Wrapping up over the weekend with the Texas premiere of James Gray’s much anticipated The Lost City of Z and an impressive slate of World Cinema choices, such as Johnny Ma’s Old Stone and Seong-hun Kim’s Tunnel, the 2017 Dallas International Film Festival validated its wish to exit with a bang rather than a whimper.
The final two choices for me were a deliberate exercise in lighter fare. After a week-long sampling of some pretty dour efforts, Leslie Iwerks’ Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table (top) and Ringo Lam’s Sky On Fire seemed like the perfect antidote to the bleakness.
Following a rather clichéd documentary formula, Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table exceeds not in format but in subject, as the best documentaries should. Exploring the life and career of New Orleans restaurateur Ella Brennan, Iwerks’ film has the luxury of still having most of the participants present to recall their experiences, including Brennan herself and a host of master chefs made famous in her wake. Outside of its first-person history lesson, the film is also a warmhearted, scrumptious documentary on the regional delicatessen of New Orleans food and its naturally bawdy desire to make everyone feel at home.
After breaking through into pop culture at the lip service of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino in the early 90’s (although I suppose savvy Asian film fans were aware of Ringo’s wham-bam aesthetic way before that), Sky On Fire is the fifth in his “On Fire” series.
Turning his attention to the medical field with a dense story of double (and triple) crosses involving stolen stem cells and a billion dollar conglomerate of evil scientists and lackie corporate body guards, Sky On Fire is needlessly convoluted and a bit contrived, but boy do things go smash so good. As festival artistic director James Faust said beforehand, the breaking glass budget on this thing must have been astronomical. It became quite the palette cleanser for me, even if it’s ultimately no more than a solid video rental on any other day.
Thank you and congrats to everyone involved for presenting such an event for the city of Dallas and its suburbs. We’re already pining for next year.
Complete list of jury and audience winners:
Audience Award Short Film: NO OTHER WAY TO SAY IT
Audience Award Documentary Feature: DEALT
Audience Award Narrative Feature: BOMB CITY
TEXAS FEATURE COMPETITION
Special Jury Prize Winner: MUSTANG ISLAND
Grand Jury Prize Winner: MR. ROOSEVELT
Grand Jury Prize Animated Shorts Competition: MR. MADILA
Short Special Jury Prize, Performance: Arin MacLaine, SPRING
Short Special Jury Prize: HAIRAT
Short Grand Jury Prize: WHAT HAPPENED TO HER
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE COMPETITION
Special Jury Prize Winner, Artistry: SPETTACOLO
Grand Jury Prize Winner: QUEST
NARRATIVE FEATURE COMPETITION
Special Jury Prize Winner, Directing: HEARTSTONE
Grand Jury Prize Winner: THE RELATIONTRIP