Mammoth Lakes Film Festival 2015 A worthy paradigm of the smaller film festival

In its inaugural year, the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival took place May 27-31, presenting itself as a worthy paradigm of the smaller film festival in its inclusive, DIY values (full disclosure: TMT contributor Paul Sbrizzi is Director of Programming). Located in the hub of the Mammoth Lakes village, the eponymous fest was community-oriented, with an intimate “summer camp” vibe in programming and events equally. The film selection successfully balanced a continuum throughout its series of shorts and full-length narrative and documentary features, several underwritten by Kickstarter. While maintaining diversity throughout the programming spectrum, there existed an overarching focus on various complications of identity and the interpersonal. The event eschewed the exclusivity, capitalist undertones, and general de rigueur of the larger, more exposed festival circuit. Ultimately, MLFF was well-organized and rife with promise in the upcoming years.

Below is a selection of films that were screened.

Una Nit (dir. Marta Bayarri)

Una Nit (winner of the Jury Award for a Narrative Short) encapsulates a sharply disconcerting and disarmingly raw sequence of events between a man and woman during the course of a night. The film traces the beginnings of an ostensible chemistry between the title characters (played by Bayarri herself and Oriol Ruiz). The psychological fragilities of both individuals are gradually exposed, weaving itself into the narrative towards a chillingly visceral fracture. Bayarri is empathetic to the various forms and degrees of fear, from the subtle to the animalistic. This is evident in the rapid, skillful shifts in tone with each utterance and gesture; Una Nit is a jarring portrayal of the liminal space in which the power dynamics of violence are catalyzed.

20 Years of Madness (dir. Jeremy Royce)

Rooted in the suburbia of Michigan in the early 90s, 30 Minutes of Madness was a dizzyingly irreverent, teenage-produced public-access variety show with a cult following. In 20 Years of Madness, director Jeremy Royce documents the re-materialization of the cohort spearheaded by the co-creator Jerry White Jr. (currently an an LA-based filmmaker). The group’s camaraderie disintegrated into adulthood due to clashes of personality (primarily between White and co-creator Joe Hornacek). Upon reuniting, intricacies of past conflicts resurface in fiery fashion. The struggles of individual trajectories are introduced to the dynamic, which include creative stagnancy, drug addiction, and mental illness. Royce captures earnestly vulnerable moments while avoiding an antagonistic air. Particularly remarkable is the archival footage of 30MoM; the finesse of the production, dialogue and imagery within the 30MoM universe (cultivated by teenagers using earlier technology) easily rivals the tropes of today’s “next-level” psychedelic variety shows.

Female Pervert (dir. Jiyoung Lee)

Female Pervert is concerned with alienation and miscommunication as human conditions more so than sexual deviance, as the title would suggest. Phoebe (Michelle Kim) is a self-identified misanthrope whose efforts to forge meaningful and intimate connections result in a series of socio-sexual misfires. Lee’s capacity for observation is charming and razor-sharp (even painfully real), but is often obscured by situational abruptness; this impedes her astuteness for eccentricity from fully declaring itself. Phoebe deals with the consequences of her transgressions in her workplace, with her neighbors, and in a satirical Haruki Murakami book club featuring Lee herself (one of the film’s stronger and hilarious points for those who’ve found themselves in similar situations). On occasion, Kim delivers Phoebe’s audacious yet melancholic perplexity; however, there is a restraint that prevents any compelling perversions from coming to fruition.

Upon The Rock (dir. James Bascara)

Winner of the Jury Award for Animation or Documentary Short, Upon The Rock is a pointilistic, Kafka-esque journey via animated figure drawing, situated in the experimentally inclined space of the programming spectrum. Director James Bascara’s intent to portray a “euphoric vision” leading to a “dysphoric transformation” is captured by the (practically epileptic) shifting and oscillation between distinguishable and amorphous figures. The gravity of the Bascara’s original score is sympatico with the visual pulse in disjointedness and pace, existentialism punctuated by playfulness and stylistic candor.

Lay In Wait (dir. Jonathan Ade)

Lay In Wait is a short narrative chronicling the butterfly effect of an infidelity, using Mammoth Lakes as a powerful atmospheric instrument. During an extramarital weekend camping trip at the lakes, Maggie loses her wedding ring and is catapulted into an emotional space involving morality, uncertainty, fear, and the perception of one’s self. Ade constructs a complex psychological landscape of the schisms between herself, her lover, and her husband, laden with symbolic implication. Spectacular sound design and haunting cinematography both function well in an affective capacity, communicating the melancholy and tension.

Autism in Love (dir. Matt Fuller, Executive Producer Ira Heilveil)

Autism in Love (Winner of the Jury Award for Documentary Feature) is a sensitive and nuanced demystification of how autism can outwardly manifest itself in the context of romantic love and relationships. Screened at the Tribeca film festival and picked up for distribution by PBS, the film’s presence at MLFF instigated genuine curiosity and passionate dialogue regarding a subject frequently stigmatized by society and in pop culture. Fuller expertly navigates three narrative threads: Lenny, an early twenty-something in Los Angeles reconciling his identity with the complexity of modern-day courtship, Lindsay and Dave, a couple experiencing connection and disconnection in approaching the idea of marriage, and Stephen’s inward struggle to come to terms with the loss of his wife. Without spilling over into saccharine territory, the exposure that Autism in Love will most certainly experience is important and a testament to the import of documentary film.

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