Dallas IFF: Saturday (4/10) – ‘No Crossover,’ ‘We Are the Sea,’ ‘American: The Bill Hicks Story,’ ‘The Red Chapel’

DIFF continues strong…

“Allen is the best guy you could want for the 2 hours of the game…for the other 22 hours, you’re going to have grey hair.”

No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson is a deeply personal documentary from director Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Stevie), who reflects on his hometown of Hampton, VA, and the racial divide that occurred following the 1993 arrest of high school “golden child” Iverson.  The star football and basketball player was allegedly involved in a bowling alley brawl that injured several bystanders.  Iverson was sentenced to 15 years, though only served several months at a minimum security “work farm.”

James’ father was a fan of Iverson’s, while his mother worked as a nurse in a local segregated school.  The interviews found here are not as frustratingly one-sided as you might expect with such fiercely contested racial issues.  Black activists think James can never know the plight of their people, while the director tells one woman that if he can’t discuss the plight of any man, “all is lost.”

Yet James becomes so enmeshed in the story he’s telling that there are some awkward moments.  As he speaks to his (black) cameraman, he is asked “Did you want to be black?”, to which the director eventually returns with “Did you ever want to be white?”  Both men know what’s being asked, but simple answers don’t come easy.

James’ documentary is engaging even if you have no interest in or knowledge of sports, and achieves  a rather touching end.

No Crossover has a second screening on Monday, April 12th.

“Is there going to be a next time?”

Neil Truglio’s debut feature We Are The Sea begins intriguingly enough: a man bearing a nasty, bandaged gash in his chest returns home to begin cleaning the blood-stained carpet, walls, telephone and kitchen knife found there.  Sean is an English teacher whose dense inertia drives the film but also threatens to smother it;  he sleepwalks through his days leading a class on Romantic literature (though he’s about to be fired), visiting his alcoholic mother, and trying to make some slight connection with the daughter he abandoned  years before.

The film unfortunately drags out in such an un-engaging way that one wishes they would cut to the reveal and let us in on what caused this poor sad-sack to be so beaten down.  And the answer we get isn’t particularly satisfying, either.  Dialogue rings false, sounding stagey and overly dramatic.  And some characters feel like people you could only find in the movies:  Sean’s ex, for example, has a major quirk — she doesn’t lock her front door (?!).

The film wraps up with a big neat bow, ending with a convenient reversal of its opening shot.  Too tidy a resolution for a story that presents such an introverted, emotionally burdened premise.

We Are The Sea screens a second time on Sunday, April 11th.

American: The Bill Hicks Story is a very thorough and entertaining documentary on the life of the late comedian.  Shot with an imaginative animation style made up almost completely of still photos, it is voiced by family, friends and fellow comics as they chart Hicks’ rise from a fourteen-year-old who snuck out at night to do comedy, through his varying degrees of success and his battles with substance abuse and pancreatic cancer.  Hicks material is often very funny, and frequently quite acidic, with rants aimed at audience members for not being bright enough to get the deeper meanings found in his content.

American has a second screening Sunday, April 11th.

“Comedy is the soft spot of all dictatorships.”

First of all: it is okay to laughThe Red Chapel essentially is a documentary about an experiment:  Mads Brugger, a Danish filmmaker, takes two South Korean-born Danish comedians to North Korea to put on a stage show that will “show their love for the Great Leader” Kim Jong-Il.  But more than that, it is a flat-out, scathing comedy as they attempt to expose the evil core of the regime.  Whether hiding their disdain by speaking Danish in front of their escort, or inserting questionable material into their act (which is ultimately changed by their hosts to carry a more frightening state-approved message), The Red Chapel is riotously funny.

One of the comedians is a self-described “spastic” whose speech is almost unintelligible in any language, and he breaks down early in the trip from the confusion of being treated so well by his hosts when handicapped individuals are essentially cast out in North Korea.  The director knows that they are likely being used as a press opportunity, and Mrs. Pak, their translator, turns out to be a highly emotional woman when it comes to their leader and her feelings for the younger of the two comedians.  But as the director points out, is their show of emotion just part of the North Koreans’ own act, or something far worse:  emotional outbursts as a means to cry out against the horrific, tightly controlled conditions they are forced to live in?

Brilliant and more than slightly demented, The Red Chapel was one of four films co-presented by the Asian Film Festival of Dallas.  Unlikely to see a domestic theatrical release, you may want to watch your specialty DVD resources for this ingenious documentary.

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