Cinequest 2013 was a special time of the year for me. 2013 marks my 4th year attending Cinequest avidly, and watching at least 10 films. I had previously been amazed by works such as 2012’s “Hungting Season” from Turkey, “Bel Borba Is here” from Brazil, “Must Come Down” from USA, 2011’s Midnight Son from USA, “The Liverpool Goalie” from Norway, Togetherness Supreme from Kenya-USA, and much more. This year i was a bit tied up for the first few days of the festival, and didn’t watch my first film until Saturday March 2nd, with Detonator. But once I got rolling, it was easy for me to attend 3 screenings a day, and I did that several days until March 8th, as I was heading out of town for the 9th-10th and knew I would miss Encore day as well. Either way I managed to watch 18 films, most (12) of which I found either good, or great. The remaining 6 films I rated at a 7/10 or lower and felt they were either lackluster or worse.
I’m going to provide you with a brief synopsis and my opinion on these films, without revealing too much plot, or getting too in-depth, as we have a lot of ground to cover.
The Top 12:
12. The Playback Singer (USA) – Written & Directed by Suju Vijayan. Cast: Ross Partridge, Piyush Mishra, Navi Rawat, Joe Towne, Betsy Beutler.
Vijayan’s dramedy about a couple heading for turmoil, Ray, an ex-teacher and now “architect” for junle-gyms, blows off all sense of responsibility and spends his days sleeping in, smoking weed and waiting for his wife, Priya, to come home from work. This all changes when Priya’s father, Ashok, a Bollywood playback singer, who is embarking on an American Tour, and comes to visit Priya & Ray. The dynamic between Ray and Ashok is brilliantly written and captured on film. This is a light heartfelt film, that will have you laughing and “awwing” throughout. Another solid selection by Cinequest. 8/10
11. Lonely Boy (USA) . Directed by Dale Fabrigar. Written by Alev Aydin. Starring Alev Aydin, Natalie Distler, Melora Walters, Richard Riehle, Lynn Whitfield, Greg Vrotsos, Mackenzie Astin, Joy Suprano, Mateus Ward, Jack Plotnick.
This is a well directed film about a schizophrenic man, Franky, whose illness has gotten the best of him, especially since he stopped taking his medication. His outbursts in this film are both realistic, comedic, and heartfelt. Although the offbeat style of writing and pace of the film may throw some off, I thought it complimented his character, not your average joe, by any means. His acting is on-point, probably because he wrote the script, and knew exactly where to head with his performance. Overall, if your not into films that examine the psyche or social disorders, you may not be intrigued by this but for me, it was psychological heaven. 8/10
10. City Baby (USA) . Dir. David F. Morgan. Written by David F. Morgan & Cora Benesh. Cast: Cora Benesh, Jillian Leigh, Richard Keith, Andrew Harris, Dustin Rush, Daniel Baldwin.
This was an interesting film about a confused young woman, Cloey, whose easy-going life is sent into a spiral as her relationship with her boyfriend unravels, her best friend’s life takes an unexpected turn and her monetary relationship with her father becomes stagnant. Fueled with great cinematography and music, as well as some powerful performances. City Baby was one of the delights of Cinequest 2013. 8/10
8. Somewhere Slow (USA) . Written & Directed by Jeremy O’Keefe. Starring Jessalyn, Gissig, Graham Patrick Martin, David Costabile, Robert Forster, Wallace Langham, Lindsay Crouse, Lauren Schneider, Denise Grayson
Jeremy O’Keefe’s drama about Anna (Gisig), a happy on the outside, but miserable on the inside, woman facing mid-life crisis, who meets a wandering, free-spirited young man, and they embark upon a trip to the east-coast with one another. Its only on this trip, and escape from her reality, that Anna begins to let her guard down. The film has some very deep elements, yet uses some characters with extreme mental complexities to deliver a universal message about life. With great cinematography and music, this film is another reason why this year’s Cinequest was outstanding. 8/10
7. Detonator (USA). Written & Directed by Damon Maulucci & Keir Politz. Cast: Lawrence Michael Levine, Benjamin Ellis Fine, Robert Longstreet, Sophia Takal, Joe Swanburg, Dawn L. Hall, Eric Davidson.
Detonator is the story of a former frontman for a Philly Punk band, Sully, who battles to move on from his rockstar past, as he has moved to the suburbs with Karen, and their 5-year old son. Things change as an old friend and former member of the band, Mick, comes back into town. Sully’s struggle between his former life and current one becomes to the battle. This film was gripping, well-written and overall just a powerful, yet not over-the-top, film. 8/10
6. Twenty Million People (USA). Written & Directed by Michael Ferrell. Starring Michael Ferrell, Devin Sanchez, Chris Prine, Gregory Lay, Jamie Dunn, Jason Kravits, Tom Bartos, Candace Thaxton, Erik Saxvik, Brianne Mai.
This clever romantic-comedy is a prime example of how good writing can turn a familiar concept and idea into a successful film. This film is by no means the first of its kind, however it is more realistic and honest than most films that are in the same genre. Ferrell’s writing and acting coincide well as he plays the typical male lead in a romantic-comedy, who swears he isn’t looking for anything serious, and as expected someone comes along that changes all that. Thats fine, however the way this concept and familiar storyline is approached in Twenty Million People is both refreshing, honest, and clever. I credit this to good writing, and thus quality characters, that are not boring or one-dimensional. Kudos to Michael Ferrell, as this film was one of the bright spots of Cinequest 2013. 8/10
5. In The Shadow (Czech Republic). Directed by David Ondricek. Written By Marek Epstein, David Ondricek & Misha Votruba. Starring: Ivan Trojan, Sebastian Koch, Sona Norisova, Jiri Stepnicka, David Vehlik, Miroslav Krobot, Marek Taclik, Martin Mysicka, Flip Antonio .
A stunning neo-noir thriller, about Soviet-Era Prague, where Investigator Hakl, beomces suspicious about a robbery which is blamed on a group of Jewish smugglers. When one investigation leads him to a known robber’s house and he finds the stolen jewelry, but also finds out the man was in the drunk tank, and couldn’t have committed the robbery, it becomes clear to Hakl that someone has set him up. After a German investigator who is temporarily living across the courtyard from Hakl, takes over these cases regarding the Jews, Hakl is determined to find out what is really going on. This film’s production values were amazing, and pretty much everything about it I found to be flawless. The story was delivered and unveiled brilliantly. Another great Cinequest film. 9/10
4. Dreamer (USA) - Written & Directed by Jesse Salmeron. Starring Jeremy Ray Valdez, Isabella Hofmann, Croy Knauf, Britni Sheridan, Julio Cedillo, Serena Varghese Jonna Juul-Hansen, Jake Messinger, Eleese Lester, Ron Jackson
This is a very powerful film. Jesse Salmeron brings to light the story of a young undocumented mexican-american, who has been raised and informally adopted by an American family. The film is a gripping tale of the American Dream, from a perspective Hollywood seldom touches on. With an amazing gripping performance from Jeremy Ray Valdez (La Mission), and a powerful screenplay from writer/director, Jesse Salmeron, this is a must-see. This film delivers on so many levels and is a great American tale of how some people may be left behind in our current society, and sheds light on certain social injustices still existing today, not to mention delivering some great points to ponder about family values and the bond between siblings. 9/10
3. The Citizen (USA) . Directed by Sam Kadi. Written by Jazmen Darnell Brown, Samir Younis & Sam Kadi. Starring Khaled Nabawy, Agnes Bruckner, Rizwan Mani, Cary Elwes, William Atherton
The Citizen tells a story of triumph, strength and courage, some very honorable American ideals, all captured brilliantly by Writer/Director Sam Kadi with his character, Ibrahim. First of all, production quality wise, this might be the best film I’ve seen at Cinequest (I’ve seen 12). I was extremely impressed with the cinematography, editing and score of the film. The subject matter is especially personal to me, and one that is often not shown in this light in Hollywood. 9/10
2. One Day Or Another (Turkey). Written & Directed by Ali Vatansever. Starring Cansu Dere, Sarp Akkaya, Wilma Elles, Sercan Badur, Deniz Ali Akbas, Kenan Bal, Baran Akbulut, Ezgi Gor, Salih Kalyon, Bahtiyar Engin.
A great ensemble piece weaving together stories of several characters in a small Turkish Town. Similar to the works of Abass Kiarostami and other Iranian New Wave films, Ali Vatansever’s film is both complex, rich with imagery and powerful performances, and cultural context. This film was great in my opinion because through various stories and plotlines, it delivered an overall cohesive mental imprint of what this Turkish town’s subculture is like, and more importantly it allowed us to place ourselves in each of these character’s shoes, despite them splitting screen time. The script is very well written, and the use of wind and overall direction of the film to convey the emotion of the story was very effective. I was definetely thoroughly fascinated and impressed with this film. 9/10
1. The Racket Boys .
1. The Racket Boys (United States). Written & Directed by Brandon Willer. Starring Paul Haapaniemi, Dannikke Walkker & Brandon Willer.
– An existential comedy which tells the story of 2 friends who aim to take a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco for their respective reasons. They make a pit stop about 30 minutes into the trip and pick up a hitchhiker, who seems to just be happy get away from LA. This film delves deep into these character’s motives, which is a product of great writing. I felt like I was in that car during the trip with them. The flashes of existentialism, where the characters give light to the fact that they are merely characters in a film were especially well done in my eyes. Overall this is just a great example of an envelope-pushing film, and gives hope to those of us who aim to make something substantial without a huge budget. Kudos to Brandon Willer, I would love to own a copy of this film eventually. 9/10
Other Films seen (these are the ones that were either mediocre, or worse than mediocre):
13. Everybody in Our Family (Romania)- 7/10
14. Habanastation (Cuba)- 7/10
15. Chapman (USA)- 7/10
16. Mystery (China)- 6/10
17. Chaos (France) – 6/10
18. Aftermath (USA)- 6/10
Below I have listed my top 5 actor performances, top 5 actress performances, top 5 screenplays, top 5 films as far as direction, top 5 films as far as cinematography, and top 5 film scores.
Benjamin Ellis Fine in Detonator
*Jeremy Ray Valdez in Dreamer
Piyush Mishra in The Playback Singer
Khaled Nabawy in The Citizen
Ivan Trojan In the Shadow
*Dannikke Walkker The Racket Boys
Cansu Dere in One Day Or Another
Navi Rawat in The Playback Singer
Jessalyn Gilsig (Somewhere Slow)
Cora Benesh for (City Baby)
*The Racket Boys (Brandon Willer)
Dreamer (Jesse Salmeron)
Jazmen Darnell Brown, Samir Younis & Sam Kadi (The Citizen)
Jeremy O’ Keefe (Somewhere Slow)
Marek Epstein, David Ondricek, Misha Votruba, (IN the Shadow)
Damon Maulucci Detonator
Brandon Willer The Racket Boys
*Ali Vatansever for One Day Or Another
Jesse Salmeron for Dreamer
Sam Kadi for The Citizen
*Ali Ocay Gozkaya for One day Or Another
Michael Cano for Detonator
Chris Lagarce for The Racket Boys
Alejandro Perez for Habanastation
Adam Sikora In the Shadow
Christopher Brady (The Citizen)
Peyman Yazdanian (Mystery)
*Inanc Sanver (One Day or Another)
Rene banos (Habanastation)
Joe Jack Talcum (Detonator)