There are a number of aspects to the feature-length debut of Albert Birney and Jon Moses that can be seen (and should be seen) as impressive achievements in the realm of DIY creativity and execution; so many, in fact, that deciding upon the most crucial of these executions in terms of rendering the film an overall success is an impossible task as all of these imaginative facets are integral to the film’s overall charm and allure. The handmade sets, the creature costumes, the original music, the animation techniques, among others all coalesce into one of the more singular films to surface in the past decade (or so); one overloaded with imagination and fantasy.
Khawaja and Puca have constructed a dense work, disheveled in its themes and structure seemingly about everything and nothing in particular all at the same time, and yet they have also created a work that is concurrently lightweight given its tone and sense of humor, a jovial jumble of carefree attitudes that cover the surface of a penetrating look at the therapeutic ability of creative expression and the fortifying nature of collaborative relationships.
An unidentified war rages in the vicinity of an unidentified location within an unidentified time period in Aaron Schimberg’s directorial debut, Go Down Death, a cinematic adaptation based on the fabricated writings of folklorist Jonathan Mallory Sinus; a fluid traversing of vignettes, punctuated by mortar shells and rocket explosions, hosted by a collection of eccentrics killing time in their own ways.
With Green, her directorial debut, actress/producer Sophia Takal has taken the surface-level simplicity of the film’s thematic frame and transformed it into a nuanced exploration of inferred motivations and assumed objectives through a gradual probing of seemingly harmless interactions (both verbal and nonverbal), examining the psychological impact of insecurity, envy and jealousy.
Manatos buries the addiction thread underneath the reconnection attempts of two estranged siblings - Cullen (Leo Fitzpatrick) and Ian (Cris Lankenau) - tentatively groping for entry-points with little to no success, sub/consciously hopeful that nostalgia and adolescent replays might broker the reparative bond they are after.
Collatos presents a man in the throes of recovery, pinned in between a collection of loved ones concurrently assisting and compounding the difficulty inherent within because of their mutual affections of shared coping mechanisms, within a healthy dose of naturalism; scripted scenes are almost indistinguishable from the rawness of the realism-infused ones with drunken antics and familial dialogues accompanied with the debris of reality playing out in faithfulness rendering identification of the borderlines a murky endeavor.
McDonnell fully immerses the viewer in the world of John’s of 12th Street, guiding the audience through the in-the-kitchen execution of the menu to the restaurant-managing of stock deliveries and discrepancies to the actual patrons themselves (the film even follows along on take-out deliveries). She keeps it simple (or at least gives the appearance of simplicity) letting the ambiance speak for itself while the community inside do much of the heavy lifting, most everyone has a story to tell (or an anecdote or philosophy to share) and McDonnell kindly provides the allure of an audience.
When it comes to the soul set out on display in Ry Russo-Young’s You Won’t Miss Me, the subject of ownership remains indistinguishable; working from a screenplay, co-written with lead actress Stella Schnabel, which appears to contain a number of illustrations of unmitigated truth interspersed with dramatizations of breaking into the acting business. Whether these naked portrayals free from pretense stem from Schnabel’s personal life (perhaps, playing a version of herself) or Russo-Young’s (or they may even be an assemblage of collected experiences) is irrelevant since both present the character of Shelly with such conviction and consideration they render her life experiences an unquestionable actuality.
Giving the impression of operating from a place of aggressive indifference, Cameron Worden’s feature debut, The Idiot Faces Tomorrow, is a bizarre concoction of mixed film formats and styles forever staunch in its outright refusal to tip its hand in regards to intention and/or purpose. The Idiot Faces Tomorrow is a cinematic testament to giving exactly zero fucks when it comes to narrative cohesion, relatability, or anything that even comes close to garnering a descriptor resembling hospitable. Worden’s debut is the apex (or, perhaps more appropriately, the Marianas Trench) of unlikable character cinema.
Gloomy and gritty, both in terms of content and aesthetics, Frownland revolves around Keith - a meek, socially-stilted man attempting to navigate the cruel circumstances of his life along with juggling the mounting social interactions with friends and acquaintances that leave him floundering and flailing endlessly, a deluge of awkwardness hemorrhaging forth from one uncomfortable situation after another. The discomfort-from-awkward-social-situations saturation point is immediately reached and exceeded within Keith’s first exchange with another person, continuing onward through various points of the discomfort spectrum.
The narrative, co-written with Kate Johnston, found at the center of Empire Builder happens to deal with one uncomplicated action, an elementary development seen as inevitable based on the build and structure of the storyline. Throughout the entirety of the beginning portions of the film, there doesn’t appear to be much of an effort placed on shrouding what could happen in mystery and/or ambiguity. Swanberg and Johnston’s interests lie in the field of the emotional, taking the time to display the emotional states of each character in an unembellished fashion relying on nothing but the body languages amid solitude and socialization, oscillating between fleeting moments of reflection and intimate interactions of playfulness and consideration.
Right from the jump, writer/director Christopher Good unloads the viewer into the whirlwind that is Mudjackin’, a brother/sister buddy comedy murder mystery, starting with an I.C.E. raid before even considering introducing context or characters really. From there, the relentlessness continues with the tempo locked-in at high-octane with rapid-fire cuts coming from every possible direction while the brother/sister duo run through an exhaustive overview of their backstories with a swiftness - years flush with dreaming big and big, shattered dreams.
The third installment of UNSUNG INDIES delves into Ian Clark's experimental MMXIII, an exploration into image capturing and creation. Employing a myriad of technologies to present ideas and philosophies, Clark effortlessly weaves his way through the beauty and power of an image and the time-consuming undertaking of searching for the perfect image. Misleading in its simplicity, MMXIII inexplicably accommodates a wealth of ideas, every still and every progression has the ability to spark thought and discussion.
For the second installment of Unsung Indies, I take a look at THE INTERNATIONAL SIGN FOR CHOKING. Written, directed and starring Zach Weintraub, alongside Sophia Takal, about a young man travelling to Buenos Aires looking to regroup while searching for possible documentary subjects, navigating a burgeoning romance, and searching for a woman from his past. All of these activities taking place within the meticulously-composed frames of cinematographer Nandan Rao.
UNSUNG INDIES is a new feature where we'll highlight the best of the overlooked films to come out of the American Indie scene over the past 10 or so years, mostly dealing with films from the micro budget end of the spectrum. For our first iteration, I take a look at Nandan Rao's HAWAIIAN PUNCH, a docu-fiction concoction displayed in relaxed, sun-drenched frames.