FESTIVALS: Gen Art Celebrates 6th Party Hardy Year with Chick Flicks
by Dave Ratzlow
(indieWIRE/05.22.01) -- As if it were inaugurating a summer of goddess worship, the 6th Annual Gen Art Film Festival ran earlier this month in New York City proudly flaunting a distinctly feminine sensibility. Almost every film, from Ilya Chaikin's young mother drama "Margarita Happy Hour," to Anurag Mehta's romantic comedy "American Chai," could easily wear the label chick flick. While only two of seven feature directors and three of seven short film directors were women, a mid-week "vibrator party" confirmed the festival's heart with the ladies.
On the hottest May 2nd in recorded history, Fisher Stevens kicked it all off with his zany and steamy directorial debut, "Just a Kiss," about a successful playboy negotiating his entry into the world of monogamy. Still wet from the lab and screening for the first time at New York's big and comfortable Loews Times Square, "Kiss" is the best-looking digital video movie I've ever seen. Although it's filled with hysterical moments and strong performances, it never really decides what kind of movie it wants to be. Stevens throws in elements of farce, romantic comedy, parody and even surrealism, but the mixture never solidifies. But then again, when Taye Diggs and Kyra Sedgwick kiss on a fire escape, one can't help envy them both.
As usual with Gen Art, audiences considered the parties just as important as the films themselves, if not more so. Lotus (a jet-set favorite appropriately located in Manhattan's "meat-market" district) hosted the opening-night party. Stevens did his best to seem nonchalant while surrounded by sun guns and zoom lenses. Or maybe he was just dazzled by all the glistening flesh on display. Stevens later held court in a plush booth with hunky Liev Schreiber, flanked by a collection of fun, fearless females and well-suited geezers, while throughout the joint, people with names like Paulo, Sugar and Whitney drank and danced, flirted and schmoozed.
The next evening, Cory McAbee screened his Sundance entry, "The American Astronaut," a comic low-fi-sci-fi musical western, which follows a lonely space pirate on an interstellar odyssey. With scrumptious black and white cinematography by W. Mott Hupfel III and filled with fascinating characters with great faces and voices (including the director's own), "Astronaut" is sometimes brilliant, sometimes inscrutable, but always fascinating. (Artistic License has slated the film for a fall release.)
Studio 54 hosted a loud and crowded after-party that evening, but the real treat was the after-after-party where McAbee's band, The Billy Nayer Show (who also scored the film) played a set of their weird assertive rock at The Knitting Factory. Gushing with charisma, McAbee sang nutty nursery rhymes about animals in danger and bizarre relationships. Super guy, that McAbee.
On Thursday, Anurag Mehta presented "American Chai," (Slamdance 2001 Audience Award winner) about a college kid chaffing at the plans made for him by his Indian-born parents. They think he's graduating pre-med, but he's really a music major pursuing rock star dreams. With charming leads and just the right balance of comedy and cultural consciousness, the film has a lot going for it. But by adding a contrived "if I could only win that music contest" subplot, Mehta loses his story in a sea of clich