By: Nick Rudow
Movies at a film festival can be real hit and miss sometimes. That was the case with this year’s edition of Filmfort, the film festival section of Treefort, in Boise, Idaho. The festival’s programmers certainly deserve credit for incorporating a lot of diversity into the film lineup this year. From experimental documentaries to romantic dramas, Filmfort had something for everybody this year. Over my five days at Treefort, I hunkered down at the Owyhee, Filmfort’s venue this year, to watch a wide array of films, hoping to find that one gem of a discovery that you want to share with the rest of the world.
Bringing a bit of Missoula to Filmfort, this year’s opening film of the festival was Toad to Nowhere, a documentary largely filmed in Montana. Directed by Andrew Rizzo and former KBGA DJ Marshall Granger, this film documents the experiences of Rizzo and Granger taking a variety of psychedelic drugs across Montana. As they trip on drugs such as LSD and DMT, they eventually discover bufo alvarus, a psychedelic toad that they find in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. We see a bit of Missoula in this movie as well, including the Roxy Theater where Rizzo and Granger work. Even though I know these two guys personally, I felt like I knew them better after watching this documentary. Watching these two experience their drug trips makes for an intense and intimate film. One scene in particular is captivating yet disturbing, as Rizzo has a scary freak out while on Salvia. It’s like we’re witnessing a person’s deep, spiritual experience and it’s riveting. Missoulians will have a chance to see the film, as it’s playing at the Roxy on April 23.
Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey on the other hand is a complete mess, a wasted opportunity from an immensely talented documentarian. From Oscar-winning director Terry Sanders, this film, stop me if you’ve heard this before, is about a teenage couple who run away with each other to escape from their parents and their mundane lives. Set during the summer of 1966, the film features all the cliché 60s iconography you can fit into one movie, from diner jukeboxes to classic red corvettes. It’s as if the movie needs to keep making the point that it’s set in the 60s, as we overhear conversations about the Vietnam War and audio from Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Apart from the barrage of 60s décor, the film’s romance between the two leads feels forced and overwritten. The lovebirds of the movie, Brett and Liza, played by Mikey Madison and Sean H. Scully, overact the hell out of their scenes together. Perhaps if they had better material to work with they would’ve had better chemistry together but in this film, even their sex scene feels awkward and flat. The film feels like it’s a rough first draft, featuring strange, jarring cuts and unsteady camerawork. It’s surprising, considering Sanders’ body of documentary work, how unfocused his direction is here. There’s so much more I could say about this bafflingly terrible film but I’ll just say that it’s never a good sign of a movie when all you can think of while watching it is how Mystery Science Theater could have a blast with it.
Liza, Liza, Skies Are Grey’s bland predictability was boring but even with an original story with an interesting concept, you can create a boring film. That was the case with How the Sky Will Melt from director Matthew Wade, a filmmaker from Idaho. Wade presented this film at Filmfort literally on a VHS tape, making for a unique viewing experience as you could clearly see the pops and cracks associated with VHS quality. This format should be utilized in a more entertaining fashion and instead it’s used as a tired gimmick. Centered on a young musician who returns to her hometown of Boise and starts experiencing nightmarish visions, the film doesn’t come up with anything interesting to say with its material and feels more focused on strange, David Lynch-like imagery than anything else. I really dug the film’s synth electronic score but it wasn’t enough to sustain my full engagement with the story. There were multiple walkouts during this film and even the guy next to me was literally fast asleep and snoring loudly. Even I started to feel the film’s sleep-inducing effect after awhile.
What’s Revenge, from first-time director Kat Hunt, was definitely more engaging. Centered on a couple of female friends who go and take revenge on the deceitful men in their lives, Hunt takes elements from 70s pulp cinema to create a wonderfully rich sense of style. Hunt describes the film as docu-fiction, blending together staged reenactments of true events and fictionalized scenes. The film feels a bit undercooked at less than an hour, but overall shows a great deal of promise for Hunt as a filmmaker. Hunt also has a fantastic ear for music, inserting a wicked Black Sabbath tune at just the right moment. We definitely need this kind of fearless, feminist filmmaking more than ever and it’s really refreshing to discover a new female voice in independent cinema as exciting as Hunt right now.
Another new, exciting voice in independent cinema right now is Austin Chapman, the first-time filmmaker behind Lacrimosa. Chapman was born deaf and his film portrays what it’s like to be deaf in a really authentic way that’s rarely seen on screen. This film serves as a kind of autobiographical portrait of Chapman’s life, not just about his deafness but also his passion as a filmmaker and the relationships with people in his life. Chapman handles a tricky balance between humor and tragedy in his direction very well and it makes me look forward to what’s next in store for him. Chapman said during the film’s Q&A that he’s currently working on a project similar to ‘Moonlight’, which sounds really exciting to me.
Every time I go to a film festival, I hope to find that one special movie that makes me want to go out and tell the whole world about it. I found that kind of movie with Dave Made a Maze, a visually inventive film by first-time director Bill Waterson. The film focuses on Dave, an artist, who, out of pent-up frustration, builds a fort in his living room, which we soon learn is much bigger on the inside than it may seem. Once his wife learns that he’s become trapped in his own labyrinth-like creation, she invites some friends over to go help her look for him inside the fort and all kinds of crazy things happen from there. The whole cast is fantastic, including James Urbaniak, whose voice you may recognize from the ‘Venture Bros.’ Speaking of Adult Swim shows, the crew of ‘Robot Chicken’ helped out on some of the animation on this film, which looks amazing. It’s the kind of wildly imaginative film we rarely get these days and it’s so exciting to discover this gem. This movie is totally bonkers and I loved every minute of it. Finding movies like Dave Made a Maze makes the whole film festival experience such an exhilarating one.