Saturday, March 12, 2005

DAY ONE: The Good, The Bad and Digital Video

As often happens, plans went awry, and I ended up seeing a different film than I intended Friday. After seeing at the Convention Center, I arrived at the Paramount Theatre a full hour early hoping to get in on the world premiere of The Wendell Baker Story, but the film pass line had already wrapped halfway around the block. I was told the film badge line (conference attendees who get priority seating) was the same length, and wrapped around the other side of the block.

Long story short, I didn't get in. So I went to the Dobie and saw a much smaller premiere, but one that well made up for all the previous disappointments. *1/2
Written, directed, produced, photographed and edited by a single man - Jason Tomaric - is quite a technical achievement and is indicative of the growth of affordable digital video technology. It was shot for only $25,000, and includes some fairly good CG special effects.

But this science fiction epic fails horribly at connecting with the audience in any tangible way. The digital photography was just plain bad, trying to get away with more than the medium (most likely mini-DV) could handle, and the audio recording was spotty too (though some of this could have been the presentation). A film like this can still work with characters and story that are compelling enough. But the script is horribly dry, and the actors were just doing the best they could with it.

The structure of the plot is hardly existent. It is narrated (in an annoying, post-apocalyptic, "this is how it all happened" sort of way), by Derek Stromburgh, chancellor of New Athens, one of many cities reestablished after a global nuclear war. This was the first mistake: the character is also the closest thing to an antagonist in the movie, a man who is willing to sacrifice thousands of unwilling people to find one who's genetic structure will somehow magically be "the one" who can be cloned into a perfect human race to survive the nuclear holocaust. Whatever.

Meanwhile, other characters take the stage for sections of the film, even though later in the film we discover the precedings are all supposed to be memories. Little more can I say without giving anything away, but the film relies on too many sci-fi stereotypes and cliches that have already been done in Hollywood with budgets to do them right. What's the point in a low-budget version of a Hollywood B-movie?

Deadroom ***1/2 (+)
Also shot on mini-DV, and for very little money, this film not only takes some major risks, but succeeds and is haunting in ways I've never seen before in film.

Four filmmakers each wrote and directed their own section of the film; the four sections were then weaved together. Each section takes place with just two characters in a single, sparsely-decorated room. One of the characters is dead and one of the characters is alive. The film metaphorically asks: if you could speak to someone who's dead, who would it be and what would you ask?

The four sections contrast boldly, from cute, humorous, emotional and tense, and yet they still - by what has got to be sheer cinematic miracle - blend together seamlessly into a compelling poem.

This was the film's world premiere. I was in the front row of the tiny Egyptian room of the Dobie theatre. All four directors (James M. Johnston, Nick Prendergast, Yen Tan, and David Lowry) were in attendance for Q&A. They and most of the cast are from Dallas, and shot the film in just 9 days: enough time for only one or two takes for each shot. The performances from all of the cast still are quite amazing.

Hopefully, this title will become available in the future, because it deserves to be seen. Special mark (+) for highly original presentation.


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