April 6 2016 10:07 AM

Capital City Film Festival kicks off sixth annual event

Sites all over Lansing — including the Lansing Center, the former Temple Club building and the Surveyors Museum — will be transformed into pop-up theaters this week as the Capital City Film Festival raises the curtain on its sixth annual event.

The five-day festival kicks off at 7 tonight with a free event at the Lansing Center as the Lansing Symphony Orchestra supplies the live soundtrack to early Disney “Silly Symphonies” shorts. But things really get rolling Thursday with a red carpet premiere party at the Lansing Brewing Co., followed by an evening of feature and short film offerings.

In addition to the festival’s film options, a diverse slate of musical acts take the stage at the Loft and Mac’s Bar. (See Turn it down, page 21, for some featured performances.)

Other highlights include a “Destroy All Cinema” event where local comedians apply a “Mystery Science Theater 3000”-style skewering to “Top Gun,” and a local music double feature with Klezmer outfit Heartland Klezmorim accompanying short films by Georges Méliès followed by a documentary on Lansing hip-hop collective BLAT! Pack.

Selected film reviews by Allan I. Ross and Eric Bayley

“In Memory” — 15 minutes, United States

(Part of the Sci-Fi Shorts Block)

While impressive in its visual design and creation of a fleshed-out world, Robert Kirbyson’s “In Memory” ultimately suffers from one too many clichés to truly get under one’s skin.

The film follows an elderly woman, Beth (Lee Meriwether), as she struggles with her decaying mental state in a futuristic world, examining aging and illness in new era. Meriwether gives a wonderful performance, as does the supporting cast, lending the film an emotional plausibility and reality that allow us to sink our teeth into this unfamiliar landscape.

And yet, I can’t help but feel that I’ve seen this sort of story done before, just by different filmmakers and authors. The film lacks genuine originality and any real engagement with its ideas, instead using those ideas as a way to indulge in a kind of “future porn,” where the production design is fetishized. While impressively edited and structured in a way that suitably reflects Beth’s deteriorating grip on her memory and sense of place, the film can’t overcome a rather banal treatment of the sci-fi genre. Kirbyson has an eye and talent, but needs more originality, vision and inspiration to allow that talent to shine through.

“Embers” — 86 minutes, United States/Poland

Of all the great mysteries out there — Is there life after death? Does God exist? How big is the universe? — perhaps the most tantalizing is “what makes us human?” In the sci-fi drama “Embers,” a mysterious worldwide calamity has robbed humanity of the ability to remember anything for more than a few minutes, reducing civilization to roving bands of suspicious forager/killers. So perhaps, the film posits, that’s the answer to our unique human-ness: our facility for long-term memory.

A mute boy (Silvan Friedman) wanders aimlessly through the madness, protected by a series of sympathetic adults who soon forget him. A loner (Karl Glusman) operating on pure id stirs up chaos as he prowls the streets looking for sustenance — and someone he can punish for his obvious inner pain. A couple (Jason Ritter and Iva Gocheva) wearing matching bracelets wakes up next to each other in an abandoned building. Are they lovers? Friends? Siblings? They set out for the day, learning anew how they fit together and how the world works. “50 First Dates” this ain’t.

Then the script flips on us, detailing the life of a young woman (Greta Fernandez) who’s been living in a bunker with her father since the epidemic struck 10 years ago. She hasn’t been affected, but what good is making new memories, she surmises, when you can’t live the life you want? She yearns to go outside, revealing another inherent aspect of the human condition: the basic need for freedom.

Director/co-writer Claire Carré has crafted a quiet, contemplative end-of-days fantasy every bit as beguiling as the dystopian YA adaptations ruling the box office these days, minus the pap. Standout performances by Dominique Swain (as Lolita) and Tucker Smallwood (as Contact) demonstrate, respectively, people who have chosen pure escapism and pure intellectualism as their retreat points.

“Embers” gracefully details both the beautiful dreams and the horrible nightmares people are capable of. Some tighter editing could have kept things a little more pulsepounding, but in a thought experiment like this, sometimes it’s better to wander a little.

“Madama Butterfly” — 5 minutes, Germany

(Part of the Animated & Experimental Shorts Block)

Ambiguous and confounding, “Madama Butterfly” is also endearingly inventive and as funny as it is sad. Much of the film’s charm is in it’s puppetry — did I mention it’s performed by puppets? It’s gorgeous and impressive how the puppeteers are able make little blocks of wood and cloth feel alive. But I do wonder if the puppetry isn’t a bit of a gimmick. But it does give the film a unique charm, so if it is a gimmick, it’s one I can get behind.

An experimental pseudo-adaptation of the famous opera of the same name, the film has many interesting ideas about a mass audience’s relationship to art and how profoundly it can affect people. Even if a work of art speaks to only that one special person in the audience, it is enough. And though I wasn’t that one person when it comes to “Madama Butterfly,” there’s likely somebody out there whom this film will dazzle and inspire.

“Los Punks” — 79 minutes, United States

Forty years in, punk rock has become a punch line for anyone feigning rebellion. But the documentary “Los Punks: We Are All We Have” dives into a little-known punk scene thriving in East Los Angeles, rooted in the Latino community. There’s no guyliner to be found here, just lots of barbell-pieced noses, spiked hair and enough genuine angst to fuel a gaggle of starving artists and their attendant organizers and followers. No one’s feigning anything.

Meet Nacho Corrupted, the lead singer of Corrupted Youth and one of the movement’s key promoters. He works with residential property owners and small businesses to host pop-up punk concerts that take the form of massive backyard parties and underground festivals. He’s as gregarious as he is scheming, and he provides the real heart of “Los Punks.”

Gary Alvarez, lead singer of Rhythmic Asylum, has a ring through his nose and several handcuffs dangling from his cargo pants while he screams into the microphone by night. But by day, Gary is a verbose, polite, hyper-intelligent young man who aspires to go to law school. His immigrant parents don’t get his music, but they love him and accept his art for what it is — his form of self-expression.

And then there’s April, a quiet 15-year-old who hides under her bushy bangs. She lives under the same roof as her mother, but the two rarely cross paths. Her “real” family is the East L.A. punk scene, which also doubles as her profession. April is one of the more prolific promoters, sometimes making $700 in a single night. The filmmakers follow her through her day, showing a creative outlet available for disillusioned youth that’s neither gang- nor drug-related.

Neighbors often call the cops, who frequently show up in cars and choppers to assert their presence. But the thick, anti-authoritarian camaraderie demonstrated by the subjects of “Los Punks” only rarely gives way to actual violence. There’s so much anger and so much despair on display, but these concerts aren’t riots. They’re celebrations of the human spirit.

“The Edge” — 16 minutes, France

(Part of the Sci-Fi Shorts Block)

“The Edge” tells the story of a young girl, Hawa (Ouidad Elma), and her father, Selim (Said Amadid), struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic wilderness. After thieves steal a prized possession, Hawa goes after the thieves to reclaim it. If that sort of story sounds familiar, it’s because it is.

With its emphasis on a linear, fast-paced narrative and dynamic action sequences, this short bears resemblance to modern video games. These points may sound like deterrents to some, but this is a film that I would definitely recommend. For starters, the action sequences are well done — tense and thrilling despite their brevity. And the video game influence is really just in terms of the look of the film, rather than its style. Director Simon Saulnier and his team have certainly built a world that’s entrancing. The production design has a tactility that sucks you in and ignites your imagination.

The main draw of this film is how it tells its story: visually, not through dialogue or text. And this is really what cinema should be: a visual medium, not an illustration of a script.

Capital City Film Fest

April 6-10 $5 film events/$10-15 music events/$50 all-access pass/$100 patron pass For a full schedule, check the four-page pullout section in this issue or head over to capitalcityfilmfest.com.

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