The Fourth annual Flyover Film Festival began last night with a truly appropriate selection of shorts that showcased promising young talent and celebrated the town in which it is raised. A reception was held, catered by The Bristol and after the screening the Speed Art Museum's open gallery space held audience to greet the filmmakers against the sights and sounds of the guest VJ.
The night opened with gracious remarks from Ryan Daly, Executive Director of the Louisville Film Society and the Flyover Film Festival itself. He introduced the history of the Festival and how it went from an idea to the fourth year, speaking modestly of the logistical hurdles they jumped and the impact they were having on local cinema. Then, in a symbolic move that acted as a wonderful way to begin the festival, he called up the filmmakers of the first short of the evening, two Youth Performing Arts high schoolers who made a silent homage to the likes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin titled, The Executive. Matthew Rivera and Evan Sennett could not have been a more precious or poignant example of both the level of talent that lies hidden in Louisville and the ability of the Flyover Film Festival to foster young filmmakers. They sheepishly, yet knowledgeably answered questions about their production woes, their set designs, and their love of the silent movie era. They showed a depth of understanding and ingenuity about film that left the audience delighted and kicked off the Festival in first class form.
Then began the program of four shorts, collectively called Filmmakers Follies. And don't worry, for I will eagerly share my thoughts below.
As mentioned above, The Executive is a silent homage film featuring the physical gags and spirit of Buster Keaton fare. The filmmakers made a point during their question and answer session to detail how important it was for them to make it as authentic as possible. They shot it on a hand cranked 16mm camera, built their own sets, and hand edited it together. A vast amount of credit must go to these young, precocious artists, as they captured the essence of those old classics. Everything from the angles to the grain to the action felt studied and familiar.
It told the short story of a hungry tramp, bull rushed by a group of businessmen on break, only to be mistaken for one of them, placed in an office, and expected to work. Evan Sennett acts out cartoonish antics in these scenes in a genuinely hysterical way. I don't pay any favors to their young age when I say that I found it tremendously funny. They painted caricatures of businessmen, policemen, and tramps nearly identical to those played by the silent humorists almost a century ago.
I spotted the occasionally slight miss of comedic timing, but I would be wrong to mention it detrimental to the context of the film. This early effort demands as much acclaim as I can give.
I have thought over this movie for hours now, and I still cannot find the exact word for how it made me feel. It tells of an old, antiquated cable access variety show, named People Parade, and its last send off episode, led by the newly deceased host's son. It follows his quiet offense at the dishonor that being shown to his father's legacy.
Filmmakers John M. Wilson and Chris Maggio tell the story in two ways. First there is the high definition digital record that someone is capturing for posterity, and then there is the low quality videotape from the perspective of the show's camera. They seem at first to tell two separate stories as well. The behind the scene camera deals with the morose and mourning crew and fill-in host. The People Parade camera tells of a show so awkwardly weird, I can only compare it to the uncomfortable humor of Tim and Eric Awesome Show ilk. As the host's son becomes exasperated with his on stage, conductor mother and her odious new boyfriend, a run of classic guests appear on the show with increasingly odd talents or props.
The short suffers as it often tries very hard for the humor, sometimes overstepping its reach and turning too clever for itself. The nature of the two stories also jar the characters as you question how the seriousness of one overlaps with the, legitimately funny, comedy of another. However, as it continues, the two sides gradually blur into each in an absurd parody of grief. I felt it coming, though I still do not know what to call it, but a soft, profound, existential emptiness washed over me as the capering characters seemed to become aware of themselves. I know that is a seriously pretentious sounding sentence, but leave me alone; it's how I felt.
Throughout my notes, I tried to find the word to explain this; I know the right one exists. Sorrow? No. Despair? Close. Disquiet? Sort of. Uncanny? Eh, not entirely. Dismay? Ish. Melancholy? Maybe.
The film contains the nearest sentiment that I can find to describe this word. It neatly summed up the feeling with two South Americans performers named the Peanut Butter Brothers playing a Columbian pan flute version of Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sounds of Silence. Whatever the resonance, it definitely stirred something inside me and in the end, that is the most you can ask of any film. If I had an award for Best Film of the Day, first, I would call it a B FOD, and then I would give it to People Parade.
This is an easy one: Filmmaker Tony Balko took footage from the 1970 Led Zepplin live performance at The Royal Albert Hall, specifically John Bonham performing his incredible drum solo based song Moby Dick. In the description of the short, Tony Balko lovingly refers to it as “sincere fandom with a futile attempt to collaborate.” His collaboration is to take the original footage and to mix, distort, duplicate, blend, and mutate it into an original creation of spastic sights and anarchic sounds that become a melodious song of its own.
At eight minutes long, it seemed to want to find that little bit of epilepsy and dizziness within us all. At it’s most chaotic, it appeared like any number of other experimental art films, with its fractal shapes and abrasive soundtrack. I enjoyed this so much more than any of those I’ve seen as it gave the foundation from which the art sprang. I just kind of loved letting John Bonham attack me, and I think that Tony Balko can easily call this a collaboration.
One Big Holiday
This film, documenting the My Morning Jacket retuning to Louisville to perform in the newly built Yum! Arena, would most probably be considered the headlining act of this Festival opening. Front man Jim James and former owner of the dear departed Ear X Tacy, John Tillman, were in attendance, and after the screening, filmmakers Michael Feld and Christopher Guetig gave a long audience question and answer session. The audience during and after the film was vocally stirred by the performance footage and the incredibly sincere tribute to the city itself. It is with deep sadness that I admit to not being nearly as moved.
I believe my problem lied chiefly with my expectation to watch a documentary. It is billed and credited as one, and so I went in with that very thought. However, One Big Holiday did not have a story to tell; it is a love letter to the band, and a postcard for the city. This is fine, and it worked wonderfully with most in the theater. As a critic, I found myself asking bigger questions that I felt were never raised or answered.
The short deals with My Morning Jacket playing a home coming of sorts. I kept waiting for tension to arise with that, or any matter of conflict at all. I don’t wish any bad luck on good ole MMJ, stories are just told through tension, conflict and attempts at resolution. When the film veered into Youth Orchestra that played alongside the band at the Yum! Center, I got a bit confused. Then, when it swerved wildly into a very long section about the struggles of Ear X Tacy (may she rest in piece), I admit to getting a little frustrated.
Not until the audience Q & A, where a gracious and calm Michael Feld and Christopher Guetig discussed the conception, did it click in my head and I wrote in my notes that it was a wonderful DVD/Blu Ray featurette. And two minutes after I wrote this, the pair spoke confirmed that the band included the film as an extra in the box set. I fear that I just expected something wholly different.
My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan spoke a wonderful line in the short, saying, “Home can be anywhere your heart feels pure and whole.” A wonderful sentiment that I’m sure the whole production crew believed. And, truly, the film had very fine performance footage, editing, and scenery. I felt the faint rumblings of hometown pride as well. Unfortunately, I can’t help but think that it wouldn’t work in any other town and the pure self-congratulating depiction of how great we all are was certainly flattering, but didn’t make for an incredibly compelling movie.
But what do I know? After the screening, I spoke to Matthew Riviera, one of the delightful prodigies responsible for the The Executive. When asked what his favorite film of the night was, he confidently said, “Well, One Big Holiday, of course.” With talent like his, I can’t say that I beat him with credibility.
All told, the Festival kicked off with enthusiasm and variety. I had a marvelous time, and we have three more days to go. Bring on the popcorn.