It was a first this year that, due to scheduling conflicts, I was unable to catch anything at the Slamdance Film Festival. When I say I was not able to catch a film, I mean that it was the first time I have not been able to attend a Slamdance screening in the five years I’ve been heading out to Park City, Utah for the simultaneous Sundance Film Festival. I was bummed that I missed my chance to catch musician/filmmaker Neil Young and filmmaker/producer Jonathan Demme speak at a morning coffee panel to talk about their careers.
However, I was able to catch a few titles before I left, and a few when I got back into town. The first film I saw was writer/director Derek Franson’s highly inventive and flawed Comforting Skin. As lonely Koffie (a dazzling Victoria Bidewell) is trying to fit into any social circle that will have her, she remains somewhat of a social outcast, other than with her platonic childhood friend Nathan (Tygh Runyan). It isn’t until that she gives herself a tattoo, closing in on death until the tattoo comes to life and begins to control Koffie’s decisions, that she starts to transform and give life another shot. Franson gives his story some needed punch with stunning visuals and has an unique eye for his camera movements and lighting, but Comforting Skin drags at times and becomes rather stilted for chunks of the story, dancing around its main point for far too long. Despite a solid lead performance from Bidewell, Comforting Skin never got under my skin as it was supposed to. Still, I’ll be anxious to see what Franson does next.
Dan Leal, or “Porno Dan,” is the subject of Alexandra Berger’s documentary Danland, which follows Leal around for three years in his profession of amateur porno producer and star. He makes quite a bit of money but he can’t find love, which seemed like an interesting conundrum for a man in an industry that is filled with women, until he starts going on and on about his ex, and finally I gave up caring about anything that Dan was saying as he got very tiresome to listen to. Berger’s film features everything you would expect from a movie about a subject surrounded by naked women, exotic toys, trips to the annual AVN awards show in Las Vegas, and family issues. In one pivotal scene, Berger films Dan talking to another “star” on a couch in a hotel room and halfway through the conversation Dan and this woman start having sex, leaving Berger and her other cameraman perplexed, wondering what they’ve got themselves into. Gee, why don’t we care or feel sorry about him not finding true love or missing his ex?
What will most likely qualify as the worst film of 2012 was the completely unfunny and vulgar Bindlestiffs, featuring three high school guys devoted to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, even though they have not even read it. Looking like a poorly shot high school film project, writer/director/star Andrew Edison’s film deserves credit for bringing a new low to every scene, including depictions of he and his friends’ efforts to lose their virginity. In one unbelievable and completely questionable scene, John (John Karna) actually has sex at a bus stop with a gray-haired vagrant, and after Andrew knocks her out, the guys think she is dead and decide to bring the body back to their hotel room. How Bindlestiffs won the Audience Award at Slamdance, I’ll never know, and maybe it is best not to ask any questions.
In the short documentary feature Kelly, director James Stenson’s subject Kelly Van Ryan, a transgender prostitute looking for dreams in Hollywood after leaving her North Carolina family behind in her teens, does not break any new ground, but is fascinating from start to finish. Kelly knows what she wants, she expresses enough of an attitude on camera, and feels she is still doing the right thing and is willing to work no matter what the hour is. She struggles with her meth addiction and battles with her mom on her life choices, who even helps her out by posting Craiglist ads for Kelly. Stenson’s camera gives us a glimpse into a life that never makes for a pretty picture, and while we can not agree with every move Kelly makes, there is something strangely conflicting about being a viewer and wanting to help a young soul out of trouble.
The Minnesota-made feature The Sound of Small Things, by writer/director Peter McLarnan, is a simple story about big issues. When Sam (Sam Hoolihan) marries Cara (Cara Ann Krippner), things seems to be going fine—until we discover that Cara has mysteriously gone deaf. Sam, a former musician trying to get back into the music scene, invites his fellow bandmates up to their house to start practicing again Sam and Cara’s relationship starts to unravel and demonstrate that sometimes, healthy relationships can become our worst enemies. McLarnan has a keen eye for staging beautiful and touching scenes with Sam and Cara wondering where their new marriage will take them; the film never settles for easy answers. Featuring outstanding music by Switzerlind, The Sound of Small Things knocks it out of the park with an incredible ending.
Image: The Sound of Small Things, courtesy Slamdance Film Festival