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1) ONE BAD CAT: THE REVEREND ALBERT WAGNER STORY (US-Thomas G. MILLER)
A documentary, a biography, a treatise on the racial history of Cleveland, a look at how artists create, an examination of how outsider art is commodified and consumed, an in-depth exploration of what identity plays in art appreciation… One Bad Cat is all these things and more. Director Miller does a remarkable job of balancing each of these many objectives, with the analytical mind of a grad school art teacher and with the insight and heart of a family member. Fiction could hardly create someone as complex and maddening as the Reverend Albert Wagner.

2) PHANTOM LOVE (India/US-Nina MENKES)
A riot of sensual imagery; elliptical, filled with patterns and symbols. A surrealist nightmare of erotic longing and madness, tied together by a dynamic central performance (Israeli actress Marina Choif) and a black-and-white dreamscape that haunts the viewer long after its subconscious assault has unspooled. I felt like I was witnessing a battle between Claire Denis and David Lynch for dominance in the field of intimate art cinema, and I wanted it to go on forever. In terms of psychosexual impact, the only other offering at the festival to compare it to was Andy London's animated short A LETTER TO COLLEEN, which tackled a similar (though much more specific) collision between memory, sex, and horror, leaving the viewer to construct the wounds that caused the scars we see before us in the dark.

3) OF ALL THE THINGS (US-Jody LAMBERT)
There was no better place to see this film than at the Nashville Film Festival, surrounded by countless songwriters and industry vets who might have related just a little too closely to the story of Dennis Lambert. Songwriter and producer extraordinaire of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Lambert drifted away from the business in the late 80s when starting a new family, ending up a real estate agent in Boca Raton, Florida. And he'd have stayed that way were it not for the continual success of his 1972 solo album Bags & Things in the Phillipines. A Pinoy promoter gets him to agree to a five-show flyover tour, and Lambert has to get back in touch with his musical self. So we get the usual culture shock moments and the dizzying moments of absurdity that occur whenever someone has to deal with serious FAME. Usually though, when filmmakers make documentaries about their families, they either fawn or they're out to settle some scores. But what Jody Lambert does with this film is a gift to his father; seeing a man's dreams come back alive is something transcendent. And the atmosphere in that screening was electric, surrounded by countless artists who might have back burnered their past musical achievements for years, but who now found some of the inspiration maybe they had been missing… well, it isn't too much to say that this film could be the best thing to happen to our pop, country, and R&B songwriting veterans in years. The message here is equal to the music.

4) LIGHT IS WAITING (US-Michael ROBINSON)
Brilliant as a work of video art that takes footage from Full House and turns it into a pagan ritual. Brilliant also as a goof on current found footage-oriented video art. Brilliant most of all for its utter willingness to find the chthonic underbelly of even the most banal of junk culture. Delicious.

5) ROLLERBOOGIE III (US-Damon PACKARD)
Damon Packard is like no other film artist working today. Any description I could offer you of this magnificent fusion of rollerskating, demonic possession, outer space warfare, and coke-fuelled office sex would in no way suffice. See it if you can.

6) YOU, THE LIVING (Sweden-Roy ANDERSSON) THE PUGILIST (US-Brent MONTGOMERY)
Wry humanism at its most deft. Montgomery's film is the finest offering to come out of the Watkins Film School I've ever seen (though I prefer its longer, fifty-minute cut), and Andersson makes magic out of a despair that propels several different vignettes to darkly comic and strangely moving ends. Both films left me feeling refreshed and oddly hopeful, looking forward to what they next have to offer.

7) ALEXANDRA (France/Russia-Aleksandr SOKUROV) PROFIT MOTIVE AND THE WHISPERING WIND(US-John GIANVITO)
The human cost of our violent instincts. Sokurov's Alexandra (Galina Vishnevskaya) is a grandmother, visiting her soldier grandson currently on combat maneuvers in Chechnya. Gianvito's film is an abstract history of American humanitarianism and progressivism, told through inscriptions of gravestones and monuments. Both films understand that the crises we face will one day fall into their own place in history, and both are equally devastating in the quietest of ways.

8) SPIDER (Australia-Nash EDGERTON) THE TEAT BEAT OF SEX, PARTS I, II, & III (US-Signe BAUMAN)

Works of comic genius. The former dealing with the fine line between horror and humor, the latter a no holds barred triptych of animated sex education films, each of which leading to the most uproarious responses I heard throughout the entire festival..

9) BUNNYLAND (US-Brett HANOVER) ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD (Antarctica/US-Werner HERZOG)

A pair of documentaries that, while conceived of completely different purposes, contain in them images and moments of humanity and nature that burn themselves into you. Bunnyland's Tennessee characters start off seemingly as gawkworthy grotesques, growing during the course of the film into a community of people who only exist subjectively. Nineteen year-old Hanover structures the film so that it gathers resonance, momentum, and complexity as it steams along, and by its end, truth seems like something abstract, never to be defined or tied down. Herzog's latest work finds him let loose in Antarctica, talking to scientists, keeping an eye on nature, and investigating the impact of humanity on the world. It has images of staggering loveliness, even as it contains the single most haunting moment of anything that unfolded at the festival, as a lone penguin barrels toward the center of the Antarctic land mass, toward certain death, growing smaller and smaller against the vast, consuming whiteness.

10) THE MARK (US-Thomas BARNDT)

A grindhouse trailer that never was, this fast and furious tale incorporates so many disparate elements into its brisk four minutes that one can only marvel. Here's hoping that Barndt gets to flex his imaginative muscle on something feature-length, and soon.

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 81 - September 2018
Turnpage Blk


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