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May 3, 2002 2:00 AM
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FESTIVAL: Sexual Frenzies Onscreen and Off: Gen Art Raises The Bar In Its Seventh Year

FESTIVAL: Sexual Frenzies Onscreen and Off: Gen Art Raises The Bar In Its Seventh Year


by Dave Ratzlow



(indieWIRE/ 05.03.02) -- The official mission of the seventh annual Gen Art Film Festival: Showcase Emerging Talent. The unofficial mission: Get People Laid.


Granted, the Gen Art Film Festival, which closed April 30 after seven days of premiers and parties, has always flaunted its sexuality (2001's vibrator party comes to mind), but this year has raised the bar. Maybe some sort of post-September 11 sexual frenzy still infects New Yorkers or maybe all the laid-off corporate types just need something more fun to do. Throughout the week, young film enthusiasts, abandoning their inhibitions during open-bar parties, could be seen sharing prolonged first kisses.


That's not to say that the films went unnoticed. Peter Mattei kicked things off last Wednesday with his sexually-charged debut "Love in the Time of Money." From frustrated secretary Rosario Dawson and her bite-me lips, to lonely phone-psychic Carol Kane and her wide consuming eyes, the cast instantly draws us into their characters and interconnected stories of love and longing. Kane's scenes with Adrian Grenier ("Drive Me Crazy") in particular, abound with humor and pathos.


Mattei has a great ear for both dialogue and music. Each character speaks with a unique voice, and sultry songs by singer Angela McCluskey (Wild Colonials) and Shudder to Think's Nathan Larson set the perfect mood. Although some of his characters' motivations are completely unbelievable, it will be interesting to see what Mattei does next. THINKFilm recently acquired the film and plans a September release.


That night at Candy, a tight and loud venue in Midtown, the Gen Art crowd drank and flirted all night long, seemingly determined to prove that Mattei's somewhat bleak take on modern romance didn't apply to them, at least not after a few free drinks anyway.


Sundance alum "Face" screened the next evening. Bertha Bay-Sa Pan's ambitious debut feature -- about a young Chinese-American college student dealing with, among other things, bridging a generation gap with her grandmother, the perils of interracial dating, and the return of her estranged mother -- bounces from one theme to another. A parallel story chronicling her mother's traumatic past further clutters the film, and it never fully gels.


But Bay-Sa Pan does deserve credit for coaxing some very funny lines from "Joy Luck Club" veteran Kieu Chinh and directing a spunky performance from newcomer Kristy Wu. The film took home the audience award, which includes $25,000 of production support from Cataland Films and Cyclops Picture and Sound for her next film.


Thursday night's after party at Flow, with its dark corners, silk curtains and long booths, gave the kids more opportunities to booze it up and smooch new friends. No celeb sightings, but Paul McCartney's touring band and dancers showed up to find out how New Yorkers get down.


"Tattoo: A Love Story" initiated Friday night's festivities. The film is quite funny and unconventional at times, but it's mostly a cute trifle about an uptight grammar school teacher whose world is turned upside down when a tattoo artist shows up at her school one day as a student's show-and-tell project.


Unfortunately, director Richard Bean never decides if he wants to present a by-the-numbers romantic comedy or something more personal and interesting. The film keeps leaning towards interesting, but Bean keeps reigning it in. At least it's fun watching pretty and petite Megan Edwards ("Wang Dang") romance large, hairy and tattooed Virgil Mignanelli.


I'm sure the after party that night at Kanvas on Ninth Avenue was fun, but I was too drunk to remember much. Although I do seem to recall someone making out with somebody somewhere.


The best film at Gen Art this year was "Hell House," directed by George Ratliff. The film documents a group of fundamentalist Christians in Texas who each October host a haunted house of scenes depicting all the sins of the humanity (including homosexuality and abortion), essentially designed to "encourage" people to follow the path of righteousness and join their church.


Despite the fact that many New Yorkers would consider these ardent Christians evil, during the course of the film several subjects gain our respect and sympathies. The film could likely be viewed by its subjects without complaint. Ratliff credits editor Michael LaHaie ("a pillar of even-handedness") for contributing to that achievement. The film is being released by Seventh Art in July.


So you would think that a documentary about Christians-gone-wild on a Saturday night would be kind of a buzz kill, but it wasn't for the Gen Art crowd. In fact, during Saturday's after party hosted by the Whiskey at the W New York in Times Square, everyone seemed to be saying, "Thank God I'm not a fundamentalist virgin freak! Let's make out." But after three days of drinking and carrying on, some of us had to take it easy.


Adrian Grenier boogied much of the night though, deftly juggling several lovely young ladies. But he wasn't too preoccupied that he couldn't promote his documentary "Shot in the Dark," which is screening at the Tribeca Film Festival next week.


Despite some charming performances by Isabel Gilles and Josh Hamilton, Sunday night's offering "On_Line," directed by Jed Weintrob, was unable to capitalize on its scintillating premise: the interconnected love stories and online relationships spawning from a cybersex business. Too many pathetic characters, too many coincidences, and too sluggish a narrative drive for my tastes. And, oh yeah, can we please have no more than five masturbation scenes per film?


The after party at Chateau on South Seventh Ave. was so ridiculously over-crowded that even Weintrob couldn't make it up to the VIP room. Fortunately the crowd thinned out after the free drinks expired and someone saved the night by playing '80s music while cute young women distributed herbal "male vitality" pills.


On Monday the festival presented the world premier of "Solitude" an intense psychodrama directed by Pi Ware and Susan Kraker. Featuring two extraordinary performances by Mary Thornton and Patrick Belton as co-dependent siblings intent on hurting each other, the film could easily sit alongside Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night."


Belton, seemlessly shifting from existential rant to wry humor, comes to blows with his manipulative sister when she returns from a long absence with a new girlfriend and announces that she'll move out of town. Unfortunately this underdeveloped third character, played by Ronne Orenna, mars the film. Neither the character nor the actress can support this side of the triangle, resulting in an unbalanced narrative.


Nonetheless, more filmmakers should follow the "Solitude" model, limiting themselves to a few characters and a few locations, to create dramas as rich and intense as this one.


Closing night honors went to Richard Murray's "Snipes" which begins as a pretty lame genre flick about a young record company underling, played competently by newcomer Sam Jones III, who gets wrapped up in a convoluted plot involving shady business, gang warfare, and an apparent murder of his favorite gangster rapper, played by rap star Nelly (who doesn't do too bad himself, despite his palette of mostly four-letter words).


After the first half hour, the film finally reveals itself to be quite funny thanks in large part to supporting performances by Victor Togunde and Rashaan Nall. Much of the film is a bit gruesome and the erratic shifts between drama and comedy undermine both forces. But still, it's the kind of silly fun that inspires comments from the audience like, "don't go in there, stupid!"


Old standby Nells on 14th Street hosted yet another hip after party where a few Gen Art regulars could be spotted sporting fresh hickies. Heather Matarazzo ("Welcome to the Dollhouse"), recipient of this year's alumni award, could also be seen practically busting out of her flowery spring dress, and brand new New Yorker Ben Chaplin was caught eyeing the young flesh. (Is he already losing his British accent or was that the booze slurring his speech?)


So the party was over and another festival could successfully be put to bed. All that's left is to sort out the newly crowded spring festival season. It would be a shame if next year Tribeca stole some of Gen Art's momentum. Festival Director Jeffrey Abramson had this to say: "This has been the best year ever. Everyone is going to each other's films. Interaction between the filmmakers has been great. There's never been this much bonding before."


Oh Jeff, if you only knew how much "bonding" you helped inspire this year.

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