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At Sarasota Film Festival, It's All About the Women Directors

By Miriam Bale | Indiewire April 27, 2012 at 11:32AM

Last week, when Cannes announced its all-male list of competition directors, I was in a room in Florida filled with 25 talented women directors, producers, writers and distributors. This was the second annual Side By Side Symposium organized by Holly Herrick, director of Sarasota Film Festival Women (and former programmer at SFF).
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Amy Seimetz's "Sun Don't Shine."
Amy Seimetz's "Sun Don't Shine."

"Compliance" could be included in a theme of women's entrapment that emerged during the festival, alongside films like Melanie Shatzky and Brian Cassidy's startlingly intense "Francine," Kris Swanberg’s Jeanne-Dielman-in-the-woods exploration of maternal ambivalence "Empire Builder" (starring Kate Lyn Sheil in one of four outstanding performances in the festival), and Ashley Sabin and David Redmon's smart documentary "Girl Model."

The best of these -- perhaps the standout film of the festival -- and aggressively transcending that theme, was Amy Seimitz’s directorial debut "Sun Don't Shine," a sinewy and unrelenting story of a couple on the run in Florida starring an unforgettable Kentucker Audley and Kate Lyn Sheil.

Sheil is a damaged Sissy Spacek-esque loose cannon in a fascinating inversion of "Badlands," reversing the genders but also reverting the Malick dream from the romantic, soft-focus greeting card that it's become back to a primal, doomed, fever dream. It's exhausting and gave me nightmares: a bright, sweaty free fall with a buzzing, scratching soundtrack that gets deep inside a mind gone crazy from constant heat.

The best films in the festival had the best sound; with the artistically shot, low-end film and video in "Sun Don't Shine" and Adam Leon's "Gimme the Loot," the Ross Brother's "Tchoupitoulas" and two short masterpieces by the Safdies ("The Black Balloon") and Dustin Guy Defa ("Family Nightmare"), it's the stellar sound design in these that push them deep into the subconscious.

From the ageless electronic magic of the GONG soundtrack in "The Black Balloon" (including the classic "Zero the Hero and the Witches Spell") to the whiny twee indie instrumental that sullies (or perhaps underscores the surprising depth in) Bob Byington's "Somebody Up There Likes Me," a wry epic about another zero hero, Max, like a harmless and much dimmer Steve Coogan as played by non-actor Keith Poulson. It's a classic feel-bad comedy, about people who never figure out life and then die. Watching the film generates irritation at its stubborn go-nowhereness and also confused pleasure at its intentionally clever wordplay. Though one of the least enjoyable viewing experiences in the festival, Byington's low-budget Benjamin Button story of a man who never ages has the longest reach. Its subtle themes lingered longest post-fest.

In 10 days filled with remarkably singular visions (from the enthusiasm-propelled low budget New York ensemble comedy "Richard’s Wedding" to the fascinating experiment of Dan Sallit’s "Emerging Visions" award-winning incest family film "The Unspeakable Act," which was written and filmed in New York but plays as if it was in translation from 70s Rohmer or Bresson), it's Byington’s odd ambition that's most off-the-charts.

This article is related to: Sarasota Film Festival, Festivals







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