Around the world in eight days

Around the world in eight days

Method Fest imports international fare

By John Larsen 03/29/2007

Back in the days of vaudeville, strippers literally were a dime a dozen. In an attempt to set themselves apart from the competition, they cornered niche markets. Much like the quartet of novelty strippers from Gypsy, you’ve got to have a gimmick.

The proliferation of film festivals has created some unique niche programming. Ever since festivals like Sundance became a marketplace, festivals like the Method Fest have picked up the slack. Eschewing blockbusters for character-driven stories, the Method Fest puts emphasis back on the filmmaker and performers. The 2007 festival continues the tradition, an eight-day celebration of independent and small-studio films and short subjects.

Located in the beautiful enclave of Calabasas, the ninth annual festival offers 28 feature films and 45 shorts subjects, including the opening night film, Waitress, starring Keri Russell, making its West Coast premiere, and closing night film, Lonely Hearts, starring James Gandolfini, John Travolta, Salma Hayek, and Jared Leto. The festival also presents the Los Angeles premiere of Jindabyne, the new Australian thriller from director Ray Lawrence (Lantana), starring Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne.

“We now have become a worldwide showcase of quality independent film,” said Don Franken, Method Fest executive director. “We also have many world premieres this year. But, even more importantly, we have films with captivating performances and riveting stories that the audiences will really appreciate.”

Renowned film critic John Anderson has been named programming director for the 2007 Method Fest. \"The Method Fest is devoted to showcasing the art of acting and, this year, the actors are making it easy,\" said Anderson. \"There will be a number of tremendous performances included in this year's Method Fest lineup. Audiences will be impressed, as well as entertained.”

\"We are delighted to have John as our head programmer,\" continued Franken. \"His encyclopedic knowledge and tremendous insight on independent film are great additions to our team.\" Since its inception, the festival has launched over 80 films and introduced audiences to up-and-coming talent, including Naomi Watts, Jenna Malone, Jeremy Sisto and Tamara Hope. Previous Lifetime Achievement honoree’s include the Bridges Family (Lloyd, Jeff and Beau), Julia Harris, Ruby Dee, Dennis Hopper and Peter Falk.

This year, the festival honors actor Christopher Plummer with its 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award, screening his new film Man in the Chair. Co-star Robert Wagner accepts the award for Plummer, who is currently appearing on Broadway in a revival of Inherit the Wind.

The Ninth Annual Method Fest includes tributes to top actors and filmmakers, acting workshops, panels and seminars, daily parties and receptions, industry events, a variety of indie music events, Lifetime Achievement Tribute and an awards ceremony. The festival’s Youth Outreach program includes a short film and screenplay competition for middle school and high school students.

Reviews

Divergence
World Premiere
Director/Writer: Patrick Donnelly
Starring: Traci Ann Wolfe, Jakob Hawkins, Marci Adilman

Patrick Donnelly’s somber drama features haunting performances by Traci Ann Wolfe and Jakob Hawkins as two strangers looking for salvation. Donnelly uses the ocean as a metaphor for the two characters, a woman struggling with the deaths of her husband and child caused by a drunk driver, and an American soldier wounded in Iraq. Set in a quiet beachfront community, Divergence creates emotional waves as Clare (Wolfe) and Tim (Hawkins) slowly emerge from their comfort zones to reconnect with the world. Clare finds solace in the constant rhythm of the waves, proof that life can regenerate itself and come back just as strong. All Clare needs is encouragement to get wet. She finds it in Tim, a helicopter pilot wounded in combat, whose physical scars are healing faster than the mental ones. Donnelly takes his time peeling away the veneers of the characters to expose their inner pain. Clare has become an emotional cripple, desperately clinging to the past even though her family and friends want her back in the present. Tim has just the opposite problem. He would rather hide in the past than deal with the ghosts that haunt his present. Clare and Tim aren’t just ships in the night; they’re search-and-rescue vessels. Wolfe is excellent as a woman paralyzed by grief, while Hawkins comes across as someone you feel you’ve known all your life. He’s the best friend who got lost along the way.

Steel Toes
L.A. Premiere
Directors: David Gow, Mark Adam
Starring: David Strathairn,
Andrew Walker, Marina Orsini,
Ron Lea

yet powerful, Steel Toes features riveting performances from Andrew Walker as a volatile Canadian skinhead and David Strathairn as his Jewish court-appointed lawyer. Directors David Gow and Mark Adam (from a script by Gow) waste no time getting to the gut-wrenching heart of the matter. Steel Toes begins with an incendiary event, the vicious attack of a Pakistani man by Mike Downey (Walker), enigmatic leader of a gang of skinheads. When the victim dies, Downey is assigned defense attorney Daniel Dunkeleman (Strathairn), who manages to put aside his faith in order to reluctantly defend his client. Based on the stage play, Steel Toes is a game of give and take, most of it taking place inside the holding cell of the prison. The filmmakers occasionally open up the film to include moments where Dunkelman struggles with his faith, family and conscience, but it is the exchanges between Downey and Dunkelman that give the film its impact. While the script accommodates the usual plot arcs and revelations, it digs deeper to give the characters depth and soul. On paper, it’s not easy to understand why someone like Dunkelman would want to represent someone like Downey, but the actors make us believe that decision. Strathairn is positively magnetic, while Walker manages to turn a despicable thug into a sympathetic victim of ideology. Powerful stuff.

The Elephant King
L.A. Premiere
Director/Writer: Seth Grossman
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jonno Roberts,
Tate Ellington, Florence Faivre,
Joseph Sommer

Beautiful in its imagery, The Elephant King is a strong, character-driven drama about two brothers losing themselves among the prostitutes and drugs of Thailand. That’s where anthropology student Jake (Jonno Roberts) is hiding out after scamming his university out of a research grant. When brother Oliver (Tate Ellington) shows up on behalf of their parents to convince him to return to the United States and face the charges, Oliver is slowly seduced by Thailand’s carefree lifestyle. As the love-hate relationship between brothers continues, events conspire around them to bring them back to reality. Writer-director Seth Grossman gets honest performances from his cast, including a distraught Ellen Burstyn as their concerned mother. Filled with many unexpected, human moments.

Midnight Clear
L.A. Premiere
Director: Dallas Jenkins
Starring: K Callan, Stephen Baldwin,
Kirk B.R. Woller, Victoria Jackson

The Christmas holidays can bring out the best and worst in people. For some, it’s a time of joy and celebration; for others it is a reminder of how miserable they are. Midnight Clear follows five different people as they cope with the holidays. What sounds like a festive film is actually a heartfelt drama about the effects of loneliness and desperation. Director Dallas Jenkins has rounded up a superb cast to bring the story arcs to life, the best involving a heartbreaking K Callan as a senior woman obviously making preparations to die. At first, we’re not sure what Eva (Callan) is up to. She cancels her bank account, cleans out her freezer, piles extra food into the dog dish. Her actions are solidified with a phone call to her doctor about her medication. Eva claims she wants to make sure she doesn’t get the dose mixed up, but we and she know better. As Eva makes Christmas eve preparations, the film follows around several other lonely hearts, including Lefty (Stephen Baldwin), left homeless, jobless and separated from his family; Kirk (Kirk Woller), a convenience store owner who resigned his dream years ago; Mary (Mary Thornton), facing the holidays without her husband, left brain-damaged after an auto accident; and Mitch (Mitchell Jarvis), a youth pastor looking for meaning after surviving the crash with Mary’s husband. How these lost souls cross each other’s paths, making just a small difference, ignites a chain reaction of good will. I appreciated the way the filmmakers introduced faith into the script without preaching.

Trade Routes
U.S. Premiere
Director/Writer: Jim Loftus
Starring: Kosta Tsonev, Alice Patten,
Ross McCall, George Zlatarev, William Hope,
Marina Sirtis

Writer-director Jim Loftus bitch slaps the ineptitude of the CIA after September 11 with this explosive political thriller set in Bulgaria. Alice Patten is outstanding as Sarah, a former law student who went to work for the agency to help make a difference. Assigned to Bulgaria during their Socialist re-elections, Sarah performs her duties without question, unaware that she is being used as a pawn in a political chess game between the United States and Bulgaria. Loftus, making his debut, impressively juggles numerous storylines, creating a tapestry of fascinating characters and events. Like Babel, Trade Routes only gives us pieces of the puzzle, forcing us to pay attention. Characters speak in different languages, including English, so you never feel like you’re watching a studio film. This is a filmmaker making a bold statement, and allowing his characters to effectively make his argument. The cast is excellent, especially Marina Sirtis as a veteran agent who knows how to play the game, and Kosta Tsonev as a Bulgarian party member who strikes an unholy alliance with the CIA to fund his cause.

Plum Role
World Premiere
Director/Writer: Zak Hilditch
Starring Matt Hardie, Laura Henderson,
Luke Jago, Adam McGurk, Tom Stokes,
Matt Penny

Just good looking enough to be narcissistic, struggling actor Jacob (Matt Hardie) lands the role of his life, a cop in a new television drama. Before leaving Perth for Sydney, Jacob celebrates with his friends, carelessly and recklessly jeopardizing his future when a one-night stand finds him caught between a rock and a hard place. Hardie does an excellent job of playing the irresponsible Jacob, who uses charm and looks to get laid. Then Jacob meets Cheryl (Laura Henderson), whose night-after revelation turns his world upside down. Writer-director Zak Hilditch gives Jacob just enough rope to hang himself, but when he’s forced to make a tough decision, we actually care if he’s left dangling in the wind. It’s to Hardie’s credit that we accept Jacob’s remorse and stand by him when he trips over his loose ends.

Are You Ready for Love?
U.S. Premiere
Director: Helen Grace
Starring Lucy Punch, Andy Nyman,
Ed Byrne, Michael Brandon,
Leigh Zimmerman

As part of their United Kingdom book campaign, American relationship authors Randy (Michael Brandon) and Candy (Leigh Zimmerman) guarantee three people they will find true love in three days. Like the recent mockumentary Confetti, Are You Ready For Love? uses reality television cameras as the fly on the wall, following the three victims (sorry, contestants) through three torturous (excuse me, eventful) days of romance. Unfortunately, Randy and Candy are the last two people you want relationship help from, as former rocker Luke (Ed Byrne), momma’s boy Barry (Andy Nyman), and love-them-and-leave-them Melanie (Lucy Punch) soon discover. Director Helen Grace has a lot of fun with the premise, always careful to make the process as seamless as possible. The characters and their dilemmas are so engaging that you occasionally forget you’re watching a film, rooting for the underdogs and hoping the relationship gurus are exposed for the frauds they are. n

Method without the madness

EVENTS

Festival information: (310) 535-9230. Tickets may be purchased through www.brownpapertickets.com. Visit online at www.methodfest.com.

Thursday, March 29
Opening Night Film, 7:30 p.m., Motion Picture & Television Fund
Opening Night Gala, 9:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m., Calabasas Inn

Friday, March 30
Festival Screenings 4-11:30 p.m., MPTF & Viewpoint
Friday Night Party, 9 a.m.-12:30 a.m., Tennis & Swim Center

Saturday, March 31
Seminars, Panels Workshops, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Viewpoint & Calabasas Library
Youth Seminars and Workshops, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Calabasas Library
Festival Screenings, 11a.m.-11:30 p.m., Viewpoint & MPTF
Premiere Film Reception, 11:30 p.m., MPTF & LA Auto Gallery

Sunday, April 1
Seminars, Panels, Workshops, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Viewpoint
Youth Seminars & Workshops, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Calabasas Library
Lifetime Achievement Award, 6-9 p.m., Riviera
Centerpiece Screener & Reception, 6 p.m., Viewpoint
Indie Music Night, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., Sagebrush Cantina

Monday, April 2
Festival Screenings, 4-11 p.m.,
Viewpoint & MPTF
Diversity Night, 9 p.m.,
Reception at Mi Piace

Tuesday, April 3
Co-Centerpiece Screen/Singles Night, 4-11 p.m., MPTF & Viewpoint
Festival Party, 9:30 p.m., Native Café

Wednesday, April 4
Screenings, Closing Night Film, 4-11 p.m., Viewpoint & MPTF
Closing Night Party, 7:30 p.m., Trillium Capital Group

Thursday, April 5
Awards Ceremony, 7:30 p.m., Viewpoint

VENUES
Louis B. Mayer Theater, 23388 Mulholland Drive, Calabasas.
Carlson Family Theater, Viewpoint School, 23620 Mulholland Highway, Calabasas.
Sagebrush Cantina, 23527 Calabasas Road, Calabasas.
Country Inn and Suite, 23627 Calabasas Road, Calabasas.

PRICES
Indie Music Night: $10
Opening Night Film and Gala: $55
Centerpiece Film & Reception: $35
Closing Night Film and Reception: $40
Weekend Pass (all screenings, seminars, March 30-April 1): $85
Festival Film Pass (all screenings): $125
Festival VIP Pass (screenings, galas, seminars): $195

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