I’m a day late catching up with the inaugural edition of the La Di Da Film Festival, happening this weekend at New York’s 92Y Tribeca and showcasing what programmer (and Joan’s Digest editor) Miriam Bale tells Paste‘s Michael Dunaway are “emotional, narrative-based experimental films.” Five shorts were screened yesterday evening: Benny and Josh Safdie‘s The Black Balloon, Dustin Guy Defa’s Family Nightmare, Josephine Decker’s Me the Terrible, Sam Fleischner’s Circles, and Chris Maggio and John Wilson’s People Parade. Tonight, starting at 5:30 pm, three shortish features will be screened: Kentucker Audley’s Open Five 2, Stephen Gurewitz’s Marvin, Seth and Stanley, and Amy Seimetz’s Sun Don’t Shine. The festival wraps tomorrow afternoon (at 3) with Maiko Endo’s Kuichisan, preceded by The Black Balloon.
The Safdie brothers’ short is, as Aaron Cutler notes in a piece on the festival for Artforum, “inspired by Albert Lamorisse’s immortal children’s work The Red Balloon (1963)… While Lamorisse’s film was a fantasy of close friendship between a boy and his balloon set in a cheerful Paris, the Safdie brothers’ balloon stays open to everyone in New York, even to its multitude of grumps…. It was shot by American cinematographer Sean Price Williams, who specializes in photographing displaced, roaming protagonists with a 16-mm camera. Williams also filmed another La Di Da entry, Maiko Endo’s Kuichisan, an oblique and beautiful black-and-white study of the Japanese town of Koza. Americans settled on the island of Okinawa after World War II, and the film depicts Koza as a veritable melting pot of people wandering shopping boulevards at night.”
The festival’s co-presented by BOMB Magazine, the perfect partner, in a way; besides jibing with the general spirit of La Di Da, BOMB and Miriam Bale have come up with a rather brilliant idea for introducing the work of these young filmmakers, even to those of us who don’t live in New York. Miriam’s paired them off to converse, either in person or via emai or chat, so that you can hear, for example, Josh Safdie and Maiko Endo, discuss their own and each other’s films, the making of them, and, in a couple of cases, just whatever happens to be in the air at the moment.
The series began with Amy Seimetz and Craig Zobel, who, it turns out, “have known each other for years,” as Miriam notes in her introduction: “they met, in fact, through Seimetz’s former roommate Pat Healy, who plays the mysterious prank caller who drives the plot in Zobel’s Compliance. And while their films have been screening on the festival circuit this year, the two filmmakers have been having passionate conversations about gender as it plays out in various ways in their work.” In his overview of the festival for Cinespect, Marshall Yarbrough writes that Sun Don’t Shine, “set in Florida and luxuriating in a landscape of sun-baked highways and muggy swamps, follows a frenzied couple’s attempt to run from a crime. Seimetz sustains a base level of tension throughout the movie even as she alternates between action sequences and dreamy, lyrical sections that capture the characters’ internal states. Original music composed by Ben Lovett helps maintain the atmosphere of vague Southern menace that permeates the film.” And the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody calls it a “wondrously accomplished and furiously expressive drama blending the moody rambles of a road movie with the tightly ratcheted criminal tension of a film noir.” More from Henry Stewart in the L.
Next up in the BOMB series are Stephen Gurewitz and Kentucker Audley. RC Privett for the L: “In Marvin, Seth and Stanley, three men head to the woods, but nothing goes right. Is it a standard horror movie? No—it’s a nuanced investigation of male relationships (father, son, brother), a parodic fishing story, and a subtle, despairing study of Judaism in Minnesota.” Richard Brody: “It’s the kind of observational comedy that most observational comedies aren’t—because this one is based in actual observation, in an unsparing intimacy regarding the characters, a pitch-perfect ear for the lifetime of emotion packed in an offhanded remark, and a patiently avid camera-eye that follows the characters insistently and pounces on quiet moments of revelation.”
Little’s been said about Audley’s Open Five 2 since this evening’s screening will be the world premiere, but at the La Di Sa site, Miriam writes: “In his fourth film, Audley reveals himself to be an American director with Rivette‘s interests in improvisation and experimentation and Cassavetes’s interest in using his own relationships to plunge the depths of raw emotion.”
And the final BOMB conversation: Dustin Guy Defa and Chris Maggio and John Wilson. Back to Marshall Yarbrough: “The standout among the shorts is People Parade, an odd comedy set at a public-access variety show. The film’s aesthetic recalls both Adult Swim’s Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job and UHF, the 1989 Weird Al Yankovic cult favorite. While directors Chris Maggio and John Wilson play with the uncanny on the film’s surface, a poignant undercurrent of grief runs throughout and lends weight to the farce.” Richard Brody: “Dustin Guy Defa’s Family Nightmare is exactly that—his compilation of found footage of videos of his family that serve as a memento mori for a matriarch as well as a harrowing vision of breakdowns and screwups that Defa reveals as his own personal nightmare by the remarkable method of dubbing his entire family’s voices with his own. The result is the opposite of alienation: he takes their agonies as his own.”
One more note on one more short, Me the Terrible, from, one more time, Richard Brody: “Josephine Decker’s fantasy, blending live action and homespun animation, flies higher, travels faster, and conjures more magic in its eleven no-budget minutes than do most big-studio children’s spectacles.”