In addition to the fall season, we are now entering the year's second season (after Feb.-Mar.) of local film festivals, or to state it more carefully, of local film-related events that call themselves festivals. In chronological order -- and I hope I haven't omitted one -- they deploy themselves as follows.
The Imperial Beach International Film Festival, September 9 and 10 at the Old Palm Theater (Friday) and Dempsey Holder Hall (Saturday), wherever those may be, plus a free outdoor screening of The Princess Bride at the Imperial Beach Pier Plaza (Saturday night at 8:00). "Now in its third year," I am quoting from the press release, "the IBIFF hosts a range of activities, including screening of superb short films, workshops with film industry professionals, an art-walk, and art auction." The film industry professional cited by name is an Andrea Richards, who "will talk about her book Girl Director, present a few girl-made movies, and discuss girl-and- woman-made movies today." Website: www.ibfilmfestival.com.
The Found Footage Festival, September 21, one program only at 7:30, Hillcrest Cinemas. "An hour's worth of footage from videos that were found at garage sales and thrift stores and in warehouses and Dumpsters throughout the country," accompanied by live commentary from co-curators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, currently on their first West Coast tour, "having played to sold-out crowds in New York, Boston, Minneapolis, Austin, and Chicago." Website: www.foundfootagefestival.com.
The San Diego Film Festival, or as it seems to be calling itself this year, the San Diego Film and Screenwriting Festival, September 21 through 25, Gaslamp 15 Theatres. True to form, I have so far received no announcements from this festival, but as my annual exercise in magnanimity, I mention it anyway. The full schedule of films, tilted as in the past three years towards American independents (and at least one subtitled film, Innocent Voices, shown last spring in the San Diego Latino Film Festival), is available online at www.sdff.org. There will also be, and hence the longer new name, a screenwriting conference and screenwriting contest.
The San Diego Asian Film Festival, September 29 through October 6, Hazard Center. The sixth annual event, over twice the length of the fifth, promises "more than 130 short and feature films from the U.S., Canada, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Philippines," with a special emphasis this year on female directors, or if you prefer (after the Imperial Beach festival), girl directors. I see none of the bigger Asian names on the roster of filmmakers (by which I chiefly mean, still no sign of the last, never mind the very latest, Hou Hsiao-hsien film), but this is a festival I always look forward to and make an effort to attend. Website: www.sdaff.org.
The San Diego International Children's Film Festival, October 21 through 30, Museum of Photographic Arts. The second such event -- not the second annual but the second of 2005 -- gathers together shorts and features from around the globe, targeted at different age groups, with an added outer ring on the target this time to include teenagers. "The idea," and a big one, "is to introduce area children to different nationalities and filmmaking techniques, in hope that children will not only gain valuable insight into the perspectives of different cultures, but also a better appreciation of film and its possibilities." Schedule to be revealed in mid-September: www. sdchildrensfilm.org.
Meanwhile, the traffic continues unabated....
The Exorcism of Emily Rose weds the courtroom drama and the devil-possession horror show, two different worlds, as clearly evidenced when the D.A. jumps to his feet to object to a piece of defense testimony on the grounds of "silliness." The case -- a Catholic priest accused of negligent homicide for removing a diagnosed "schizophrenic epileptic" from her meds and replacing them, fatally, with the rite of exorcism -- is based on a true one, but the true one was situated in Germany in the Seventies, and the first leap of faith to be taken by the viewer is to believe that, given the facts of the case as presented, the charges would ever have been brought in the first place. Director Scott Derrickson, leaving no doubt as to which side of the argument he comes down on, will ask the viewer to leap a lot farther, giving him privileged access not just to flashbacks of the alleged possession (a standard program of writhing on the floor, clawing the walls, tearing hair out, eating spiders, and speaking in subtitled ancient tongues known only to Mel Gibson), but also to the present- tense manifestations of "dark forces," at the witching hour of 3:00 a.m., around the agnostic defense attorney. (The Devil, who presumably would be happier with a conviction, leaves the God-fearing prosecutor well alone.) Campbell Scott, no matter how far in the wrong, is nonetheless allowed to state a strong case for the prosecution; and Laura Linney, conversely, is allowed to show much weakness in defense, before she summons up a closing argument applicable, beyond the case of her client, to the fantasy genres in general, an argument for "possibilities" over "facts." (The churchified courtroom of red brick and stained glass throws in its own two cents.) If the horror element is inhibited a bit by the flashback structure, and if the courtroom element is lured a ways into hokum, the marriage of the two is still curious enough to hold interest, and the wholehearted commitment to that marriage is enough to tighten that hold.
A Sound of Thunder presents a time-travel brainteaser of passable intellectual complexity, based on a Ray Bradbury short story (respectable s-f pedigree), and directed by Peter Hyams (Timecop, 2010, Outland, among others in the genre). The year is 2055, and a moneymaking enterprise called Time Safari arranges hunting expeditions into prehistory to gun down the same allosaurus time and time again. (Chief moneymaker: Ben Kingsley. Safari guide: Edward Burns. Radical protester: Catherine McCormack.) Every precaution has been taken to preserve and protect the course of evolution: the targeted dino was about to be inundated by lava anyway, and the bullets of ice will leave no trace. Nevertheless, the "bulletproof" plan is of course not bulletproof; and the ripple effect, when something goes wrong, comes in tsunami-sized "timewaves" of evolutionary changes: a forest primeval in futuristic Chicago, a new species of reptilian primate, and so on. But what, exactly, did go wrong? And how to set it right? The cheesiness of the special effects -- not least some rear-screen projection of Hitchcockian artificiality and antiquity -- could almost stir up nostalgia for the days when science fiction tended to be grade-Z. But the cheesy effects in themselves are somehow not as much fun in the era of CGI as in the era of handmade Halloween costumes and claymation. Maybe it's just that technological failings are less amusing than human failings.
The Memory of a Killer, directed by Erik Van Looy, is a slick piece of commercial filmmaking from Belgium, if the Flemish doesn't blind you, or rather deafen you, to the commercialism. The dark-and-stormy-night opening -- a stealthy approach to the exterior of a sedate apartment building, an unsettling scene of a father selling his underage daughter as a prostitute -- is a grabber, and the plot premise of an aging hired killer with incipient Alzheimer's (jotting notes to himself on his arm, like the forgetful hero of Memento) manages not to be a joke. The plot, in fact, nicely thickens: the killer balks at the inclusion of a child on his hit list, and in consequence is himself added to the list by his unknown employers. They and the cops are separately searching for him, while he in turn is searching for the former and running from the latter. You could easily see Jack Nicholson or Tommy Lee Jones in the lead role, and Bruce Willis or Ben Affleck as the intrepid cop on his trail. Given Hollywood's proclivity for foraging among foreign films, you may, in time, see exactly that. Or roughly that.
Crimen Perfecto (literally, Perfect Crime) is a Spanish-language black comedy, a classification which would still today raise the specter of Luis Buñuel, even without the specific sight of the mannequin in the furnace. (See The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz, from the master's Mexican period.) Director Alex de la Iglesia, like other followers in those footsteps, finds a paved highway where his forerunner had to hack out a path in the wilderness. Almost inevitably, the story of a dapper lady-killer blackmailed into fidelity to a wallflower is black comedy at its cheeriest: as jaunty as the Saturday Night Fever strut of the hero. (The green-faced ghost with a cleaver in his head -- the grounds for blackmail -- is fit for nothing more than an amusement-park Haunted House.) The film perhaps has a little something to say -- a very little -- about the superficiality of modern culture and its preoccupation with skin-deep beauty. Booked into the Ken for a week beginning Friday, it will do duty as September's offering in the monthly Cinema en Tu Idioma series. Hazard Center, the long-time home of that series, is still in an unsettled state, having just changed hands from Mann to UltraStar. The return there of the above-mentioned Asian festival, however, bodes well for the theater's continuing hospitality.