Florida Film Festival sneak peeks! Online bonus reviews

Florida Film Festival sneak peeks! Online bonus reviews

StephenMillerHeadshot_560873495.jpgThe Florida Film Festival brings rare and unique cinema to Orlando from Apr. 9 through 18. There are three fascinating LGBT-friendly documentaries (see reviews here or pick up a copy of the current Watermark).  Watermark also got a sneak peak at an Oscar-nominated but rare animated feature The Secret of Kells.  We also saw the 2010 Oscar winning short film The New Tenants (centering on a gay couple).  Finally, we screened La Viuda, a Spanish short with LGBT sub-themes.  More information on the festival here.
The Secret of Kells
(Voices of Evan McGuire, Brendan Gleeson)
It’s easy to take for granted the craft of animation.  We’re inundated with a dozen major films, TV sitcoms, commercials, video games, and the Cartoon Network (with its cheap renderings out of Korea and Japan), so we get buried in substandard static.  The Secret of Kells reminds us of the art form’s beautiful power.  It’s actually a story about creating vivid, moving paintings.

Brendan (McGuire) is an orphan being raised in a monastery called Kells.  His uncle the Abbot (Gleeson) was once a great illustrator of texts.  Now the Abbot is obsessed with building a wall to protect the Christian converts of the area from marauding Vikings.  The Abbot hasn’t shared with Brendan the brilliance of the artistic monks.  It isn’t until Brendan meets a visiting holyman—a recent survivor of attacks—that the boy starts to learn that drawing holds a power, a magic Brendan doesn’t know he also possesses.

This quiet film doesn’t contain a lot to the story, really.  Instead, there is soft and gentle mixing of Irish Celt symbology, Wiccan belief, and early Christian mythology in a way that even kids can understand and enjoy.More importantly, the colorful two-dimensional visions are a deft, modern representation of ancient monastic art. 

This little-known film was actually a 2009 Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature.  The Secret of Kells deserves that and so much more, because its message about the magic of illustration is powerfully told, rendered here in the perfect medium.

Secret of Kellis trailer:

The New Tenants
(Starring David Rakoff, Jamie Harrold, Vincent D’Onofrio)
This sick and twisted little film won the 2010 Oscar for Best Live Action Short. It seems the Academy has a particularly cruel sense of humor.

A dour, depressing gay couple (Rakoff and Harrold) have just moved into their new apartment, having no idea of their new home’s sordid, bloody past.  They soon learn!  A neighbor knocks at the door to borrow flour.  Instead, she tells of the apartment’s grisly recent history.  It’s a good thing it would take a lot more to ruffle the feathers of these fatalistic fags, who take everything with an easy sense of defeat.

The New Tenants reeks of New York City nihilism; that’s what makes it so fun.  Each actor is given their moment to shine in this 21-minute comic downer.  If you love pitch-black humor, there’s too much in this gritty short to love.
La Viuda [The Widow]
(Starring Neus Asensi, Christophe Miravel, Javier Calvo)
The short La Viuda is an entertaining combination of soap opera and careful verbal constraint from Spain and the students at UCLA.

Angela (Asensi) is the widow of the title, dedicated to her small-town Catholic Church and its handsome young priest (Miravel). In an effort to get closer to the sexy and artistic padre, she invites him home.  As a cover, she asks the priest to give painting lessons to her cute teenage son (Calvo), who hopes to go to the big city of Barcelona and study art.

It’s easy to get an idea where this is all going.  The palette, however, is a quieter and subtler.  There are small touches of Spanish hand-wringers a’la Pedro Almodovar.  However, La Viuda—its plot, the art direction, and especially the dialogue—is rendered with sparseness.  This stark approach is a lovely choice that gives the audience more to think about by the end of this short film.

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