The Gen Art Film Festival is one of NYC’s coolest hidden treasures. Deviating from big budget Hollywood blockbusters and special effect extravaganzas, they shift their focus onto the heart and soul of independent film. The festival launched its 10th year from April 6-12, and displayed seven feature films and seven shorts that they felt were the cream of the crop.

The festival kicked off at the famous Ziegfeld Theater, a movie palace from the 1960s. After opening night, the screenings continued at Clearview West Cinemas in Chelsea. When I arrived at the event, I witnessed a lengthy ticket line going around the block, filled with a young trendy-looking crowd. Fortunate enough to bypass the endless queue, I approached the sign-in booth at the front of the theater to acquire a press pass. The lady behind the counter scrutinized me, cocking an eyebrow, uncertain if I really belonged there. Jokingly, I chimed in, “Hey, I know I look 12, but I really am on the list.” She laughed, verified, and permitted me inside.

As soon as I arrived, I felt like I had left earth and stumbled onto another planet. There was a red carpet to my left, with a handsome young man posing and being photographed. I mistakenly thought I was standing in line to get into the screening room, when I noticed a row of jittery men alongside of me, accompanied by bulky camera equipment. “Oops, paparazzi alert!” I exclaimed to myself. Darting past them, I finally made my way into the theater. It was huge, classy, and glamorous, filled with red seats and gold curtains.

When the event began, Kevin Bacon came up to the front of the auditorium to introduce his theatrical directorial debut Loverboy. He was wearing a jean jacket and sporting a shaggy hairdo, looking adorable as always. He spoke about how he had first seen Apocalypse Now at the Ziegfeld Theater, and how it was an honor to show the NY premiere of his movie at the same venue. He mentioned how his wife, Kyra Sedgwick (star of Loverboy) is a shopaholic, and was handed the book in the dressing room of a store. “You should star in this movie, and have your husband direct it,” suggested a random lady. They took the book home, had multiple orgasms over it, and the rest is history.




THE FEATURES


Loverboy - April 6th
Directed by: Kevin Bacon
Starring: Kyra Sedgwick, Kevin Bacon, Matt Dillon, Marisa Tomei, Campbell Scott, Dominic Scott Kay, Blair Brown, Oliver Platt, Sandra Bullock.

“I never wanted a house, never wanted a husband; what I wanted with every cell of my body was a baby.”

“Most people can physically be parents, but not everyone should exercise this biological right. In fact, potential parents should be actively screened before being permitted to procreate. If they pass an all-encompassing mental health test and show abundant signs of competency, then give them a license, and they can bring yet another human being into the overpopulated world. While this declaration may seem harsh and naturally, tongue-in-cheek, movies like Loverboy make me think the idea may have some validity behind it.”
[Read the rest of my Loverboy review HERE.]


It’s All Gone Pete Tong – April 7th
Written & Directed by: Michael Dowse
Starring: Paul Kaye, Mike Wilmot, Beatriz Batarda, Kate Magowan, and Pete Tong as himself.

“This is like all of the terrors and horrors of the world raining down on your skull.”

Brief Summary: What do you do when the most beloved thing in your life is ripped away from you? Frankie Wilde is a famous DJ, spending his hours mixing music, having orgies, and indulging in an infinite supply of drugs. The simple guilty pleasures of life are laid out in a smorgasbord in front of him and he lacks the discipline to decline any of it. The consequences surface when he discovers that the endless partying and incessant club noises have resulted in his incurable deafness. The party is over and all he has to show for it is a massive hangover and complete silence.

Diagnosis: It’s All Gone Pete Tong is my favorite film of the festival, successfully portraying the life of a man who lost it all and strived to gain it back. Filled with electronic beats, eccentric hallucinations, and documentary techniques, Dowse invites us into his artistic world and we welcome the visit. Paul Kaye turns in an award-worthy performance, which I predict will shamefully receive the shaft by the Academy during Oscar season.

Director Q&A: During a special Independent Film Panel called “The Independent Minds”, Moderator and Gen Art Film Festival Director Jeffrey Abramson interviews a few of the filmmakers involved in the festival. Among them is writer/director Mr. Dowse himself. Here are (paraphrased) segments from his interview:

Q: How did you become a filmmaker?
Dowse: I grew up obsessed with SCTV and British Comedy. I was a student of comedy, but I got sidetracked with sports, playing football. I gave it up, and instead became the guy filming friends throwing up at parties.

Q: What inspires you creatively?
Dowse: The film Man Bites Dog. I dabbled in acting and I’m inspired by still photography, music, and good comedy. My biggest education ever was working as a doorman in a comedy club for 2 years. I can’t really give you a “bag in the wind” (American Beauty) story for inspiration.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your film?
Dowse: It’s All Gone Pete Tong is a true story about how DJ Frankie Wilde abused his skill and it led to his downfall. I am always obsessed with characters that are beautiful assholes, but yet you love them. The classic example of that is Emmett Ray from Sweet & Lowdown.

I like how you can use sound to tell a story, and not just as filler. It allows you to push the medium in some way, by creating a tactile response with the audience, to drive home and touch people by use of sound. Also, by taking the sound away and seeing what affect that has on people.


Q: When are you most creative?
Dowse: After I’ve left the editing room, gotten a cigarette, and a bite to eat. When my brain is relaxing, I am able to be most creative.

Q: What are some of your favorite TV shows or comedians?
Dowse: I am a huge Curb Your Enthusiasm fan. I also like Arrested Development, and think that Dave Chappelle is a genius.

Q: What do you think is great in the world?
Dowse: What happened in the Ukraine over Christmas.


Four Eyed Monsters – April 10th
Written & Directed by: Susan Buice & Arin Crumley
Starring: Susan Buice & Arin Crumley

“These four eyed monsters (couples), wrapped around each other in self adoration; looking at you like you want to be one of them.”

Brief Summary: Two NYC artists, shy and introverted, are not having much luck meeting people of the opposite sex. So they turn to the next logical step for romantic connections in the 21st century—the Internet. They become acquainted through Meetster.net, and after a period of pussyfooting, they finally meet for a date. To avoid the banality of most relationships, they decide to write to one another on their date instead of speaking. While Arin feels this will keep their relationship fresh and honest, after a while Susan starts to realize that she is dating a complete freak with zero social abilities and unyielding paranoia. Will the two be able to have a functional connection outside of the contours of cyberspace?

Diagnosis: The most interesting thing about the film is that Susan and Arin, a real life couple, created this product themselves. They wrote, directed, and starred in the experimental picture. What makes it unique is that they intertwine real and fictionalized footage, including funny interviews with real NYC people talking about relationships and sex. They also include animated segments to playfully personify real situations, similar to stick-figure theater from Liquid TV (does anyone else remember this fantastically deranged show besides me?) The strongest element of the film is its acute sense of humor, which unfortunately starts to dwindle as the second half of the film approaches. But it’s a promising debut from a sarcastic and creative duo.

Director Q&A: More fun-filled Independent Film Panel Paraphrasing, with Susan and Arin:

Q: What inspires you creatively?
Arin: I am inspired by music more than anything else. I’ve devoted every waking moment to playing music from age 15, trying to learn every Nirvana song. We both like the movie Schizopolis, because it tries to be unusual as its main goal.

Susan: I went to art school, and then questioned why. Art is about communication, and movies reach a larger audience. I was making crude videos at first, didn’t know what I was doing.

Q: What encouraged you to make this movie?
Arin: The voyeuristic quality of the Internet-- where the minute you start looking online for someone to date, it becomes a portal and you know everything about them, without their knowledge. Like in NY, you see everything, like someone jerking off in a window. We took this individual story and constantly checked in with the rest of NYC. It started off as an idea to make a documentary about NYC, and then the good things about the documentary went into this movie.

Susan: To try and figure out what relationships are about. You take these struggling creative types, too shy to date, and they decide to handle awkwardness on their first date by writing notes.

Q: When are you most creative?
Arin: Has to be after midnight. The middle of the night is great because there are no distractions.

Susan: In transit, not looking or thinking of ideas and they come to you. I like to start the creative process without many ideas and then things come to you in the room.

Q: Your film deals with the Internet. Are there any real websites that stand out in your mind?
Arin (clearly disturbed by the discovery): I saw a website featuring an adorable bunny rabbit. Then the people announced, “Once we reach $50,000, we will kill it. Click here to donate!” They were up to $35,000 already.

Susan: I don’t really frequent websites too often. I like to check the weather.

Q: What makes you happy?
Susan: Music being easy to download. It’s cheaper and more accessible.

Arin: What she said. Also that indie films are getting better.


Standing Still – April 12th
Directed by: Matthew Cole Weiss
Starring: Jon Abrahams, Mena Suvari, Adam Garcia, Ethan Embry, Amy Adams, Colin Hanks, Aaron Stanford, James Van Der Beek.

“I’ve known this sorry excuse for a man my whole life; he’s my best friend.”

Brief Summary: A group of college buddies come together four years after graduation for a wedding celebration. They are pretty much the same fraternity boys and sorority girls they were in college, except now they can afford to buy their own beer and strippers. Michael (Garcia) and Elise (Adams) are the soon-to-be-married couple, Rich (Stanford) and Samantha (Sagemiller) experience mid 20’s monogamy blues, Pockets (Abrahams) is addicted to hookers, Lana (Suvari) has male issues and may switch teams entirely, Quentin (Hanks) is a ruthless agent with an affinity for minors, and Simon (Van Der Beek) is a Hollywood actor stud-muffin. Throw them together and you have a weekend of awkward confrontations, twenty-something breakdowns, and naturally, tons of sex.

Diagnosis: Standing Still is a combination of The Big Chill and a WB episode (take your pick of shows, they’re all pretty much the same). It is filled with all-American gorgeous people partying and living it up, basically bragging “Look how much fun we’re having, and you’re not.” I can’t say I was too big of a fan of this film. For starters, there are so many characters that I couldn’t really distinguish one from another. When you exhibit such an overbearing crowd of characters, none of them end up having more than one dimension. The title ‘Standing Still’ represents their inability to grow up from the college days, and move forward. The title ‘Sideways’ has the same ramifications, except it’s a much better film.




THE SHORTS


Now that I’ve given you a rundown of the features, it’s only right to include the short films too. But since they are short in length and right to the point, the reviews of them will be in the exact same format. (In other words: a truly lazy choice on my part, masquerading as a clever one.)

The Act
Filmmakers: Susan Kraker & Pi Ware


Brief Summary: Rosy Marconi (“That 70’s Show”) plays a stand-up comedian making fun of her lazy, inactive husband. “Can a man make laziness a religion?” she asks her audience, who burst into uproarious laughter. And it’s true, her husband is immobile, but for different reasons than she implies. He is sick and bedridden, with medication piled everywhere alongside of him. The short ends with her husband asking, “So how was I tonight?” and her responding with a smile, “They hated you.”

Moral Of The Story: Laughing at the handicapped does not buy you a seat in Heaven. But it may help pay the utility bills.

Wow and Flutter
Filmmaker: Gary Lundgren

Brief Summary: David is a typical 14-year-old boy, scrawny and fond of blasting music in his room. He is also madly in love with the pretty and popular girl of his school, Amber. As a way to express his feelings for her, he creates a mix tape called “To Amber: Music for a Lifetime”. His parents think he is spending too much time in his room obsessing over music, so they decide, rather psychotically, to set his records on fire. Luckily, Amber’s tape is hidden during the fire and he is able to give it to her. She thanks him by kissing him on the cheek-- the holy grail of young preteen fantasies.

Moral Of The Story: If you can’t get laid, listen to music by those who can.

Allison
Filmmaker: Jeff Drew

Brief Summary: Jeff is crazy about his wife Allison. The only issue is that she happens to be a plastic doll clocking in at 10 inches high. But his love for her is so strong that he can overlook this factor. He brags that their “sex life is great”, showing pictures of her posing explicitly on the bed. The plot thickens when he sees duplicates of her in stores with other men, and is overcome with jealousy. They grow silent and distant and their love subsides (at least on his end--she can’t vocalize her side of the story without a mouth).

Moral Of The Story: Love your dolls, just don’t love your dolls.

Our Time Is Up
Filmmaker: Rob Pearlstein

Brief Summary: Kevin Pollack plays a therapist named Dr. Leonard Stern. He has always treated his patients with tact and respect, but years later they are still coming back for counseling, neurotic as ever. When he finds out that he is dying and has 6 weeks to live, he comes up with a new means of treatment: extreme unwavering honesty. His patients range from turtle phobics to misogynistic bed hoppers. Cutting the crap, he tells them all the brutal truth about their issues, leading them to finally see the light.

Moral Of The Story: Telling your patients the truth is a good idea. Just make sure you’re not treating them for suicidal tendencies.




FINAL THOUGHTS


That concludes my experience at the Gen Art Film Festival. You can learn more about the organization at GenArt.org. I had a great time at the Festival and encourage you all to go next year and support the independent filmmaking community.

Jury & Audience Feature Award:
It’s All Gone Pete Tong by Michael Dowse. ($10,000 prize).

Jury & Audience Short Award:
Victoria Para Chino by Cary Fukunaga ($5,000 prize).

Feature Films I Missed:
Up For Grabs
Southern Belles
On The Outs

See you all in 2006!

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