#AFF20th: 8 Days of Film: Quirky/Arthouse Films
10.26.13 | KELSEY HOCKMULLER
With all the fantastic marquee films at the festival, it can be hard to remember that there are lots of smaller films playing that will not be widely released right after the festival (I’m looking at you 12 Years A Slave). So, to hopefully distract you from the glamour of movie stars and famous names, here’s a selection of quirky, cult, and “arthouse” films playing each night (basically all the weird stuff), including several of my personal favorites at the festival.
Kick off the festival opening night with Putzel at 7:30pm at the State. The story of Walter, known affectionately as Putzel, whose aspirations of taking over his uncle’s smoked fish emporium interrupted by Sally, who begins an affair with his married uncle just before he plans to retire. The cast features familiar faces such as Up In The Air’s Melanie Lynsky and Much Ado’s Fran Kranz, but lead John Carpenter carries the film with awkward self-deprecating charm. Putzel is writer Rick Moore (in attendance)’s first feature, but has already won the Jury Award for Best Screenplay at the Prescott Film Festival. Thursday night will be the only chance to see this film at AFF, so take it!
The first Friday night, venture into the weird world of underground art (i.e. hipster) culture with Hellaware at 10:45pm at the Alamo Village. Hellaware follows a New York photographer who travels down to rural Delaware to shoot a possibly psychotic rock-rap band. A commentary on exploitation and the art world, Hellaware is dark and hilarious, twisting unpredictably to its conclusion. UT grad Writer/director Michael M. Bilandic (Happy Life) is responsible for this socially questionable film.
To lighten up your Saturday evening, check out A Birder’s Guide To Everything at 6pm at the IMAX. A quirky coming of age film about bird-watchers, Birder’s Guide follows David Portnoy, a high school sophomore who blows off his dad’s wedding to locate what he thinks is an extinct duck. Touching, tongue-in-cheek, and ultimately heart-warming, Birder’s Guide successfully avoids clichés and embraces the relative oddity of its birder protagonists without mocking them. Director Rob Meyer and his co-writer Luke Matheny will be in attendance – if you’ve ever wanted to know what working with featured actor Ben Kingsley is like, now’s the chance to ask!
Sunday night, go support an AFF alumnus by seeing How To Follow Strangers at 8pm at the Alamo Village. Here last year as part of the hilarious documentary The Exquisite Corpse Project (my favorite film at the festival last year, just saying), writer/director Chioke Nassor returns to AFF with his debut feature. The film follows a young man who, after hearing about the discovery of woman’s body two years after her death, disappears to see if anyone will notice, and the young woman who does. Zany, fun, and often poignant, How To Follow Strangers will charm you and make you smile.
Anyone who has talked to me in the past month has probably heard me raving about Living Dolls, which plays Monday evening at the Galaxy Highland at 7pm and is one of my favorite films at AFF. This fantastic documentary follows the lives of several doll collectors and enthusiasts. This sounds rather ordinary until you realize that “dolls” encompasses everything from limited edition Barbies, to 19th century antiques, to life-sized sex dolls, to anatomically correct robots made from chopped up Barbie dolls, and that the collections span hundreds of dolls and are worth thousands of dollars. The film explores humanity’s fascination with the inanimate and the affects of doll obsession on its subjects’ lives without any hint of ridicule or judgment.
Continuing with the weird, The Fable of Shannon Cable plays at 9:30pm Tuesday night at the Galaxy Highland. Written and directed by Austin filmmaker Vinnie Hogan (in attendance), this comedic take on haunted houses follows Shannon’s fateful weekend house-sitting at a very old house inhabited by a trio of singing ghosts. All over the place in the best way possible, this film keeps the Austin film scene weird in a big way.
Also from an Austin filmmaker, but considerably darker in tone, Polish-language film The Bloc plays Wednesday night at the State Theater at 9:45pm. A modern film noir set in an eerily Soviet-influenced totalitarian state, The Bloc explores the harsh realities of a decaying “perfect society” through the story of Ajek Lynx, an alcoholic private detective who investigates through the urban wasteland and corrupt government on the disappearances of several children. Engrossing, disturbing, and featuring hauntingly beautiful cinematography, Wednesday’s screening is the film’s world premiere and only screening at AFF. See it while you have the chance, there are few films like it.
If you need to recover from the general bleakness of The Bloc, consider closing out the festival with Handy, the story of a hand who detaches from its human body to find itself. Though its intentions are innocent enough, the consequences of Handy’s actions dramatically change the lives of all other hands in the world. Playing at 7pm at the Alamo Village with director/writer Vincent Cosentino in attendance, a film this absurd in concept seems like the perfect way to close out 8 days celebrating inventive filmmaking and radically new stories.