The 2009 AFFD is over, and I'm glad I participated as much as I did. In fact, I wish I could have seen more that I ended up seeing.
The event was held at the Magnolia, which ended up being a great venue. Parking is always a little tight in the West Village and you could cut the snobbery with a knife on the way in the door, but once inside I was consistently greeted with an upbeat crowd of film enthusiasts who were genuinely having a good time. It also helped that the Magnolia has a bar, since the festival was primarily sponsored by Chang Beer, and it sure is nice to watch a movie with a beer in your hand.
When I learned that the festival was coming to town and saw the awesome trailer that they put together, I spent a little time at the website deciding which films I was going to make it into a priority to see.
After a few minutes of browsing around I was positive that I wanted to see IP man, Legend of the Mask and Ichi, and I was pretty sure I wanted to see The Beast Stalker, Between the Folds, Neko Ramen Taisho (Pussy Soup) and the animated short compilation. There were a few others that I had on a lower tier of interest, but since I knew I had to prioritize both for time and cost reasons (tickets were $9-12 each) I made sure to target the priority ones first. My only complete miss was on Legend of the Mask, which I managed to miss entirely.
The plot synopses are contained in the links above, so I won't rehash them. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on each in the order that I saw them.
First up was The Beast Stalker.
Before the film started the hosts asked who was drinking a Chang beer. The one guy in the theater who had one raised it up and was awarded a sweet blue Chang soccer jersey. Immediately after the film everyone from theater rushed to the bar and bought out the supply of Chang in anticipation of the next film. I drank Chang for the rest of the week there. It wasn't bad.
This film set a very high bar for the rest of the festival. From my own attempts at writing a screenplay for a short, I know how difficult it is to make complex plot developments happen in a logical and believable way, and The Beast Stalker is a clinic in multiple parallel story lines. Its also shot, acted, and edited very very well.
The film centers on a single car crash with multiple heroes, villains, and innocents involved - but it really just uses that as a platform on which to build the characters and dramatic situations that propel it forward. Its funny because it never really felt as though the plot was twisting around as much as it felt like it was running in multiple parallel lines at high speed.
I came away from this one very impressed with every aspect, and I gave it a 5 out of 5 rating in the survey as we walked out the door.
Day 2 started up with Neko Ramen Taisho
This is a film about a cat who makes ramen in a noodle house in Japan, and they passed out Ramen to everyone in the theater before the film started. The ramen had a cool touch in that it had a sticker on the package with the logo of the cat's ramen shop on it. I invited the wifey to go with, but she though it would be horrible and passed. Her loss.
The film's production style is cheesy because it uses a stuffed cat as the protagonist, but it comes off in a "this is a cheesy production style" kind of way - not in the "this is the best we can do" kind of way. Its just typical "Japan: WTF" kind of stuff. Good clean fun.
The only production thing they did that was a little distracting was the huge hand in the cat glove grabbing the scalpel or the chopsticks. The proportions were all wrong. I bought everything else though.
Surprisingly, the story was great. The tempo was quick, the jokes were funny, and the end result was a fun time had by all. The theater was not shy about laughing and yelling, which made for a great environment in which to watch this film. I rated it 4 out of 5.
Next up was Ichi.
A story about a blind girl who kicks butt with a blade, I was very excited about this one going in.
Unfortunately, the projectionist was playing the film back about 10% too fast, and everyone sounded like chipmunks. The AFFD directors stopped the film and explained what was going on. He said that the theater could refund our ticket prices or we could continue to watch the film in high-speed. To my surprise about 90% of the theater said that they didn't even realize that the film was playing back too fast, and that they would stick it out then and there. I couldn't handle the idea of missing out on what I knew was a great sounding film, so I got up to leave. On my way out, the rep for film's sponsor Funimation handed me and a few others her card and said that if we emailed her our contact info that she could send us a screener DVD of the film. This made me feel much better, and I had emailed her from my phone before I reached the exit.
A few days later I received the DVD and watched the film in my living room.
While I really loved the concept and the technical execution of the film (top-shelf foly and sound design throughout) I had problems with the story and the villains. The story was really too full of holes, and left too much unexplained. People's actions werent really believeable given the events that happened in front of them.
My other problem was the with the villains. I felt that the executon of the main badguy (a kind of phantom of the opera gang leader) was far too much a charicature of what it could have been. It was a huge missed opportunity for some real darkness and evil, and the main villain came off as campy and cartoonish in an otherwise artful and serious context. Juxtaposed against the brilliant and subtle female protagonist, this shortcoming was even more glaring. I also didnt like the ending.
I left the film feeling that I didnt really reach its potential, and would have rated it a 3.5 out of 5.
Day 3 started with the animated film compilation.
I had pretty high hopes for this compilation as well, but ended up a little disappointed. The shorts ranged from really great to really terrible, and some of them seemed to not fit in at all. Subject matters ran the gamut from playful aliens to dark cannibalistic women, and there wasn't really much of a flow from one short to the other. The submissions were primarily student films, and as such the sound was often either very stripped down or even amateurish. Given that the medium is animation, sound is even more important to the storytelling than it would be in other contexts, so the level of audio production in these shorts was a little disappointing overall - with a few notable exceptions. Playback in the theater was also very loud for this series, which was pretty distracting given the source. This was the only film I saw where there was no applause from the theater at the conclusion, but that could be because they closed with the cannibals.
I rated it a 3 out of 5, and that was probably a little generous.
The animations sucked my stamina a bit, but I decided to hang around for Between the Folds, a doc on origami.
Green Fuse Films did a very nice job putting this together. I was again a little disapponted with the sound in the theater because it was distorting a little in the speakers during playback, but that certainly wasn't the fault of the filmmakers. It also wasn't nearly the issue for a doc that it would have been for a sound-heavy kung fu production.
This documentary did what most docs should do: tell a tight, succint and interesting story while leaving the audience wanting just a little more. You wouldn't think that origami is interesting enough to watch for over an hour, but the filmmakers tell a compelling story about the art and science of it all. People from all walks of life devote hours to creating these incredibly complex and beautiful sculptures from a single sheet of uncut paper. Origami is different from most other forms of sculpture because it is not additive like plaster casting or model building, and it is not subtractive like cutting into stone or wood. It starts and ends as a single sheet of paper, and yet it has boundless opportunities.
The film seamlessly weaved the stories of the old Chineese innovators with the new M.I.T. geniuses - all creating origami for the love of the art and the advancement of mankind.
I rated it a 4 out of 5.
On my last day I had the privilege of seeing IP Man, the first film that I had highlighted when planning my show interary weeks before the AFFD began.
I bought my ticket for this one right after Neko Ramen Taisho let out because they said that it was already selling out. Before the film began the line stretched out into the hall.
My friend and I were waiting in line and I turned to him.
"You want a beer?"
"Hold my spot. I'll be right back."
I went and got a couple of Changs. When I arrived back in line, a girl in front of us noticed the beers.
"There's beer!? Listen, I don't know you but..."
I rolled my eyes.
"Hold my spot, I'll be right back."
I left and came back with another beer.
When we were seated in the theater we were all doing the wave and bouncing a beachball around. The girl from the line happened to be in the row with us. The AFFD board were busy thanking us and each other for a successful festival, and were handing each other gifts.
"You guys want another beer?"
I gave the thumbs up and she left. A few minutes she came back with a bucket filled with six Changs.
That just doesn't happen at Transformers man. Even IMAX.
We were then treated to what is probably the best Kung Fu movie I've ever seen.
Ip Man is spectacular for its basis in reality, its rock-solid story, its top-shelf aesthetic, and its mind blowing fight scenes.
My personal reviews can't do the film justice. Suffice it to say that I think this is a better film than House of Flying Daggers, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, anything Bruce Lee ever did, Kill Bill, and anythng Jackie Chan ever did.
And I love those movies. A lot.
I'll just post another fight scene and let it speak for itself.
The pure speed and the brutality of some of the blows in this film surpass anything I've ever seen in cinema before. My jaw was dropped to the degree that I regretted giving The Beast Stalker a 5 out of 5 earlier in the week because I wanted to rate this film higher. And I loved The Beast Stalker.
This was a great film. I'll leave it at that.
The AFFD was great throughout. The vibe was cool, the films were solid, and the people were great. I'll definately be back next year.
As a side note, we saw the trailer for RoboGeisha a lot during this festival. It's on youtube. Don't look for it unless you...
Well, just don't look for it.