Tuesday, 6/19/2018

Young and rebellious

American Independents at the filmfest

Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters in AMERICAN ANIMALS

Once again, the American independent films at FILMFEST MÜNCHEN reflect the spirit of our times: beyond the usual stories about families and relationships, they include current topics such as the #metoo phenomenon. The indies also deal with social dropouts and both the possibilities and the dangers presented by social media. So many of us use social media, and now their full scope is being reflected in film.

Posting, tweeting, and snapchatting are all commonplace, everyday means of communication. The way that users quickly migrate from one platform to another has an effect on the language we use and the way our society is structured. These changes also result in new content and new ways that stories can be told in film. In particular, SEARCHING, Aneesh Chaganty's first feature-length film, constructs a narrative space that exists entirely within the realm of social media. John Cho plays David Kim, a single father, who dives into the world of social networks when his daughter disappears. Her posts and online acquaintances become the only clues that the desperate father is able to follow meticulously. The entire story takes place on screens, and the plot is ensnared in a net(work) of information and misinformation. In SEARCHING, David manages to use social media to approach his daughter and understand her, while other festival entries deal with the antisocial effects of virtual friendships. In WOBBLE PALACE, a couple whose relationship is on the rocks seek affairs online, while in BIRDS WITHOUT FEATHERS, lonely people hope to connect to society by gaining online followers. They are lost souls amid a whirlwind of potential ways to contact others that, in the end, always remain superficial.


The real world, however, is also full of lost souls who are unable to communicate. LEAVE NO TRACE and the 2018 SXSW Grand Jury Award-winner THUNDER ROAD revolve around fathers and daughters in rocky relationships that can be salvaged only when they attempt to understand each other and find common ground. Director and screenplay author Jim Cummings plays police officer Jim Arnaud, whose life falls apart after his mother dies. He loses his job, his mother's dance studio, and custody of his daughter. Cummings' first film shifts between mourning, anger, inability, and a zest for action without ever making the main character appear ridiculous. Another man whom circumstances have broken is Will in LEAVE NO TRACE. This military veteran, still suffering from nightmares, takes his daughter Tom and moves to the wilderness. But the more Tom grows up, the more she questions her way of life and asks herself whether the life that seems to suit her father must also be right for her.


In Hollywood, the #metoo movement is leading people to rethink how things are done. The American indies are further ahead in this regard, presenting strong women at FILMFEST MÜNCHEN. We are welcoming three excellent female directors and their films THE TALE, SKATE KITCHEN, and THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST. Multiple award-winning documentary filmmaker Jennifer Fox has adapted her own childhood experiences in her first feature film, THE TALE. When her mother (Ellyn Burstyn, who received the CineMerit Award in 2016) finds a story Jennifer had written as a child about a personal experience, Jennifer, played by Laura Dern, must come to terms with the fact that the "relationship" she'd had with her riding coach was actually sexual abuse. She was 13; he was about 40. A search for truth begins, tearing open old wounds and confronting Jennifer with her 13-year-old self. Crystal Moselle's SKATE KITCHEN is a portrait of young girls who are labeled as outsiders. They are skateboarders who find freedom in riding through the city. Camille is aware that this hobby sets her apart from many others, and she sometimes feels alone in her skateboarding world. Then she joins the Skate Kitchen, where she finds like-minded girls, friendship, and understanding — as well as other young people who've got some pretty cool moves. Desiree Akhavan's adaptation of the novel THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST also deals with social outsiders. When her parents catch her in bed with another girl, Cameron (Chloë Grace-Moretz) is sent to a "conversion therapy center" — a sexual re-education camp. In spite of her young age, Cameron knows exactly who she is and who she wants to be, but the therapists at the camp thoroughly put her self-confidence to the test. Both the film and Emily Danforth's novel of the same title take place in the 1990s. The idea that such camps are relics of the past and that a young girl who is confident and open about her sexual identity is celebrated as courageous is the hope that emerges from the director's impressive second film.


A life less ordinary is what four students in Lexington, Kentucky, dreamed of in 2004. An art heist ought to give them a rush and net them 12 million dollars. Planning it was not the problem; they'd seen enough heist movies. This crime, which the FBI counts as one of the greatest art heists of all time, fascinated documentary filmmaker Bart Layton so much that he visited the four men in jail. But that wasn't enough. In his film AMERICAN ANIMALS, he alternates the interviews with the robbers and a fictitious version of events. In AMERICAN HORROR STORY star Evan Peters, DUNKIRK newcomer Barry Keoghan, and GLEE alumnus Blake Jenner, the director has found young, ambitious, and very talented actors for his feature-film debut. Swift, crazy, and unbelievable, this is a true story ripe for cinema.


American independents panel discussion: FILMMAKERS LIVE: JENNIFER FOX (THE TALE)