DIFF Flicks Offer Portraits of the Artist
by Bridgette Poe
Envisioning and producing a finished film requires a group of diverse artists collaborating towards a common goal. So given that, what better way to tell a story of an artist? When profiling any creative type, a cinematic approach not only shares the tale, but also has the ability to immerse the audience in their process; watching the art being created, hearing the music as it’s composed, seeing the progression of magic skills, etc. From narrative features to compelling documentaries, helmed by everyone from masters of their craft to breakout, nascent talent, DIFF 2017 proudly presents several different takes on the portrait of an artist.
DEALT documents Richard Turner, a card magician at the top of his game. Possessing captivating card skills, Turner also happens to be blind. When he began losing his sight as a child, Turner found a way to channel those frustrations into his art form and to turn weakness into strength. Director Luke Korem makes his return to DIFF with this stirring doc that delves into the mind and spirit of a man who refuses to be defined by anything less than his talent. As entertaining as it is engaging, the core story of DEALT is about an artist in pursuit of perfection.
Magic is only one of the many self-professed skills of Daniel Houck, the fascinating subject of STRAD STYLE. A self-taught violin maker; Houck lets nothing about his position in rural Ohio prevent him from obsessively pursuing his dream. His whole goal in life is to create, with his own hands, a violin on par with that of the masters, specifically the famed Stradivari. As it arcs to an incredible ending, STRAD STYLE covers the story of this bizarrely talented autodidact, while also treating the viewer to glimpses of the rich cultural history of the violin.
THE SECRET LIFE OF LANCE LETSCHER is a beautifully executed profile of the visual artist Lance Letscher. Based in Austin, Letscher is regarded as a master of modern collage. In her directorial debut, Sandra Adair applies award-winning editing skills to reiterate Letcher’s meticulous approach. (As an editor, Adair has collaborated for 20 years with Richard Linklater.) In addition to detailing his path from a student to being internationally known in his field, this particular portrait of an artist is also an intimate study of Letscher. Director Adair has found a way to present both the exquisite talent and brilliant mind of the man and THE SECRET LIFE OF LANCE LETSCHER is not to be missed on the big screen.
While depicting an artistic pursuit, QUEST also examines the impact of having some kind of a creative sanctuary while facing life’s challenges. Jonathan Olshefski’s feature debut chronicles the Rainey family over the course of nearly a decade. Incredibly timely and relevant, QUEST follows Christopher “Quest” Rainey and his social worker wife, Christine’a “Ma Quest”. While they raise their children in north Philadelphia, Christopher also tries to use his position as a local hip-hop producer and his home studio to make a difference in other’s lives. Director Olsefski didn’t originally intend to make a documentary but eventually realized that this complex story deserved to be told cinematically.
Another account of an artist’s personal journey in a music-based background is THE MAN IN THE CAMO JACKET. If ever a story could be described as ‘inspiring’, this is absolutely it. The artist explored here is Mike Peters, lead singer of the influential 80’s band The Alarm and how his cancer diagnosis served as a redirect for his life and career. Filmed over 8 years and in many different locations and venues, this doc beautifully illustrates the truth of its tagline “Cancer never saw him coming”. Featuring interviews and unique performances from many legendary stars of the rock scene, THE MAN IN THE CAMO JACKET is a heartening display of the strength of hope and inner courage.
CORTEZ segues into the profile of a musician through the narrative feature form. Here, writer/director Cheryl Nichols weaves the tale of Jesse (Arron Shiver), a self-involved musician who’s seeing his career tank and life spin out of control. In a desperate and selfish attempt to right his course, he seeks out his ex-girlfriend Anne (played by Nichols) in New Mexico. The flame seems to rekindle, until he learns the secret that Anne has been hiding. With stunning cinematography and an original score, CORTEZ uncovers how actions and consequences can and do change our dreams, often for our own good.
Writer/director Jeremy Gaspar’s feature debut, PATTI CAKE$, is abuzz with excitement. Patricia ‘Killa P’ Dombrowski (aka as “Patti Cake$”) is stuck in New Jersey, but she isn’t about to let those who rely on her nor the naysayers deter her from accomplishing her vision, which is to become a rapper. As the film’s creator, Gaspar tapped into his own personal experience to craft this tale. (As a composer, he also wrote the film’s original music.) Despite having to learn how to rap for PATTI CAKE$, Danielle MacDonald’s performance in the title role has already garnered her much attention and many accolades.
Switching gears to the artistic realm of writing is Xavier Dolan’s film IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD (Juste la fin du monde). Boasting an A-list French cast, Dolan has adapted Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play about the young, successful writer, Louis, who’s returning home after a long estrangement. Ideally Louis would like to repair his familial relationships but the main task at hand is to inform his mother and brother of his terminal illness. Dolan’s film does more than portray an artist in crisis – in unflinching close-ups, his work (which won the 2016 Cannes Grand Prix) also exposes the cracks within a fractured family dynamic.
Touching on the same theme (and also with a highly recognizable cast) is THE HERO starring the indomitable Sam Elliot. In Brett Haley’s feature, Elliot delivers the performance of his career as an almost washed up Western film star, whose only real draw remains his signature voice. Wallowing in the idea that he’s left his art behind, it takes the surprising news of cancer to force him to re-evaluate his priorities. He stumbles a bit path-wise while trying to live his remaining life to the fullest, but he’s also determined to find the one last role on which he can hang his legacy and truly earn the moniker of “The Hero”.
A superb blend of film genres, DAVID HOLZMAN’S DIARY is an artist’s portrayal quite unlike any other. In his ground-breaking 1967 work, director Jim McBride took a cinema verité approach to comment on what he considered the hollow and affected documentaries of the time. L.M. Kit Carson plays David Holzman, a young and idealistic filmmaker who decides to make a movie by recording every moment in his life, which quickly spirals into a full obsession. Referred to as everything from a “Mockumentary” to “Docufiction”, DAVID HOLZMAN’S DIARY remains not only essential viewing in film schools – it continues to inspire passionate conversations amongst filmmakers and audiences of all ages.
SPETTACOLO offers a portrait of the villagers living in Monticchiello, a small farming town in Italy, as they transform into artists each spring to perform in the town’s annual theatrical play. The play allows the villagers an outlet to discuss the problems of their town as they recover from poverty and the scars of war. SPETTACOLO is a beautiful tale showing the power of art to heal, unite and transform a community.
DALLAS STAR AWARDBILL PAXTON (POSTHUMOUSLY)
Bill Paxton was an award-winning actor and filmmaker from Texas. In 1992, he landed his first leading role in ONE FALSE MOVE. Paxton went on to star in several hit films including ALIENS (1985), APOLLO 13 (1995), TWISTER (1996) and TITANIC (1997)
L.M. KIT CARSON
DAVID GORDON GREEN
This year’s L.M. Kit Carson Maverick Award Honoree is writer/director David Gordon Green. David Gordon Green’s debut feature, GEORGE WASHINGTON (2000) won the Discovery Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, and his second feature, ALL THE REAL GIRLS (2003) received a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
SHINING STAR AWARDZOEY DEUTCH
This year’s Shining Star Award Honoree is Zoey Deutch. Zoey Deutch is an actress known for VAMPIRE ACADEMY (2014), EVERYBODY WANTS SOME! (2016) and WHY HIM? (2016). Most recently, Zoey Deutch starred in two films selected at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, REBEL IN THE RYE and BEFORE I FALL.