Posted: 08/02/2004


Indiefest 2004

by Alexander Rojas

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Day One: Saturday, July 31st

So I missed Opening Night and the premiere of Lightning Bug. I’ll have to find time in the schedule to see it, but for now I’m sitting at a bar, the Green Mill, waiting to catch the Chicago premiere of Buttleman. After that screening I’m giving myself a two-hour break and heading to BW3 (best wings EVER!) to do some eating and Woodchuck drinking. After that, I’m returning to the Biograph theatre for the Chicago premiere of the Palestinian documentary Ford Transit. I’m really anticipating this one considering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a constant interest of mine. Alright, I have to finish my Sam Adams and watch the Cubs bat in the bottom of the 1st inning.
I’m still at the bar and the Cubs trail 4-3. Yeah, I know this has nothing to do with the festival, but I’m only minutes away of seeing Buttleman and my second Sam Adams is half-empty.

I’m now sitting in BW3. Does anybody work here? Did the Cubs win? And dear God why is “November Rain” hounding threw the speakers? I’m not a Roses fan, however I just finished watching Buttleman at the legendary Biograph theatre, but before I get to that film, two shorts opened up the screening:

Tommy Fake Hands (8min)
World Premiere
Director: Bill Baykan
Tommy walks to school wearing rubber gloves, irritating and frightening local mothers who think he must be involved in a cult or gang. This reoccupation with Tommy’s hands starts to get in the way of any action in the bedroom for the husbands of these concerned women. The husbands grow anxious and frustrated, causing them to take action into their own hands.

This short didn’t have much going for it. I didn’t laugh and it mostly felt flat.

Behind The Hypothetical Scenes (11min)
World Premiere
Director: Afton Grant
A filmmaker has no movie, yet he manages to make a behind the scenes featurette about this non-existent movie.

Behind The Hypothetical Scenes is a simple idea that pays-off very well. This short is a behind the scenes featurette that utilizes just about everything you would see in a featurette. Director Afton Grant, basically does everything on this short and accomplishes a hilarious job behind and in front of the camera explaining what could be and would happen if he had the resources to make a film. Now I await to see what he can do with an actual film.

Buttleman (97min)
Chicago Premiere
Director: Francis Stokes
Harold Buttleman is an aspiring Evil Kneivel with the heart for danger, but without the skills or talent to actually do dangerous stunt work. While his parents want him to move out of their basement and his girlfriend wants him to settle down, Harold blindly and passionately follows his dream, leading to a cable access show that might be the long awaited break he needs.

Although this film is said to be a dark comedy, I found it way too light hearted to be dark. However, it works as a light comedy and director Francis Stokes does a sufficient and steady job in putting together a sturdy cast that maintain the comic elements of the story. The last act starts off flat, but once Harold encounters an aging famous stuntman, the story begins to hit a somber, but touching moment that is carried to the very end. The last image of the film brings you closer to Harold than expected and you go away realizing just how much you actually cared for him.

Well, I’m done with my wings and I have to head out for the next screening I’m going to attend. I’m really looking forward to Ford Transit, perhaps more than any other film playing at this festival.

A Life for a Life (10min)
Chicago Premiere
Director: J. P. Pierce
In this film noir stylized short, a death row inmate comes across a last chance for freedom. However, his escape from prison comes with a twist.

This short was part of an ever-growing popularity of weekend filmmaking events. In the span of 48 ”m not completely sure) director J.P. Pierce and his group randomly selected the film noir genre to work off of and came up with this cleverly crafted homage to film noir.

Something Between Her Hands (17min)
Director: Sonya Shah
Shot in Cambodia, this documentary details the tragic culture of brothels and forced teenage prostitution that plagues the country.

Young girls now working in garment factories describe the events that led to their involvement in brothels and the terrible conditions they were forced to live in. What appears to be even sadder is that these young women either are sold into sex work or work at terribly underpaying garment factories. Most obviously choose the lesser of two evils.

Ford Transit (90min)
Chicago Premiere
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Shot in the West Bank region of the Middle Eat, a driver of a Ford minivan, Rajai, is documented as he transports passengers through the region. Along his routes, Israeli Army’s set up roadblocks, delaying motorists and passengers for hours. Within his minivan, we encounter an array of passengers with their own ideas about the state of their country and the issues that directly and indirectly affect them.

Rajai is one of the most interesting personalities I’ve come to see in film. The man has a great knowledge of working around the Israeli Army roadblocks and dealing with fellow Ford minivan drivers. From beginning to end, you wonder if he is just acting up for the camera, but by the end of the documentary, all the events that unfold take a toll on him and he, like many of his country men, has to deal with the everyday hardships of constant violence and destruction. What is fascinating about this documentary, are the views expressed by the passengers. Some of them express their anger and confusion towards the suicide bombings Palestinians conduct in Israel, while others justify the actions as a means against an oppressor. The topic of George Bush is addressed as well and one passenger expresses the shear feeling of terror Bush’s image brings to him. Ford Transit is one remarkable and enlightening film that hardly anyone in this country will watch, but should.

That’s it for my first day at IndieFest. Overall, it was a good showing of films and to cap off my night, I just heard my Cubbies acquired Nomar Garciaparra. Nommahhh!!!

August 3rd

Today I was going to take in two films back to back at the fest. The first one was at 12PM and the second one followed at 2PM. After nearly vomiting from the disgustingly hot day we had here in Chicago, I arrived at the Biograph a little before 12PM. As I tried to open the entrance door, I realized it was locked. I looked inside and I didn’t see anyone. By this point I imagined most people would just leave instead of waiting for the door to be unlocked while standing outside in the excruciating heat. I waited for a good twenty minutes and the doors remained locked. This seriously SUCKED. The screening I ended up missing was for the comical horror film The Creature from the Sunnyside Up Trailer Park. Maybe I’ll catch it during one of its other screenings on Sunday. However, my schedule is tight, so I can’t guarantee it. After this suckage of a moment I went next door to Clarke’s (24 hour diner) and escaped the heat while having a great lunch. Kudos to Clarke’s.

After my lunch, I returned to the Biograph for the 2PM screening of Most High. I was quite amazed to discover the entrance door to the theatre was finally open. It’s good to know my trek through in the Red Line during this heat blistering weather wasn’t a total waste of time. Two shorts opened up for Most High.

C’era Una Volta Un Re (10min)
Chicago Premiere
Director: Massimiliano Maveri
This short can be a mind twister if you’re not carefully paying attention. An argument between a couple starts where it ends and then roles change, but the conflict remains the same. It’s cleverly constructed with musical elements enhancing the experience. It is definitely worth repeating viewings.

Underground (11min)
Chicago Premiere
Director: Aimee Lagos
A woman, carrying a book bag, is chased throughout a subway by two men who are right on her heels. However, the men are not who you think they are and the woman is not just carrying a book bag.

The look of this short is gorgeous. The composition of shots and the lighting used to create the cold and somber appearance of the subway was the best use of cinematography I’ve seen so far in this festival. Director Aimee Lagos pulls off a short and effective thriller.

Most High (100min)
World Premiere
Director: Marty Sader
After losing the last thing that mattered anything to him, Julius no longer has the distractions in his life that prevent him from dealing with the true problem he suppresses. Julius has a deep void that has gone ignored long enough. He learns to fill the void with an estranged young woman who offers companionship and an escape through narcotics. Julius goes along with the new direction life leads him and soon finds himself caught up in a worse and destructive place than he had ever experienced before.

What simply is astounding about this film is the transforming performance by the filmmaker himself Marty Sader. From the beginning of the film, his approach is very laid back and subtle. This is a performance that makes you aware of characteristic details. Marty brilliantly plays off others and it shows in his reaction to specific characters. The tone of is performance adjusts at the right times and it doesn’t overshadow others, but helps to elevate them. Physically speaking, Marty is over six feet tall and at the beginning of the film he weighs about 260lbs. As his characters addiction to crystal meth begins to take a serious toll on him, Marty dramatically loses weight and from what I recall is at 130lbs. by the end of the film. The physical change his body goes through is astonishing. Marty Sader’s performance is reason enough to watch this film.

That’s it for me today. I’ll be back at the Biograph Theatre on Friday. Next up for should be Four Dead Batteries, Zen Noir and Suzuki Speaks.

Saturday, August 7

I returned to the fest on Saturday and got to watch a few new films. I missed 4 Dead Batteries unfortunately, but word on it has been very positive so I hope the best for director Hiram Martinez and the rest of his crew.

ReVision (8min)
Director: David Schwartz
Chicago Premiere
An optometrist with a unique visual appearance of the world meets a blind man who sees more than one realizes.

In this eye candy of a short film, shapes and colors make up overlapping landscapes that shift space and time. It’s a relatively simple story of a person who finds a way to look at the world with new eyes.

Suzuki Speaks (45min)
Director: Tony Papa
Chicago Premiere
Suzuki is a Canadian scientist/environmentalist who speaks out on the conditions of society and Earth, projecting ideas about interconnectedness and the human animal.

I can only describe the style of this film through comparisons to Godfrey Reggio’s documentaries and Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (loosely). Slick effects and animation visually portray the ideas Suzuki is stating. Although all the eye candy is great to look at, I can sit back and just listen to Suzuki talk. He makes correlations between the five elements we are made of, the economy of the world, time travel, etc. It’s a lot of information to retain in one viewing. I encourage repeat viewings.

Zen Noir (71min)
Director: Marc Rosenbush
Chicago Premiere
A detective investigates the mysterious death of a monk in a Buddhist temple.

The deliberately clichéd detective is hit or miss in each scene. Sometimes his impatient, witty demeanor plays off well when confronted by the Buddhist monk known as The Master, other times it becomes flat and tiring. Most of my interest went to the pleasant and entertaining performance of Kim Chan (The Master).

Adventures in Homeschooling (26min)
Director: Adam Dooley
Chicago Premiere
The Hemple house is not only a home, but also something of a private school. Although the “school” has maintained its operation for generations, it is now being threatened by an inspector from the Board of Education. The Hemple students will have to overcome great odds to save their school and graduate on time.

The concept is hilarious and the cast is made up of some serious funny folk (Dan Castellaneta, Mo Gaffney, Brian Posehn), however the film is weak with a few truly laughable moments. Brian Posehn’s cameo helps to pick up the film from completely dragging and the debate scene is the standout funniest scene of the film.

Sunday is the last day of the fest. I’ll finally get to see The Creature of the Sunnyside Up Trailer Park. Well, that is if the theatre unlocks their doors this time around. I’ll also have the announcement of the fest winners in my next post.

Sunday, August 8

It’s the last day of the fest. Overall, the films have been fairly good and everyone involved with IndieFest have been helpful and welcoming. What’s even better is that I finally got to see The Creature of the Sunnyside Up Trailer Park. Finally…

Route 10 (18min)
Director: Maryam Dalan
World Premiere
A hitchhiker passes through a desert town where a serial killer is on the loose and the women of the town are sexually charged.

For the exception of Most High, most of these films at this festival have supporting characters that are better written and acted than the main characters. Route 10 follows this trend. The hitchhiker is simply flat as a cardboard figure while everyone else around him has peculiar characteristics that standout among the main character. Director Maryan Dalan does an ample job of constructing a mini thriller with a great group of supporting characters. The young boy is a marvel to watch and so sincerely creepy.

The Creature of the Sunnyside Up Trailer Park (102min)
Director: Christopher Coppola
Chicago Premiere
Two racially dissimilar brothers, separated at birth, inherit a trailer park that their biological mother left to them. While both find their differences unsettling, they come to encounter an occult group that plans to use them for their sacrifice to a monstrous creature known as Bloodhead. The two brothers only have each other to survive in the trailer park.

This film plays at times like a horror parody, but the scenes of Bloodhead attacking people are truly grade A nasty. GROSTESQUE. It’s a shame there wasn’t more of Bloodhead at work. The production on this film is actually quite good and it plays a lot better than the direct to video horror films that congest Blockbusters shelves. Director Christopher Coppola made a total popcorn/action/fun movie that brings on lots of self aware humor and utilizes low budget action and effects to their full potential. And yes, he is an honorary member of the Coppola family by way of nephew to Francis and brother to Nicholas Cage.

Fest is over, here are the awards:

Screenwriting Market Award (not produced scripts)

3rd place
Good Buys, Bad Guys

2nd place
Sweet Home

1st place
Sea of Flower

Audience Award
Most High

Best Editing

Best Screenplay
4 Dead Batteries

Best Cinematography
Rick (Shot on HD, transferred to 35)

Best Actor
Marty Sader (Most High)

Best Actress
Debra Miller

Best Short

Best Director
Marty Sader (Most High)

Best Feature
Most High

Vision Award
Most High

That’s the end of IndieFest. Most High won just about everything and Marty Sader was one excited guy having to receive so many awards in one night.


That’s it for me at IndieFest. Thanks to Lee and Jennifer Alan for allowing me to take part in this event. Also thanks to everyone else involved with IndieFest and for the love of God please have the Biograph Theatre open up on time. It was SO DAMN HOT that day. Thanks guys, Bye.

Alexander Rojas is a Chicago screenwriter. He hates it when I call him Alex Rodriguez.

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