Taking OFF

Omaha Film Festival continues to put out with heart-of-gold fervor

Film festivals are the brothels of cinema. High-end ones offer uniform quality. Low-rent ones are enter-at-your-own-risk propositions. In its sixth year, the Omaha Film Festival, showing now through March 6 at the Great Escape Theatre, is a mid-level cine-fest with a-heart-of-gold that keeps putting out. Top-tier is the Saturday-Sunday film/screenwriting conference, whose panels feature major industry professionals talking shop: •Oscar-winning (Avatar) cinematographer Mauro Fiore lensed the fall 2011 release Real Steel •Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang writer-director Shane Black is slated to direct Iron Man 3 •Editor Tom Elkins is cutting his directorial feature debut The Haunting in Georgia •Ted Griffin owns script credits on Ocean's Eleven and Matchstick Men and he executive produced Up in the Air OFF features, special screenings and documentaries are typically strong with films by established and emerging artists. The wildcard categories remain shorts and Off the Edge, where work runs more uneven, including how-did-this-ever-get-in? type of fare. Animation entries are usually satisfying. Here's a sampling across the fest. FEATURES The River Why Angling is the existential backdrop for this sweet, quirky look at life, love, identity and eco-systems. Zach Gilford and Amber Heard make fetching leads. Kathleen Quinlan and William Hurt shine in supporting roles. Dallas Roberts nearly steals the show with his eccentric philosopher turn. William Devane hams up a cameo. This mélange of Local Hero and Cross Creek boasts excellent photography by Crash. Matthew Leutwyler directed the witty screenplay by Thomas Cohen and John Jay Osborme. Splatter: Love, Honor and Paintball Reminiscent of Slap Shot, this Iowa-shot comedy balances a human story amid schoolboy humor. Writer-director Lonnie Schuyler's long takes and ironic understatement bring to mind Alexander Payne’s work, though awkward moments hold the film back. Omahan Matt Geiler is effective as the put-upon protagonist. The whole cast is good. Better yet is the music by She Swings She Sways. Littlerock It's easy to see why writer-director Mike Ott's bittersweet drama about the challenge of ever being able to really know someone has been a festival darling wherever it's played. DOCUMENTARIES Most Valuable Players This documentary explores a community's attempt to honor high school theater the way prep sports are feted. Matthew Kallis charts the production, cast, and crew of three musicals up for the annual Freddy Awards in Easton, PA. Students, parents and educators get caught in the drama of nominations and rehearsals. The feel-good movie is at its best portraying the pride and passion on the line. Someplace with a Mountain Steve Goodall's film follows his discovery of an indigenous island people whose way of life's endangered by rising sea levels, and his subsequent efforts to broker their survival. OFF-THE-EDGE Trail of Blood See this only as a primer for how not to make a mindless variation on the slasher pic. Acting ranges from decent to vacuous to incompetent. The cliched lines and situations are uninspired, an irritation only made worse by weak writing and humorless takes. It gives a bad name to exploitation shlock. SHORTS The Pink Bicycle This story about innocence starts promisingly, as director Olivia Johnson shows a supple hand with montage. Then things get muddled. The acting’s solid in spots but a key character is botched. An ending meant as enigmatic plays confusing, leaving the meaning open to interpretations the filmmaker likely didn’t intend. Irma The best film I saw is this sublime portrait of retired Mexican lady wrestler Irma Gonzalez. Directed by Nebraska native Charles Fairbanks, the film has a quiet, studied, contemplative approach that's mesmerizing in its minimalist rigor and keen observation. It’s a mature work by an artist with the courage of his conviction to let carefully chosen images and sounds speak for themselves. Taking the Road Writer-director Natalie Covault expertly upsets our expectations in her pulp fiction rendering of thriller film conventions. The clever work marks her as one to watch. Priority Auto Writer-director Aaron Sawyer's comedy whimsically riffs on the Owl and the Pussycat scenario as a buttoned-down guy is liberated by a free-spirited gal. Esperanza John O’Keefe and Tim Guthrie display finesse with their documentary about community building efforts amid crushing poverty in Santiago, Dominican Republic. Bye Bye Blatt Mike Machian’s swan song to Rosenblatt Stadium combines striking still and moving images with pithy sound bites, creating a poignant farewell tour of the old ballpark. Heels to the Pavement Zachary Mattson directed, edited and co-wrote (with Garret Geist) this very funny comedy about rival power walkers. It has the zany spirit of the Farrelly brothers and the mockumentary style of This is Spinal Tap meets True Stories. As for the rest of the fest, based on descriptions alone, good bets appear to be the features The 5th Quarter, A Little Help and Down the Shore, the doc My Kidnapper and the special screening Queen of the Lot. On a parochial note, Kevin Costner narrates Omaha's symbiosis with the College World Series in The Long Home Run. For screening-panel schedules and tickets, visit omahafilmfestival.org. For more info, call 208-8173.

posted at 10:35 am
on Wednesday, March 02nd, 2011

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