Arts & Entertainment

Beloit Film Fest: Our Critic’s Top Choices

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Scene from In the Can, the American Sign Language film being screened as part of BIFF for the Deaf, one of the fest’s new additions. Its director is founder of ASL Films and BIFF 2014 Honorary Chair Mark Wood.

 

The Beloit International Film Festival (BIFF) opened last weekend for its extended 2014 run. Up from four to 10 days this year, BIFF gives local film buffs even more chances to see the great works of the independent filmmakers it showcases.
Now in its ninth year, this festival always has a few standout films that sell out quickly, forcing organizers to schedule additional screenings to meet the demand. This year, one of those will surely be Buddies (2012, Brazil, Portuguese with subtitles). In the list of great buddy road movies – Thelma & Louise, Planes, Trains & Automobiles; To Wong Fu, even 48 Hrs. – this is now among my Top 20.

Three friends with Down syndrome work in the video library of the institution where they live. They set off cross-country in a stolen Carmen Ghia, each hoping to fulfill his or her personal dream. Along the way, they quote films and re-enact scenes from their favorite movies, and the people they meet mistake their antics as something threatening. As word of the “Down syndrome gang” spreads, the trio leverages their growing reputation to obtain food, gas and whatever else they need to complete their trip.

The pair of detectives who are on their trail – longtime bungling partners newly demoted to missing persons – are always one step behind their quarry (sometimes, their quarry is right behind them!).

Absolutely great fun. I especially enjoyed trying to pick out the numerous film references, from Titanic to The Godfather (and Thelma & Louise).

This year BIFF features a Wisconsin-Illinois Showcase, with dozens of films made by regional filmmakers, some set in familiar locations.

One of these is another must-see, the documentary Date America. A 20-something Milwaukee banker, frustrated with the dating scene, decides on a drastic course of action in an attempt to find his soul mate. He dates eight different women he meets online, traveling to eight different states, all in three weeks.

Bob is so likeable and fun, it’s hard to imagine he couldn’t find someone in a city the size of Milwaukee. The women are all very different, and the dates are far from run-of-the-mill, ranging from sky diving and cooking lessons to a roller coaster ride and trapeze flying. His dates’ topics of conversation include pierced nipples, bisexualism, parent abandonment; he even fields calls from one woman’s mother and another’s grandmother.

In between dates, the audience learns more about Bob through interviews with friends, who offer their assessment of his strengths and faults.

After the film, Bob will be available for questions, with his wife – but I won’t tell you on which date he found her. You’ll have to attend a screening to find that out!

One popular feature of BIFF is its Short Slot, a consecutive screening of films each between 4 and 30 minutes long. Two of these Short Slots feature Wisconsin/Illinois filmmakers, and I took in Wis./Ill. Short Slot 2. All were interesting and engaging, ranging from crime and drama to noir and Tim Burton-esque.

The first is From the Darkness Theater, featuring Uncle Seymour, the Svengoolie-type host of a local TV station’s weekly horror film broadcast. Uncle Seymour, a good guy who loves kids, takes a little too much to heart the fan mail from his young viewers, which causes his innocent visit to a movie theater to take a ghastly turn. The filmmaker is attending the festival, and he shared a great deal of behind-the-scenes info, not only on his films but on the Milwaukee independent film scene.

Another notable is The White Room, from a Rock Valley College student, a stylized and polished film that offers a glimpse into what may come “when we shuffle off this mortal coil.” He, too, is attending.

Counting each film in the Short Slots, I saw 11 films last weekend, and this weekend, I plan on taking in about 20 more. Can anybody out there top that total? Let us know!

For film times, venues, tickets and other info, visit bifffilmfest.org.

BTW: Great eats at BIFF venues.
Last weekend’s top nosh for me: Bushel & Peck’s Awesome Burger & Fries.
Post your fav food from the fest and see what others are nibbling.

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