Todd Solondz has a face only a film festival could love. With
scrunched Napoleon Dynamite eyes behind Coke-bottle frames,
a head as oblong as an egg (and nearly as bald), and a face frozen
into a dyspeptic scowl, the director of Welcome to the Doll House
and Storytelling does not have the kind of visage you ll see promoting
studio blockbusters with Roman numerals in their titles.
Now take Jonathan Caouette.
He has the face; it was even shot for a slew of glossy mags last fall when Tarnation, his first film, trickled into art houses around the country. He has the ready-for-Barbara-Walters background;
Tarnation is a memoir of his life growing up with a mother who has a mental illness. On the other hand, Tarnation is a memoir struck with the pain of a confessional, assembled from home movies and photographs, and pieced together using off-theshelf iMovie editing software.
Total production cost: $218.
What these guys share is that both are products of film festivals.
Solondz was discovered at Sundance a decade ago, Caouette at
the Toronto film festival. Take either out of their natural environment
and try to domesticate them at the local multiplex, and they wither and die.
But take Solondz to the 29th Cleveland International Film Festival,
which starts tomorrow, and he becomes a celebrated guest.
He s the focus of the Director s Spotlight this year, with four of his
movies being shown, including the upcoming Palindromes with
Ellen Barkin. Keeping with tradition, he ll also be attending the
10-day festival, which is screening more than 100 features and
Same deal with Caouette.
After showing Tarnation at the Ann Arbor Film Festival last March, and winding up on dozens of movie critic s Top 10 lists in
December, he returns this year as one of three jurors. The 43rd
annual Ann Arbor Film Festival starts Tuesday night and runs
through March 20.
You would not want Caouette s job, although it s safe to say he doesn t mind: Tarnation comes out of the same avantgarde
tradition of experimental filmmaking the Ann Arbor festival has always devoted itself.
Caouette will watch each of the 107 short films in competition all vying for $18,000 of award money. Some of that comes from corporations like Kodak (which awards $1,500 in film processing) and media groups like Toledo s public broadcaster, WGTE (which pledges $500 for the best use of music in a fi lm). But a big chunk of the money comes from filmmakers such as Ken Burns, Gus Van Sant, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Moore, who have either a connection to Michigan or (as with Van Sant) screened their earliest work at the festival.
Typical of Ann Arbor and keeping with the experimental nature of the festival: Those are 107 fi lms you ve never heard of.
Esther Levine s Chicken-Washing Technique doesn t ring a bell? Don t feel bad. It s a threeminute film from Ann Arbor s Potter Belmar that s largely selfexplanatory: the filmmaker s grandmother cleans a chicken, and the footage is manipulated.
The only name filmmaker in competition this year, in fact, is Crispin Glover who makes movies when he s not acting opposite
thousands of rats (as in the remake of Willard) or getting a noogie in Back to the Future.
Glover s What Is It? at 72 minutes, not exactly a short screens March 19, and if you go, here s what I remember from when the movie screened at Sundance: Shirley Temple in Nazi jackboots, talking slugs, a black-faced minstrel whose dream is becoming an invertebrate.
What is it? Well, exactly.
Some people get intimidated by the mix of films in the general
competition, said Dan Marano, the festival s new executive director.
So we have a lot of sidebars and programs this year on the history of experimental fi lm and documentaries you know, to get people through the door.
Those sidebar programs are promising, and include: Deborah
Koons Garcia s The Future of Food, a documentary about the impact of genetically-engineered produce; a selection of gay-themed shorts and documentaries; and High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music, a documentary about the roots and reasons for the rise of techno in our own backyard, Detroit.
If you re looking for a more, you know, traditional fi lm festival,
Cleveland, like a lot of festivals, is known for its lack of distinguishing characteristics.
The programmers tend to troll other festivals and assemble a
patchwork of their own.
Which means, expect a lot of foreign fi lms with small distribution
deals or none at all, independent productions coming later this year to an art house near you, and the odd movie star.
Steve Buscemi s second film as a director, Lonesome Jim, opens
the festival tomorrow night and he ll even be there.
Other highlights: Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, Xan Cassavetes gripping documentary about a Los Angeles TV exec and
innovator who went berserk; Old Boy, a terrifi c thriller from South
Korea that won the Grand Prix at Cannes last year; Miranda July s
Sundance gem Me, You and Everyone We Know; and Danny
Boyle s luminous Millions, about two young boys who try to horde
$411,000 when a bag full of stolen money falls out of the sky
and smashes their clubhouse.
It s a safe bet: Boyle s last fi lm was the zombie hit 28 Days Later, and I swear, no talking snails were harmed in this production.
The 29th Cleveland International Film Festival opens tomorrow
and continues until March 20. Ticket prices vary, though most are $10 per screening. For a full schedule or to buy tickets: www.clevelandfi lm.org or call 866-885-3456 or 216-623-3456.
The 43rd Ann Arbor Film Festival runs Tuesday, March 15, through March 20. Tickets are $8 per screening, though some events are free. For a full schedule and other information: aafi lmfest.org or 734-995-5356.
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: email@example.com or 419-724-6117.