Tulsa United Film Festival

ImageThis week I went to the Tulsa United Film Festival. I skipped kickoff night (didn’t get notification in time), but went to opening night. These were the films I saw:

  • Eagles in the Chicken Coop: fun concept – juxtaposing serious art with porn – asking the question ‘What would it be like to try to make the one in the genre and marketing requirements of the other’? Felt a bit long, but still inspiring for anyone interested in cross-genre work, which I am.
  • Tall Tale Tanner: this short was just OK
  • Superheroes: this was significant – I didn’t like the formula approach (show us how kooky real life superheroes are in the first 75% of the film, then humanize them for the last 25%). I’d like to have seen more even portrayal throughout. But still fascinating.
  • 40 Years: great short – substantive treatment of trauma, loss, and guilt – good special effects – creepy
  • Beware of Christians: a fundamentalist tract disguised as an indie film – this purported to be about a group of kids challenging conventional fundamentalist evangelicalism by going to a different part of the world (and seeing how others do it) – instead, it was a bible verse every 5-minutes, devolved into talk of “what god thinks” about things, and “what god wants from us” – in other words, a fundamentalist sermon, with all the presumption untouched by ‘doing’ Europe. What they did in Europe was look for examples, on location, of sins to attack. For materialism, a futuristic car. In other words, they didn’t change – they spent their time doing what fundamentalists do – worrying about what other people are doing wrong. I walked out of this filth.
  • Tourette Syndrome: informative documentary short – in the first 2min, I thought it was going to be a mockumentary and I wouldn’t like it – but it was a bite-sized piece elucidating the condition and its affect on kids physically, emotionally, and socially – I would like to have seen more about the other 360 days/year of these kids’ lives in the context of a conformist public school system, to compliment the focus on the wonderful camp some of them can go to
  • I Do, I Don’t: this documentary was non-judgemental, and I liked that – I would like to have seen more challenging of the assumptions behind fundamentalism and how it conceives of marriage – it struck me as quite weak on that point – I couldn’t give it a fair viewing though, after being set up by “Beware of Christians”. Even the festival producer noted that maybe it was the wrong arrangement. Still, I think the trend toward completely unbiased portrayals of potentially destructive communities leaves us without enough of that ‘investigative journalism’ approach of looking at the tough questions. The film synopsis asks “but to what end?”. Yeah, but it was disappointing to be left without any attempts at answers to that question. Maybe a better question is less open-ended – “does fundamentalism set up relationships for either a loss of meaning or complete failure?” I dunno. But I’d had about enough after 4hrs (with the previous feature) of hearing people talk about “what god wants”.
  • Stay With Me Jesus: Can’t say much about this. Sort of incomprehensible. Shadow puppet Jesus character set to a pop song.
  • Bottle: Fun, romantic, bleak in the end – suggests that romance is great, but when you act on it, things tend to go permanently awry.
  • Eat the Sun: A portrayal of how stupid people can be, and how easily they can get bilked. This was fairly non-judgmental in the first 85% of the film (What is it with that trend? Has this generation of filmmakers lost the ability to ask questions or challenge underlying presuppositions?) but in the last 15% it exposed the guru as a probable fraud, and then focused on how people believe what they see on web sites, because it sounds convincing (to their presuppositions, again). I found it kind of tedious, but not bad.
  • The Philosopher: Jean Reno was in this one and, as always, he’s a superb comedic actor. It’s like being pleasantly surprised by Kevin Kline. The film, though, regardless of casting, was superb. For a 16min short, it asked substantive questions. It was light on answers, but I still liked it a lot.
  • Gabi On the Roof: I found this one vulgar to the point of being tedious. It’s one thing to show us the struggles of people living in NYC who can’t afford to – it’s another to just show us their unrelated struggles based on being the shallow, insipid people that they are. Dumped this one early.
  • Holy Rollers: I commented on this one [here].

So far, the festival is pretty good. It’s hard for indie film fests to be bad. I’d like to see more attention to the voting – a common weak point at festivals. Tulsa’s Dead Center did better this year, but consistency is the key, and I disapprove of letting people vote for the same film as many times as they’re able. That was actually encouraged at Southern Winds Film Festival, which made the awards seem a bit corrupt. Nothing like that here, but I was disappointed that there were no ballots available after The Philosopher and Eat the Sun. I wanted to register my enthusiasm for the former, and ‘meh’ for the latter. And once the voting seems tainted, I usually stop voting, so it kind of detracted from the festival for me.

I do have to say the guy who brought the films to Tulsa is doing an admirable job. I found him receptive to feedback on the arrangement, and he seems to be deeply interested in putting together something of substance. The venue also, was superb. The Circle Cinema in Tulsa is a bit pricey on refreshments, and could use healthy options like fruit, pure juices, and crunchy granola bars, hey also made it very comfortable and professional – far more impressive than a lot of Oklahoma venues I’ve been in. For that matter, Living Arts was great, too. They actually ran after the people who left early to ask for their feedback on the film selection. How open-minded is that? Good job, guys.

Overall, a great festival. 🙂

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