I have spent the greater part of the past month preparing for and then going to two very different film festivals. I’ve been to a number of festivals, as a filmmaker with films in them, as an audience, and more frequently, as press covering festivals like the Provincetown International Film Festival and the Woods Hole Film Festival. As odd as it seems, some people like film festivals for everything but the films themselves. They want to go to the parties and hob-knob with celebrities. They want to be the first to see this or that new film by the hottest new director. For me, it is the opposite; I generally avoid all the parties and I make my itinerary based on what looks like it might be somehow special. More and more festivals are becoming the only place to see truly unique films in theatrical exhibition. In some cases, the films I’ve seen have never become available online–not through streaming, on video, or in theaters–even though they were exceptional.
I go to festivals to find hidden gems: films that go their own way and pull us along on cinematic adventures.
This year I attended the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City (April 16-27) as well as the much smaller Independent Film Festival Boston (IFF Boston) in Somerville, Mass. (April 23-30). Although it was literally impossible for me to see everything at either festival, there were several films that I did see that deserve to be highlighted here. The idea is that when they do open, as I hope they will, (whether theatrically or via some other means of exhibition), you’ll know something about them and check them out.
TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2014
Leann and Jayden Miller in “Below Dreams.” Photographer: Milena Pastreich
When you see a lot of movies, as I do, it is rare that a new film actually surprises you. I knew nothing abut anyone involved with the film Below Dreams and only saw it at Tribeca because the description was somewhat compelling and it fit neatly into my schedule. Writer/director Garrett Bradley gives us a portrait of New Orleans that centers on the struggles of twenty-somethings trying to move ahead with their lives, navigating around the obstacles of race and class, as well as the realities of having made poor choices. There is Leann, a single mother of four struggling to support her family while also pursuing dreams of becoming a model. There is Jamaine, a young ex-con trying to reintegrate himself into society and find legitimate work, a process which means making visible changes. And finally, there is Elliot, a young man who has come to New Orleans from New York City searching for a girl and perhaps something else. Each of the three characters feels real and in fact, Bradley found these actors by posting casting calls on Craigslist–not looking so much for trained actors but for people whose lives mirrored those of the characters she’d created. But while Below Dreams is more character study than action-based narrative, it is not only the characters that draw you in. Bradley’s approach to filmmaking blends an evocative soundtrack and poetic imagery with the hard edge of reality. The result is a moving portrait of youth that runs in stark contrast to the usual picture of this age group as vacuous and technology-obsessed. It’s also a film that deserves a big screen experience, so hopefully we will see it in theaters soon. Below Dreams is yet another bold new film that, along with Beasts of the Southern Wild by Benh Zeitlin, reveals a cinematic revolution happening in New Orleans.