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BendFilm 2005 Preview

Set in the beautiful resort town of Bend, Oregon over the weekend of September 22-25, 2005, the Bend Film Fest (aka BendFilm) makes its sophomore outing with a slate of films which represent some of the hidden gems from other notable film fests. Heavily weighted toward documentaries, BendFilm borrows strongly from the Sundance Film Fest, Slamdance, Newport and Tribecca Film Fests - but that's a good thing. Many of the films selected (especially from Sundance) carry some great buzz, but were often overshadowed by breakaway films that hogged the headlines and, more importantly, the overtaxed film festival goers' time.

Like any film fest, there are simply more movies playing at BendFilm than time to see them. While I was able to jam up to 6 films a day into my time at Sundance, I'm expecting the breath-taking surroundings of Bend in the summer and the jaw-dropping views from Mount Bachelor Village to inspire more breaks between films than the freezing cold days and nights in Park City.

After going over the schedule of films, here are my thoughts and expectations on some of the films playing this year at BendFilm:

Opening Night Film

Duane Hopwood ( Thursday 9/22 5:30pm - Tower, Opening Night Film)
The first night of the festival features one film, Duane Hopwood. David Schwimmer and Janeane Garofalo star in a film about a down and out divorcee (Shwimmer) who struggles to pull his life and family together. Duane Hopwood, which got a lot of nice buzz at Sundance, is the second feature from director Matt Mulhern, whose last effort Walking The Waterline (1998) was well received but barely seen (it played only a few fests and aired on IFC but is still not on DVD). It's surprising with Schwimmer and Garofalo in the film that it didn't get picked up for distribution between Sundance and now. It's entirely possible that Duane Hopwood is just one of those odd indie gems which takes a while to find a home. It's a film I would have liked to have seen at Sundance but didn't because of a lack of time, so I'm definitely looking forward to seeing it at BendFilm (and I'm not even a Friends fan).

"Son" of Sundance/Slamdance

In addition to Duane Hopwood, there are a number of other films which come to BendFilm from the 2005 Sundance and Slamdance film fests:

Police Beat (Friday 9/23 5:00pm - Library, and Saturday 9/24, 11:40am - Midtown
It's been almost 8 months since I saw Police Beat at Sundance and I'm still glowing over this film. If there was one 'hidden gem' from Sundance 2005 this is it. Police Beat follows the life of 'Z', an immigrant from Somalia who works as a beat cop in Seattle. While the film is in English, it's narrated by 'Z' in Somalian (with subtitles) - a bold but brilliant choice that gives an insight into the experience of an immigrant in America. Z moves from crime scene to crime scene while dealing with a broken relationship with his American girlfriend, never lingering too long at any one spot. Director Robinson Devor does a great job of balancing these two elements and gets a wonderful performance from Pape Sidy Niang, the first-time actor who plays Z. Surprisingly Police Beat didn't find a distributor at Sundance, so it's been making the festival circuit (including Seattle, Munich, Edinburgh). It's a shame more people haven't had the opportunity to see Police Beat and I'm glad I'll have another chance at BendFilm. (Trailer)

Shakespeare Behind Bars (Friday 9/23, 3:40pm - Tower)
Festival goers buzzed about a lot of documentaries at Sundance 2005 and while some of them have taken flight (March of The Penguins, Murderball, and Aristocrats), some have yet to soar. I'm happy to see Shakespeare Behind Bars pop up on the BendFilm schedule and I'm really looking forward to finally seeing it. Shakespeare Behind Bars follows twenty inmates from the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky as they attempt to mount a production of Shakespeare's "The Tempest". The film was well received at Sundance and people who I spoke to who had seen the film enjoyed the transformation of the inmates through their experience with the play.

Love, Ludlow (Friday 9/23 9:00am - Midtown, and Saturday 9/24, 5:50pm - Midtown)
This charming film has really been making the festival circuit, appearing at Sundance, Methodfest, Atlanta, and Newport to name a few. The film follows the story of a woman and her eccentric brother, and what happens when she falls for another guy. Taking a look at the Love, Ludlow trailer, the film looks quite enjoyable and worth checking out. A side note: If you do miss (or fall in love with) Love, Ludlow, you will be able to catch it on DVD in December from Lightyear Entertainment. ( Trailer)

The Puffy Chair ( Friday 9/23, 11:45am - Midtown, and Friday 9/23, 2:15pm - Library
I vividly recall several people saying that they saw two films at Sundance with "Chair" in the title and loved them both. The two films they were referring to are The Green Chair (an erotic Asian film) and The Puffy Chair, which looks like a lighthearted and comedic documentary. This was one of the films I had on my long list to see at Sundance, but ultimately got cut from my schedule to make room for some of the other films I wanted to see. I'm quite happy to get another chance at The Puffy Chair here. (Puffy Chair Site)

The Real Dirt on Farmer John (Saturday 9/24, 9:00am - Midtown)
Good buzz accompanied The Real Dirt on Farmer John when it played the Slamdance film fest and it simply looks like a winner. The film looks at John Peterson and his transformation of a family farm into a zone of free expression and alternative farming. The Real Dirt of Farmer John is also playing with the short Down Dog, which looks like it'll be one of the more interesting shorts of the fest. (Real Dirt on Farmer John Site)

Docs I'm Looking Forward to Seeing

Last year BendFilm had the standout documentaries Farmingville and Born into Brothels. This year my money is on two docs which look like they could be highlights of the fest:

The Devil's Miner ( Saturday 9/24, 3:45pm - Library)
The Devil's Miner has scored quite well on the festival circuit. It debuted at Rotterdam (which is a GREAT fest) and won a nice award at Tribecca. The film documents the lives of two children who live and work around the mountain top Bolivian Silver Mine of Cerro Rico. While the children are devout Catholics, they believe it's Satan who holds their fate in the mine. The trailer for The Devil's Miner looks FANTASTIC and powerful! Really looking forward to this one. (Trailer)

Favela Rising (Saturday 9/24, 10:00am - Library, and Saturday 9/24, 9:00pm - Midtown)
Brazilian ex-drug trafficker turns to hip-hop and Afro-Brazilian dance to deal with the teenage drug armies and corrupt police! Another example of a documentary that looks more dramatic and exciting than anything anyone could do in the fiction space with this topic. Another strong trailer for a film that just looks fantastic. (Trailer)

Features I'm Looking Forward to Seeing

While the BendFilm fest may be strong on docs, it's a little light on narrative features. My hope is that in future years they expand the features section with more standout selections. Also quite notably missing from this space are any of the excellent selections of Asian films which have been wowing festival viewers across the country. I would have liked to have seen BendFilm show Kim Ki Duk's The Bow (a film completely unknown in the US) or Chuan Lu's amazing Kekexili: Mountain Patrol (which is on my top 10 list of films for 2005 despite still not getting any form of wide release) or even Chan-Wook Park's Sympathy For Lady Vengeance. Also a standout film like A History of Violence would have been a real tent pole for the fest. In any case there are a few features which have piqued my interest:

My Brother's Summer (L' Estate di mio fratello) ( Friday 9/23, 10:30 pm - Tower, and Saturday 9/24, 9:05pm - McMenamins)
The feature film debut of Pietro Reggiani comes to BendFilm from the 2005 Tribecca Film fest. "A frequent and inventive daydreamer, little Sergio learns from his parents that he will soon have a baby brother. With the help of his active imagination, he reenacts playtime with a fictional sibling and during a moment of anger imagines burning his little brother on the family barbecue. But when his mother suffers a miscarriage, little Sergio is overwhelmed with feelings of guilt; because he truly believes that his thoughts have killed his unborn brother." I know little about the film aside from this blurb on it. What drew me in to looking forward to the film was reading that Reggiani spent five years producing the film to get a flash-forward scene showing all the characters five years older. Any director who will wait five years to get the right shot will get a slot on my film fest schedule.

Satellite (Saturday 9/24, 12:50pm - Tower)
Director Jeff Winner's first effort You are Here* was a nice indie film but far from a real break out. Satellite, his sophomore effort, made the rounds at the Tribecca film fest with some nice buzz. The film follows a unique relationship between two people who decide to break free of societies rules to make their own. The trailer for the film sort of reminds me of an American indie version of the French film Love Me If You Dare. The film also stars Stephanie Szostak who looks like she's got a real strong screen presence. Satellite screens only once at BendFilm opposite both The Olive Harvest and In the Shadow of Bin Laden (which also only screen once) and it looks strong enough to be the best choice in that time slot. (Trailer)

Films I'll Probably Skip (and why)

As with any film fest you've got to make choices - sometimes these choices are tough, sometimes it's a no brainer. No matter what you do, you simply won't be able to see everything. So here are some of the films I'm skipping:

Slam (Saturday 9/24, 10:05pm - Tower)
This is by far the easiest elimination from my possible schedule at the fest. Slam was the darling of the festival circuit back in 1998 (winning the Grand Jury prize at Sundance and Camera d'Or at Cannes) and it's quite an enjoyable film, but it's been available on DVD for many years. Add to that the fact that it's playing against My Brother's Summer and Favela Rising, two films which I'm really looking forward to and it becomes an easy one to scratch from my list.

East of Sunset (Friday 9/23 2:50pm - Midtown)
I'm going to skip the East of Sunset screening because I've had the fortune of being able to check it out on DVD (and it's opposite Shakespeare Behind Bars). East of Sunset is an extremely well done film which follows the relationship between two 'broken' people; Carley pops pills and washes them down with booze to try to blot out the pain and suffering of losing her father and Jim toils with heroin as he struggles to find his way as a painter. A chance encounter between the two entangles their lives and forces them both to deal with their dependency on drugs and their reluctance to depend on others. The film is set to classic Tom Wait's songs, performed by contemporary indie bands which gives it a dreamy and stylized feel. Heather Miller's screenplay is sharp and focused, it never strays very far from the relationship between Carley and Jim (the real core of the film). Heather Miller avoids the trap of having way too much dialogue, enabling the actors to connect and communicate beyond the words on the page. Emily Stiles is spot in her performance of Carley, she is able to fill out the dimensionality of her character and show that angst and depression isn't just a one note performance. Jimmy Wayne Farley who plays Jim reminds me a lot of Billy Crudup in his early work and gives an equally fine performance. It's truly shocking that a film so compelling and so understated could come out of Los Angeles. First time director Brian McNelis and writer Heather Miller are certainly two people you'll want to follow and I eagerly await their next film. The DVD for East of Sunset gets released on DVD on 9/13 and has a bonus CD of the soundtrack. So if you fall in love with this film at BendFilm you'll be able to pick it up when you get home. Trailer)

The Roost (Saturday 9/24, 11:50pm - Midtown)
BendFilm has two late night screenings, both of them indie horror. Odds are I won't make them both, so I have to choose. The choice really comes down to a battle of the film trailers. The Roost seems to position itself more as a campy throwback zombie horror flick, while Reeker looks a lot more modern with much better production values. Add to that the fact that Dead and Breakfast is heading onto DVD this month (probably the category killer for campy indie horror flicks) and you've got a scratch from me for The Roost. (Trailer)

Happy Endings (Friday 9/23, 7:00pm - Tower)
I actually want to see Happy Endings. I wanted to see it at Sundance, but missed it. I missed the press screening in Portland when it played theatrically and missed it again when it opened in wide release. But when a film like this pops up in a fest like BendFilm you really have to ask yourself WHY you go to film fest, and the truth is, it isn't to see films like Happy Endings. Considering that playing opposite Happy Endings are Bound to Lose and Beauty Academy of Kabul, two films you might never have a chance to see anywhere else, it's hard to justify skipping great indie films for a film that'll hit DVD in just a few months. I'm going to see Happy Endings, believe me I REALLY want to. But not at BendFilm. (Trailer)

Final Thoughts

There are a ton of good films playing the 2005 BendFilm festival. With a focus more on docs than features, odds are the star of the fest will either be The Devil's Miner or Favela's Rising. My hope is that Police Beat will strike a chord and get some attention at the fest, and that strong entries like Shakespeare Behind Bars and My Brother's Summer will get noticed and advance beyond the festival circuit.

For a complete festival schedule check out the BendFilm web site

- Geoffrey Kleinman

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