The following six mini-reviews were pulled together from a series published in the Thursday "Prospector" of The Union newspaper, leading up to the eighth Nevada City Film Festival. "Al's Beef," "American / Sandinista," "El Hilo de Oro," "Feelings and Stuff," "For a Few Marbles More," and "Gandhi at the Bat" are all short films. The dates indicate the date of initial publication. The series also included a review of the feature length "Twelve" (a compilattion of shorts) on July 31, 2009 plus a retrospective of the festival on Aug 21.
Al's Beef (July 24)
"Al's Beef" is not for everybody, even in an independent film festival crowd, but it surely will be a big hit with many.
Start with a thick foundation of homage to Clint Eastwood's early Westerns. Mix an irreverent and ridiculous story with effective tweaks to stereotypical character parts. Stir in the well-worn know-how of a recognizable Hollywood veteran and the disproportionate confidence of an unknown female lead. She's very appealing despite and because of the absurd seriousness the script puts her through.
A bloodstained woman makes quite an entrance into a sparse desert town. She's got a score to settle. She dispenses with Wild West riff-raff. She establishes a somehow respectful rapport with the sheriff.
"Al's Beef" is grade A ... if you eat that kind of meat.
American / Sandinista (July 24)
"American / Sandinista" is an excellent, poised documentary about Americans working in war ravaged Nicaragua in the 1980s. Could a juggling unicyclist with clown paint on his face, a civilian American helping to bring electricity to impoverished rural areas, be a just military target? Apparently, yes, if he is seen as complicit in a "communist reign of terror." (Electricity in a health clinic = a terrorist component.) It must be just if a United States President assured, "there will be no Soviet beachhead in Central America" and that clown and the civilians he is helping are at odds with the President's global influence.
If you can't help but think about war, see "American / Sandinista." This 30-minute film is a grounded and substantive way to shine enlightenment on war.
El Hilo de Oro (Jul 24)
"El Hilo de Oro" means "The Golden Thread" in Spanish. Just to cause trouble, I predict that women are going to love this twenty-minute film. I predict that sensitive men (of which there are many) will roll their eyes at the intangible connection shared by the two women in this film. However, they will appreciate the creatively economical way their stories are interwoven.
One woman searches for strength to redirect the course of her dead-end family life. Another woman searches for courage to resurrect emotional normalcy after having it cut out of her. It is a lovely film that bridges some of the difficult terrain of love.
Feelings and Stuff (Aug 14)
"Feelings and Stuff," dorky and peculiar, manages to be a nice little romance. Actually very dorky and very peculiar, this imaginative 12 minutes of boy-meets-girl fits perfectly into the spirit of independent film festival opportunity.
A nerdy young man, who finally got the hint that he no longer had a girlfriend, stands paleskinned and scared at the edge of a diving platform at a community pool. A nerdy young woman, pale skinned and engaging, shows up on the platform. It gives little away to say that a six-foot-tall koala bear, along with a couple other offbeat manifestations, figures prominently in the charming randomness of this script.
For a Few Marbles More or Voor een Knikkers Meer (Aug 14)
"Voor een Knikkers Meer" means "For a Few Marbles More" in Dutch. This one of many international entries doesn't map itself to Clint Eastwood's "For a Few Dollars More." What this 11-minute film does is pit four kids against a couple of adult bullies who kick them out of their playground. And it's going to cost these preteens a tidy bunch of marbles to pay for some courage.
From the opening credits throughout the downbeat setting, the tone is humorously heavy. The parents in the film are too preoccupied. It's all up to the kids. "Voor een Knikkers Meer" is the opposite of important filmmaking. It is a crafty little bit of entertainment.
Gandhi at the Bat (Aug 14)
"Gandhi at the Bat" commits fully to its simple absurdity. This 11-minute "mockumentary" uncovers long-suppressed footage of Mohandas Gandhi's 1933 visit to Yankee Stadium.
Sign on to the fun. It's all mildly cute and clever and pseudo-nostalgic. Effective fakery renders newsreel-style reporting, including interactions with famous baseball players of yesteryear. Not engaged enough merely by being a spectator, the "Nabob of Non-violence" wants a turn at bat.
Babe Ruth coaches Gandhi before he shuffles to home plate. Before the credits roll, with its string of concept-extending tidbits, you'll see the great Mahatma in one of the most historic climaxes never to have happened in the annals of baseball.