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Let’s Go to the (Indie) Movies

October 1, 2011 Leave a comment

"The Pill" is one of the main featured films playing at the San Diego Film Festival this weekend.

Over the last three days, and with the help of some great friends (Thanks Ilhem!), I’ve officially crossed something off something on my bucket list that I’ve always wanted to do: shoot a buffalo attend a movie festival.

OK, so the San Diego Film Festival isn’t Tribeca or Sundance, but it’s certainly leaps and bounds ahead of the short film festival I attended in Burlington a couple years back. The film festival experience is about what I expected; a pretty even amount of old white folks, hipsters and Indie-types, with a few filmmakers, actors and reporters sprinkled in to make the entire thing exceptionally more self-important. (Or maybe I just felt “more important” for being there. Actually, this is a more likely scenario.)

So far, as we hit Day 4 of the Festival, I’ve seen three movies, all of which I’d characterize as “not bad”, and 2 out of 3 were very unique and were clearly done on a minimal budget. Here are a few things I’ve observed and experienced at the San Diego Film Festival, in no particular order …

1. The Acting Quality

I’ve seen my share of Indie films over the years (What up, Netflix! Or whatever you’re calling yourself these days.), and for the most part acting can be divided into three tiers – usually within the same movie.

First, there’s the lead, who is usually head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the film, especially if there are no “famous people” or identifiable names (January Jones, excluded) in the film. In the second film I saw last night, “Rid of Me” – an avant-garde film that doubled as a black comedy and an art piece (and featured the dude from Everclear in a recurring cameo) – lead Katie O’Grady was in basically every scene. If she was mediocre, this film would be terrible. Instead, she played a believable and completely-relatable housewife-turned punk, before finding a happy medium between the two in the end. Anything less from O’Grady and this artsy dark film would’ve been borderline unwatchable.

The second tier of Indie actors are usually new or first-time actors testing out the waters, with mixed results. Going back to “Rid of Me”, this movie featured a pretty extensive supporting cast whose acting chops bordered on cartoonish, though I have a feeling that this was the intention of the director. That being said, I also think that a few of these actors may have found the gig via Craigslist, and made the most (“Most” is being graded on a curve, here.) with the limited roles they were given.

The last tier of Indie film actors consist of borderline famous people and friends of the directors and the producers. (Notable actors I’ve seen so far: Uncle Rico from “Napoleon Dynamite”, Veta from “My Girl” and the aforementioned front man from Everclear. (I also recognized another 10 or so actors who I’ve absolutely seen before but couldn’t for the life of me place, aka That Guy!) They’re usually good for a line or two when they’re not getting edited out of the movie completely. I hope to somehow make my way into this tier someday. (Wanted: Film School Friends.)

2. The Style

Style is especially prevalent to the laymen’s eye (such as my own) when it comes to Indie films. If you’re making a film that follows a familiar story arc (“Unicorn City” was a rom-com about gamers, and “The Pill” was a quirky take on romance – yeah, we’re not breaking new ground here, but there’s a reason the same types of movies are popular.), but your budget is small, you don’t want to make a film that’s essentially a shittier version of a Hollywood-style movie. In order to make the film feel “different,” you have to make it look different.

“Rid of Me” was the most stylistic of the three, using deep organic music (and, it should be noted, a shitload of Regina Spektor songs to identify “happy times”) and not-so-subtle zoom-ins to set the ambient tones. In the other two films, there was a lack of camera movement, but plenty of close-ups made for a more intimate vibe. And it should be noted that all three films appeared to be filmed digitally. However, I didn’t see any of the “risky” and forward-thinking qualities of some of my favorite recent Indie films, “500 Days of Summer” and “The Wackness.” (Though the former also used plenty of Regina Spektor, albeit it in to promote very different emotions. I should have asked about this in the Q & A but, I really had to piss.)

3.) The Atmosphere

I wouldn’t describe the lobby atmosphere of the San Diego Film Festival as “electric” by any means, but it definitely was interesting. There was a small red carpet with sponsor GQ being promoted around basically every corner. I witnessed a few interviews taking place, but I couldn’t tell you who they were or what they were doing there. There was also a GQ Lounge which I was promptly told to leave. (Psh not sure what that was about – I had a button-up on and everything.) But probably the coolest part was seeing some of the actors and directors just sort of kicking it inside and outside the theater, promoting the fruits of their labor. And each and every actor I (briefly) spoke with seemed genuinely appreciative of the good words. It kind of reminded me of being a kid and asking a minor league player for their autograph. There’s a sense that, even if this is as good as it gets for these people, it’s still really impressive and, at the very least, they thoroughly entertained people for one evening, anyways. And, um,  how many people can say they starred in a movie?

As far as the experience in the theater, it definitely felt like a more intimate setting than your typical movie theater atmosphere. (With the exception of the time I saw “Final Destination 3” in a predominantly African-American theater in Downtown St. Louis. That crowd fucking rocked.)  Passes for the festival are kind of pricey, so the crowd definitely loved the cinema and really did want to be there. (i.e. very little talking, no mid-movie texting, minimal bathroom breaks.) We did encounter some odd people, notably the woman who asked my roommate and I whether we were “staying sober” as soon as we sat down,  to which I replied, “Not by choice.” That one still has me befuddled. Otherwise, I didn’t see anything else too out of the ordinary.

4.) Thinking Critically

OK, admittedly I had a tough time grading these movies fairly. When you enter a film at the SD Film Festival, you’re given a slip with numbers 1 through 5, with 1 being “poor” and 5 being “superb.” 4 means “excellent – I have given all three films a ‘4’ when I walked out of the theater. I’d break them down for you now, but, seeing as how you haven’t even heard of these films and will likely never see them, I’ll spare you (and me) the work. That being said, you can check out the trailers below, with my grades for the three films next to them:

Unicorn City – B

The Pill  – B+

Rid of Me – B

Also, here are the Week 4 Quick Picks – and please don’t talk to me about the 2011 Red Sox ever again.

Bears over Panthers – Meh.

Bills over Bengals – Love the resurgence of the Bills. 10-6 seems totally reasonable with a win in Cincy.

Titans over Browns – CJ will have more rushing yards Sunday than he’s had all year. (98 … not a typo.)

Lions over Cowboys – If the Lions didn’t have the same name and same uniform as, ya’ know, the Lions, would we even think this game would be close?

Texans over Steelers – I’m walking alongside the Texans bandwagon but refusing a ride. That being said, they’re front 7 matches up tremendously with the Steelers’ bruised and battered O-line.

Saints over Jaguars – Did the NFL schedule-makers decide to just throw all of the shitty match-ups into one terrible week, or am I crazy?

Vikings over Chiefs – I mean, really.

Eagles over Niners – I’ve yet to pick an Eagles game correctly this year. Just sayin’.

Rams over Redskins – Make-or-break game for the STL.

Giants over Cardinals – Remember when Arizona was in the NFC East all those years? That was dumb, am I right? AM I RIGHT?!

Seahawks over Falcons – Dude, what happened to the Falcons? And welcome back, Sydney Rice! (To my fantasy team – I realize this is confusing out of context.)

Packers over Broncos (Suicide Pick) – If you think I forgot about Super Bowl XXXII, you don’t know me very well

Patriots over Raiders – Feels like the Raiders are ripe for the upset, until you remember that the Pats NEVER lose two in a row. Plus, they probably have a pretty terrible taste in their mouth after last week, like when you wake up from a night of drinking and realized you smoked a cigarette the night before. The Raiders will be the Patriots metaphorical mouthwash.

Chargers over Dolphins – Another SD blackout. I’ll spare you the story of how much the Chargers fucked my Pack-Bears viewing schedule last week. Just know that it doesn’t get much worse than anticipating your NFL team on TV, only to be greeted with an infomercial for Lipitor. No, seriously.

Jets over Ravens – I just have this feeling that Flacco will throw some pretty timely picks, and the overrated Jets will do just enough for a close (and ugly) win in Baltimore. And yes, the Orioles have made me bitter about that city – for the week, anyways.

Bucs over Colts – Remember that 2003 Monday Night game when the Colts came back on the Bucs from 21 points down in something like 5 minutes to win the game? Yeah, that’s not going to happen Monday.

Last Week: 12-4 Season: 34-16

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