On a Roll 

The Memphis International Film Festival marks its third year.

According to Lisa Bobal, spokesperson for the Memphis Film Forum (MFF), this year's Memphis International Film Festival is going to be bigger and better than ever. So let's look at the numbers: It's the forum's third year to host the four-day festival, which this year will showcase nearly 40 films that were chosen from the largest number of entries the forum has received yet.

Another important figure: one, as in one venue. In the past, the forum has shown its entries at venues far and wide, from the Ridgeway theater to the Memphis College of Art. This year, all films will be screened at Malco's Studio on the Square, and the French Quarter Suites will serve as the official host hotel for the directors, writers, actors, and producers who are making their way to Memphis. The idea is to inject the festival with a communal atmosphere typical of larger festivals such as Sundance. "Everyone will be walking around and talking to one another," says Bobal, clearly excited by the possibilities.

One of the more prestigious films featured will be Promises, a documentary on Israeli and Palestinian children, which was nominated for an Oscar this year.

The festival will include free seminars at Playhouse on the Square, covering such aspects of filmmaking as pitching your films to studios and dealing with legal issues.

Below is a look at some of the films showing at the 2001 Memphis International Film Festival, which will run from Thursday, April 4th, to Sunday, April 7th. Four-day priority passes can be purchased at Nomadic Notions in Overton Square for $60. Passes include admission to all shows and a Saturday night party at Palm Court. Individual show tickets are $5 per ticket. Party tickets are $10. For a complete schedule and other information, go to MMF's Web site at www.memphisfilmforum.org. n

-- Lesha Hurliman

Last Ball

Peter Callahan, U.S.

2001, 96 minutes

Showing 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 4th, followed by Q&A with filmmakers and cast; also showing midnight Saturday, April 6th

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Matthew Martin, U.S.

2001, 14 minutes

Showing noon Saturday, April 6th

Mergers and Acquisitions

Mitchell Bard, U.S.

2001, 90 minutes

Showing noon Sunday, April 7th

Have you noticed the recent glut of war films in wide release? You can consider angst to be the war of the Memphis International Film Festival. The three films above share that trait in their heroes. They are mopey and bewildered by the way their lives have turned out. They're a bit pissed and their brains are sore with disappointment. And each discovers that he did the digging of his own particular hole.

Last Ball, the best of the three and the MIFF's opening film, follows Jim, a soulful-looking young man who is rotting away in a small town across the river from New York. As told in flashbacks, Jim works his way through an affair with a married woman, finally realizing that to have something meaningful he must do something meaningful first. A very sincere, well-acted, sometimes funny film.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. has a sympathy-straining lead character. He's a dwarf who refuses to ask for any help ever. This is a film that's bigger than its 14 minutes: Where did this man come from? How did he and his wife meet? What will happen next?

The somewhat stiff Mergers and Acquisitions has to have an almost-unlikable protagonist and dares to admit it. Trade-magazine writer Del, like Jim of Last Ball, is spinning his wheels. When he does decide to get a move-on, he picks a path with a gigantic ethical pothole. -- Susan Ellis

Mrs. William Dixon

Elizabeth Edwards, U.S.

2001, 8 minutes

Showing 2 p.m. Friday, April 5th

Okay, there's nothing more fun than watching a woman pretend she lives in a snow globe instead of her stark, expensive, tragically clean home with a cold, unaffectionate husband and teenage son to match. Written and directed by Elizabeth Edwards, this film is about a very lonely housewife who, for whatever reason, has lost all self-esteem and spends her long days obsessing about the lack of attention she is receiving from her family. The snow globe, which was once an escape fantasy, becomes a drowning nightmare which ultimately leaves her hopelessly banging away at the walls of the globe, trying to get the attention of an oblivious husband and son. Something's got to give, and it's not going to be pretty. -- Lesha Hurliman

Blonde

Elizabeth Bache, U.S.

2001, 11 minutes

Showing 4 p.m. Friday, April 5th

In this contemporary retelling of the Cinderella story, Anne is an endearing, though much-maligned, brunette. She feels invisible in a world where looks are everything and the only look that counts is blond. Enter her fairy godmother, in the form of Martin, an old friend who just happens to be the editor of the Cosmo-esque Look magazine. After Martin boldly proclaims "Blond Is Dead" on Look's cover, every blonde in America is racing out to dye her hair. There's not a towhead in sight. With the help of a wig, Anne may finally have a chance to become the belle of the ball and live happily ever after. Blonde is a fresh take on an old fairy tale and a charming look at wish fulfillment and the joys of getting even. -- Mary Tarsi

American Coffee

Andy Gose, U.S.

2001, 17 minutes

Showing 4 p.m. Friday, April 5th

This campy satire turns the cliché of a heartless corporation into a comic-book fight of good vs. evil. Wendy Brighton is the heir to a mom-and-pop coffee shop. However, when worldwide coffee chain B.L. Zeebucks buys out her folks, Wendy must go undercover to rescue her best friend, Marcy, who has been kidnapped by the company C.E.O., Lew Seeferman. Problem is, Lew also happens to be the devil. American Coffee vacillates between silly and clever, particularly in the final showdown between Wendy and Lew's evil gang, which includes the likes of Fidel Castro and Ronald McDonald. Despite the rather predictable ending, the film is amusing and sometimes more, leaving audiences to wonder if they are indeed selling their souls one cup of five-dollar coffee at a time. -- MT

There's a Man In the Habit Of Hitting Me On the Head With an Umbrella

Jon Worley, U.S.

2001, 4 minutes

Showing 4 p.m. Friday, April 5th

If ever a film delivered exactly what its title promised, it's There's a Man In the Habit Of Hitting Me On the Head With an Umbrella. It's a story about a nameless everyman who, for three years, is hit on the head with an umbrella by a stranger. It seems to be an existential tale. At least that's what the voice-over narration seems to imply, repeatedly stating that even getting hit over the head with an umbrella can become a meaningful way to live after one becomes accustomed to it. However, the off-screen commentary does little but state the obvious and feels about as subtle as, well, getting hit over the head with an umbrella. -- MT

Dischord

Mark Wilkinson, U.S.

2001, 104 minutes

Showing midnight Friday, April 5th

As a first-time feature written, directed, edited, and produced by Mark Wilkinson for under $200,000, Dischord is quite a technical feat. The film is so nicely shot, directed, and edited, and the acting is so professional, it's easy to see why the film has won so many prizes at film festivals in the Northeast.

Shot along the beaches of Cape Cod, this film about famous "alternative rock" violinist Gypsy and her new-age composer/ husband Lucian, whose seaside retreat is complicated by the arrival of Lucian's disturbed brother Jimmy, mixes a strong feel for locale with a psychological detective-story plot line in the manner of the recent Jack Nicholson thriller The Pledge. Jimmy is played here by Thomas Jay Ryan, best known for his title turn in the Hal Hartley film Henry Fool. Ryan's shtick is similar to that in Henry Fool, straddling the line between annoying and compelling, but he gives the film a strong presence regardless.

Wilkinson has done an outstanding job for a first-timer, on at least three of his four duties: The screenplay, which has its silly moments, is the only element lacking. Dischord is about as accomplished and watchable as you could hope for in a film that bills itself as the exposition of an "unlikely bond between a tormented murderer and a pure artist [emphasis mine]" that "strains the delicate balance of nature into dischord."

-- Chris Herrington

Jon's Point, L.A.

Jack Beck/Nicolas Scherzinger, U.S.

2001, 3 minutes

Showing midnight Friday, April 5th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 7th

From high above Los Angeles, this experimental film's camera focuses in on the city's tiny, night-time lights and stretches the blue, green, and red specks into lines and circles, separating them and mixing them so it looks like a heart monitor gone mad. And the sound. The sound is less music than the manipulation of an electronic hum.

The film's drone combined with its cinematic spasms promises a headache, but given that the piece is only three minutes long, it ends up being pretty cool. And the point of Jon's Point, L.A.? It's supposed to be something of a metaphor for the Hollywood lifestyle, but, again, it's only three minutes long. -- SE

Normal To Oily

Michael Schmidt, U.S.

2002, 47 minutes

Showing midnight Friday, April 5th

Locally produced and partially funded by the Memphis Film Forum, this formally daring video feature was written, produced, and directed by University of Memphis graphic design professor Michael Schmidt and U of M photography instructor David Horan. It concerns the plight of a young man dealing with the loss of a grandmother (played by Memphis actress Lucille Ewing, who died in October) and is probably more successful in form than content. More a meditation than a narrative, Normal To Oily mixes media with aesthetic confidence, combining video footage, still photography, painting, and graphic design with often compelling results. The film also boasts many well-framed shots and some accomplished editing, even if the home-camcorder-style video footage is essentially unattractive. Where the film falters is on content -- too much of which is either borderline pretentious (a child reading Camus into the camera) or, more likely, so personal as to be obscure. --CH

Horses On Mars

Eric Anderson, U.S.

2000, 7 minutes

Showing midnight Friday, April 5th, and 10 a.m. Sunday, April 7th

This film is based on the idea proposed by Lord William Kelvin in 1871 -- that through meteor and asteroid impacts, life may be ejected from the surface of planets into space, eventually landing on other planets, spreading life throughout our solar system or even the universe. So this is the story of a microbe named Val, who is very cute, just hanging out on a beach sunning when some bastard asteroid comes hurtling down, sending him flying through space all alone. It's strange, yes, but you'll be almost in tears as this little guy whizzes around the sun on his little piece of dust talking to himself. This film is fun to watch. The animation is wonderful, the character is well-developed, and the moral is that it will take a lot of personal sacrifice from microbes to get horses on Mars. Everyone should try to see this film. -- LH

Jack Cardiff: The Colour Merchant and Painting With Light

Craig McCall, U.K.

1998 and 2000, 37 minutes total

Showing 10 a.m. Saturday, April 6th

These two mini-documentaries are culled from work on a soon-to-be-completed documentary feature on British cinematographer Jack Cardiff, one of film's most highly regarded technicians. Outside of Gregg Toland (who shot Citizen Kane and shares a closing credit on the film with director Orson Welles), Cardiff may be the most well-known cinematographer in the medium's history and last year became the first in his profession to receive an honorary Oscar.

Cardiff's work is synonymous with the mid-century use of the Technicolor process and is most well-known for the extraordinary visuals in his collaborations with the great British filmmaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, including Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes.

The Colour Merchant concerns Cardiff's development from a technician who came up in the black-and-white era to a lead photographer using color. It also explores, with some depth, Cardiff's work on his first Powell/Pressburger assignment, A Matter of Life and Death.

Far better (and, not coincidentally, longer) is Painting With Light, which gets into the details of Cardiff's work on Black Narcissus, perhaps his greatest achievement. For viewers who have never seen the film, the breathtakingly beautiful clips shown here are likely to be something of a shock. Painting With Light boasts some wonderfully instructive interview segments, mostly with national treasure Martin Scorsese. It also does a fascinating job of explicating the painterly influences behind Cardiff's work, juxtaposing stills from Black Narcissus with Vermeer paintings and taking a stroll through an art museum with Cardiff himself talking about the influence of Rembrandt's portraits.

Though these aren't finished works, The Colour Merchant and Painting With Light are essential for Powell/Pressburger fans and will also be quite fascinating for film buffs in general, making useful companion pieces with the excellent cinematography documentary Visions of Light. -- CH

Dance Hall

Lori Wernig, U.S.

2001, 15 minutes

Showing noon Saturday, April 6

First of all, dance hall: a place where women stand around pulling at their silk stockings and doing the fox trot with lonely military dudes. Maybe not quite as sleazy or as desperate as you hoped it would be, this black-and-white film-noir short still has a lot to offer viewers. Set during World War II, it features a dime-a-dance girl who falls for one of her "customers" and ultimately gets mixed up in his scandalous attempt to give classified information to the Japanese. Most striking about this film is its dark interior spaces, an ominous "presence" the second this film starts rolling. This feeling translates into a kind of "lurking" sensation, where whatever the hell it is could be behind a coat, under a dress, in some secret back room, or even behind a gesture or a glance. A very spooky mystery piece complete with lots of pretty people in great clothes, two hard-edged detectives, and treason. -- LH

Ed

Justin Chinn, U.S.

2000, 13 minutes

Showing noon Saturday, April 6th

Made as his thesis film at USC, Ed should have not only earned filmmaker Justin Chinn his degree but also a nice pinch to the cheek -- this comedy is just that dang adorable.

Ed is a germ geek -- both fascinated with and teeth-chattering scared of the microscopic mischiefmakers -- who passes out end-of-the-world leaflets and gives end-of-the-world lectures at the library. Then he meets Nina, a stylish pixie who can out-gloom the master. It's not giving away too much to reveal that Ed soon discovers that swapping spit with a human breeding ground is very much worth the risk. -- SE

you don't know what i got

Linda Duvoisin, U.S.

2001, 85 minutes

Showing 2 p.m. Saturday, April 6th

Too often, documentaries, gimmicky from overediting, leave audiences with nothing but shallow stereotypes in place of real people in real situations. But Tennessee native Linda Duvoisin, in her documentary you don't know what i got, remains faithful to the true spirit of the genre, allowing five American women to surface with all their human contradictions intact.

In the film, these vastly different women speak candidly about their lives as lovers, mothers, and artists (among other things) in a sometimes hostile and gender-biased environment. Though the tampon-wielding singer/songwriter Ani Difranco is among those lives examined in the lens, I assure you it's not one of those films. While gender usually causes most films in the realm of the "femininist" to collapse under the weight of agenda, this film is refreshingly earnest, subtly developing depth with Duvoisin's compass of poignant questions as guide.

Perhaps the most delightful among the women featured is Jimmie Woodruff, a retired Tennessee housekeeper from mixed parentage who speaks honestly about race and heartache. The other women include architect and philosopher Myrtle Stedman, police officer Julie Brunsell, and poet and activist Linda Finney. By simply pushing "record" on a camera and keeping the editing as it should be (unobtrusive), Duvoisin has created a gently moving and genuine documentary. -- LH

In the Land of Milk and Honey

Paul Donahue, U.S.

2000, 60 minutes

Showing 4 p.m. Saturday, April 6th

This hour-long video documentary isn't the most accomplished piece of filmmaking you'll ever see --visually and organizationally, it feels slapdash and incomplete, and it takes forever to get into the meat of the story. Still, the material is so provocative and of obvious regional interest it may be worth a look. The film takes place during a 1997 Ku Klux Klan rally in Pulaski, Tennessee, the town where the notorious organization was founded after the Civil War.

In the Land of Milk and Honey focuses on the town itself and the different ways residents process and deal with the town's dubious heritage and present-day role as a demonstration site for out-of-town Klan groups. One interesting aside occurs when the documentary captures Comedy Central reporters in town to cover a rally. --CH

Quello Che Cerchi

Marco S. Puccioni, Italy

2001, 99 minutes

Showing midnight Saturday, April 6th

Quello Che Cerchi (What You're Looking For) is the tale of private investigator Impero, who trails a young street urchin named Davide only to realize the boy may be his son. After Davide breaks into a lab and injures a security guard, Impero and Davide take off across Italy, hiding from the police and looking for Davide's mother, Michele. Davide wants to find his long-lost mother, while Impero is seeking the truth of Davide's lineage. Michele, unfortunately, has disappeared, so they can never know who Davide's real father is. However, along their journey, Impero and Davide discover truths about themselves. -- MT

Beautiful Day

Anne-Marie Hess, U.S.

2000, 5 minutes

Showing noon Sunday, April 7

"It's raining," girl says. "It's fucking beautiful," says her lover boy. "I know, I was just kidding," says angry girl whose boyfriend is too dumb to get the metaphor. These two lovers in sweet despair find a way to agree on the weather. This film is full of long, dark gazes and ambiguously threatening dialogue -- a nice attempt at trying to unravel the mystery of relationships. -- LH

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