Dances with Films, since its inception, has been a cavalcade of truly independent films. It does a great job of keeping the spirit of independent cinema alive by deliberately choosing films from up-and-coming filmmakers. Most of the films aren’t perfect, but that’s the point. There are seeds being planted of future mastery to come. Each film might have its share of strengths and weaknesses, but they all possess interesting ideas and the festival raises excitement for these filmmakers’ future projects.
This fits in very well with CineArtistry’s motto of bold, personal, and audacious independent filmmaking, so much so that we’ve shown a number of films from previous Dances with Films in our own Showcases. This year, we have had the honor of covering the festival, and here are some films that stood out to us over the first weekend.
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A quirky, charming, coming of age short film about a boy searching for his passion in life. In searching for his passion, he ends up touching the people he comes across. The style is very much like the Juno’s of the world, with colorful cinematography and offbeat dialogue, but what elevates this film is its ability to be at times unflinching and adult in its message. An ensemble comedy would presumably be very difficult to pull off in a short film due to its short running time, but it’s well done here due the story being anchored by the boy’s simple encounters with colorful characters that get right to the point.
THIS IS THAT NIGHT
This is an excellent example of how to make a short film with limited resources, presumably just a camera, sound, lights, and an apartment. It depicts two people’s first night of real intimacy, with all the smiles, body language, dinner making, and awkwardness laid bare. Its simple and universal premise allows the story to unfold lyrically, loosely structured by the length of time over the course of a night. The black and white cinematography is a nice touch that gives the film an added cinematic quality, which is a smart move by the filmmakers as this would have been more difficult to achieve in color without a larger production design budget. Coupled with the throwback soundtrack, the film feels like a modern take on the old “talkies” of the past like It Happened One Night.
The best feature film of the festival so far. It’s about a man recently released from prison who attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter, only to find that she’s a victim of domestic violence by her policeman husband. On the surface, this premise could have gotten heavy handed very quickly, but its anchored by well written characters that mostly avoid cliche and very strong performances for a low budget film. The father is not a hardened criminal but simply a failure, and someone deserving of a second chance if he’s willing to work for it. When he learns of his daughter’s abuse, he approaches the situation delicately, which shows a surprising level of poise and intelligence. The daughter showcases a combination of strength and confusion, which comes off as truthful given the circumstances. The camera work is the most interesting aspect with the bold aesthetic choice of shooting almost the entire film in close-ups. While it’s most likely this was partly chosen due to the limitations of production, it echoes John Cassevetes’ Faces.