We From Dallas

Today at the Dallas International Film Festival (4/8/14)

And we keep on keeping on. It’s day six of the Dallas International Film Festival, and you know who has been about town enjoying films just like you? Steven Spielberg. So don’t let your guard down. Here a full schedule of what’s on the docket for today, followed by our reviews (where available):

I Believe in Unicorns

4:30 p.m. April 8, Angelika 4

Grade C-

A self-consciously quirky teenage girl hooks up with an older boy of punk rock pretensions. They run away together on the world’s most boring and absurdly emotional road trip, during which they make banal statements to one another in whispers of faux profundity. The frequent use of stop-motion animation by director Leah Meyerhoff does little to liven up the proceedings. I kept hoping they’d rob a bank or go on a murderous rampage or anything, really. This is the movie version of reading a high-school student’s poetry journals.— Jason Heid

 

Web Junkie 

1:30 April 8, Angelika 8

Grade: B+

Israeli directors Hila Medalia and Shosh Shlam gain surprising access into a surprising kind of new mental health therapy in China. China is the first country to classify internet addiction as a clinical disorder, and distressed parents are sending their children to a boot camp-like facility that weans them off World of Warcraft and other addictive video games with a regimen of physical fitness, reeducation classes, and strict discipline. Some of the teenagers admit to spending hours upon hours – sometimes weeks at end – playing games, with little sleep or food. But the longer we are immersed in the world of the rehabilitation center this approach to “treating” the addition starts to look like it is mistaking a symptom of psychological trauma for its root-cause.

The teenagers, mostly the only children in their families because of China’s reproduction regulations, are lonely, feel ostracized from their families, are often abused, and bear the weight of immense pressures to succeed at school. The games offer an escape as well as way to network virtually with other kids like them. The internet is more real than reality, they protest, and watching them navigate attempts to brainwashing and reprogram at the facility, you can empathize with their perspective. It all makes Web Junkie is an unsettling film, but one that offers a unique view into escalating personal stress and suppressed social distress  in contemporary China.  – Peter Simek

 

Documentary Shorts

4:15 p.m. April 8, Angelika 7 | 9:15 p.m. April 9, Angelika 7

The three documentaries I saw in the doc shorts program all suffered, rather than benefited, from their curtailed form. 3 Acres in Detroit offers an intriguing look at an effort to farm areas of the bottomed-out inner city, but it plays more like a Kickstarter trailer for a feature length film than a stand-alone movie. In its examination of the cost of higher education,EduCAUTION adopts the familiar pairing of talking heads, engaging graffics, and dramatic music that movies like Inside Job used to make facts and figures engrossing and persuasive. But the movie feels too much like a bullet point of familiar grievances. The Home Team was the worst of the bunch. A story about the passion for Murray State University’s basketball team, it might as well be an undergrad recruiting video – there’s little tension, drama, or conflict to make it a full-fledged story worth telling. Worth noting in this program, though not reviewed, Strike: The Greatest Bowling Story Ever Told, which is based on this D Magazine article by Michael Mooney. — Peter Simek

 

The Overnighters

4:45 p.m. April 8, Angelika 8

Grade: B+

As bleak as its wintry landscape, this haunting if structurally flawed documentary follows a Lutheran pastor at a church in Williston, N.D., who offers shelter to men desperate to latch on to the glut of jobs provided by a recent oil boom in the area. But the outsiders bring plenty of emotional and criminal baggage that frighten the locals, causing a rift in the town and the congregation. The film offers an insightful probe of organized religion and how notions of trust, compassion, forgiveness, and redemption clash with small-town values and contemporary socioeconomic realities. By refusing to take sides, it makes a powerful statement. — Todd Jorgenson

 

We From Dallas

7:30 p.m. April 8, Angelika 6 | 10:15 p.m. April 12, Angelika 6

Grade: A-

There has been a desire to tell Dallas’ cultural history lately, from theDallas: Sites art exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art, which surveyed 50 years of North Texas visual art, to the Stark Club documentary, which makes the case for this city’s relevance to the history of club dance music. We From Dallas is the best effort yet, a deeply engrossing look back at Dallas’ peripheral role in the emergence of hip hop, from beat masters to break dancers. For the unfamiliar (like me) a picture emerges of a city with its spoon very much stiring the wider cultural pot, and yet contributing to growth of a genre of music with little recognition. From early DJs at KNON, to The D.O.C., and dance groups in the 2000s, anyone interested in Dallas culture – or the history of hip-hop – should make sure this film is on their to-watch list. — Peter Simek

 

Thank You a Lot

7:45 p.m. April 8, Angelika 8 | 4:30 p.m. April 9, Angelika 6

Grade: B-

A fresh find amid a glut of movies about the Austin music scene, this drama stars Texas country crooner James Hand as himself, surrounded by a fictional story about his talent-manager son (Blake DeLong) trying to reconcile. Despite a lack of acting experience, Hand gives the film a gritty authenticity that the rest of the heartfelt project often lacks.  — Todd Jorgenson

 

Animated Shorts

9:30 p.m. April 8, Angelika 7

Grade: A

This year’s animated short program is a beautifully crafted brunch, drawn in wildly different styles. Even the most inscrutable are mesmerizing to watch. Marilyn Myller is a stop-motion animation tale of a girl who builds her own universe through sculpture and then delights in destroying her work. Crime: The Animated Series is a collection of personal stories of riots, murder, theft, and encounters with police that are by turns tragic and hilarious. A Tangled Tale features the colorful and hypnotic dance of two fish trying to free themselves from a fishing line. I don’t know what was going on in Astigmatismo, but I found it hypnotic anyway. The Last 40 Miles is an intimate story of a man on his way to be executed in a Texas prison. Hart’s Desire depicts a budding friendship between an old man and strange, antlered woodland creature. Flesh is another mysterious one — told in smears of paint that seem to be coming to life and threatening to consume us. Everything I Can See From Here is about a funny alien encounter. Yearbook is an amusing and touching story about a man tasked with recording all of human history on a single hard drive before the world comes to an end. The Missing Scarf, narrated by George Takei, begins as a tale of a squirrel in search of a piece of his clothing but grows into a story of cosmic significance. — Jason Heid

 

1982

10:15 p.m. April 8, Angelika 8 | 7:45 p.m. April 9, Angelika 8

Grade: B 

Writer-director Tommy Oliver’s maiden effort, 1982, is the gut-wrenching story of a working-class black man in 1980s Philadelphia, whose world spins off its axis when his wife relapses into crack-cocaine addiction. To its benefit, the film is less concerned with black issues (a la Spike Lee) than it is with the emotional upheaval of a particular black family. The result is a deeply intimate and deeply tragic film about black manhood and human endurance. — Farraz Khan

 

Cast/crew scheduled to appear at DIFF today, April 5: 

WE FROM DALLAS – Teddy Cool (Director), Jamie Chatterton, King Hollis (Executive Producer), Islam Salem (Producer), Joel Salazar (Producer), John Huffman IV (Executive Producer), HeadKrack (Talent), Cold Cris (Talent), Pikahsso (Talent), Ez Eddie D (Talent), S1 (Talent)

DOOMSDAY PARTY – Ho Hong (Director)

I BELIEVE IN UNICORNS - Leah Meyerhoff (Director, Screenwriter)

THE LAST 40 MILES – Alex Hannaford (Director)

TANGLED TALE – Corrie Francis Parks (Director)

EASY – Daniel Laabs (Director), Jan Brandt (Production Designer)

RICH HILL – Tracy Droz Tragos (Co-Director)

EDUCATION – David Esfeh (Director, Screenwriter), Ben Bhatti (Producer)

BLUR – Courtney Ware (Director, Screenwriter), Meredith Burke (Producer)

STRIKE: THE GREATEST BOWLING STORY EVER TOLD – Michael Mooney (Producer), Bill Fong (Subject of the film)

THANK YOU A LOT – Matt Muir (Director), Chris Ohlson (Producer)

TEXAS TALENT – Gracie Whitton (THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN)