Saturday, September 15, 2012

2012 United Film Festival

During the first week in September, I went to two screenings at the United Film Festival which screened at the Little Roxie.

Salad Days starring Emily Yoshida, David Horwitz & Anthony Kuan; directed by Hiram Chan, Jeff Mizushima & Emily Yoshida; (2011) - Official Website
GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling; directed by Brett Whitcomb; documentary; (2012) - Official Website

Salad Days was preceded by the short film Crime School (11 minutes).  GLOW was preceded by two short films: Raceway (5 minutes) and Walk Tall (11 minutes). 

Crime School starring Dani Hendry & Jaime Nocher; directed by Maria Valentina Bove; (2011)
Raceway; directed by Brett Whitcomb; documentary
Walk Tall; directed by Kate Sullivan; documentary; (2011) - Official Website

I'm still not 100% sure the United Film Festival is about.   I guess it's about screening small, independent films.  Their website trumpets their venues - New York, London, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and...Tulsa.  As the old Sesame Street song goes, one of these doesn't belong.  Apparently Tulsa is the hometown of Jason Connell, the festival founder.  Connell is better known as a film producer and I've seen many of the films he has produced:  Cleanflix, Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians and Gabi on the Roof in July.  Although Gabi played at Indiefest and Cinequest, I caught it at last year's United Film Festival.  I also see that Connell has producer credits on GLOW and Salad Days.  I think I'm beginning to see a pattern here...

Regardless of the potential conflict of interest, I'm glad the United screens the films it does.

Salad Days is a micro-budget looking film about three dissociated youths in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  There is the quirky Caitlin (Emily Yoshida), the jerk Alex (David Horwitz) and the shy Anthony (Anthony Kuan).  Their live intersect through social networking which seemed the main impediment to their happiness.

The tagline on the film poster is "a comedy of tragic proportions."  I'm not sure I would use "tragic" to describe these people.  More misfit than dysfunctional, the three of them float though life with little motivation and seemingly no jobs.  Caitlin seems to be in serious denial that her best friend has a lesbian crush on her.  Alex, with a broken leg resulting from a car crash, is trying to score with his sister's roommate.  He also has serious stalker tendencies.  Anthony, whose delivery reminded me of Seung-Hui Cho (the VA Tech shooter), is obsessed with Caitlin's weird YouTube puppet videos and spends most of the film looking for an internet connection.  Throughout the film, several women flirt with Anthony but his weird obsession with finding an internet connection is all he can think about.

In the end, they are all left alone with various social networking mistakes and gaffes leaving them further isolated.  It's a rather bleak critique on youth and modern society.  With few laughs, the film gets bogged down with its own seriousness.  Director Jeff Mizushima took questions from the sparse audience aftewards and mentioned the script underwent several rewrites which I felt explained some of the disjointedness of the film.

Far from a great (or even good) film, Salad Days hopefully presages better things from the principals.  I sensed a better script or idea than what was eventually filmed.  Marketed to Asian film festivals, Salad Days is less about ethnicity and more about a generation's social isolation despite the technology intended to interconnect us.  This is not new ground but far from being tragic, the characters soldier on in isolation - a perennial theme of self-absorbed youth of any era.

As much as director Brett Whitcombe tries to elevate his subjects, GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling comes off as lightweight.  GLOW was an all women wrestling league in the late 1980s.  Pro wrestling is campy to start with but GLOW elevated it to high camp - corny set pieces, girls in skimpy costumes and each wrestler had her own rap set to the beat of the Super Bowl Shuffle, the anthem of the 1985 Chicago Bears.  It's silly and fun but I wasn't quite sure how it empowered women, no matter how many young girls told the wrestlers they wanted to grow up to be like them.

From its murky beginnings as a partnership between Jayne Mansfield's son and Pia Zadora's husband, GLOW looked and felt like a poor cousin to WWE (or WWWF as it was known back then).  One wrestler summed it up best when she said she heard GLOW was a tax writeoff which was never expected to make money.  It is also hinted that some of the girls performed sexual favors at times.

Regardless, most of the women of GLOW seem none the worse for wear.  They uniformly looked back at their time with GLOW with fondness and nostalgia more fitting a college sorority which is what one girl compared it to.  Two of the larger wrestlers (Mountain Fiji and Matilda the Hun) suffer physical ailments which seemed more to do with their excess weight as opposed to wrestling injuries.  Mt. Fiji's (Emily Dole) story was the most affecting and could probably be the topic of a stand alone documentary.

GLOW is a nice little film.  There is nothing about it to set it apart unless you are a wrestling fan.  I went because the screening fit my schedule and I recall the GLOW commercials from my youth.

Crime School is a love story set in an alternate reality where criminals to to university to learn how to commit crimes.  Nice concept, weak plot left me bored.

Raceway is about a guy who runs a slot car racetrack in Texas.  At 5 minutes, there wasn't much to like or dislike.

Walk Tall was the best film of the five I saw at the festival.  A biography of George Weedon, a member of the 1948 British Olympic gymnastic team, Walk Tall uses animation, archival photos and interviews to tell his story.  Still spry at 92 years, Weedon seemingly has made it his purpose in life to correct poor posture wherever and whenever he sees it.  Funny and uplifting, Walk Tall packs quite a bit into 11 minutes.

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