The Carmel Art & Film Festival launches a deep and dramatic schedule of star-tinged events.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
It’s just a fact of our culture: Film trumps visual art. Actors, directors, shoots, sets, gossip, previews, reviews, merchandising, festivals – all that film stuff captivates us. Art, on the other hand, not so much. Don’t believe me? Get a pen and paper, and in one minute, write down the names of all the prominent living actors and directors you can conjure; then do the same for living artists. You’re not even reaching for that pen and paper, are you?
So it shouldn’t surprise that even though the Carmel Art & Film Festival was founded by the folks behind Carmel-based ARTWORKS Magazine, and though its namesake puts “art” first, film dominates its four-day stay.
There are three distinct art shows in the festival: Michael Childers’ well-traveled photography exhibit, Icons & Legends, at Marjorie Evans Gallery at Sunset Center; The Art of Wine, a roving art crawl and fundraiser auction through seven galleries in Carmel; and the idyllic Art in the Park at Devendorf Park Saturday and Sunday.
Film-wise, there are 50 shorts, 27 feature documentaries and 14 feature films ready to screen at six venues, with many filmmakers, principals and actors present; most of the six free (and two paid) lectures and panels revolve around film – the others belong to Twitter co-creator Dom Sagolla, and Childers, though many of his portraits are of film stars; and two of the big galas and the luncheon feature film awards and famous film figures.
Music Cafe performances
L.A. R&B/soul songstress Raquel Rodriguez (8pm Sat); Morgan Fisher’s dreamy keyboard meditations accompanied by his light paintings (noon Sun); and the ambient songscapes of Austin Peralta and Thundercat (4pm Sun). $10 each, Carmel Women’s Club.
Dom Sagolla / Women in Film
Twitter co-creator Sagolla can help you keep on top of festival surprises via social media (11am Sat); and actress/producer Virginia Madsen (Sideways) leads an empowering assembly of women filmmakers in lunch, talks and a screening (11:30am Sat). $10 (except Women in Film), Sunset Center.
True Bromance (6pm Sat, All Saints Theater) director/producer Sebastian Doggart talked up We Need to Talk About Kevin (8pm Sat, All Saints Theater); Best of CAFF Shorts (2pm Sun, Sunset Center); The Pixar Shorts: A Short History (8:45pm Sat) is screened on Carmel White Sands Beach.
There are plenty of worthy elements to the festival. The Music Cafe performances at Carmel Women’s Club, despite a late start, are lining up to be pretty stellar, with sets by R&B/soul singer Raquel Rodriguez, the indie jazz/hip-hop fusion of Austin Peralta and Thundercat, and the atmospheric ambient improv of Morgan Fisher. And the lectures are un-contradictorily free and valuable, with sessions with former SNL writers Fred Wolf and Adam McKay (Will Ferrell’s collaborator on The Other Guys, Talladega Nights and internet sensation FunnyorDie.com), and Clint Eastwood’s longtime editors Joel Cox and Gary Roach. Quite a number of the festival’s films choose art as their subject, and while CAFF gets credit for inviting visual art to the party, really it’s films’ party. So let’s talk film.
Director Eastwood’s special screening, for festival badgeholders, of his not-yet-released J. Edgar – starring Leonardo DiCaprio and written by Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning writer of Milk – is casting an incandescent light on the rest of the festival. The biopic about powerful and controversial FBI strongman J. Edgar Hoover is showing here about three weeks before its official world premiere at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. But the screening and the gala that chaperones it are so air sealed against all but VIPs (Warner Bros. doesn’t want even journalists to attend), it’s as if it exists on another plane. Mere humans will have to wait til the Nov. 9 wide release.
But that’s the big whale in the ecosystem of documentaries, features and shorts, most of which are struggling-artist independent stuff doing the festival circuit, looking for a distributor who likes and believes in them.
Hollywood actor-turned-director pet projects can be promising stuff, though. Though director/writer Steve Scrovin and actor/writer Fred Stoller, of indie feature Fred and Vinnie (7:30pm Thu, Sunset Center), aren’t necessarily brand names, you’ve probably seen their work. Scrovin was an Emmy-winning writer on all nine seasons of Everybody Loves Raymond and Stoller played bit parts on Raymond (as his cousin) and Seinfeld. They are accompanying their film, a “95 percent” autobiographical comedy about Stoller and his real-life friend Vinnie D’Angelo, an overweight, agoraphobic wannabe actor, moving in with him and disrupting his life in an endearing way.
“It’s almost documentary in its accuracy,” Stoller says. “It’s about relationships… it was shot when I was struggling.”
It’s a close-up, funny and low-key look at the lives of two quirky people, executed professionally and admirably real, a sort-of wistful buddy picture that’s not afraid of life’s confusing bits.
“People watched it,” Stoller says, “and I didn’t know [until their feedback] it was so much about isolation, tolerating people, being an alien. It’s a weird relationship… friendship… a guy who doesn’t like leaving the apartment and loves hearing my stories. A weird Midnight Cowboy thing. We all know a Vinnie, a guy who can’t quite function.”
And that’s the kind of unheralded, human, revealing kind of storytelling that festivals like CAFF can do, exemplified also in Jesus Was a Commie (4pm Fri, Sunset Center), an “avant-garde” short film by acclaimed actor Matthew Modine about Jesus’ philosophy aligning with Utopian communism. Modine also will take audience questions after the film’s West Coast premiere at the festival.
“Communism has a different value in America,” says Modine, speaking from a hotel room in L.A. after a night of shooting Christopher Nolan’s next Dark Knight movie. “In Rome they have a mayor who identifies as communist. When I say ‘Jesus was a commie’ there, it’s not shocking. It’s not offensive. It’s a dialogue.
“The problem with Christians is that they don’t act like Christ,” he continues. “My favorite line is ‘You without sin cast the first stone.’ It has the potential to change the course of human history. It’s such a beautiful idea.”
Aside from the 15-minute short’s provocative title, Modine says the film is an essay, part documentary, part commentary, part narrative, that had other film festivals asking “What have you made?”
Despite the fresh loss of his father, who died last weekend, actor James Franco is slated to appear for his directorial debut, Sal. The biographical film is about James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause co-star Sal Mineo, one of Hollywood’s first openly gay actors who was killed under mysterious circumstances in 1976.
Stacey Keach (American History X, Oliver Stone’s W.) and Tom Sizemore (Natural Born Killers, Saving Private Ryan) star in White Knight (4pm Sun, Sunset Center), a film Sizemore says is looney but radiates with a warm, human center. Sizemore plays a Ku Klux Klan grand wizard who bunks with a Mexican in prison, in an O Brother, Where Art Thou? kind of vibe and Jim Jarmusch kind of aesthetic.
To get at his character, Sizemore went back to his childhood in Detroit, where he was witness to race riots and National Guard occupation and venom over integration.
“I started there,” he says. “I started [my character] that way. That was my way into it. Fear, confusion.”
He’s pleased with the results.
“I don’t like watching myself, at all,” he says. “I put on 15 pounds and had patchy baldness for this movie. I’m not the most attractive guy. ‘Oh my God, I look like a fat fucking pig.’ But I was drawn into this off-the-wall world. It’s a simple truism: Love is redemptive.”
Yet other festival films are augmented by famous names. We Need to Talk About Kevin stars Tilda Swinton, which bodes well for it; Bright Day was executive produced by Bill Maher, and Soundtrack for a Revolution by Danny Glover. But there are many others that appear to deserve attention just on the strength of their stories, from homeless artists to music of the Civil Rights Movement, from surfing’s early history to a dying comic trying to get on Letterman, from the “largest artwork in the world” to a tale of a poor Ugandan boy attaining a future, from the youthful student stuff of the HARA Film Conservatory to Sunday’s Best of the Shorts. These films deserve an audience and an audience deserves these films. The Carmel Art & Film Festival would like to introduce the two of you.
THE CARMEL ART & FILM FESTIVAL takes place Thursday to Sunday. Go to www.CarmelArtAndFilm.com for details; get Twitter updates @carmelfilmfest.