My 2011 Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival Journal - Part 1
AKA, "The Amy Picks Fascinating Flix Fest"
Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival
Rehoboth Beach, DE
November 9-13, 2011
When my girlfriend Amy Linthicum gets into something, she gets into it in a BIG way. Recent cases in point are her newfangled "Is there an app for that?" smartphone addiction, her completist-bordering-on-OCD obsession with the criminally-neglected music of 10cc (including auxiliary bands, solo projects, soundtracks, web sites, merchandise, gossip, etc.), and her ongoing, never-ending quest to buy back all the music of her youth in retro (often dead) media formats (vinyl, cassette tape, VHS). So when Amy became a card-carrying "Associate Producer"-level member of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society this year, she wallowed in all the perks that membership entails - from receiving e-mail updates and a fancy laminated card to scoring an advance copy of this year's 2011 Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival Program Guide.
You see, in 2010 Amy and I had both grudgingly signed up as RBFS Associate Producers after learning that this was the cheapest membership level that allowed us to buy tix to all the films we wanted to see in advance, during a single trip to the festival Ticket Tent; this decision followed our disastrous introduction to the fest back in 2009, when (in addition to suffering through an unexpected Nor Easter storm that week) we couldn't see ANY of the films we wanted because RBFS members got the first shot at them before "non-members," who are also known around here as "the general public," "the great unwashed" or "the hoi polloi" (see my rant about the festival's snootiness here). But we forgot that one of the perks of being an Associate Producer was the ability to buy two tickets per screening - meaning that we only needed to buy a single membership, not two - which we rectified this year! (Live and learn where money is concerned - or burned!) And it's a good thing Amy got that AP privilege, because this year's five-day fest featured 51 sell-outs.
OK, what this all meant was that Amy spent a lot of time researching the festival in advance, with the result that I left it to her to pick all the films (especially after I questioned my own usually snooty judgment for inexplicably sitting through the Ann Hathaway-Jake Gyllenhaal disease-of-the-week romantic comedy Love and Other Drugs) (Yes, I am ashamed of that one!).
Film Program Pix Decoder 101
She used the "catalog photo decoding" methodology we had worked out in previous years' exposure to the festival, which helped eliminate from consideration all the gay, lesbian, bi, transgender and "whimsical" films that didn't appeal to us. (Not that we're against those films - hey, I'm as big a fan of Lesbian Vampire Films, for example, as the next guy - but they don't really relate to our day-to-day lives or interests. Sorry! Or, to paraphrase Morrissey complaining about lamestream music in The Smiths' "Panic," films like these "say nothing to me about my life.") You see, the RBIFF reflects the demographics of its left-leaning, GLBT-friendly, middle-aged retiree-dominated base (i.e, "The Gay & the Gray") - which is a good thing, and what makes Rehoboth Beach itself such a cultivated alternative to younger, more rambunctious beach resorts like Ocean City.
Our photo-decoder visual literacy approach was fairly accurate: headshots of two men = gay, photos of two women = lesbian, threesome shots (either two men and one woman, or two women and one man) = bi (or occasionally a variation on the old Jules and Jim love triangle), old man and woman in bed = disgusting, pics of children = flimsy whimsy for Pop-Pop and MeeMaw. Used in conjunction with our "keyword decoder" rules - "green"-themed movies = self-congratulatory self-righteous fodder for Yuppies and New Agers, and any film mentioning "non-narrative" or "visually-stunning" or "poetic images" typically = boring/pretentious arthouse snoozer - this approach was fairly accurate.
Two Guys = Gay
Two Women = Lesbian
Three's a Bi Crowd
After careful weeding, Amy picked seven interesting films of which five were out-and-out winners - the first five films we saw, in fact, and only two were disappointments, if not outright duds. (We knew her "5-in-a-row" streak had to end, and end it did, but what a ride while it lasted!) The first two films she picked as essentials to see were Werner Herzog's new 3-D documentary about the prehistoric Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave drawings in southern France, Cave of Forgotten Dreams (we had seen it in 2-D at The Charles, but seeing it again in 3-D was like seeing an entirely new film!) and the only Japanese-themed entry this year, a documentary about the 85-year-old proprietor-chef of an elite 10-seat, $300-a-plate sushi restaurant in Tokyo, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. We agreed we'd make a beeline for the ticket tent to try and score tix for those two films first; everything after that was negotiable.
DAY ONE: Thursday, November 10, 2011
We always skip the opening and closing nights of the festival (the Rehoboth Beach Film Fest illuminati always ensure that the opening night features are sold out anyway), prefering to hit town Thursday through Saturday and head home by Sunday). So for us, Day 1 is the second day of the festival.
Welcome to Dramaville & Other Forge Follies
Of course, whenever Amy and I take a roadtrip to Rehoboth Beach, it's always a bumpy ride. During our first visit, we experienced an act of God in the form of a NorEaster with 50-mph winds, followed by three straight Curse-of-Airhead-Tom bummers. Last year I forgot to load my suitcase in the car and arrived at our motel with the clothes on my back, a toothbrush and (fortunately!) my wallet. The year before that I left the front door of my house wide open - my neighbor thought I had suffered a home invasion and called the police (thankfully, the only thing lost was my standing in the neighborhood - already tarnished years before when the community association wrote me up for displaying a pink flamingo on my front lawn, which apparently is verbotten according to the "Rodgers Forge Community Covenant"!).
Amy: "Your battery's dead." Tom: "God hates me."
And this year, well, the minute Amy and I got in the car to head off to the film festival, my car battery died! Gott in Himmel! But no worries, AAA came to the rescue within 15 minutes and, after losing an hour or so to installing a new battery and dealing with post-traumatic car stress disorder, we were on our merry way.
"I have a musical surprise for our trip," Amy said after plugging in the GPS.
"I have a feeling I know what it is," I replied, thinking it could only be related to her current obsession with All Things 10cc. "Is it 10cc?"
"I'm not saying," she said, adding "Look away while I pop it in your CD player."
Yup, 10cc it was, from the opening power chords of "Silly Love" through the set-ending extended jam-out of "Rubber Bullets." Amy had scored 10cc In Concert, a King Biscuit Flower Hour live recording of their 1975 Santa Monica Civic Arena show. Surprisingly, though this was a tour in support of 1975's The Original Soundtrack LP - their biggest commercial success (and the one with their biggest hit "I'm Not In Love") - everything in this live set was from the first two albums (10cc and Sheet Music). Word has it they also performed material from their just-completed third album The Original Soundtrack and one track from their upcoming 1976 album How Dare You (the last to feature all four original members before Godley and Creme left to make videos and the ill-fated, three-LP opus Consequences) at this Santa Monica gig, but for some reason King Biscuit left them off this release. Pity.
Still, it was great driving music and proved once again what everyone said about 10cc: they were just as great live as in the studio. Indeed, given all their intricate studio wizardry (like the 256-voice multi-tracked "virtual choir" singing chromatic chords in "I'm Not In Love"), it was amazing to hear them flawlessly reproduce their canned sound on a concert stage. Even more interesting was the way they tweaked some songs to give them a new twist, like the all-gizmo guitar backing on "Old Wild Men" and an acoustic version of "The Sacro-Iliac" (which, as Amy cheerily reminded me, was "The first 10cc song to feature Graham Gouldman on lead vocals!").
We arrived in Rehoboth Beach well before our checkin time at the Crosswinds Motel, so we decided to stop first at the film fest ticket tent to score tickets for Cave of Forgotten Dreams (in 3-D) and Jiro. Much to our surprise, our mission was accomplished (we were sure the 3-D Herzog doc, with only two screenings at the fest, would be sold out, but were delighted to be wrong and score tickets for Friday night's screening), so we set about seeing what we could see in the afternoon before that evening's presentation of Jiro.
Many of Amy's pre-fest program picks were already sold-out, including the Israeli comedy The Matchmaker (we were intrigued by the description "Yankele, a Holocaust survivor, has an office in the back of a movie theater that shows only love stories, run by a family of seven Romanian dwarves"), so that made our choices that much easier. Amy decided on Norway's King of Devil's Island (Kongen Av Bastoy), China's "offbeat ballad of friendship and devotion" The Piano in a Factory (Gang de Qin), and the good 'ol USA's haunting psychological thriller Take Shelter, starring Boardwalk Empire 's Michael Shannon and riveting redhead Jessica Chastain (The Help, The Tree of Life).
KING OF DEVIL'S ISLAND (KONGEN AV BASTOY)
directed by Marius Holst
(Norway, 2011, 115 minutes)
In Norwegian with English subtitles
Watch "King of Devil's Island" trailer.
Based on a true story, this youth-centered drama starring Stellan Skarsgard (and a cast of relatively unknown actors and non-professionals, including stellar leads Benjamin Helstad as "Erling/C19" and Trond Nilssen as "Olav") tells the story of a notorious "borstal" (turn-of-the-20th-Century "reform" prisons for under-21 offenders) whose boys revolted in a William Golding/"Lord of the Flies" manner against their oppressors - and in particular, the child molesting guard Brathen (Kristoffer Joner). The wooded isle where where the boys serve out their corporeal punishment, Bastoy Island (literally "Devil Island"), was a real-life Alcatraz for teenage boys located about 45 miles south of Oslo. In 1915, the Norwegian Army was called in to quell an uprising after the boys burned buildings and chased their keepers away; it was one of only two times in Norway's history when its armed services fired upon its own citizens. Ironically, today this former prison colony is trying to become an environmentally-friendly "eco-prison" with inmates housed in wooden cottages and allowed access to horseback riding, fishing, tennis, and cross-country skiing in their free time; no doubt, this is why Bastoy the repurposed "Summer Camp" prison was featured in the DVD extras for Michael Moore's 2007 the-rest-of-the-world-is-better-and-more-sophisticated-than-us documentary Sicko.
Watch Michael Moore visit Bastoy's "Prison of the Future."
Watching The King of Devil's Island's brutal bullying and the inmates' cruel "Lord of the Flies" social pecking order reminded me a lot of another Scandinavian film, Mikael Hafstrom's powerful Evil (Ondskan, Sweden, 2003), while child predator Brathen made me think of current events up in "Happy Valley" - where former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry "Just Horsing Around in the Showers" Sandusky is accused of molesting as many as 40 under-age boys. I couldn't help but think of Sandusky, who retired from college football at the height of his career at age 55 and eschewed pursuing any head coaching jobs to instead work around young boys at a charity organization. At one point in The King of Devil's Island, Stellan Skarsgard's borstal governor asks Brathen why he has stayed in his lower-rung position for so long when more ambitious men would have moved on to new challenges. It clearly raises his eyebrows, much like Sandusky's decision to work with kids in lieu of pursuing the head coaching job he was clearly qualified for. A red flag, in retrospect?
Designated Receiver: Illegal motion in the backfield
If this one sounds interesting to you, I highly recommend David Graham's Eye for Film review that sums it up very well:
...Holst's film is much more artful than many of its predecessors, quickly establishing the grim atmosphere through chilly locations and the bleak, barren landscape but utilising a stirring score and striking cinematography rather than the sort of stark in-your-face realism of Alan Clarke's 'daddy' of the genre. The story takes its time so that we get to know the boys, building to become truly epic and rousing, with riot scenes effectively conveying a sense of how dangerous their revolt was for themselves and those they were retaliating against.
Little details make the film more poignant and harrowing as barely-concealed revelations come to the fore; in particular, the way Holst sensitively handles one weak child's abuse and fate is absolutely heart-rending. Elsewhere, C19's treasuring of a letter offers up the extended metaphor of a huge whale that battled on despite being repeatedly harpooned - an appropriate allusion for the boys' experience.
In the lead, Benjamin Helstad makes quite an impression, convincingly progressing from keeping a survival-motivated distance from his peers to eventually becoming inextricably linked with their struggle to overturn the adults' tyranny. His reaction to a pivotal tragedy is especially well wrought, making us fully invested in his subsequent fight to defeat their oppressors. His character is made the more interesting for his desperate determination to get off the island, having seemingly led a more or less adult life previously, which he gradually comes to share with some of the boys. The relationships he hesitantly forges are also established believably, with initial resentment and rivalry giving way to respect and solidarity.
Trond Nilssen is also excellent as the head boy of the facility, trying to hold on to his hard-won privileges and imminent emancipation even if it means turning a blind eye to the suffering of those around him. Much of the film's pleasure derives from observing how the boys grow to trust and look out for one another, while the tension comes from waiting for their burgeoning collective strength to turn into revolt.
Stellan Skarsgard, as the governor, is as watchable as ever, conveying concern and guilt despite his authoritative stance, while Kristoffer Joner is outstanding in a crucial role as the boys' biggest enemy; his sallow features and sunken eyes are perfect for the portrayal of the predatory Brathen, a sullen bully who has been rejected by adult society.
Holst's film takes on a truly tragic tone that some will find too much to handle, but it's a massively engaging effort that should reward those that stick out its hefty running time. The chaotic climax really hammers home the savagery of both the children and the adults who they're supposed to look up to, while events become almost apocalyptically chaotic in the final stretch. There is a real emotional pay-off to the film's closing moments, done full justice by some talented youngsters who manage to do much more than merely glower. King Of Devil's Island works well as both historical drama and a William Golding-esque fable, and should strike a chord with audiences of all ages.
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI
directed by David Gelb, USA, 2011, 81 minutes
In Japanese with English subtitles
Official Movie Site
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the master chef and proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, $300-a-plate sushi-only restaurant located near a Tokyo subway station that was the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded Michelin's coveted and prestigious 3-star rating. Sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance to get a seat at Jiro’s sushi bar. While this quiet, lushly photographed documentary shows all the intricate planning and preparation that goes into the complex art of making sushi - from getting up early in the morning to select seafood at the fish market to the laborious way to massage an octopus, and even the subtle nuances of properly serving left-handed customers and (feminists beware!) the almost imperceptible practice of serving women slightly smaller rolls - it is the family and cultural backstory that resonates most. At the heart of this story is Jiro’s relationship with his eldest son Yoshikazu, the heir apparent bound by tradition to take over his father's business - yet still waiting at age 50 to step out of his father's shadow and shape his own identity.
This is the way we roll: Jiro & his sushi crew
(Jiro is center, no. 1 son Yoshikazu to his right)
Much luckier is his younger brother who, unconstrained by the burden of family honor and tradition, was able to leave and start his own sushi business. The intergenerational tension of legacy and succession is ultimately a "beast-of-burden" situation for Yoshikazu, who reveals he was unable to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a race car driver due to family obligations. As one critic observed, "This emotionally resonant study of a son living in his father's shadow is couched in an operatic spectacle of some of the world's preeminent chefs at work, making Jiro a tasty treat that will satisfy all viewers' cinematic cravings." It sure made us crave sushi, and we made plans to finally try the highly touted (and much less than $300-a-plate) sushi on offer across the street from our motel at the Cultured Pearl Restaurant & Sushi Bar, where Master Sushi Chef Hiro reigns. (We would not be disappointed and even saw a first - a female sushi chef on staff! Think about it, it's a male-dominated craft. I wonder why?) More on this later.
Watch "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" Trailer.
"My 2011 Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival Journal - Part 2"