By Matthew Curtis | Enzian Theater September 27, 2006 at 4:59AM
Though the technical snafus seemed to be at an all-time high (not to mention the opening night film fiasco when hundreds of people, including those that RSVP'd like yours truly, were turned away from the screening of A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS), the quality of both projects and panels at this year's IFP Market seemed better than ever.
I did feel sorry for the filmmakers though. The Angelika has always had issues, including the constant rumble and sound from the subway system and a broken escalator or two. Subway noise was as annoying as ever and we were spared any escalator malfunctions, but the projection and ability to stay on schedule was another matter entirely. Most screenings were starting at least 10 minutes late, which threw off the ability to properly time moving from theater to theater (a common strategy at the Market). Theater # 1 had framing issues, with subtitles on the right side of the screen getting cut off. Theater # 4 had terrible video sound for virtually everything, and apparently management wasn't allowing anyone to make the adjustments to correct the problem. Early on they were turning down the house lights and starting the films before the filmmakers even had a chance to make any intro remarks, and during one director's post-film Q & A they actually started the tech rehearsal for the next scheduled film. After the first day they no longer provided free soda and popcorn for Market-goers, which was such a nice amenity last year. And I'm still annoyed that the video library shuts down at 2:00 PM for "breakdown" on the final day when you're trying to play catch up on "buzz" titles and they're still having screenings all day at the Angelika.
OK, enough bitching. Despite it all, filmmakers were upbeat, the parties were fun, there were lots of good networking opportunities, and a host of worthy film projects that bear watching on their road to completion. I wouldn't particularly say any trends stood out from the pack, though the usual themes of unlikely "sports" competitions, political and racial oppression, biographies of artists, and the post-Katrina experience all had a prescence. Of the (mostly completed) doc features in the Market, stand-outs included EMILE NORMAN - BY HIS OWN DESIGN, a lovely portrait of a great and innovative artist based in Big Sur that was directed by Will Parrinello and produced by Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry (of "L.A. Law" fame), both very nice and approachable and big participants throughout all five days of the Market; James Marsh's THE TEAM, a fascinating doc from the director of THE KING and WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP about a soccer team from New York that travels to Austria for the first "Homeless World Cup Championship" --no shit!; and Steve Karras and Rose Lizarraga's ABOUT FACE: THE STORY OF THE JEWISH REFUGEE SOLDIERS OF WW II, a thorough and moving film narrated by Peter Coyote and scored by John Cale, about the European Jews who after escaping the Nazis in their home countries, enlisted in the Allied Forces of the US and Great Britain. I also heard nice things about Luke Wolbach's ROW HARD NO EXCUSES, about a two-man, 3000 mile rowing race, and Abigail Child's ON THE DOWNLOW, about bisexual African American men living in Cleveland.
In the Doc Shorts category, Arturo Cabanas' MAN UP is an intense, deceptively simple look at a military dad using tough love to prepare his teenage son for adulthood. The skillful mix of black and white and color photography adds to its impact. Richard Power Hoffman's FRIDAYS AT THE FARM features striking time lapse photography of farm life in Pennsylvania in its hopeful exploration of a community supported organic farm and a family that decides to change its lifestyle.
The standout Narrative Short (besides Derek Cianfrance's Chrysler Award winner) was Nicholas Child's THE SHOVEL. Focusing on a hole in the ground, a suspicious neighbor, and a police investigation, this featured fine performances from David Strathairn and Tim Guinee and had a nasty twist ending.
But the meat of the Market now is definitely the Docs Works-In-Progress section, and quite a few projects here have my attention: Susan Motamed and Melanie Judd's poignant ADOPT ME, MICHAEL JORDAN, about Ethiopian orphans getting adopted by American families; Paul Devlin's scientific thriller, BLAST, about a team of scientists trying to launch a unique telescope that will provide insights into the origins of the universe and the beginnings of galaxies, and all of the provocative ideas that such an endeavor entails; Cynthia Wade's FREEHELD, the moving and infuriating story of a New Jersey town that does not want to give pension benefits to the lesbian partner of a dying, honored police Lieutenant; Helen Hood-Scheer's JUMP, a breathtaking and exciting doc about the Competitive Jump Rope world that goes way beyond the Double Dutch stuff we're all familiar with; Michael Chandler's KNEE DEEP, the bizarre story of a Maine dairy farmer who schemed to kill his Mom when she threatened to sell the business his father had promised him; Jeffrey Morgan's LILLIE & LEANDER: A LEGACY OF VIOLENCE, a jaw-dropping investigation into a Pensacola family's past and the mass murder of black men who happened to cross their property in the early 1900's; Yoruba Richen's PROMISED LAND, winner of the Fledgling Fund Award for Socially Conscious Docs, about black communities in South Africa trying to get their ancestral land back from the government; Franco Sacchi, Kate Davis, and David Heilbroner's WAITING FOR ARMAGEDDON, a film about the growing section of the population that believes the Apocalypse is imminent and how these lunatics can have profound implications for the rest of us; Julie Checkoway's Doc Work-in-Progress Completion Award winner, WAITING FOR HOCKNEY, an entertaining and humorous cliffhanger about an artist who believes he's produced a revolutionary portarit of Marilyn and what happens after he shows it to David Hockney; and Christopher Wong's WHATEVER IT TAKES, which follows the first year of an experimental high school in the South Bronx and the extraordinarily devoted principal who leads the way. These are but a few of the outstanding projects that will hopefully come to fruition in the coming months (or more likely years).