are similar American disasters, populated by absurdly tacky but endearing characters no screenwriter could invent. Fortunately for all of us, filmmakers Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer went out and found them.

The Salton Sea had its origins in poor engineering. In the 1930s, ambitious farmers and land developers diverted water from the Colorado River to irrigate California's scorching desert. Unfortunately, the river had other ideas, changing course and flooding the farmland. When the waters finally receded, the Salton Sea remained. Covering 376 square miles, the Salton Sea enjoyed an ephemeral boom as a potential rival to Palm Springs in the 1960s. Then, through human mismanagement and a series of tropical storms, the sea flooded out into the new towns, destroying any hope for prosperity.

Now, the Salton Sea is briny, as six feet of water evaporate every year. The sea teems with 100 million tilapia, and in the summer, dead fish wash onto the shores by the tens of thousands. Everywhere are rusted-out resorts, deserted parking lots and the broken wreckage of what the Salton Sea hoped to become.

Yet it is the inhabitants of this doomed sea that make this film a quirky treasure. There is the Mexican real estate speculator called "The Landman," the roadside nudist who waves at tourists and the so-called mayor of Salton, a beer-swigging Hungarian revolutionary named Hunky Daddy.

Above all else, this is a film that will make you laugh, despite the environmental apocalypse.
— Brian Johnson

"Ulises' Odyssey"
Lorena Manriquez, Documentary, 58 minutes
Sat., Parkway Place Theatre, 5:15 p.m.

Great expectations overwhelmed me as I sat down to watch Lorena Manriquez's "Ulises' Odyssey." The brief synopsis explained that the filmmaker, while on a quest to tell the story of her uncle Ulises, makes discoveries about her father that she in no way expected. Without any other background, the story appealed to me because I know very little about my deceased father's background and thought maybe the film would offer catharsis to me in some way. A bit of advice that other moviegoers may know already: Never watch a movie with expectations and preconceived notions about what you can take away from it. If you do, like me and my therapeutic expectations, you're bound to be disappointed.

Manriquez obviously did much research to tell her family's story in this documentary-style film. Several members of her family were interviewed. Set in Chile in 1973, a coup d'etat saw the death of a socialist president and the inception of a dictatorship in the country. The filmmaker's family was directly related to this government action because her Uncle Ulises was a supporter of Allende; her father, a supporter of Pinochet. Consequently, the family was torn apart. Manriquez set out to answer "why" questions, and the story ensues. This film explores themes of reconciliation and survival, with the filmmaker's family bringing a personal resonance to these important lessons.
— Natalie A. Collier

"Back to Bosnia"
Sabrina Vajraca, Documentary, 67 minutes
Thurs., Parkway Place Theatre, 7 p.m.

Beginning in the 1990s, after the dismemberment of the Communist satellite country of Yugoslavia, various ethnic groups living in Bosnia suffered genocide. The killings were instigated by militant Serbians hoping to gain power during the absence of centralized political power and exercise their control over Croatians and Bosnians living in Bosnia. At the time, much of the situation occurred unbeknownst to those living in the U.S. This is because the mainstream media was largely silent about the genocide, and what was mentioned about the war's cause or the number of those who had been murdered was either miscalculated or just wrong.

"When I first came here, no one actually even had a clue about what Bosnia was. In my opinion, the American media largely misinterpreted the war, and it was because of the lack of information that people were confused. Therefore, the help didn't come in the time that we needed it," says Sabina Vajraca, a Bosnian native who moved to the U.S. in 1996 after no longer being able to withstand war torn Bosnia and Croatia, where she also lived for two years.

Vajraca, who is 28 and resembles a pixy with her short, cropped haircut and tiny frame, says that her disappointment with the media's early inaccurate portrayal of the Bosnian war has caused her to discount American media coverage on the war's aftermath, as well as coverage of the genocide in Darfur or the war in Iraq.

For her part, Vajraca has worked to get the message out about what incidents really ripped through her native country, starting with her hometown of Banja Luka. In 2003, Vajraca returned to Bosnia and was surprised to find that affects of the war were still being fostered within the countryside; poverty was rampant and the infrastructure of the village was eroding, even though a peace agreement had been signed in 1995.

"It really shook me," she says in an interview. "I thought it would be good for me to record it and make something of it. People going through experiences like ours would have a reference point."

Vajraca originally had a multimedia performing arts piece in mind, but Ali Hanson, Vajraca's longtime friend and theatre collaborator, suggested that the two work together on the project as a film.

The film introduces us to scenes where the war was most brutal. Banja Luka, which was the second most populous city in Bosnia outside of Sarajevo, became a city where both Muslim and Catholic Bosnians were forced to jump to their deaths or were told to evacuate their homes for another country.

This was true for Vajraca's family, who returned eight years later to find that a Serbian family now occupied the house. At first, the two families are able to converse congenially, but the daughter of the Serbian family gradually grows annoyed. The filmmakers manage to capture both the daughter's backlash and the argument that ensues over who truly owns the apartment. Vajraca ends up crying on the staircase in the apartment building after the incident.

As an outsider to the strife, Hanson says that her first-hand experience of Bosnia brought the devastation to life. But even Vajraca was unprepared for some of what she discovered in Banja Luka. This includes witnessing an exhumation and a hall where skulls and body parts are laid out on the ground. While much of the film features traditional Bosnian music playing softly in the background, here the footage rolls in silence.

Vajraca sees especial significance in the film for those living in the South at a time when Hurricane Katrina has forced many to leave their homes, much like Bosnian refugees.

"Just because it's a war in one country and a natural disaster in another, the loss of one's home and whatever they consider dear is equally the same," Vajraca says. She also points out that the film may speak more to the hearts of those living in smaller American towns, as Banja Luka is more a small city than a metropolis like Boston or New York.

Either way, "Back to Bosnia" resonates on many different levels. It tells a story that has been left untold, it resonates with troubles here at home, and it expresses the universal theme of needing somewhere to call home. For Vajraca, this is what is most important about her film.

"It doesn't matter if it's a natural disaster or war or divorce; it's these really big events in our life that reshape how we think and how we function in the community, and how to recover from it."
— Sophia Halkias

"Richard Johnston: Hill Country Troubadour"
Max Shores, Documentary, 56 minutes
Sat., Parkway Place Theatre, 1 p.m.

God laid down the mountains, drew a river with a finger and tried to smooth down the in-between. Thus are the hills of north Mississippi, which stretch from Tishomingo County west to Panola and south to Attala.

The 30-odd counties that comprise the most insular patch of earth in the South, the Yoknapatawpha, make up a region deeply rent by rain, race and resentment. It also has a rich musical heritage powered primarily by gospel and bluegrass, both of which came to foster the genre now called hill country blues.

Hill country bluesman Richard Johnston, a troubadour from Houston, Miss., comes to us by way of California, Japan and other exotic locales. He's a band of his own on a mission

Max Shores directed and produced "Richard Johnston: Hill Country Troubadour" for the University of Alabama Center for Public Television. Being a white one-man blues band on Beale Street has to be tough, even if you don't get hassled, but Johnston seems to revel in the role, overalls and all. This documentary is very rote, with standard shots, standard scenes and spoon-fed interviews. The saving grace of this film is the interview with Jessie Mae Hemphill. Frankly, it's the only honest part about it. — Jesse Yancy

"Do You Want the Elephant Music?"
Leslie Dektor, Experimental, 17 minutes
Sun., Parkway Place Theatre, 1 p.m.

What a wonderful film this is, an inversion of the metaphor of life as a circus. Herein we are presented with the circus as life.

One of the central messages this documentary delivers is that circus work, in whatever form or fashion, is a vocation, a calling, in the truest sense of the word. This picture documents what happens to people who actually "run away and join the circus." They become, as actors do for the theater, perpetuators of a phenomenon as old as civilization itself.

But it's a hard life; as one performer says, "The circus eats its own children." Another quotes his mother as saying, "I don't like to see you doing this kind of work because I love you." Yet the allure of the ring, of the spotlight and the spangle, somehow overcomes even a mother's remonstrance, and these people who perform under the tent have sawdust in their veins. "It's like a drug," we're told.

"Pagliacci" aside, "Do You Want the Elephant Music?" is not so grim as to leave the viewer with a sense of aversion or distaste. All in all, it's a very matter-of-fact study of a life that has its own drawbacks and its own rewards. The cinematography and editing are outstanding, particularly the performance footage, and the interviews are heartfelt and revealing.

"We take our prison with us," we hear. Yes, well, don't we all?
— Jesse Yancy

"Shared History"
Felicia Furman, Documentary, 56 minutes
Thurs., Parkway Place Theatre, 9 p.m.

One of my more shocking moments since returning to Mississippi was reading a column in The Northside Sun—which was awarded $100 by the publisher—in which the writer said matter-of-factly that blacks today should give thanks for slavery because of the opportunities it has given the descendants of slaves.

I thought of that column as I watched "Shared History," Felicia Furman's documentary about her white ancestors on the Woodlands Plantation in South Carolina—and 70 enslaved people who produced the cotton that built their fortune. Furman reached out to descendants of the slaves in an effort to understand their "shared history."

At one point in the film, descendants of both families sit around the dinner table in the Woodlands, which Furman's family still owns. Charles Orr, a descendant of slaves, read from a history book written by Furman's grandmother, who stated the myth that Africans were "saved" from savagery by the American slave trade.

Furman said that although her grandmother was loving and giving, "She needed African Americans to be inferior … her whole identity was built on the backs of slaves."

"Shared History" is an important, rare film. But it is also entertaining, and through extensive interviews and old home-movie footage, demonstrates that we are more alike than we are different.
— Donna Ladd

"Queen of Cactus Cove"
Anna Christopher, Student, 22 minutes
Sat., Parkway Place Theatre, 5:15 p.m.

In this 22-minute film, Billie (Alia Shawkat, "Arrested Development") is a teenage chess champion. Her practice partner, who is also her best friend, Achak (Alex Frost, "Elephant") becomes her toughest opponent. They agree to take no prisoners and to win at all costs, which almost costs Billie her friendship with Achak. For her, chess is not about winning or losing. It is about winning.

The movie is set in a quirky desert town that has a 16-foot hula girl as their welcome sign. The vastness of the desert contrasts the details of the chess pieces. Billie is somewhat of a tomboy, while her mother rides around on roller skates in her hair salon, Frenchy's. The interaction between Billie and her mother shows how different they are. Absence of incessant dialogue helps the viewer identify with Billie's internal, private struggles. The director brilliantly used subtitles for people's thoughts during the chess games. The film is humorous and heart warming.

In the best line in the film, Billie's chess mentor tells her that Achak, "Not only knows your (chess) strategy but your weaknesses as well."

This film is not just about becoming a chess champion. It is about self-discovery. It is about overcoming self-doubt. It is about winning and losing and growing up. It is about friendships persevering through hard times. It is about the value of friendship. I watched "Queen of Cactus Cove" four times in two days. I am a sucker for sappy movies with happy endings. And my new favorite actress is Alia Shawkat.
— Renee Reedy

"Rwanda Alive: Those Who Listen"
Chris Plutte and Brian Reeder, Short Documentary, 30 minutes
Sun., Parkway Place Theatre, 3:15 p.m.

Ingrid (last name withheld) radiates as a normal 17-year-old girl who talks about boys with her friends, giggling and shy about her past crushes. The hero of "Rwanda Alive: Those Who Listen," Ingrid does not come off as a girl who lost all of her family minus her sister in Rwandan genocide nor that she could have witnessed such atrocious and brutal violence from her own neighbors. Ingrid's friends describe her as a girl who is always smiling and positive.

"Rwanda Alive," filmed in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Rwandan genocide, is a documentary created by the Global Nomads Group. In "Rwanda Alive," directors Christopher Plutte and Brian Reeder capture videoconferences between adolescents in Rwanda and those in schools in the United States as they discuss world issues and ways to prevent future genocides.

"How did it happen? How? Our parents, our brothers, our sisters, our fellow humans—you can't say you're not in Rwanda; you can't say you're not a Rwandan. You're a human being. Let's avoid it," says Ingrid in an emotional videoconference in a Rwandan church where thousands were killed.

Ingrid and her friends speak of the genocide and the death of family members with surprising composure. There is a mature sense among them that rather than focus on the tragedy in the past, they must prevent such violence in the future.

Ultimately, "Rwanda Alive" is a story of courage and hope of a more peaceful future through the actions of "Those Who Listen." Juxtaposing stories of survival with colorful scenes of children singing traditional Rwandan songs, "Rwanda Alive: Those Who Listen" offers images of a wholly vital present that will give way to an equally vibrant future.
— Catherine Schmidt

"After Twilight"
Scott Calonico, Short Documentary, 10 minutes
Sun., Parkway Place Theatre, 5:30 p.m.

A LSD trip, a girl named America making a film about freedom, a 5 year-old who waits four days for her mother to awake—the Texas Filmmaker's showcases runs the spectrum of black and white to vivid hues, both literally and thematically.

"After Twilight" is a black-and-white film reminiscent of "Fahrenheit 451" that follows Jen Frazier in her decision to be a freedom fighter amidst a theocratic order in Texas. Jen safeguards a contraband package as she runs from the religious police. Director Gary Watson explores what is at stake in a world that challenges intellect.

"Ana's House" depicts a Mexican woman in an abusive marriage who struggles to decide whether to escape her husband or to remain loyal to her Catholic faith and her children. Surrounded by gangs in her youth in Fort Worth, Texas, Olivia Saldivar strives to make films that represent everyday life.

"Hope's War" explores the tragic effects of a U.S. soldier's experiences in Iraq. Plagued by haunting visions of war, the soldier has difficulty re-entering daily life at the expense of his family. Director Ya'ke Smith makes a bold statement about the daily repercussions of war and the emotional and psychological sacrifices soldiers must make in order to fight for their country.

In "Love Math," the Showcase lightens up as a guy makes connections between his dream girl and his ex-girlfriend, realizing that they have all participated in a sort of love octagon. Humorous, witty and creative, "Love Math" is the baby of Kent Carpenter Zambrana, a Chicagoan.

"LSD A Go Go" jumps out as a highlight of the Showcase with psychedelic colors and music from the 1960s as the backdrop for the film, which examines the CIA's testing the effects of LSD on agents and others in the 1950s as part of their MK-Ultra program. The film ultimately explores CIA scientist Frank Olson's controversial suicide, which was likely spurred by LSD. With clips of scare films and a girl on LSD's recount of a talking hot dog who begs her not to murder him, this 10-minute film remains humorous and informative. Scott Calonico, director, created "LSD A Go Go" on a minimal budget by using public domain sources and debuted his film at Sundance in 2004.

In "Separated by Light," a young woman named America sets out to make a documentary on the way different people define freedom and what forms freedom takes in various individuals' lives. Bold colors and quirky characters create a visual delight as America and her goofy, allergic-to-everything friend Richard Parker eventually probe what freedom means to them. Sai Selvarajan, born in Sri-Lanka, graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2001 with a degree in Film and Graphic Design.

"Wake" follows a 5-year-old girl as she survives four days alone in her apartment, waiting for her mother to wake up. Relying on silence and poignant camera angles, the film is melancholy yet beautiful as the child forages for food in the apartment and talks to her mother, who remains silent and motionless in bed. South Korean Keun-Pyo Park recently brought "Wake" to Cannes.

"Young Mutt" depicts a girl who, amidst the normal stress level of a standardized test, grapples with which bubble to fill in for the race identification. Pencil scratching and erasing, a ticking clock and the girl biting her nails create a rhythmical chant that accentuates the girl's struggle with her identity. Justin Gilley and Nicholas Jayanty, both recent graduates of UT Austin, collaborate in this artistic and imaginative exploration of mixed race children's efforts to find an identity and place in the world.
— Catherine Schmidt

"My Backyard Was a Mountain"
Adam Schlater, Short, 24 minutes
Thurs., Parkway Place Theatre, 7 p.m.

"Remember a time of love and loss," says the cover of "My Backyard was a Mountain" amidst a pastoral scene of the backs of two children on a hill as daylight fades into a muted blue twilight.

Set in rural Puerto Rico in the late 1950s, "My Backyard Was a Mountain" tells the story of Adan, a young boy who finds out on a day's notice that he will be moving to New York City with his family. Overpowering the novelty of moving to a new country is Adan's lament that he cannot bring along his beloved pet goat, Chivo. The film follows Adan and his childhood friend Denise as they search for a new home for the lovable goat.

In their pursuit of a loving new owner for Chivo, Adan and Denise traverse the Puerto Rican countryside, crossing wind-blown fields and lazy streams. The stillness of the provincial scenes and the principles of the tender quest reveal a fondness between Adan and Denise.

With beautiful cinematography and a simple-yet-moving story, the American Film Institute creation is a poignant depiction of a time long past, an age of simplicity and raw emotion that can only be recognized as a memory of childhood. "My Backyard Was a Mountain" conjures the awkwardness, intensity and innocence of first love and the bittersweet sense that no other love in the future will be quite the same.
— Catherine Schmidt

"Fat Cake"
Leslie Dekton, Short Documentary, 25 minutes
Sun., Parkway Place Theatre, 1 p.m.

Originally shot around 1978, the black-and-white film "Fat Cake" tells the tale of music's endurance during the trails of South African apartheid. The film opens on a shanty house in the middle of hazy grassland, and only muted voices are audible. But once the camera makes its way inside, the images become more focused and the sounds sharper as they center on the rolling laughter of a young African boy playing with his father.

Throughout the film, the audience comes to know these two as the musician Sparks and his ever-supportive father, who originally wanted his son to become a lawyer or a minister. But Sparks had the soul and the fever to become a musician, and his father is barely willing to stand in the way of that. A touching scene illuminates the man's beaming face as he explains that he was always willing to allow Sparks to come home when he ran through his money, even after some of his songs had made it onto the radio.

It is this optimism in the face of the bleak circumstances that gives this movie its heartbeat and consequently brings its alive. "Fat Cake" refers to a joke between Sparks and his fellow musician comrade, Lemmy, as they walk through a crowded street on their way to play at a jazz bar and later out on the sidewalk. Sparks exclaims that he had just bought a fat cake, a dessert, and was able to feed his whole family with it. Lemmy is incredulous, believing that the treat is too small and that they need more "sugar," or money, to be able to support themselves. But Sparks doesn't believe this; he seems to know that life, love and music are more than enough to get by, and the stories from theses musicians lives that are woven throughout the film continue to reinforce that sentiment.
— Sophia Halkias

"Spin"
Jamin Winans, Short, 8 minutes
Fri., Parkway Place Theatre, 7 p.m.

Jamin Winans' eight-minute film, "Spin," is a study in the idea that less is more. After I watched it in my office—twice in 20 minutes—I immediately decided that I need to show it to all my verbose writers and writing students who don't believe they can cut a single word out of their stories.

The short film is precise, poignant, hip and to the point. It has a beginning, a middle, an end. It has redemption, it has subtle, strong acting, it has amazing editing, it has heart.

Most importantly, it has breakdancing.

"Spin," produced for $500 by Double Edge Films in Denver, an exercise in precision. Not a word, not a glance, not a spin or scratch on the turntable is wasted. And the story is memorable: Quite simply, it's about a DJ trying to change the world around him—and succeeding … sort of.

The best eye candy is the record jock himself—Hayz II—who Winans discovered at a hip-hop show. Listening to Hayz motivated him to go home and write this short script. He then convinced actor friends to volunteer, enticed a couple of tough-looking guys he knew on myspace to play the thugs, and hit the streets with Hayz and his tables.

The film took five days to shoot on a Sony HDV camera, giving Winans "epic-looking footage for almost no money," he says in the DVD's director's comments. The most exciting sequence are the CG effects about two-thirds into the film, giving it a rhythmic climax. "There's this rhythm to the world; if you tape into the rhythm, you find something beautiful," Winans says.

And in "Spin," he did just that. Don't miss this little jewel.
— Donna Ladd

Boyfriend
Craig Carlisle, Short, 11 minutes
Sat., Parkway Place Theatre, 3 p.m.

The perfect man: tall, dark, handsome, chivalrous and no stranger to CDs. The problem with this perfect specimen is that he has the potential to remind us of all the imperfections that lie within us. It's been my experience that the ostensibly perfect man causes me to question myself. This hasn't kept me from desiring to find him, though. Nor did it keep Heather, the protagonist of "boyfriend" directed by Craig Carlisle, from being taken by thoughts of grandeur about her new relationship.

Her boyfriend was asleep (that's usually when they're most perfect, kind of like babies) which allowed Heather the opportunity to imagine all of the possibilities that could come of a relationship with the perfect man lying in bed next to her. As she begins to entertain the thoughts of bliss, they are soon chased by those of paranoia.

"Why did he choose me? Does he think I'm easy? Maybe I am easy. My thighs are too fat." Via flashbacks, she seeks answers to these questions and even takes some present action, all while the boyfriend sleeps. Paranoia soon turns to sabotage in a most unexpected form.

I found the approach the filmmakers took refreshing. The movie's narrator is the main character, who says very few words in real-time. Most of her words are thoughts. In a way, watching the story unfold, it seemed like I was eavesdropping. Heather's musings were ones that most women have had, if they're honest with themselves, but don't care to admit because they are in direct contrast of the confidence and self-assurance we try so hard to emanate.

This movie caught my attention immediately and left me in its conclusion with a mouth hanging open and eyes bugged. Not only could I empathize with the main character's battle with second-guessing turned obsessing, but she took a step farther than I ever have. This eerily comforted me because I know now that there is at least one woman who can be more neurotic than I am about her "boyfriend."
— Natalie A. Collier

"Men You May Not Have Met"
Katy Smith, Student, 10 minutes (Miss. Showcase)
Sun., Parkway Place Theatre, 2 p.m.

In 2005, Jackson native Katy Smith submitted "Her Stories" to the Crossroads film festival, a documentary that traced the lineage of women in her family and simultaneously exposed the way in which women histories sometimes become lost in a male-dominated society. This year, her film submission takes on another topic designed to test gender notions. "Men You May Not Have Met" is a piece that splices together several interviews with men from Northeastern colleges who identify variously as gay or straight, masculine or not masculine, and all of the gray areas in between. In the same way that Smith visually fractures the footage with angular shots and superimposing images on top of one another, none of the answers provided by the male interviewees suggest as solid of an identification with masculinity as one would expect.

"I think the question that got the most surprising answers was when I asked them about where they would place themselves on a scale of masculinity and then heterosexuality. For heterosexuality, none of them said straight 10s, and I thought they would be very defensive about wanting to uphold that heterosexual norm," Smith says.

Interrupting the interview scenes are film clips and commercials that either reinforce or reject gender norms. This includes the archetypal John Wayne gun-slinging scene and a power commercial in which a restaurant table full of men salivate over the entrance of several scantily-clad women. One of the funniest scenes comes from "The Life of Brian" and features a man who proclaims that he would like to be a woman so that he can have babies. When another tells him that this is impossible, he retorts, "Don't you oppress me!"

"The thing I learned is that guys are exactly like girls. Some of them are terrified about going out in public in a bathing suit. Others cry at the drop of a hat. I almost feel that masculinity as more unilateral in terms of what is allowed to be shown in public in terms of personality, whereas women," Smith says. "Maybe the film can show that guys represent just as wide of spectrum as girls do."
— Sophia Halkias

"The Children Shall Lead"
April Grayson, Short Documentary, 34 minutes
Sat., Parkway Place Theatre, 3 p.m.

Five minutes into the Hollywood film, "Mississippi Burning," the real heroes were dead. We heard little more about the courageous young people—barely adults—who died in Neshoba County fighting for black equality in the state that allowed the least.

It is too easily forgotten that the story of the Civil Rights Movement is a story of youth. It is a story too seldom told, even as many of those heroes still live right here in Jackson. These people our lives, and we barely know the stories of how they did it.

In "The Children Shall Lead," director April Grayson pays tribute to the Freedom Riders who risked their lives in the 1950s and '60s to bust Jim Crow. In the film, distributed by the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation to schools throughout the state, Grayson views events with fresh eyes. She assumes nothing about her viewers.

Using interviews of Freedom Riders, she shows how they faced down hate and violence in a state that was the site of more lynchings per capita than any other. At the film's heart is the infamous 1960 Freedom Ride into Jackson through Anniston, Ala., where the bus was firebombed and the riders brutally beaten as police watched. When the riders who could continue got to Jackson, they were arrested for sitting in the "white" waiting room and spent many weeks in Parchman with no reading material or exercise, only the "freedom songs" they sang together from cell to cell.

After the film this weekend, go find yourself a civil rights veteran. They will be there. Shake his or her hand, and just say, "thank you." That is exactly what Grayson's film does.
— Donna Ladd

"JPS Film Project (2005)"
JPS Students, Youth, 30 minutes (Miss. Showcase)
Sat., Parkway Place Theatre, 1 p.m.

The Jackson Public Schools 2005 Video Workshop takes a trip to the zoo, and it's a sight for sore eyes.

The JPS Office of Instructional Technology (Google around to find their great Web site), in partnership with WLBT and Mississippi Public Broadcasting, (and other supporters) launched the workshop in 2004. The program is designed to teach middle-schoolers about video technology hands-on by writing, recording and editing their own projects. This film was made in June 2005 at the Jackson Zoological Park, by four groups of students over two weeks' time.

These kids are talented; future stars abound here. They had the zoo staff all over the place doing fun stuff. I really liked the turtles and loved the Discovery Zoo footage. The shots of the leopard marking her territory were quite instructive. And Dave Wetzel fielded those tough questions about quarantine policy just fine. In this day and age, you have no idea how refreshing it is to see a public employee give simple, direct answers to simple, direct questions, which just goes to show you how informative someone can be when they actually know what they're doing.

Blue Group, Gold Group, Green Group, Red Group: You rock, guys! I had a great time watching your film, especially the part where Candace meets the monkey.

(You've just got to see it.)
— Jesse Yancy

"The Empty Building"
Giovanni Sanseviero, Short, 39 minutes
Sun., Parkway Place Theatre, 5:30 p.m.

"The Empty Building, by Giovanni Sanseviero introduces the viewer to a bleak, derelict building sitting in an equally dreary environment.

The building serves as an emotional crossing point for hundreds of lost souls tormented by their loss or pain. It's an empty, blighted building where a visitor may finally come to terms with those nagging memories that continually rake across our gray matter.

You won't find any spoilers here, but you'll doubtlessly be entranced by the emotional journey of a guy with a particularly nasty memory. Years after the "incidents," Benny is a curly-haired architect of indeterminate age learning how to forgive himself for his past—and he discovers that there's a real trick to it if you have the will.

Sometimes, when the powerless are wronged by others, it sets into motion a series of reactions in the victim. Some victims tear themselves away from a portion of their own mind, creating a second—or even sometimes, a third—aspect of themselves. Just a little piece of personality forced apart from the rest, so you can't point at it and say "you idiot," or snort derisively and say "nope, that one, he's not with me. Never seen him before in my life," or sometimes the more drastic sentiment coming out of you against your second personality may be "See that guy over there? He's evil. Get him."

Above all else, this film's director, Giovanni Sanseviero, shows that he is also an excellent actor. He would be sorely missed if he did not turn up in any future acting roles.

The kind of pain suffered in this movie almost always kicks off feelings of alienation that can haunt you for the rest of your life. The agony and isolation act as a barrier to emotional growth. It can also sink painfully under the surface like a tick embedding itself in pulpy, infected skin. And there the poison will sit until it suddenly rises up and smacks you like a zombie with boxing gloves, years after you'd convinced yourself that you'd dealt with that dirty little revenant.

Sanseviero catches every ounce of this anguish in his expressive, tortured eyes. You can almost tell he's been there.

Step with him into the empty building if you're ready to see a man come to terms with himself. It ain't a pretty sight, but it's a road many of us need to walk down at some point in our lives. — Adam Lynch

"Lover Other"
Barbara Hammer, Documentary, 55 minutes
Sun., Parkway Place Theatre, 1 p.m.

In 1998, Barbara Hammer had no plans to make a new documentary; at that time, the seasoned filmmaker already had 80 films behind her. But during an exhibition of women's portraits at the Hotel Sully in France, Hammer says she felt one photograph "peer out" at her. The portrait featured a statuesque, androgynous woman standing in a patterned overcoat against a mirror, her mouth agape and staring intently at the camera. Hammer was so visually affected by the image that she searched through archives in France to delve deeper into the life of the subject, who she would come to know as Claude Cahun, a revolutionary artist who took the photograph of herself in jail. Learning that most of Cahun's work and furniture had been lost and destroyed during World War II, Hammer decided to bring her work and life back into being and introduce it to a new audience.

Fast forward to 2005 and "Lover Other." The film brings together a montage of Cahun's work, interlaced with a dramatic interpretation of a script written by Cahun but never performed. What results is a surreal exploration of the ways in which Cahun's radical opposition manifested itself.

Cahun had an openly lesbian relationship with sister and lover, Marcel Moore, although the village in which they lived on the Jersey Isles was relatively small and traditional. At the opening of the film, the audience is introduced to the homophobic sentiments circulating around them in whispered conversations by fellow villagers. One man recalls that "if someone had told me that they were of that 'type of persuasion,' (he) wouldn't be surprised," although no one would tell him this when he was young.

Hammer says the work was challenging, that she could not make a "traditional documentary because these were not traditional women." While there weren't many lesbian films or even women directors when Hammer came out as a lesbian in the 70s, she says she no longer feels the pressure to pioneer lesbian cinema, although many of her films feature lesbianism as backdrop.

What Hammer feels is more revolutionary, both about her work and about Cahun and Moore's life, is their opposition to the Nazi occupation in France. Both women prodded German soldiers to turn against their Nazi superiors. On top of everything else, Moore and Cahun "looked Jewish." One commentator in the film points out that their sexual license fed into Nazi fantasies of what "the worst sort of Jew should be." The two women were jailed for six years, continuing to create artwork on insubstantial scraps they found in their cells. It was here that Cahun took the photograph of herself that would encourage Hammer to create "Lover Other."

Hammer is quick to point making this film has helped her to both gain a grip on the artist's role in a time of war, which she first explored in her film, "Resisting Paradise." What she found was that "art keeps the spirit alive." This is true both in Cahun's case, and found truth for Hammer as she decided to make this film against the declaration of the Iraq war.

The film's message of oppression and revolution has resonated even in the South, Hammer says. Last year, when Hammer set out on the Southern Film circuit tour, she found that audiences were willing to look critically at the occupation of in Iraq, which she sees as a healthy sign. Hammer hopes that her film will continue to raise questions.

"Crossroads, by showing this film, feeds the audience, and keeps them alive, not only during the war but during Hurricane Katrina," she says.
— Sophia Halkias

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