The strength of a good festival lies in its programming. Not necessarily in the actual films it chooses to show, but in how they accompany and couch each entry. At this year’s Dallas VideoFest (now in its 29th year), it’s clear that founder and director Bart Weiss has a specific goal in mind since, for the first two days, the event has a distinct feel of being constructed to amplify a certain flavor.
If this weekend is all about locally made independent shorts (i.e. the Texas Filmmakers Showcase) and unveiling retrospective greats of the past (the 20th anniversary screening of Steve James’ mammoth masterpiece Hoop Dreams), then Thursday was for narrative features with a North Texas bent.
Chris Hanson’s Blur Circle was the first. As a professor in Baylor University’s film department, the equipment and means of producing an independent effort weren’t the issue, as he himself stated after the presentation. Filmed quickly with a small, dedicated cast over a very short period of 25 days, the real strain has been finding an audience for such a modest project.
Dealing with the grief-filled ideas of how one moves on after a seemingly insurmountable tragedy, Jill (Cora Vander Broek) comes in contact with media crusader Burton (Matthew Brumlow). Their relationship starts off rocky at first, each one questioning the other’s commitment and motivation behind their separate cocoons of torment. As the film progresses, both slowly help the other grieve and heal.
As a real-life married couple, Broek and Brumlow share some fine moments together. Toss in an eccentric junk yard owner (Ryan Artzberger), some mixed media messages about abuse and a confession scene that ranks as one of the more absurdly moving in recent memory and Blur Circle overcomes some of its heavy-handed pandering and emerges with some raw momentum towards its oblique finale.
The second North Texas film of the night, Gabriel Duran’s Streets of a Scion uses not one but two voice-overs to reflect the inner thoughts of its two leads, hispanic Bobby (Mike Marshall) and African-American Cee (Yung Poody), young men in racially charged neighborhood gangs who share the same late mentor. Fissures from both groups, including gang alliancse, old enemies and regular street thug code constantly threatens their friendship.
Clearly a work-in-progress (some hard edits and sound issues), Streets of a Scion did win its audience over through its authentic feeling representation of life in West Dallas/Oak Cliff and its local hip-hop artist cast. Largely improvised with hectic cinematography that swipes and pans desperately to keep the action in focus, director Duran cited the influence of films such as Boyz N the Hood as his starting point, and the raw energy of such films does feel present, but Streets of a Scion suffers from its lack of indelible characters and thin narrative warmed over from countless similar films. Its young cast screams, shouts and writhes a lot, but it unfortunately doesn’t have much to say.
Dallas VideoFest 29 will continue at the Dallas Angelika through Sunday, October 23.