ROTTERDAM 2000 FEATURE: IFFR Buzzes with "Dead Dogs," "Black Lizard," and
by Mark Rabinowitz
(indieWIRE/2.4.2000) -- Each year, there are Amer-indies that float around the festival circuit
garnering awards and critical praise, but get completely ignored by
distributors. While Rotterdam is primarily known as a showcase for new
European films, there are some small and noteworthy U.S. movies
screening in various sections of the fest, including many without
distribution such as Ed Radke's "The Dream Catcher," Robert J. Siegel's
"Swimming" and Christopher Wilcha's Slamdance winner "The Target Shoots
First," which are all garnering positive buzz around the fest.
Another North American film gaining momentum is Clay Eide's "Dead Dogs."
Described as a "stylish noir thriller," the film is
really a relationship study, with everyone getting screwed at the end.
(By the way, I didn't give anything away; with films like
this, what happens at the end is far less important than how it
An impressively acted piece, "Dead Dogs" unfolds like a novel, with
deliberate pacing, that slowly builds to a point where the audience
thinks, "Uh, oh. This isn't going to turn out well." The film was shot
in North Dakota (home state of producer Regge Bulman and his brother
writer Todd Bulman), but could easily take place in small town Texas,
Kansas or Louisiana a universality that makes it accessible to all
audiences. The film was actually shot in the same motel that
screenwriter Bulman worked at. The team had a five-day rehearsal period,
and shot the film in only 13 days.
"Dead Dogs" follows Tom (Joe Reynolds), a night security guard at a
motel, and since the pool is closed, there are few guests and not much
to do, except have the occasional tryst with a married chambermaid in
unoccupied rooms. He spends most of his nights playing chess with the
desk clerk, Gordon (John Durbin). One morning, however, he returns home
to discover on his answering machine that old friends Clay and Carmen
are planning to visit their old hometown. We soon learn that Carmen was
Tom's girlfriend, and that Clay (well played by Jay Underwood) moved in
on her and skipped town. There's much more to this tale of friendship
and betrayal, however; suffice it to say that Clay and Carmen's return
is not going to make Tom's life more stable.
Are you interested? Maybe thinking, "if the performances are good, and
the story bears out, this could be released. . . ." Well, what if I told
you that it's shot in black and white. (Pause, as the distributors run
screaming from the theater.) According to Eide, the reaction from
distributors has been universal: "Well, we liked it, but it's in black
and white. Sorry." Hopefully, in aesthetics-conscious Rotterdam, someone
out here will be able to appreciate a great story that is also shot in
concise black and white.
As far as other buzz in the festival goes, folks are talking about the
Fukasaku Kinji retrospective as being a once-in-a-lifetime experience,
with most of the films rarely exhibited and only one available on video
in the States. The only one I've managed to see so far is "Black
Lizard," in which Fukasaku departs from his usual gangster/action milieu
(in films such as "Cops Vs. Thugs," "Yakuza Graveyard," and "The Wolf,
The Pig and The Man") and opts instead for a stylishly camp,
noir-detective thriller, featuring a transvestite playing a woman in one
of the lead roles.
Another interesting little item about the IFFR is that the standings for
the Audience Award (to be handed out on February 5th) are posted in
theater lobbies. As of a few days ago, Lukas Moodysson's "Fucking Amal"
("Show Me Love" in the US) was leading the competition, which includes
all of the feature-length films in the fest, counting such relative
heavyweights as "The Insider," "Holy Smoke" and "Dogma." "Fucking Amal"
is a story about the blossoming love between two teenage girls in the
small town of Amal in Sweden.