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By Mark Bell | August 4, 2011

Okay, so the idea of cocooning myself in total darkness is not the Woods Hole Film Fest’s fault entirely, but they did program The City Dark, and that is what incited me to want to get home as soon as possible to turn my bedroom into a lightless tomb for evening rejuvenation.

See, The City Dark is a documentary that talks about the effect that civilization’s focus on the bigger and brighter technological advances of lighting may have, or has had, on everything from astronomy to animal behavior to human health. Simply, when you go the majority of evolution with certain light sources, like the sun, moon and stars, and then, in the last 200 years, you fill the globe with enough artificial light at night to turn the planet into an almost inverse star-field, it may have unforeseen consequences. I mean, when the light from the artificial sources is bright enough to block out the ability to even see the stars at night… that’s a bit excessive. Especially when you consider that a simple lighting alteration, like a light shade that directs the light down, where you need it, as opposed to a bunch of omnidirectional mini-suns all over the place, would not only be more efficient and helpful, it also would lessen the amount of light pollution that ignites the night sky.

Now, I don’t have a specific need to see the stars. I remember, however, living in New Hampshire while in high school, and being able to see tons of stars at night, and how cool that was. I don’t get that experience in South Jersey. That said, the documentary got me thinking about the health considerations. The body refuels ad recuperates at night, and it reacts to the light around it. The fact that, even with the blinds closed, there is enough light in my bedroom for me to see easily, thanks to a street light, the glow from the clock radio and other luminous nonsense, has me convinced I haven’t had a real, total darkness night of sleep in my life. What would that be like? Hence, getting home and turning the bedroom into a home fit for a vampire.

Films moving to bigger venues, sell-outs... good day for the festival...

After The City Dark, I caught a screening of Everyday Sunshine, the documentary about the band Fishbone. While I’ve seen the film before, I’d never seen it with an audience and, honestly, I was curious as to who would show up to see a documentary about Fishbone on a Wednesday night in Woods Hole.

Like the previous night, the crowd surprised me by being filled with a bunch of people that I doubt I would ever see at a real Fishbone concert, but who were loving the film. It’s the effect of seeing, for example, your parents and a bunch of their friends going out to see a movie about one of your favorite bands, a band that you know they’ve never listened to in their life, and enjoying the Hell out of it. It was cool. Woods Hole defies the film festival stereotype yet again, and then piled it on one more time for the final film of the evening, Calendar Girl.

Now, Calendar Girl had the potential to be a real awkward, uncomfortable experience. To explain:

Over a year ago, after moving back to New Jersey from Los Angeles and purchasing Film Threat from Gore, I met a pocket of NJ filmmakers in the greater Philadelphia area. One of those filmmakers, a producer named Tommy Avallone, invited me to the set of his latest production one day, to “cameo” as a background extra. I laughed at the idea (I mean, don’t you need to be somebody to “cameo” in anything; more like they needed a warm body to fill out the screen, which I do), but I liked Tommy and the assistant director of the film, Roy Koriakin, had actually written for us a number of times. Sounded like a fun evening, simply. Plus, I wasn’t there as a writer covering a film, I was there as a friend helping out.

So I went to the set and played the part of a stunt coordinator (HA, right…) teaching an actor how to properly stab someone. My role was entirely background, though I did wind up sharing screen time with Clerks actor Brian O’Halloran, and I didn’t think much of it. Really, I figured I’d be so blurry you’d never know I was there OR I’d find my way to the cutting room floor altogether. I left the set and, except for an email or text message exchange with Tommy over the next year, didn’t think about the film too much. Figured I’d see it eventually, and until they had it out and playing the fest circuit, work-wise, I didn’t have much of a necessity to see it.

So cut to last night, where Calendar Girl is not only playing a festival I’m attending, but the director, Derek Lindeman, and a number of the cast and crew had made the same South Jersey to Woods Hole trip I made, albeit a day later. I chatted up the group a bit prior to the screening, then settled into my seat, already my mind filling with the possibility of “what if this really, really sucks… I like them… f**k, I hate it when this happens.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this thought, of course. When you’ve been with Film Threat and writing about film for as long as I have been now, and you tend to be a social animal that enjoys meeting and chatting with filmmakers, you run into the awkward moment of seeing great people make shitty films quite a bit. Usually you see the film after you’ve had numerous conversations where the filmmakers show how passionate they are about the project, making it all the more painful when it doesn’t work out. Sure, opinions are subjective, but you know when a movie bombs with an audience, regardless of whether you dig the filmmakers or not. You get over it, but that doesn’t mean the entire experience isn’t an exercise in uncomfortable.

In typical me fashion, I was anxious for no reason. Calendar Girl was actually really f*****g good, and showed to a lively, receptive audience. The film focuses on a waitress in Philadelphia that is convinced she’s going to be the Miss December victim of a serial killer who has been killing, and photographing, the victims, once-a-month, with a pin-up calendar motif. I was expecting some blood, but what I wasn’t expecting was for the film to be funny. Really funny. The main character, waitress Ari, is no put-upon victim, but a bad-a*s, hilarious entity of negativity that you actually believe would indeed be flattered by the idea that she could be the killer’s next victim. Her character is the type that everyone quietly falls in love with and, if she ever found out you did, she’d probably leave you crying in the corner while she mocks your vulnerability. And yet, she has a sweetness to her…

CALENDAR GIRL Q and A; left to right, actor Frank Williams, producer Anne Qualtieri, writer Faith Brody, producer John Guarnere, actor Jensen Bucher, executive producer and actor Jake Matthews and actor, writer and director Derek Lindeman

Hands down, Calendar Girl works because Jensen Bucher, who plays Ari, owns the film. She carries it, she keeps it interesting and it lives and dies by her effort. Meeting her briefly on set, then before the screening and then seeing her at the film’s Q&A, I was struck by how impossible it was for me to connect this real person to the role I just saw her play. I mean, you should be able to look at an actor and see something in them that translated to the screen in their character, but the two couldn’t be more different. Hell, they didn’t even look like the same person.

CALENDAR GIRL lead Jensen Bucher

After the film I thanked Derek for making a good movie and sparing me the awkward post-crummy movie conversation. And yes, if you look for me, you can see me in the background of one scene, teaching an actor how to stab someone effectively.

CALENDAR GIRL Q and A; left to right, writer Faith Brody, producer John Guarnere, actor Jensen Bucher, executive producer and actor Jake Matthews and actor, writer and director Derek Lindeman

Which brings us to now, me typing at my netbook before hitting the road again. I had originally planned on hitting up the festival for at least one more day, but some family matters (all good, don’t worry; no one died) have made me switch up plans and head back to NJ tonight instead. Which is a bummer of sorts, but I feel like I got a lot out of this film festival; it really opened my eyes and slapped some of the fest malaise out of me.

Bravo, Woods Hole Film Fest; been around for 20 years, and I hope to make it an annual visit from here on out. If you’re in New England, the fest runs until Saturday, so take a trek to Woods Hole and check it out. Bring change, though. The parking meters are no joke…

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