By: Jefferson Beavers
One man risks life in prison to stop a war he helped plan in Vietnam. A novelist and his wife openly spar over the ideal notions of sex, love and commitment. The families of a Protestant village in Germany experience a bizarre punishment ritual on the eve of World War I. And a zany animated trio travels the earth to discover the community they already enjoyed at home.
The 2010 Fresno Film Festival will explore these themes and more in its April 16-18 run at the historic Tower Theatre. The festival is presented by Fresno Filmworks, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing first-run independent, experimental and international movies to the central San Joaquin Valley.
The sixth annual festival, which will feature 18 films from 12 different countries, marks Filmworks’ entry into its ninth year of programming. Filmworks continues to offer a multicultural, international film experience that most Fresno-area moviegoers cannot regularly get at commercial theaters.
The group’s president, Joy Quigley, said Filmworks has chosen the theme “It’s Yours” for this year’s festival, in an effort to bring the larger community together through movies. Filmworks has expanded its festival ticket locations to the Fig Garden Bookstore in Fig Garden Village and the Pop Laval Gallery at Friant and Fort Washington, in addition to the Tower Theatre box office.
“The whole idea of Filmworks and the festival has naturally appealed to the Tower District and downtown crowds,” Quigley said. “We’ll be trying to reach more people throughout Fresno and the surrounding areas. ‘It’s Yours’ is about letting everyone know that Filmworks and the festival belongs to all of them. No matter who you are, it’s yours.”
The festival schedule includes a diverse lineup of award winners and offbeat oddities. Centerpiece feature films include the Russian historical drama The Last Station, the German World War I drama The White Ribbon and the American political documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America.
Critic Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly calls The Last Station, starring Oscar-nominated actors Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer as novelist Leo Tolstoy and his wife, “at once a hot marital showdown and a cool political debate, a domestic War and Peace.”
Critic Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune calls The White Ribbon, directed by auteur Michael Haneke and winner of both the Palme d’Or award at Cannes and a Golden Globe, “a seminar.taught by a master filmmaker who speaks in a steely murmur, confident of his research.”
And it is The Most Dangerous Man in America, the Oscar-nominated documentary that tells the controversial story of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, that Quigley is particularly happy about booking at the festival. She pointed to the many fans of Filmworks in the peace community, including supporters with Peace Fresno, the Fresno Center for Nonviolence and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), among others, who would be pleased with the selection.
“I know our core audience would really appreciate it,” Quigley said. “When scheduling documentaries, it can sometimes be hard to get a good audience. This one’s a popular, engaging film that has gotten so much good press. We’re excited about it.”
Other feature films at the festival include the Irish drama Kisses, a cinematically rich buddy film, set on the outskirts of Dublin, that is currently playing the American film festival circuit; the Brazilian independent Only When I Dance, a documentary that follows two young teens who want to escape the slums through dance ballet; the Spanish-language dark comedy Nora’s Will, winner of a Mexican Oscar, about a dead woman’s plan for her own funeral; and the French animated comedy A Town Called Panic, a stop-motion animated adventure starring 1950s-style, cowboy-themed action figures.
Quigley said that A Town Called Panic would be a challenge for young viewers, due to its subtitles and fast pace, but that the charming animation and story of friendship and community would appeal to a broad audience.
“I watched it with a 5-year-old and a 10-year old-both of them precocious-and they liked it,” Quigley said.
In addition to the features, Filmworks will continue its support of short films as well. Of the festival’s 18 scheduled films, 11 will be shorts. Filmworks will screen one full program of short films on Saturday, in addition to sprinkling the rest throughout the festival as introductions to the features.
Quigley said the Filmworks board decided to have a slightly smaller selection of short films with higher-quality production values this year in order to focus on something new: the addition of two juried awards. The board, Quigley said, hopes the juried awards help the festival become an Oscar shorts-qualified event.
The first Filmworks jury panel will consist of Damian Acevedo, a Fresno native and award-winning cinematographer who is based in Los Angeles; Darrin Navarro, another L.A.-based Fresno native who is a film editor; Peter McCandless, an award-winning cinematographer based in San Francisco; Joyce Aiken, an artist and retired professor from Fresno State; and Garance Burke, a Fresno-based writer for the Associated Press.
Also, on the festival’s closing night, Filmworks will pay special tribute to the late local filmmaker John Kelly, who passed away this past fall. Quigley said that Filmworks has established a memorial fund in Kelly’s name that will support the juried awards. An award for best short film as well as the first John Kelly Award for Excellence in Cinematography in a Short Film will be given on the festival’s closing night, following the screening of a tribute reel about Kelly’s work that is being put together by local filmmaker Greg Amaro.
Quigley said she hopes that the Fresno-area audience will turn out strong for the festival. Filmworks relies, she said, on the year-round generosity of sponsors and individuals alike, in addition to ticket sales.
“People continue to be very generous when we send our annual calls for donations and sponsorships,” Quigley said. “We’re grateful for that and we try to keep going because of it.”
Visit FresnoFilmworks.org for more information about Fresno Filmworks or for more details on the 2010 Fresno Film Festival.
2010 Fresno Film Festival
(Tower Theater—815 E. Olive Ave.)
FRIDAY, APRIL 16
Feature: The Last Station
With short: Skylight
Opening night party at M Restaurant (1211 N. Wishon Ave.)
SATURDAY, APRIL 17
Feature: A Town Called Panic
With short: Wandering Star
A Harlem Mother
Psyche on Melrose
With short: Running Away with Blackie
Feature: The White Ribbon
SUNDAY, APRIL 18
Feature: Only When I Dance
With short: Pobre Marcianos
Feature: Nora’s Will
With short: Me, Myself & My Husband
John Kelly Tribute Reel
Festival Awards Ceremony
Feature: The Most Dangerous Man in America