Dallas International Film Festival
Driving from the island to Dallas isn’t a fun drive - in fact, it’s the longest trip this film critic makes in the car. Last year was my first time attending The Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF), which originated in 2006. “It is our mission to encourage this universal art form by bringing to Dallas quality independent films from around the world and by promoting our own local filmmakers on an international stage," according to their website.
This year the ten day festival showcased over 150 films from around the world.
Opening night, which typically showcases a celebrity name, welcomed Blythe Danner, of television and motion picture fame. The mother of Gwyneth Paltrow and star of the Meet the Parents was on hand to graciously promote her latest film, I’ll See You In My Dreams.
"It’s a great window into what a woman my age goes through after suffering some loss,” Danner said on the red carpet. “We see her reconnecting with life and making an effort.” Debuting at Sundance earlier in the year, this is Danner’s first lead role in my lifetime, and something she was excited about. She and I talked about the importance of lead roles for women and actors her age. She admitted, that as far feature film, this was one of the few times she had gotten an interesting, three dimensional character.
The film, from young writer/director Brett Haley and his partner, was strikingly understanding and in tune with the 65+ crowd’s concerns on love, life, and happiness in the twilight years. Danner and co-star Sam Elliott, in a rare romantic role, had explosive chemistry. The film was a true dramedy scoring laughs from the audience, and leaving the entire crowd at the Majestic Theater in tears. Danner was presented the annual Dallas Star Award following the screening of the film.
Compared to SXSW and other Texas film festivals, DIFF is fairly well organized, and minimizes the chaos for people like me there to work and spread the word about films you should see or skip. While I’ll See You in My Dreams was the best of the five films I saw, there were some other interesting films of note. Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton play an aging, married couple Alex & Ruth in 5 Flights Up. It was fantastic to see Freeman in a lead role again, but never have I seen a film that bashes the rude and off-putting inhabitants of NYC so hard (and rightfully so), while at the same time telling a story about a couple who love the city so much. As far as films catering to the silver haired crowd, 5 Flights Up couldn’t match the emotion of Danner’s film.
Compared to SXSW and other Texas film festivals, DIFF is fairly well organized, and minimizes the chaos for people like me there to work and spread the word about films you should see or skip.
Switching gears, focusing on the younger crowd, the Australian family film Paper Planes was a breath of fresh air for the genre. Starring Sam Worthington (Avatar, Clash of the Titans) and young Ed Oxenbould (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day) this film is a throwback to 90’s era kid-friendly films where storytelling is more important than special effects and box office receipts. Leave it to the Aussies to remind us what’s wrong with family films in America.
A Brilliant Young Mind (previously titled X+Y) is similar to A Beautiful Mind, taking a look at a young teenager with autism that prevents him from creating relationships, especially with his mother, played beautifully by Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins. Suffering from editing problems , especially where the length and pacing are concerned, there is a captivating story inside there which is mostly due to the performances led by Asa Butterfield (Hugo) as the brilliant teenage mathematician looking for answers at the International Mathematics Olympiad in Taiwan.
Just when I thought my festival luck would result in all the films garnering a B- or above I sat down for my final film, Ladygrey. An English/French production set entirely in South Africa, it stars Peter Sarsgaard (Blue Jasmine) and Emily Mortimer (Lars and the Real Girl) as two characters in a large ensemble learning to cope with situations following the apartheid in a small devastated community. The first time director (a decade long cinematographer) puts the viewer to sleep with his slow moving pace and beautiful scenery. The film went nowhere, which meant it was time for me to return home.
DIFF had much more to offer for their final weekend, including replays of some of the films I have mentioned, as well as the Texas premiere of the critically acclaimed Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Michael Fassbender’s latest Slow West and loads of more indies