THE ATHENS FILM FESTIVAL: THE BEST OF 1997 Image

Athens, Georgia is cool. The city that spawned bands like the B-52s and R.E.M. now has its own film festival and it’s about time. In October, I travelled there as a judge and well… I judicated for four days. The bars were great, the people awesome (thanks Juanita, Doug, Man-pants and Paul!). You gotta love a town where Pabst Blue Ribbon is considered the best beer around. My kinda people.
When anyone says the word “Michael” they mean Michael Stipe (who I found out is a big Threat fan from way back). Michael is a film nut and not only was he a regular at screenings and parties, but a big supporter of the fest. Michael was really cool to me and I don’t even listen to R.E.M.
It was four wild days of watching films, partying, films, hanging out, films and informative seminars. I even got involved myself. I delivered a speech and showed videos in a seminar called “Indie Filmmaking 101.” I’ve been to a ton of seminars myself and frankly, most of them are boring, or the people on the panel simply try to sell their latest project, or they don’t deliver the information promised by the title of the seminar. “Indie Filmmaking 101” is not like those crappy ones. I’ve designed it to be entertaining, unpretentious and filled with useful info with a focus on content. Anyways, I had a great time talking to the crowd before they got really mad and kicked me out. (Kidding.)
Here’s a round up of the best of films that I saw in Athens in no particular order. (I saw a lot of indie crap too. Please, let’s kill the genre where a bunch of twentysomethings sit in a room and talk, trying to outwit eachother. Hint: make a film ABOUT something.) These flicks are my personal faves, so be sure to see them any way you can.
ANTHEM ^ * * * 1/2 ^ Two girls travel the country in search of a simple answer to the question “What is the American dream?” They talk to everyone from George Stephanopolous, to John Waters to Ben & Jerry to Hunter S. Thompson to Chuck D. Great stuff — fresh and honest from two very wise young girls. Shot in Hi-8mm video and blown up to 35mm, “Anthem” proves that content is clearly more important than technical competency. The only flaw is that the movie climaxes about four times. (Not bad for a night of passion, but frustrating for a movie.) It could use about a half hour cut from it, but still highly entertaining.
ANIMA ^ * * * ^ German couple Sam and Iris have a secret. Sam is a master taxidermist whose final work, stuffing the wife, is interrupted by an unwelcome guest in the form of a documentary filmmaker. From the producers of “Welcome to the Dollhouse”, “Anima” is in a category all its own. Visually stunning, touching, romantic and creepy all at once, “Anima” succeeds up until the very end with a completely unrealistic wrap-up. A more logical ending would have made this an almost perfect film, however, even as a flawed work, “Anima” is still compelling.
LILY AND JIM ^ * * * * ^ A hilarious animated film which documents a blind date gone bad. Simple stick figures combined with great voice acting had the audience laughing so hard, I missed a lot of the dialog. Keep an eye on animator Don Herzfeldt, he’s the Mike Judge for the next millennium.
THE CLOSEST THING TO HEAVEN ^ * * * 1/2 ^ I never thought southerners could look so unattractive, yet be so fun to watch. Directed by Dorne Pentes, this touching feature covers a day in the life of several disconnected individuals. Set in dysmal-looking Charlotte, North Carolina, each story follows a bad day in each person’s life and the ending is, well, nice without being forced or contrived. In the most entertaining tale, we follow a brother and sister who both discover their mother dead, yet continue to miss each running into eachother at every turn. Both choose to commit suicide by jumping off the same dock. Funny, ironic, well-written with lots to say, Dorne Pentes is the most exciting new filmmaker to come out of the South in ages.
BLIXA BARGELD STOLE MY COWBOY BOOTS ^ * * * 1/2 ^ A hilarious short film in which a barfly recounts a bizarre tale. He describes a trip to Germany where he lived with musician Blixa Bargeld. He lends Blixa his cowboy boots and never gets them back. The entire film is shot in what seems like one take and should get an award for being so short and enjoyable.
HEARTS LONELY HUNTERS ^ * * 1/2 ^ The director is also the cinematographer from several David Lynch’s films. This is perhaps the most pretentious film I have ever seen. Yet, it’s also highly entertaining. Something like “Slacker” with a story, German journalist Klaus arrives in Charlottesville, Virginia and discovers corrupt politicians, passionate artists and a bizarre group of misfits. Unbelievably beautiful cinematography makes the story secondary to the lush images.
THE LAST BIG THING ^ * * * * ^ My personal favorite and the award winner for best feature at the fest, “The Last Big Thing” is freakin’ hilarious. Focusing on a bizarre guy in his 30s, Simon Geist, who has started a hip magazine called “The Next Big Thing” as an excuse to ask rude questons of struggling actors, musicians and comedians. (Shit, that sounds like what we do!) He despises the retro-hip referenceing of bad 70s tv series and vows to create an underground movement so…underground, that only he and his girlfriend will be a part of it. This movie hates everything and that’s why I like it. The most original indie film this year and a must-see.
Oh, yeah, and when in Athens, check out this comic store called Bizarro Wuxtry. Tell the Captain Caveman-like Devlin that Gore sent you. Also, check out the [ Athens Film Festival website. ]

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