Reporting from Slamdance – Narrative Features (Part 1)

I want to use this report to touch on a few of the films that are part of the Narrative Feature section at the Slamdance Film Festival. I?ve got to admit that as I?ve been focusing on shorts for a bit, it took a bit of a mental shift to wait for a story to develop. But watching films is sort of like riding a bike, it comes back to you quickly.

A film with a somewhat off-putting title was far more engaging than I expected. Taipei Suicide Story, directed by KEFF, takes place in a specialty hotel?it caters to people who want to die. The desk clerk is informed by one of the cleaning crew that there is a guest in one of the rooms who has been there a week and still alive. When he goes up and finds a young woman who explains that when she arrived, she knew that everyone there was like her, so she no longer felt alone. She no longer needed to die, but she also didn?t want to live. He tells here she has one last night to either die or leave. As the night progresses, the two spend some time together talking?connecting. Will this be the push she needs to end it all or to choose life? How will her decision affect the clerk?

While the film is very brief for a feature (48 minutes), it pulls us into the strange world of the hotel. The daily cleaning service is obviously much different than the hotels we visit. There are some bits of very dark humor that just show up as seemingly throwaway lines. (She?s contemplating buying some instant noodles, and he suggests there are healthier options.) But mostly we are drawn to these two people who are meeting on what may be the last day they will be together. I was a little surprised how much I liked this.

In A Brixton Tale matters of race and class complicate a relationship between two young people. Leah, a young vlogger from a well-to-do family connects with Benji, a shy black young man from the Barrier Block. and uses Benji as the subject of a videoed documentary on Brixton. They become close and are falling in love. But when Benji sees the way she?s edited his life, he feels (rightfully so) that he?s been used. When someone posts a sex video of Leah online, she and Benji seek revenge, and the violence ends up greater than they had planned, but given their social disparity we know that Benji will pay the price.

There are levels here. The film is a minor indictment of voyeuristic filmmaking that wants to show a gritty side of life that the filmmakers are not part of. When we see Leah?s film exhibited to a very upscale crowd, we know that they care more about the quality of the film that the quality of life that Benji lives. It also points out the discrepancy of hope for the two characters, especially when legal troubles come. A Brixton Tale is making its world premiere at Slamdance.

The Polish film Hurrah, We Are Still Alive, directed by Agnieszka Polska, is a noirish story of a group of ?socially engaged? filmmakers who are in a holding pattern as they await the return of ?the director?. Even in his absence, he seems to have some effect on what is going on in their lives. In part this is because he has taken some of the money left with the group by the Movement (a revolutionary organization) to ?invest? to finance his movie about Rosa Luxemburg.  When a woman from the Movement shows up wanting the money, she reconnects with one of the actresses. Some cowboy police officers are also threatening the group. But we also know that an enforcer is being called in?from two different directions.

There is a certain Waiting for Godot vibe to this plot, but without bowler hats or the existential reflection. But there is a sense that all these people are lost and floundering in the director?s absence. It has places where it gets a bit to artsy (especially a few interludes with a rose and blood in the early part of the film that don?t seem to fit with anything). But the noirish feel is well done.

Photos courtesy of Slamdance Film Festival.

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