Crossroads Film Festival 2007: Some Sweet Flicks | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Crossroads Film Festival 2007: Some Sweet Flicks

Every April, Crossroads brings films to Jackson that we ordinarily would never have a chance to see. These are films made by masters and beginners, locals and outsiders. Some are just a few minutes long, while others are full-length features. Some are experimental, while others are more conventional. Subjects range from musical legends like Bob Dylan and James Brown to gay sea creatures (no, that's not a joke, though the movie is very funny) to "Star Wars" enthusiasts to serious drama.

But Crossroads is more than a film festival. There are three days of music from as far away as Baltimore and Seattle and as close to home as Jackson and Hattiesburg. There are seminars and workshops from filmmakers and Hollywood insiders, some suited to kids and others for ambitious actors and directors. And let's not forget the glamorous parties. More than anything, Crossroads is a chance to show our support for building a better Jackson, one that thrives with art and creativity.

We couldn't possibly review all 60 films that will be shown at the festival, but we did all we could to give you a glimpse at the treasures you can see for yourself this week. Some of the films we missed are no doubt among the best on offer this year, so don't take our omissions as criticism. That aside, we hope that these reviews whet your appetite for an exciting weekend of film.

One Man's Trash

Ballad of AJ Weberman
James Bluemel, Oliver Ralfe; 82 minutes
March 29, Parkway Screen B, 7 p.m.

Bob Dylan: Famous, pioneering pop-poet, post-war troubadour, successor to Woody and Whitman. A music icon, he defined the term singer-songwriter and reshuffled the contemporary music landscape.

AJ Weberman: Infamous in certain circles, unknown elsewhere. Ground-breaking Garbologist and Dylanologist. A master stalker, he made his name sifting through celebrity refuse.

Their lives intersect in "The Ballad of AJ Weberman," a rambling documentary chronicling Weberman's pathological fandom. He digs through Dylan's trash (finding correspondence with Johnny Cash), leads guided tours to Dylan's home, and self-publishes a "Dylan to English Dictionary" purportedly deciphering the singer's notoriously cryptic lyrics. Most notably, Weberman successfully tapes a telephone call with Dylan, played in pieces throughout the film. These spare tracks are Dylan's only chance to tell his side of the story. He makes the most of it, calling Weberman a "pig."

As a window into the mechanics of fandom, the film portrays an obsession fueled more by aggression than idolization. Weberman recounts the time he nearly assaulted the singer with a glass bottle, and on occasion vents angrily at Dylan's infamous abandonment of the protest movement. Later in the film, one eyebrow-raising remark and a reference comparing their "affair" to that of Verlaine and Rimbaud—19th century poets and lovers—provide the only clues to Weberman's true feelings about the handsomely raspy Minnesotan.

While providing an interesting new angle into the Dylan mythology, the film is too long, and the subject matter too trite for American documentarians. A work like this could only be made by the hand of inquisitive foreigners, in this case British. At times it resembles the home video of overexcited tourists, with eager shots of the street signs at Houston, Macdougal and Bleecker, and unabashed camera views of Washington Square Park, the Lower East Side and the Statue of Liberty.

Enamored of the musical legend, the filmmakers themselves mirror Weberman's own obsession. This documentary similarly clutches at anything that vaguely smacks of "Dylan," even if it's nothing more than the story of a psycho rifling through his trash.
— Ari Glogower

Frozen Moments

Red Without Blue

Benita Sills, Todd Sills, Brooke Sebold; 77 minutes
March 31, Parkway Screen B, 5 p.m.

The documentary "Red Without Blue" begins with a series of snapshots of Alex and Mark Farley, twin boys born in 1983 in Missoula, Mont. Judging by the photos, they are happy members of an idealized, radiantly happy American family.

Perhaps they were … when the photos were taken, but snapshots are frozen moments. The people in them continue to grow and change. As a teenager, Mark identifies as gay. Alex identifies as a woman, takes the name Clair, and through most of the documentary, considers sexual reassignment surgery.

It may seem an esoteric subject, but at its heart "Red without Blue" considers the most common struggle for every family: how to adapt so that individual members of the family can grow, form their own identities and yet remain together as a family.

The Farleys do not always do this well. During one-on-one interviews, each confesses some frustration that others in the family haven't stayed the same. Clair's mother at one point dismisses Clair's transgender identity as a phase. And, when Mark and Clair visit their grandmother—a devout Christian Scientist—she is conspicuously affectionate to Mark and equally cool toward Clair.

If this film were fictional, such scenes would be merely tragic, but this is a documentary, and its subjects are complex enough to inspire disappointment—even hostility—as the characters grow and learn to accept others' changing identities. This is what makes the film ultimately a hopeful, uplifting one. The Farleys struggle, but it's a struggle to move forward and embrace the kind of subjective individuation that healthy adults must undergo. And healthy families must adapt to if they are to remain together and happy.
— Brent Cox

Now That's a Pickle


Dalit Kimor, 59 minutes
April 1, Parkway Screen B, 3 p.m.

Sometimes we all need to be reminded how good we have it. In "Pickles," we meet a group of Muslim widows living in northern Israel who decide to get together and start a pickle factory. The catch is that, as widows, they're not supposed to have lives of their own; they're supposed to live in mourning for the rest of their days since their men have passed.

This is a film about fighting back against odds stacked against you. The women win some battles—they assert their independence—even as they lose others. It turns out that running a business is harder than they thought.

Most poignant in the film is the emotional interaction between the women and their families—especially the woman who is not allowed to see one of her daughters that she's married. The documentary is a strong reminder of how vital the women's movement is—both in places where it has already happened and in cultures where it is still in their future. —Donna Ladd

Imagine There's No Dancing

Jenny Lim, 4 minutes
March 31, Millsaps College (Olin Hall), 1 p.m.
Life is richer in our imagination. Especially for the teenage girl in "The Dance." Filmed in black and white, the film explores an episode common to every American teenager—the bummer school dance. Like others before her, our protagonist has the perfect dress—she's even rehearsed her "who, me?" and "hey, howya doin'?" postures—but all is for naught at the much-anticipated dance. Instead of a sequence of Kodak moments, our girl sits glumly against a backdrop of limp streamers, unmoved by the Spice Girls soundtrack. "Shake it to the right, if you're having a good time!" shriek the spicy songstresses, while the main character hopefully reapplies her lipstick but finds no dance partner. The lead actress enlivens an otherwise unremarkable plot with her realistic performance, full of the subtle gestures that turn audiences into sympathizers.
— Nientara Anderson

Caress of the Gay Sea Creature

The Caress of the Creature
Stewart McAlpine, 20 minutes
March 31, Parkway Screen A, 1 p.m.
An opening butt slap sets the tone for this hilarious movie. While exploding dynamite in a lake for a property development, a group of burly construction workers pauses for beer and lunch. The foreman jumps off the boat with a manly yawp and goes for a swim in the lake. After some "Jaws"-esque bare-legged-swimmer-from-below shots, the deadly creature gently tickles the milky white sole of the foreman's foot. The foreman panics and swims desperately for the boat. Once aboard, the foreman's "tender, yet masculine" encounter with the creature earns him scorn from his co-workers. The foreman attempts to restore normality by announcing a stripper party at his house, to the delight of his men. But the sea creature has opened a door that cannot be closed. Soon, the foreman will learn a valuable lesson—rather than something to be feared, "gay sea creatures are what dreams are made of."
— Nientara Anderson

Milli Vanilli Did It

Andy and the Purple Cat
Julia Haskey and Natalie Ashker, 12 minutes
March 31, Millsaps College (Olin Hall), 1 p.m.

This is a delightful, fun and quite clever short. In it, a young woman wants to be a singer at a local club of iniquity, but her father (played by another teen in an over-sized suit) won't let her. So she sneaks off anyway to "sing" in front of a tough crowd who at first boos her, then cheers her on in a later performance. There are several catches, however: It's not a real club, and she's not really singing. The short is filled with lip-synching of poppy songs that reminded me of performing with a hairbrush mic as I was growing up. And the audience, presented as if they were club regulars, are a living room full of parents and their friends. There's something wonderfully quirky about this short. See it.
—Donna Ladd

Calling All Experts

Apparitions Unrenowned
Tony Caldwell, 12 minutes
March 31, Parkway Screen B, 1 p.m.

I watched this short twice. After the first run-through, I was convinced I was missing something, so I ran it again. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a film expert, but I'm frequently smarter than the average bear, and I just didn't get it. Shot in black and white with a solemn guitar soundtrack, the film is rife with lengthy, artsy (I suppose), over-exposed shots in cemeteries that don't communicate much information. The film is long on concept and extremely short on execution. Somewhere in there, there's a story—I can feel it. If you find it, let me know. — Ronni Mott

Sins of the Father

My Father's Son
Jarratt Taylor, 6 minutes
March 31, Parkway Screen A, 3 p.m.

Jarratt Taylor set out to explore the impact his father had on his children—two daughters and son—himself, in particular. Frustratingly, Taylor never clearly articulates why he set out on this familial expedition. On his journey, Taylor discovers that he and his father have things in common. The most striking example is their self-portraits. Both father and son, some 20 years apart, took almost identical pictures of themselves … same pose, same inquisitive stare.

Though some snippets of the film seemed arbitrary, "My Father's Son" inspires reflection on how our families shape who we are.
— Natalie A. Collier

A Night to Remember

Giallo Trailer
Chris Moore, 2 minutes
March 31, Millsaps College (Olin Hall), 10:30 a.m.

Six high schoolers enjoy the time of their lives, but only one survives. Ketchup bespattered and traumatized, the protagonist appears one night on a darkened roadside. In this homage to the graphic Italian thrillers of the '60s and '70s, his return is not a happy ending but only the beginning. Events unfold through his flashbacks as the teenager gradually recalls the grisly details. In the best Giallo tradition, this psychological thriller provides plenty of gore and horror, all well wrought by the director's heavy but skilled hand. Snippets of plodding southern drawl stand in for crisp Italian exchanges, but a scream sounds the same in any language.
— Ari Glogower

Suspended Participles

Celebrity Interivew: James Brown
Kenneth E. Stiggers, 8 minutes
Thurs., March 29, Parkway Screen B, 7 p.m.

He probably didn't intend to be, but James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, was a funny man. Brown was one of those icons who only grew in stature as the public learned of his quirks and foibles.

Ken Stiggers does a masterful job of characterizing Brown in this short as Mo'tel Williams interviews him about the "Say It Loud Ebonics Speech Academy" where the two get caught up in a conversation about dangling modifiers. "Just got 'em hangin' all out …" There's only one thing that lacks verisimilitude in the interview, however. The film-watcher understands every word that comes out of Brown's mouth. Now, you know that ain't right.
— Natalie A. Collier

Third Time's the Charm?

The Space Within Memory
April Grayson, 5 minutes
March 31, Parkway Screen B, 5 p.m.

I grabbed this film without reading the abstract because the title sounded interesting. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I knew … just knew … that it would be good. The liquid picture was dizzying as the filmmaker took me on a journey through Rolling Fork, Miss., her hometown. The few words spoken by undeterminable locals were indistinguishable. I imagine the places and things spotlighted throughout the town were significant to the cinematographer, but I never understood why. I wanted to know. Really, I did, so I watched it a second time. Maybe I should have watched it three. The film wasn't good; it wasn't bad; it just was.
— Natalie A. Collier

My Mesa 'Tis of Thee

Off The Grid

Jeremy Sulberg, Randy Stulberg; 64 minutes
April 1, Parkway Place Theatre, 1 p.m.

Perched atop an isolated New Mexico mesa, a group of fervent individualists forges a community to survive the harsh southwestern desert. Committed to tolerance, they learn to draw the line when some mesa residents take their freedom a little too far.

The rough storyline of "Off The Grid" contains multitudes, weaving together the startling and often moving narratives of the mesa residents. The disaffected, disillusioned, pseudonymed war veterans seek refuge from the trauma of war and their regimented pasts. Mama Phyllis, the self-described nurturer, offers counseling for the "largest outdoor insane asylum." Robbie, an old hippie and third-generation Princeton graduate, serves as the grandfather figure and community bard. Stan, the pig farmer, provides shelter and direction for the lost youth who find their way to the mesa.

These people are poignant and articulate, their ideas well thought out and compelling. They share a commitment to "good neighborliness" as opposed to the overly structured and law-bound civil society. In the words of one resident: "There is a different way."

The concept of American freedom looms large in this documentary, as shots of American flags and patriotic bumper stickers abound. Self-imposed outcasts from American society, the residents maintain a deep fidelity to their country and a recognition that a phenomenon such as the mesa couldn't exist in other parts of the world. Freedom, a word often subject to distortion and manipulation, appears in this film scrubbed of all pretensions, and a series of rousing speeches breathe fresh life into an often-misused term.

An exemplary documentary, the directors never take sides or judge the mesa residents, either to indulge or condemn their lifestyle. Living in third-world conditions among abandoned cars, trash and discarded detritus, children are almost feral and weaponry is ubiquitous. And yet, Gecko, a father of three, grieves desperately after their mother takes his children to live with her in Connecticut. Human bonds run deep in this forbidding landscape.

This documentary manages to be both unflinching and tender, leaving the viewers to draw their own conclusions. The mesa residents would want it that way.
— Ari Glogower

I've Got the Blues

Teenage Blues
Sam Smith, 18 minutes
March 31, Millsaps College (Olin Hall), 10:30 a.m.

Picture your worst day in high school. With only George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" providing the soundtrack, "Teenage Blues" is an imaginative short that follows our young hero through a day that includes getting up late, progresses through an encounter with his nemesis, not knowing the answer at the chalk board, looking geeky in front of "the" girl … well, you get the picture. Smith has matched the action admirably with Gershwin's melodies for a mostly rollicking good time. Disaster turns to a bit of fantasy, and of course, our hero triumphs in the end. The film could have been half as long, but then you can't cut Gershwin, can you?
—Ronni Mott

Next in Line, Please

10 Items or Less

Brad Silberling, 82 minutes
April 1, Parkway Screen A, 5 p.m.

Watching the opening scene of "10 Items or Less," you could deduce that the subject of the film is the movie itself. Morgan Freeman, playing an actor, describes to a member of his production team the benefits of shooting an independent film.

"It's just a little independent thing," he explains. "Nicely under the radar. If it flies, fine. And if it doesn't, it won't even count."

The premise is promising, but halfway through the film the focus is no longer clear. Dropped off at a supermarket, Freeman plans to research a role by shadowing the store manager, and instead meets a foul-mouthed clerk who badgers customers to stick to the store's "10-items-or-less" policy. In awe of her cynicism, Freeman decides to focus his character study on Scarlet (Paz Vega), though she is initially as hostile to him as she is to customers.

Over the course of their day spent together, Scarlet opens up, revealing the trouble in her marriage and her ambition: managing a supermarket. Freeman mostly serves as a listener, though a scene where he stumbles upon videotapes of his movies—discounted for deep-bargain prices—shows that his life is similarly in a place where he doesn't want it to be.

"10 Items or Less" is a film that can't seem to make up its mind about what it wants to be. At times, the movie seems to be a story of personal growth. At others, such as an extended scene shot in Target, it seems to make a quasi-Marxist statement, depicting the sterility of shopping centers and the effect this has on employees. Vega's character focuses on class differences; when Freeman describes his frugality she declares, "Why do you people make all the money and work so much not to spent it?"

Ultimately, the charm of "10 Items or Less" lies in the endearing connection between Freeman and Vega's character. Otherwise, the filmmakers can only hope that there is some truth in Freeman's statement about the forgiving nature of the movie business for actors starring in films like "10 Items or Less." Film-goers would do better to stick to the number of other well-crafted independent features and documentaries appearing at the Crossroads Film Festival this year.
— Sophia Halkias

Add Sugar to Taste

King Cake
Dixon McDowell, 18 minutes
April 1, Parkway Screen B, 3 p.m.

Shot mostly in New Orleans and at Paul's Pastry in Picayune, Miss., "King Cake" is a brief love letter to that peculiarly deep-South gooey-sweet confection and the parties surrounding it. The short uses candid interviews with locals to tell varieties of the plastic baby legend, and intersperses colorful shots of the 2006 Mardi Gras celebration—complete with a few of its more interesting denizens—with what could have been deadly dull footage of how King Cakes are actually made. The film's saving grace is the brevity of these more pedestrian shots mingled with the color of Mardi Gras and an eclectic Loosiana soundtrack. My mouth was grinning and salivating for a taste.
— Ronni Mott

Wisdom in the Blues

Dodgy Train to Clarksdale
Trayton Williams, Susana Travieso, 12 minutes
March 31, Parkway Screen B, 1 p.m.

"Hardship is only part of the equation," Adrian Kosky says about the blues. An Australian by birth, Kosky came to Clarksdale to find the blues. Instead, he found a wisdom that colors how he now sees and hears this music borne of a way of life that is gone forever, evoking an odd mixture of relief and regret. He immersed himself in the Clarksdale atmosphere: the brown, cold winter earth, the faded paint and shotgun shacks, and the all-too-real history of the Delta people whose life has changed little in generations. "Dodgy Train to Clarksdale" is a small gem and offers a gentle, fresh perspective on the unique music that is Mississippi.
— Ronni Mott

Music Shines a Light on War

I Know I'm Not Alone

Michael Franti, 86 minutes
March 31, Parkway Screen A, 5 p.m.

Armed with his guitar, musician Michael Franti heads into war-torn Iraq, Palestine, and Israel, and takes the audience along with him in the documentary "I Know I am Not Alone." With scenes oscillating between Franti at his mic, reciting his own politically laden lyrics, and close-ups of the faces of citizens each afraid to live in his or her own country, Franti depicts what he describes as the most important toll of fighting in the Middle East: its "human cost."

Using "guerilla-style" footage of daily life in Baghdad—Franti's first stop—the film's focus in Iraq concentrates on the contradictions of U.S. occupation. Interviews with Iraqi citizens describe the oppression under Saddam Hussein's regime—a writer points out the shrapnel that has been embedded in his body after being forced to fight in three wars brought on by Hussein—but they also articulate how U.S. military occupation has been destructive to the country and its people. Franti emphasizes the lack of electricity. Huge generators provide power for each building, frequently causing blackouts during the day. As the driver for the crew explains, "electricity is life," meaning the ability to work. Water, too, is scarce. And, for fear of being mistaken as insurgents, citizens are unable to walk the streets at night.

Franti adopts a personal approach toward his subjects, attempting in his outreach to forge personal ties between the two countries, between soldiers and citizens. Most often, Franti does this through his music. He invites Iraqis to his performance for the U.S. military and then takes both groups of men with him to make an appearance at the only rock radio station in Baghdad. Franti improvises a song outside a hospital that repeats the word "habibi," which means the love for a friend. Iraqis nearby heartedly join in his chant of the familiar word.

"Habibi" becomes the anthem Franti carries with him throughout the rest of the film, as he leaves Iraq to visit Israel and Palestine. Though different political situations cause him to shift focus slightly, Franti remains consistent in his sympathetic attitude toward victims, and he successfully imparts the inhumanity of war to the audience by focusing the camera frequently on children's faces. — Sophia Halkias

A Moral Tale

Never Bet the Devil Your Head
Christopher Jarvis, 21 minutes
March 31, Millsaps College (Olin Hall) 1 p.m.
"He himself was not to blame for his vices, for he has a personal defect: his mother." Thus the narrator describes Toby Dammit, who regularly bets "the only thing he had of any real value: his head." Toby is a n'er-do-well who likes to shoot guns and make false confessions to his priest, pouring eye drops into his eyes for tears and making up stories about stealing candy for kids from the doctor's office. Events take a dark turn when Toby's nemesis kills his beloved pet snake by dropping him from a church balcony. Toby and the narrator walk along the train tracks, commenting on how the snake would have liked the funeral because he liked flowers, and once again, Toby bets the devil his head. The narrator urges Toby to stop, but Toby only makes mocking puppet gestures. Soon, Toby makes a bet he cannot win.

"Never Bet the Devil Your Head" is delightfully absurd and technically proficient. The film's mock seriousness—near the end there is a dramatic flashback on a moment of wanderlust that happened only a couple minutes before—owes a debt to Woody Allen, though this is funnier than Allen has been in years. Everything from the musical choices to the special effects are excellent, and the film never feels like it was made for just $250. In short, this is the best short film I've seen in a long time.
— Brian Johnson

Home Again

Low and Behold

Zack Godshall, 89 minutes
March 31, Parkway Screen B, 3 p.m.

"Low and Behold," written by director Zack Godshall and actor Barlow Jacobs—both natives of Louisiana—is an effort to create an elegy to victims of Hurricane Katrina while still offering signs of hope. The film is successful not only in artistically capturing the natural devastation but in casting light on the personal dilemmas survivors faced during reconstruction efforts on the Gulf Coast.

From the outset, protagonist Turner Stull (played by Jacobs) seems an outsider to the region and indifferent to the stories of homeowners whose properties he inspects as a newly licensed insurance claims adjuster. Awkward and lanky, Turner is unable to express his frustrations or articulate his opinions. His inability to communicate leaves him at the mercy of his Uncle Stully (also his employer), who derides Turner for angering homeowners with his tardiness and detachment, which is mistaken for insensitivity.

It quickly becomes apparent why Turner is unable to make all of his daily-scheduled appointments: Homeowners use his visit as an opportunity to reiterate, at length, the stories of their loss. Their personal accounts actually become one of the greatest pleasures of the film, which is neorealist in its true-to-life plot, use of actors (all of whom are natives of New Orleans) and documentary-style cinematography.

Early on, Turner meets the catalyst for his change—Nixon, a laid off local factory-worker. Nixon frustrates Turner's determination to maintain a rigid routine, first by badgering him for a ride to search for his lost dog, and then by insisting he accompany Turner as he surveys houses. Nixon's persistence eventually erodes Turner's diffidence, and through his familiarity with the poverty and personalities of the tenements, Nixon imparts an understanding that finally allows Turner to do his job effectively.

The film captures the strange desolation left by the storm. After getting drunk at a party at his house, Uncle Stully, who is fun-spirited yet burdened by depression, announces to the crowd: "I want to go home, but I am home." — Sophia Halkias

Under the Plastic

Heart of an Empire: The Life AND Times of the Fighting 501st

Jason "Jay" Thompson, 115 minutes
April 1, Parkway Screen B, 7 p.m.

"Heart of an Empire" is a story about people—overwhelmingly men—who spend their time, money and energy dressing up as characters from "Star Wars." Initially, every stereotype you can imagine flashed through my mind in response: They're all techno-geeks who don't have lives, much less love lives; they're grown men with Peter Pan complexes; they're weird. "I'm trying to keep reality from setting in," sings Roadside Attraction in the movie's soundtrack, lending credence to my thoughts.

But I discovered that underneath all the plastic and personas, these folks are simply human beings, not much different from you—yes, you—and me.

The Fighting 501st Legion started with one man in South Carolina who thought the "Star Wars" movies were pretty cool. Lucas' films special effects were dazzling groundbreakers in the '70s, and sci-fi fans and film buffs went wild. "Star Wars" was the second movie Albin Johnson, the focus of much of the film, ever saw as a boy of 6 or 7, and it hooked him, big time. As an adult, Johnson put together a Web site that eventually drew together thousands of disparate fans from all over the world. Fans who dress up as Darth Vader and the Evil Empire's storm troopers.

But beyond showing up to promote the odd convention or film opening, the Fighting 501st Legion members thrill sick children in hospitals and raise money for charity. Members use their personas in unexpected ways to make a difference in children's lives. Johnson himself is an amputee. He is also a husband, a father and a friend, and allows us to be intimate observers of his own devastating twist of fate. He's human, and ultimately, it is his humanity and the humanity of other 501st members that will allow you to relate to what's really going on under all that plastic.
— Ronni Mott

Whatcha Got Cookin'?

Above the Line: Saving Willie Mae's Scotch House
Joe York, 37 minutes
March 31, Parkway Screen B, 1 p.m.

"I'm business all the way, baby," says Willie Mae Seaton, of Willie Mae's Scotch House in New Orleans and the recipient of a prestigious James Beard America's Classics Award.

Seaton had to evacuate to Houston after Katrina, but the life and work of the then-89-year-old was back home in New Orleans. She climbed on a bus, and went back to her flood-ravaged restaurant, sitting in a chair out front until authorities found her and her prized possession—her award. She wouldn't leave. "Baby, I sneaked off, and I got back," she retells it.

A homeless assistance worker called the James Beard Foundation, which in turn contacted the Southern Foodways Alliance in Oxford, Miss., to see if anyone could help her.

Help they did—as you will see in this delicious, soulful documentary-in-progress about the rebirth of Willie Mae's, which as much as anything is a story of two people from different worlds—penniless Willie Mae, helped by Oxford restaurateur John Currence, owner of City Grocery and a white private-school graduate from New Orleans who made helping a "friend in need" his top priority. "John's always there with me. He's a very nice young man," Seaton says of Currence. — Donna Ladd

No One Really Knows

An American Opera
Tom McPhee, 93 min.
March 30, Parkway Screen B, 7 p.m.

"An American Opera" is a documentary film chronicling the stories of pet rescuers in New Orleans immediately following Hurricane Katrina. The footage is set to a soundtrack of rock, punk and folk songs, often creating a seamless marriage between the lyrics, music and the events onscreen. McPhee juxtaposes primary footage shot in the days, weeks and months following the hurricane with later interviews detailing the bureaucratic mess created by competing animal-aid organizations.

The theme that carries through all of the emotion, chaos and devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina is that no one outside the disaster zone could really know what it was like to be there. Tom McPhee's brutal firsthand footage, shot during Katrina's immediate aftermath in New Orleans, provides the rest of us an opportunity to see the carnage unfold in front of the camera. The film is fast and tight, showing several dramatic rescue attempts and following the perspective of the animal volunteers as they encounter challenges.

Chilling events begin to unfold as the filmmakers experience the true chaos following Katrina. Then, the movie takes a graphic turn. Many horrifying scenes hammer home the impact of decisions made by law enforcement during the confusion. Heroes emerge as well, and these people give the film a sense of hope. The film refuses to pass judgment on the New Orleans pet owners and implores the viewer to extend the same consideration.

For anyone with opinions about the response to Hurricane Katrina, this film is a must-see factual grounding.
— Darren Schwindaman

Death by Truth

Crime Fiction
Will Slocombe, 83 minutes
April 1, Parkway Screen A, 3 p.m.

Writing a movie about writing can lead to funny ("Bowfinger"), beautiful ("Adaptation," "8 1/2") or embarrassingly self-involved ("The United States of Leland") results. The life of the writer holds too much romantic appeal for writers to resist writing about themselves. But what's a writer to do when he knows no reality other than his own—change a few names and call it fiction?

James Cooper, failed novelist and anti-hero of "Crime Fiction," responds to this dilemma by killing his girlfriend, both to write about himself (under the guise of fiction), and to make his life interesting. The result is at times hilarious, at times beautiful and never embarrassingly self-involved. In one moment of spot-on irony (never laid on too thick), Cooper throws his typewriter out a hotel window, then calmly walks into the closet and unwraps a new one.

Jonathan Eliot is a perfect choice as Cooper, his subtle frustration brewing beneath sharp glasses (sometimes sunglasses, sometimes regular specs) recalling Marcelo Mastroianni in "8 1/2." Don Lee Boone, played by Christian Stolte, provides absurdist comic relief as Cooper's successful crime fiction counterpart. When the two pair up for a book-reading tour, the film picks up a surprisingly well-executed art-imitating-life-imitating-art shtick. Everyone wants a piece of James Cooper's reality pie, and the plot to extract it from him, while not particularly ingenious, is an amusing and effective way to keep the film going. Like "Adaptation," plot inevitably overtakes the movie, but "Crime Fiction" embraces the literary element without too many winks or nudges. After all, this is Hollywood—or at least, "Crime Fiction" deserves to be.
— Matt Saldaña

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