On the final day of the festival, the best selections continued to emerge in compact form, as the various shorts programs — especially ones presented by the Houston Film Commission — revealed the biggest amount of potential behind the lens.
Genre bending seems to be the motif of filmmaker Travis Champagne as his short film Native (pictured above) waggles between several genres. Half-comedy and part Tarkovsky-like science fiction, it’s a daring film that follows a young native boy in an unspecified landscape as he deals with the same things most kids his age would. He flirts with a local girl, whose father gives him the appropriate stink-eye every time he’s around, shrugs off the masculine feat of hunting with his own father and just wants to run around and play. That is, until a spaceship lands from the sky and effectively kills off his whole tribe.
Displaying a keen visual sense through a wide-scope lens as well as a deft touch for blending several genres, Native is the calling card for a talent who should have a bright future ahead of him.
The next strongest film of the six featured was Lance Childers’ The Gold Line. Experimental and kinetic, imagine if British auteur Alan Clarke made a skateboarding film and one gets the general sense of Childers’ effort. Following a half dozen skaters as they make their way to a mammoth ‘free-use skate park’ just outside downtown Houston, Childers effectively places the viewer inside the soaring movement of the skaters through carefully planned tracking shots. There’s little dialogue, just music timed to the flowing images of bodies in constant flux, basically free of gravity and existing in their own space.
All of this would have been pretty damn good on its own, then The Gold Line concludes with an unbroken tracking shot as it hovers above the skate park, carefully absorbing the skaters’ choreographed moves before rising even higher in the sky to place the young men at the foot of a concrete jungle known as downtown Houston.
Filmed only during certain times of day as the sun is setting to capture that golden hue of day, Childers told me the entire shot lasts almost 3 minutes, and he captured it with a drone camera whose battery life was down to four minutes. The skating gods were certainly on his side.
Back for a third consecutive year, editor/director Allan Holzman (Grunt, The Forbidden World) complete his triptych survey of rescuing AFI Film Lab conversations with old Hollywood masters in The Art of Directing: John Huston. Giving the same treatment to Hitchcock/Truffuat/Spielberg in 2015 and Frank Capra last year, Huston’s footage is definitely the most worn of the three.
Found in a closet and basically forgotten, Holzman fluidly edits the grainy, black and white footage of Huston talking to a class with excerpts from a majority of his films. It’s not a deep dive exercise, but more of a mood piece about the man and his general philosophy on filmmaking.
One of the more illuminating moments is Huston describing that most good films need a strong plot, chiding “that Godard” and Breathless (1960) while praising John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969). I heartily disagree, but Huston is rarely wrong about much else! Just seeing the clips of his masterpieces like The Misfits (1961) and The Asphalt Jungle (1950) made everyone yearn for an immediate retrospective of Huston’s work. Once again, Holzmann scratches a magnificent itch to see and hear the old masters wax poetic on their trade.
Filling the regional filmmaking void at this year’s fest was Richard Bailey’s Telefoto. A film I admired more than liked, Bailey is an obvious and passionate proponent on the strong armed gentrification of his home, Oak Cliff.
Dotted with mostly non-professional actors, musicians and artists, the film is an odd mixture of hometown travelogue and ghost story that starts and stops its momentum several times by shoehorning a ton of material into its running time. Suspect acting and editing is also a problem at times, but the idea is a worthy one that seems to be infiltrating hard scrabbled, affordable artist communities around the U.S.
So with that, we bring a close to the 30th (!!!) Dallas VideoFest. The decision to stagger the event over two weeks this year was, in my opinion, a successful venture that gave prominence back to the films themselves rather than a juggled schedule that forced people to choose. As Allan Holzman (jokingly) said the first time he met program director Bart Weiss, he was in the back of the room excitedly pointing at a film and saying ” I want that at my festival.” I have no doubt Weiss has already started this process for next year’s VideoFest.