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Cinequest 17 - Film Reviews
Feb. 28 - March 11, 2007 - San Jose, CA
Cinequest only gets bigger and better every year. Still considered amongst the top 10 film festivals in the world. As with any type of festival of this nature, there are things for everyone. There are also things that could be considered controversial and questionable. Everything must be seen through perspective.

Cinequest 17 opened with a gala presentation of Mira Nair’s “The Namesake,” a very well done film about cultural clashes, misunderstandings, and acceptances. Beginning with a couple newly arrived in New York from Calcutta, India, the story weaves through their lives while raising children, and how the children adapt and change, and later come to terms with their ancestral and cultural ways. Mira Nair is known for her films “Mississippi Masala,” and “Monsoon Wedding.” The film also stars “White Castle” actor Kal Penn.

This year, Cinequest was flooded with 1,850 films - both features and shorts - all competing to be shown. 160 films of varying genres were finally picked, which included over 40 features and 40 shorts offering their World and U.S. premieres. As well, films representing 34 different countries were picked. To note was one film in the Balkan section which was co-produced by all of the countries which comprised the former Yugoslavia.

This year the two recipients of the Maverick Spirit Awards were rock star/film composer Stewart Copeland, and infamous indie and mainstream actress Minnie Driver. Copeland, as the drummer for The Police, was present for the screening of a new documentary film entitled “Everyone Stares: The Police Inside And Out.” The film’s recent release played a part in the resurgence of interest in the band, as well as the reforming of the band to embark on a new world tour this year. The film itself was shot on Super 8 film format, and documented all the different aspects of The Police’s rise from beginning to just before the recording of “Synchronicity,” which was the final studio release. Nothing but good has come of this former simple travel hobby of Copeland’s. Now fans get to see what it was like in the beginning with “Everyone Stares,” and see the band in its current fired-up state touring again. With a 23 year hiatus, several generations will get to experience The Police this time around.

Copeland, in both the press conference and at the Maverick Spirit Awards show, gave a very animated performance as himself. This is a man who truly enjoys himself and his life, and enjoys sharing the tales with everyone. His bright smile punctuated the optimism that Copeland had for both the release of his film, as well as the new tour. He spoke not only about his rock background, but also about his musical contributions to film and TV scores. He has worked on such releases as “Rumble Fish,” “Highlander II,” “Wall Street,” and “Talk Radio,” as well as “Babylon 5,” and “Dead Like Me” TV series. He is multifaceted, fascinating, and very entertaining to watch.

Minnie Driver, the other Maverick Spirit Award winner, is another multifaceted character. She is both an actress and a rock/jazz singer. Her biggest claim to fame is arguably “Grosse Pointe Blank.” She has also appeared in “Princess Mononoke,” “Ella Enchanted,” “Will & Grace,” “South Park: The Movie,” and “The Simpsons Movie,” amongst many others. She was as gracious as she was entertaining to watch, as she spoke about her career in both film and music.

Cinequest also presented independent film producer Christine Vachon, of such films as “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Happiness,” and “Far From Heaven.”

As well, Cinequest presented the now ever-present forums for filmmakers, known as the “Day Of” series. The first one was possibly the most popular, the Day Of Distribution forum, featuring “triple threat” J.J. Abrams. Abrams is the creator/executive producer of TV’s “Lost,” as well as the other two Emmy Award winners, “Alias,” and “Felicity.” Abrams was also the screenwriter of “Armageddon,” “Forever Young,” and “Regarding Henry.” He made is film directorial debut on “Mission Impossible 3” and has announced helming the director’s chair in a new film for the Star Trek franchise.

The other three forums in the series were “Day Of Sight & Sound,” “Day Of The Writer,” and “Day Of The Producer,” all of which were well-attended and regarded.

Then there were the films - all of the films. Honestly, too many for anyone to take all of them in. But one does what one can, and hopes to make the best choices based on the descriptions.

And now on a down-side. This writer is personally not about censorship, and definitely for openness and free communication. There is a fine line between what is considered art and simple entertainment. Then there is the question of of what fits. Before launching into that scenario, it would be interesting to point out that in viewing many of the films, there are a couple of points that the amateur indie filmmakers should stop trying to do. For many years, and although diminishing, still today, there seem to be “rules” to what defines an “indie film.”

1) The use of the word “fuck” as many times as absolutely possible in any one film. Several films we viewed had it in there - for no good reason - as many as 30 times or more (even in a 10 minute short). For some reason, these filmmakers feel that the word gives them an “edge” or something. It fills in the void where story or characterization lacks.

2) At least one scene must show naked breasts (or more). Again with the “edginess” factor. Why does nudity evoke “artsy”?

3) Shoving as many words as possible into any one given line of monologue, or dialogue. Thankfully this has slowed down considerably in recent years, but still exists.

The above three points are arguable and left up to personal interpretation on their necessity and reason. But there comes a point where Cinequest makes decisions on what films to choose and why.

Cinequest has always endeavored to maintain a level of class and true artsmanship. It’s unfortunate - in this writer’s opinion - that they slipped up a bit this year. Since when did Cinequest decided to include porn into the foray? Did it seem like a good idea? Granted there was no visible penetration - well, actually that’s not true either, depending on your view - but all in all, there were some disturbing facets to be seen at Cinequest this year, all of them in the Shorts Competition Program 6: Mindbenders.

Mindbenders has always been a crowd favorite as showing truly edgy short films that tantalize, disturb, and more importantly challenge thinking. Not so much this year. A few of the selections looked like rejects from a Fangoria film festival - which is to say, a bloodfest for the sake of gore.

One film, “Maquina” was disturbing in a whole new direction - not because of full frontal nudity or violence. It depicts a girl who is attacked and ravaged, we assume raped, and surgically altered. Her vagina is fitted, to her dismay, with a shredder/grinder implant. After cutting her finger, she attempts to pleasure herself with a carrot, only to gasp at its remains. Furthering that, she decides to seduce and kill a lover in coitus to “discover her new nature” and find the “path leading back to lost harmony” as she smiles at the thought of her new killing spree ability. Where did this get picked up as having any artistic meaning outside of a gorefest?

Another film, which I personally enjoyed, was “Filthy Food,” but which certainly did not belong at Cinequest. Director T. Arthur Cottam himself was a bit taken aback at the thought of having been picked for showing, while admitting it wasn’t really meant for that type of audience. This film shows a girl giving oral pleasures to fruits and and other inanimate objects. However - and this is where Cinequest really dropped the ball - it goes on to display “glory hole” situations of her orally copulating with condiment bottles, with heavy cream emphasizing semen, and apple juice giving a golden shower, both upon her face. And yet, we have not come to the crux, which was fingering the peanut butter - oil and butter all - here called “Peanut Butthole,” and the most expressive German “Schiesse” experiences as she gobbles up chocolate cookie dough from a supposed anal orifice. Anyone with any working knowledge of internet porn, as well as German’s obsession with fecal matter as edible items, knows what was going on. For anyone else - including the volunteers at the festival - it was a shocking confusion as to why it would be shown. For that matter, this writer had been asked by several people to please not describe any more of what was shown during the Mindbenders series. The rest of the films - graphic, gory, frightening - were fine and dandy for a particular audience. Unfortunately that audience does not attend Cinequest.

My rant on that subject is over. I felt it must be shared so that others might convey their opinions and thoughts on the matter to either this publication, or to Cinequest directly, to influence future film acceptance decisions.

Mindbenders was only a minute portion of the show. The rest is to be held in the highest regard with some of the best variety of subjects and genres.

And with that, check out the
Cinequest Film Reviews.

Other Cinequest Film Festival Coverage
Written by Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

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