art feature
 October 01, 2010

 

10 Years of Great Films for the Great Plains
by Dan Lybarger

It hardly seems like 10 years since the Kansas International Film Festival (KIFF) brought a series of worthy movies to the area that might not have played here otherwise. In some cases, KIFF, which takes place at the Glenwood Arts Theater and formerly known as Halfway to Hollywood, has provided an important launching pad for movies that later had successful theatrical runs. The festival helped whet Kansas City’s appetite for Jill Sprecher’s Thirteen Conversations about One Thing and A Wedding for Bella (a k a The Bread, My Sweet).

Ray Harryhausen with one of the skeletons from The 7th Voyages of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonausts at KIFF, 2003 (photo by Dan  Lybarger)

KIFF has also attracted a remarkable array of filmmakers to Cowtown. Stop-motion animation wizard Ray Harryhausen not only presented Earth vs. the Flying Saucers but he even brought along one of the skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts. Zombie film specialist George A. Romero and makeup guru Tom Savini (who can be seen in Machete) came to scare new audiences with Creepshow and Night of the Living Dead.

 At the same time, the entertainingly quirky Canadian director Guy Maddin kept his commitment to present Brand Upon the Brain! and Heart of the World at KIFF while he was also winning a Best Canadian Film at the Toronto International Film Festival. Time magazine critic and Clint Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel has also been a KIFF participant.

This year’s tickets are selling at brisk pace, and many of the offerings have local ties that might not be immediately obvious. I’ve had the opportunity to catch several of these films before the Friday, October 1 opening, and many deserve a warm KC welcome.

Zombie film specialist George A. Romero at KIFF in 2006 (photo by Carmen Campaneris)

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

A lot of people are waiting to see the first installment of the English-language version of the late Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig. Viewers, who are willing to read subtitles however, can catch the conclusion to the saga where bisexual computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) fights to prove her innocence and for her life. Friday, Oct. 1, 8:00 p.m.

Holy Wars

This engrossing documentary features former Missourian Aaron D. Taylor, an American evangelical missionary whose work has taken him to countries hostile to his faith, and Khalid Kelly, an Irish Muslim convert, who thinks that Osama bin Laden may be on to something. Canadian director Stephen Marshall gets close to both subjects as they meet to discuss their conflicting views. The new film offers a clear-eye look at powerful role religion plays in people’s lives without slipping into a diatribe. An added bonus is an animated sequence by Kansas City’s own MK12 studio (they did the titles for Quantum of Solace and the cool user interface in Stranger than Fiction). Perhaps only in Kansas City would cartoonists attempt to look at both Muslims and Christians’ version of the apocalypse. Marshall will attend the screening, which will be moderated by Kansas City Star religion columnist Vern Barnet. Friday, Oct. 1, 8:00 p.m.

Holy Wars

Five Cardinal Points

Austrian documentarian Fridolin Schönwiese follows the lives people who’ve been migrating for decades from the Tres Valles (Three Valleys) region to Kansas City, KS where they’ve dubbed their temporary home Tres Vallitos (the three little valleys). The movie demonstrates the contributions these people make on both sides of the border and is remarkably candid about the hardships they encounter. The job market gradually worsens for both those here legally and for those who are not. Schönwiese will attend the screening. Saturday, Oct. 2, 12:45 p.m.

Please Remove Your Shoes

Please Remove Your Shoes

Based primarily on the testimony of former air marshalls, this examination of the current state of airport security indicates that billions of dollars, a fat bureaucracy and intrusive searches have done little to improve safety since 9/11. The film will make your blood boil for the right reasons. According to Please Remove Your Shoes executive producer Frederick Gevalt II, who’s currently better known as the founder and former publisher of the Air Charter Guide (the company was sold in 2006 to Penton Media, which is based in New York and Overland Park, KS). In addition, he was behind the wheel of a plane on the morning of September 11.

“I was 20 miles out from La Guardia when it happened,” he recalls from his home in Massachusetts. “I think what happens when you are sort of in a front row seat to world shaking events is that it has a habit of franchising you or making you a participant.” He adds, “I was going to write a book about it, but I was beginning to worry that not enough people read.”

Among some of the jaw-dropping revelations is the fact that air marshals no longer have to pass rigorous marksmanship tests because managers were failing it. Imagine having an air marshal with Dick Chaney’s aim missing in the tight confines of a passenger plane.

“We don’t want to be perforating airplane fuselages at 30,000 feet, but they’re not going to explosively decompress. (The air) will come out like a tire. But hey, look you might hit somebody with a bullet, too. You want people who can shoot straight,” says Gevalt.

“We made a decisive effort to avoid partisan politics. From the screenings, I’ve conducted, and I’ve conducted a lot of small ones, there’s a distinctive difference between the way the left and the right views it, which I find interesting,” he adds. “I think the liberal sentiment tends to be like, ‘God, I’ve got a trip to St. Louis on Tuesday, and now I can’t go. What do I do?’ They’re really more horrified. I think the conservatives tend to be more cynical, more, ‘I’ve always suspected it, and you’ve just confirmed it. Now give me another rotten tomato.’ That’s their reaction.

“This is the topic of our time. How many other topics have jeopardized our civil liberties, precipitated two wars and helped contribute to a world economic crisis?” Gevalt will be on hand to discuss the uncomfortable but urgent subject matter. Saturday, Oct. 2, 3:15 p.m.

Conviction

Hilary Swank, who already has a couple Oscars in her collection, stars in this fact-based drama about a woman who is determined to prove that her brother (Sam Rockwell) is innocent of murder. Often, “based on a true story” translates into “but not a good movie,” but with these performers there may be hope. Saturday, Oct. 2, 3:15 p.m.

Harvest

A college student (Jack Carpenter) returns to his Connecticut family home and ends up having to deal with his feuding uncles (Arye Gross and Peter Friedman), a grandmother (Barbara Barre) who suffers from Alzheimer’s and a grandfather (Robert Loggia) who refuses to let pancreatic cancer stop him from enjoying his final days.

According to writer-director Marc Meyers, the story in Harvest is more than a little personal. It’s based on a journal, he made when visiting his own grandfather years ago.

Harvest

“Though the main kid (in Harvest) is a college kid. I was (actually) working in New York, and I’d go up to visit my grandparents in Connecticut and go up to their house as often as I could over what would be his last summer,” says Meyers. “When you’re a younger writer, at least for me, I was looking to what would seem to be poignant events in my life as inspiration. Years later I went back to those journals and used them as a guide for a dramatic story.

“I wrote a script where I used real (Connecticut) locations. I said the location manager, ‘That’s the coffee shop I was thinking of.’ With all of the intended locations, the residents were enormously helpful. They were more than willing to have a film crew invading their space. The interiors and the exteriors are of the same family house,” he says.

At 80, Loggia cruises through what appears to be circumference of the globe toward the end of the film on a bicycle. If Loggia had a strenuous workout, Meyers explains, “That’s less than half of what he actually rode during the filming.” The movie also received an assist from Tony-winning singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening), who wrote the songs with David Poe. The two were inspired by Simon and Garfunkel’s tunes featured in The Graduate.

“We all sort of came to the conclusion collectively that the movie is calling for acoustic music: strings, I don’t mean violins but guitars and various strumming instruments like mandolin.”

The two may have spent weeks reworking the score, but the most memorable tune, “Everyday Parade,” appeared at the last minute. “They wrote ‘Everyday Parade’ in a day or two. They really weren’t working off cues. I would choose where and what part of the song would work best for the film.” Viewers who like the music can check it out on Amazon or iTunes. Meyers will be attending the screening. Sunday, Oct. 3, 12:30 p.m.

To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen’s Journey

Hong Kong native Nancy Kwan has had long career in films and is probably best known for making legions of men fall at her feet in films like The World of Susie Wong (1960) and Flower Drum Song (1961). Kwan herself will be on hand to host the new documentary.  Sunday, Oct. 3, 12:30 p.m.
Tickets for all shows are $6.50 for shows before 6 p.m., $6.75 for shows 5 to 6 p.m. and $8.50 evenings ($6.75 seniors over 60). Festival passes are $60. For more information, go to www.kansasfilm.com

Dan Lybarger can be contacted at  Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.