The New Orleans Film Festival kicks off tonight with a screening of The Florida Project, starring Willem Dafoe. More than 230 films screen between now and Thursday, Oct. 19, and there are interviews with filmmakers and stars, parties and more. A schedule and descriptions of all films are available on the festival website.
Some of the curated highlights include Mudbound, a story about a black veteran who returns from World War II and moves his family to rural Mississippi, where they struggle to survive (7:30 p.m. Saturday & 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19). Marshall tells the story of Thurgood Marshall as an attorney for the NAACP sent to Connecticut to defend a chauffeur against a socialite employer in a case that quickly became tabloid fodder (8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12). The Upside is a remake of the French film Les Intouchables. Comedian Kevin Hart plays an ex-con who gets a chance to rebuild his life by working as an assistant to a billionaire paralyzed by a hang-gliding accident (7:15 p.m. Monday, Oct. 16).
[jump] More than 50 festival films were made in Louisiana and there are curated slates of Cuban and Caribbean films, a new Change-Makers section for films about social activism, and more.
There are competitions for narrative and documentary films. Three entries are reviewed below.
8:45 p.m. Friday
Michael (Mike Pinkney) is a down-on-his-luck aspiring filmmaker who scrapes by working at a dog-grooming business in Los Angeles. In his rat-infested apartment, he lives in solitude, plugging away at a "video art" remake of the horror movie Carrie using images from internet cat videos and goofy retro video effects. Nothing is going particularly well, and then he meets one of the grooming business' odder clients (Sonja Kinsky), who is charged with caring for Mickey Rourke's daughter's assistant's dog.
The story builds slowly, and interludes showing Michael's progress on his version of Carrie are an entertaining indulgence. But as the film progresses, it becomes its own schlock horror film, and the awkward seduction of dog groomer and dog owner is in its offbeat way hilarious. Director Michael Reich is a bit heavy-handed in setting up Michael's glum circumstances, but Michael meets his match in the dog chaperone and it's hard to avert one's eyes from their night together. The film deserves a life in late-night TV rotation.
6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16
Marion (Casey Kniseley) is a precocious teenager at the Emily Dickinson Writing Camp. She falls easily for an older counselor and ditches the camp when she realizes he's hooking up with other girls. That sets up a story of vulnerability framed by Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho by director Jesse Robinson.
Leaving camp early and not inclined to tell her parents, Marion takes a room at a cheap motel. There she meets the nighttime desk attendant Norman (Gideon Shils), who often talks about his mother. There's even an early scene of Marion behind a shower curtain in case anyone didn't get the references.
Norman gently solicits Marion's companionship, and being recently rejected seems to fuel her response to him. It's lightly flirtatious, and the suspense builds around their respective vulnerabilities. Robinson explores where that leads as its revealed that another girl recently disappeared.
The Psycho framework is heavy-handed, and there are a few junctures when it's questionable whether Marion would leave, as she fled the camp. But Kniseley is excellent as an awkward teen.
Robinson says the film was made for $25,000, and it's very impressive for that budget. The suspense is solid and the dynamic of Marion and Norman's relationship intriguing, though one could quibble with some misdirections thrown at the viewer to maintain suspense.
12:45 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12
It may not be fair to consider The World is Mine a documentary, though it is entered in the documentary competition. Director Ann Oren is an artist, and she stars anonymously in her own film as a woman who's moved to Tokyo and delved into its cosplay scene as Hatsune Miku. Miku looks like a manga comic Japanese teenager with long blue ponytails. She's actually a character created by fan fiction and who speaks via a voice synthesizer program. Some of the quotes attributed to her via social media are bizarre. One missive entreats fans to hug her until she breaks and then throw her away.
The film offers a good dive into Japan's cosplay scene, and the Miku followers Oren found are quite devoted. One man owns a van covered in Miku images and the dashboard is outfitted with multiple computer tablets constantly running Miku songs and images. Ostensibly the cosplayer dates him. She says to the camera that she's immersed herself in Miku because she likes hiding behind that identity. But she seems to be a character and not Oren. Her confessions on a variety of subjects are vague and incomplete, either for a fictional lead character or a documentary figure.
But the cosplay scene is fascinating, and the film could have simply focused on that. A trip to a cafe that fetishizes cuteness ("kawaii") is a brilliant look at something superficial that flourishes as if it were meaningful. The subject is worthy, and Oren doesn't take the best approach to it, but she gets at the ironies of escapist obsession.