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BendFilm 2006 : Bend Film Festival Preview
Hi, My name is Geoffrey Kleinman and I'm a recovering Film Fest addict. It's been several months since my last film festival and after swearing off most film festivals I'm hopping in my car and driving three and a half hours to a little Central Oregon resort town called Bend. Now for you to understand why a recovering Film Fest addict is breaking his self imposed ban on film fests to go to Bend, you have to understand a little about why I've sworn them off.

Flash back to 2001. I had been running DVD Talk for three years and for some reason or another I got it into my head that I was going to go to Sundance. My planning was horribly last minute, trip completely insane, but the rewards were great. I got to discover films like Memento, Donnie Darko, The Road Home and The American Astronaut. I reveled in the opportunity to sit with filmmakers and stars to just chat about their films and film making. Now flash forward five years to the 2006 Swagdance film fest... Wait I mean the 2006 Sundance Film Fest. Now after 5 years of fest going, some big, some small I come to the intersection of film fest love and film fest loathing. My planning for the fest was no less chaotic than it had been 5 years earlier, but my experience couldn't have been more different.

Gone were the opportunities to actually interact with film makers about their films. Informal chats at the back of the theater after a show were replaced by rigidly scheduled (and often) canceled interviews. Lines to get into movies that would open in theaters just days later wrapped around the block and more people were there to 'star fuck' or grab swag then celebrate movies (I'm still in shock that many screenings at Sundance had a red carpet press line). I realized that things had completely changed for the worse when it was easier for me to get into the big Beastie Boys party for the film Awesome I Fucking Shot That than see the film itself.

My 2006 Sundance experience isn't isolated. More and more I'm hearing from friends and colleagues about how the film fest circuit has become one big long promotional tour for 'independent' studio pictures to get some word of mouth going, get that little fest seal for the DVD and throw big parties with even bigger swag bags.

For me, a film fest is about the films and the film makers. I'm more a fan of discovering films I never knew existed than getting an ego boosting chance to see a film several months before its wide release. So that's why I'm hopping in my car for a three and a half hour scenic drive to the middle of a state no one would ever think of as the epicenter of film.

Last year at BendFilm I was pleased to discover a number of films that simply weren't on my radar screen. From one of my favorite films of 2005 The Puffy Chair to the crowd pleasing The Real Dirt on Farmer John BendFilm was a fest where I made a ton of new discoveries and spent a lot of great time speaking with and ultimately getting to know filmmakers.

For 2006 I was fortunate enough to get a number of the films in advance to check out for this preview piece. Going through the list of films I was surprised at just how many I had never heard of. Sure there are a couple of familiar faces in the crowd (including Sherrybaby which debuted at Sundance and The Trials of Darryl Hunt which has made its way to a number of festivals) but those few are greatly outnumbered by films waiting to be discovered.

Here's a look at just a handfull of films showing at this year's BendFilm fest (running Oct 12 - 15)

Pirate Radio USA - an extremely interesting and well done documentary, Pirate Radio USA is the autobiographical work of Jeff Pearson and Mary Jones (aka DJ Him and Her) who document the world of Pirate Radio from the inside out. Following the struggles of a very dedicated and passionate group of individuals literally fighting to exercise their right to be heard, Pirate Radio USA looks at the freedom speech from a completely different angle. Done in a very light and fun tone Pirate Radio USA feels on some levels like it could be the Super Size Me for the communications world. Just when you think you've got the film figured out though, it changes. The fight for the right to be heard morphs into a greater independent media concern as Pirate Radio broadcasters and protesters come face to face with riot police at the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. I love this documentary, it succedes as both entertainment and education. Pirate Radio USA immerses you into a world you probably never knew existed and makes you care about the people involved. This is a film not to miss.

Dance Party, USA - What are the odds of having two films which end in USA in the same three day fest? Dance Party, USA is horribly mis-titled. The film is completely different than anything that the title would evoke in your mind. But don't hold a less than perfect title against this fantastic film. Dance Party, USA is a very somber and lyrical look at relationships and how people on the brink of adulthood struggle to connect with each other. Shot in Portland, Oregon it has some strong stylistic links to Gus van Sant (Last Days and Elephant) but on a much more accessible level. Featuring some truly phenomenal and completely subtle performances, including the entrancing Anna Kavan and the spot-on-perfect Cole Pennsinger (shockingly this is both of their debut films), Dance Party USA is an intense and magnificent film that you'll want to see at least twice.

Trout Grass - I have to admit I really have no interest in fly fishing. I've never seen the allure of it (excuse the pun) and have never really had a desire to try it. I'll be damned if noted author David James Duncan (The River Why) doesn't manage to somehow make fly fishing seem like one of the most fulfilling and amazing thing on earth. Following the journey of the 'split cane bamboo rod' from a little area of China (where the bamboo is grown and harvested) to the rivers of Montana, Trout Grass is an enchanting documentary that takes you on a journey few have ever been on. Trout Grass is a 'small' film, it never tries to break off more than it can chew, and it is remarkable in how it continuously keeps its focus on the personal an intimate story of the film. David James Duncan succeeds in turning something I had little interest into something that truly captivated me.

10 Questions for The Dalai Lama Rick Ray, a noted travel documentarian takes things to the next level as he documents his own journey to meet with one of the world's most respected and revered religious leaders. Through personal travelogue and an examination into the troubled past of Tibet, Rick Ray paints a stunning and complex look at one of the last great living voices for peace. By looking beyond his meeting with the Dalai Lama and looking at the bigger picture, Ray ups the ante of the film and provides a much deeper understanding on just how important the Dalai Lama is to the world. When Rick Ray does finally get to ask his 10 questions, they are really good and insightful questions, and as you'd expect it's a real thrill to hear the Dalai Lama respond. 10 Questions for the Dali Lama is a treat for anyone with even the most remote interest in the Dalai Lama or whose geopolitical view extends beyond front page headlines.

Chalk - I can't express how sick I am of films which use the faux documentary style to tell a comedic story. I really feel that NBC's The Office has so mastered this style that it's impossible to follow. This is why about ten minutes into Chalk I was ready to switch it off and move on to something else. But I didn't.... and I am glad I didn't. Much more than a "ME TOO" mocumentary, Chalk takes a genre which has quickly become overdone and revitalizes it, showing that drama and well drawn characters are just a viable as lampoons and charactures. Chalk so well defines the world of teachers in a Texas school, that I was a little disappointed when it ended, it could easily have been the pilot for a series I'd gladly watch. Another example of how a good film can change the way you see an entire genre.

Eve and the Fire Horse - An extremely personal and beautiful film, Eve and The Firehorse follows the clash of cultures and religions in the late sixties in Vancouver. Told from the perspective of two young girls the film weaves adolescent fantasies with real world tragedy and muses on the impact and effect of religion on immigrant families. The cast all deliver strong performances under the expert direction of Julia Kwan and breath taking visuals by cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc. The performances by the two lead girls is so strong it's reason enough to see Eve and The Firehorse.

Beyond the films I previewed for the fest, I am really looking forward to John Waters: The Filthy Word (John Waters will be in Bend with the film), Backseat - a film which won accolades at the Austin Film fest and which has been described as Sideways without the wine, Squonkumentary - a look at a production from Pittsburgh that challenged people's perceptions of what theater is, Forgiven - a political thriller that debuted at Sundance but got lost in the shuffle there, Nicky's Birthday Camera - I couldn't find a single thing about this film online aside from its IMDB page, but something's telling me I should check it out and Under The City - John Heard is one of the most underrated actors out there, and I'll see pretty much any film he's in.

Films I'll probably skip: Ellektra - the film has been floating around since 2004 and after playing 2005 slamdance film fest and getting pretty mixed reviews, with lots of films to chose and only 3 days to see films I'll be skipping Ellektra. Johnny Was - the film is already out on DVD and while it looks interesting, it's hard to justify seeing a film that I could turn around and rent when I get home (Same is true for The Virgin of Juarez which hits DVD 10/17). Sherrybaby - missed it at Sundance and missed it on its limited release here in Portland, it looks good but again this is a film I KNOW will be coming to DVD soon, so I'll catch it there.

The great thing about going to a film fest with so many undiscovered gems is that it's hard to make a bad choice. It's easier to skip a film that becomes the buzz of the fest than catch a turkey of a film. And one of the great things about BendFilm is that they block out the entire day on Sunday to unspool the best films from the fests.

Here are some additional resources to do your own BendFilm festival planning:
Art from The Streets
Asparagus! (A Stalk-umentary)
The Chances of the World Changing
Forgiven
Inside
Jack Mitchell: My Life Is Black and White
Modern Love
Nicky's Birthday Camera
Puppy The Movie
The Slanted Screen
Squonkumentary
Under The City
Walking to Wener
and of course The BendFilm Fest Official Site

- Geoffrey Kleinman

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